Personal transitions

I’m (still!) a struggling dissertation writer, but a few other things have happened over the past year or so:

  1. I’ve  joined Africa International University (AIU)‘s  Institute for the Study of African Realities (ISAR) as a research fellow.
  2. My wife Christi become a certified life coach (Awaken Coaching).
  3. We’ve become an official missionaries with Pioneers.
  4. We spent three and half months visiting friends and churches in the US and Canada (see #3)–26 states, 2 provinces, and over 50 different beds. This was the longest I’d been in North America in nine years, and it was great to reconnect with so many old friends and make new ones.
  5. A year ago, two of our kids were diagnosed with pretty serious heart murmurs attributed to “pulmonary hypertension”–due to allergies, sinus infections, etc. Both were checked again while we were in North America this summer were given a clean bill of health.  Kiara’s murmur is mostly gone, and while Liam still has a strong murmur, one a leading pediatric cardiologists in Toronto checked everything out, and his heart looks great.  Thank God!
  6. Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School (NEGST) received its university charter and is now considered the core constituent school of Africa International University (AIU).
  7. Four of my close friends received their doctorates.
  8. ALARM published an ethnicity manual we worked on together.
  9. My father suddenly retired from from being a professor at African Bible College Malawi due to a heart condition that requires close monitoring. (I packed up 20 years of their life in one week.) They relocated to Greensboro, N.C.
  10. Our two youngest got their Canadian citizenship.
  11. My mother became an American citizen at this ceremony. We got to be there, where my two little Canadians posed with members of the revolutionary militia (see below).
  12. I turned 40 and struggled emotionally through a year of  questions guys often have at mid-life.
  13. I lost a very close friend to cancer.
  14. I had some pretty significant spiritual turning points–not that anyone other than my wife would notice.
  15. My eleven-year-old daughter would like me to add that her school, Pistis, changed their curriculum, is putting on a new roof so they can have an out-door eating area, and their website is under construction.
  16. much more
All of these have long back stories, most of which we have alluded to in our newsletters. If you’d like to receive the fabulous newsletter that my wife writes, click here to send me an email.

A week of isolated writing

Friends and mentors of mine were out of town this week and graciously gave me the use of their beautiful home (about 45 minutes from here near Limuru.) I spent every day last week doing nothing but reading and writing (with two evening jogs through the tea fields.). It was a very productive time; I spread all my books around the dining room and alternated writing there and on the adjacent back porch overlooking a beautiful garden and a Eucalyptus tree-lined gully.  (I could hear the small brook and barely make out the outlines of two other buildings on the facing hill.) It was a gorgeous setting to say the least—just me and the monkeys.

Poor Christi Back at home, just about every kid came down with something.

But the isolation was good for me. Christi kept a running commentary on how many people were looking for me and how many hospital runs I missed out on.  Apart from my jog, I saw two people the entire week—the caretaker and the night watchman.

But being in isolation reminded of a some things about my life that I really enjoy:

  • I enjoy cooking my kids breakfast in the morning, putting them to bed at night, seeing their excitement, and hearing all their little stories.
  • Although I love my sleep, I’m proud of the fact that when the kids need something in the middle of the night, they still call for their dad. 
  • No matter how luxurious another room and bed are, there’s no place like home.
  • I like being warm. Limuru is about 2,000 feet higher elevation than Nairobi, and it feels much colder. (Were my headaches do to the thinner air?)
  • I enjoy my community and I probably enjoy a few distractions—much as I complain about them.
  • After a solid 2.5 hours of uninterrupted writing, I need a little break. My endurance grew as the week wore on, but  I will probably only ever be a part-time scholar.
  • No internet (or e-mail) helps a lot, but even a casual conversation or something someone says in a chapel message gets my brain going in a hundred different directions.
  • [Note: on the Myer’s Briggs I’m borderline Introvert/Extravert; I need a good balance of alone time and people time.]

This was a great week for my project. A huge thanks to Del and Becky!! There’s something about being in a place where there are no distractions; even if you want to procrastinate, you can’t. I got a lot of writing under my belt; hopefully I can maintain the momentum .

Since I’ve been back . . . well that’s another story.

Today, I begin my new life as an official Canadian passport holder!! But what about my global-nomad grandkids??

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada requests, in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, all those whom it may concern to allow [Ben Byerly] to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford [Ben Byerly] such assistance and protection as may be necessary.

Le ministre des Affaires étrangères du Canada, au nom de La Majesté la Reine, prie les autorités intéressées de bien vouloir accorder libre passage au [Ben Byerly] de même que l’aide et la protection dont il aurait besoin

Canadian Flag So to all my Canadian friends who have called me a pseudo-Canadian for so long (I’ve never actually lived in Canada, only visited relatives), it’s official. In the year before I turn 40, I finally have in my possession a bona fide Canadian passport; I picked it up today. It’s about time! I was born and raised [mostly in Africa] by an American father and a Canadian mother. My dad was a little too patriotic, so we never filed the Canadian paperwork. In my mid-twenties a close friend of mine, got his Canadian passport to travel to Egypt. I figured that since the Canadian embassy was within walking distance of our Washington, DC home, I didn’t have any excuses. Mine was a little more complicated, and before I was given my citizenship grant, we’d had one kid and moved to Paris. For one reason or another (mainly because I hadn’t lived in one place long enough to be able to have a Canadian lawyer, doctor, banker, etc. to vouch for me), I never finished the passport application.

I had been thinking I’d wait until the dissertation was done to get into all the bureaucratic paperwork, but last month, my friend Brian told me that the Canadian laws were changing on April 17, and children of Canadians like me wouldn’t automatically be granted citizenship if they were born abroad. (Brian is a New Zealander married to a French Canadian UN lawyer. We became good friends in Paris, and they just moved to Nairobi this year – meaning I had a Canadian lawyer within the jurisdiction that had known me for more than two years.)

Our main concern is that our kids have the option of living, working, and going to Canadian universities if they want to, so I jumped on the applications to get them in before the law went into effect. I was told that it would take over a year for their applications to be processed.

Today, I ran the test of citizenship (under the new law) for my kids:, and it looks like my youngest two kids are clearly Canadian. Even though they were born in Paris and Nairobi, I had my proof of my citizenship before they were born. The status of my oldest is a bit “iffy.” She was born in Washington, DC before the citizenship grant.

Identity for a third culture kid (TCK) can be complicated. Fortunately for my children, their mother was born and raised in the US. She has what I call “stable citizenship.” When we got the passport for Liam (born in Kenya), we listed her years in the US rather than trying to piece together my complex timeline. Two of my three children have been born abroad. As long as they marry people with “stable citizenship,” their kids should be okay.

But let’s say that they decide to go to an African, European, or Asian university and marry another “global nomad.”

. . .  those foreign-born children of Canadians will not be able to bestow that same citizenship on their own children should they also decide to adopt or give birth outside Canada.

Children born to American parents abroad can become citizens if both parents are American and at least one of the parents lived in the United States before the birth. If only one parent is American, the citizenship can be passed to the children if that parent lived in the United States for five years before the birth and at least two of those years occurred after the parent turned 14.

As far as their children’s (my grandchildren’s) Canadian citizen status goes, a Canadian expat blog has this to say about new Canadian law:

“. . . children born in another country after the new law comes into effect will not be Canadian citizens by birth if they were born outside Canada to a Canadian parent who was also born outside Canada to a Canadian parent.”

Government bafflegab to be sure but essentially, it means that if you had your child abroad and gave him/her your Canadian citizenship, after April 17th, that same child cannot give their children the same Canadian citizenship unless they are born in Canada (and a few other rules thrown in for good measure). Given that a high percentage of children of expats are born abroad and TCKs have a propensity for living and working abroad in adulthood, there’s a pretty good chance your grandchildren (if you’re old like me) or your children (if you are a TCK reading this) will also be born outside of Canada.

Read more of the Canadian expat blog entry, but the TEST itself doesn’t seem to be as worrying.


Technorati Tags: ,

In the valley of the shadow of death, a baby crawls near the precipice

Last week, dear friends of ours from college (Fred & Kerri) flew in to spend a few days with us on their way back from adopting an eight month old baby from Ethiopia. They arrived with their now four kids (9, 7, 4, and 8 moths), totally exhausted.  It’s one thing to travel with three young children from Phoenix to Addis Ababa – fear of flying, jet lag, completely new experiences, etc. Throw on top of that the dynamics of suddenly adding a new member to your family, and you’ve got major stress. Not only do they add a new baby to their family, but he immediately got some kind of bug going around and was vomiting with diarrhea, unable to sleep at night, totally lethargic, clingy, etc. We’d been following their saga a bit on-line, and we knew that when they got here, they were going to need some serious rest and recuperation. When they arrived, they were as tired as we imagined and had fatigue and worry written all over their faces. Since Amsalu (meaning “in the image of” with a middle name for God) had been sick since they picked him up they didn’t really know what his personality was or what was normal. All they saw was a sick, clingy child. Was he always like this, or was he just reacting to a stressful readjustment coupled with the flu? He had just seen a doctor a few days ago and was already on an antibiotic (gastrointestinal), but we assured them if he did get any worse, we could take him to a clinic any time of day or night if he got any worse.

That night,

Continue reading

My $5 day in Dubai (photos)

[Okay, so I really spent about $18, but with a little more time, I could have done it for around $3.50 if I had stuck to the buses and walking.]

On our trip back from the UK last September, we had a 9 hour layover in Dubai. When we originally booked the ticket, some of my Kenyan colleagues had hoped to spend the day visiting Dubai; otherwise, we could have cut the layover in half. I’m always up for a little exploration, so I thought it would be nice to get a feel for the city – especially the waterfront and the tall buildings that supposedly make it so famous. I’d already seen the artificial, palm-shaped shoreline from the air, and I didn’t really want to see any of the famous shopping malls. I also didn’t want to spend any money.

Since we still thought some of my Kenyan friends could get a cheap visa but weren’t sure, we all got off at the first – transit – stop instead of going directly to arrivals. Unfortunately, we never could get a straight answer about how much a visa would cost them – one agent said $70 – so they wound up staying in the airport. Since I hold a passport from one of thirty-three countries which don’t require a visa for the UAE – more American privilege – I decided to venture out on my own little adventure. After a nice, FREE (for long transfer in-transit passengers) breakfast buffet, I left my heavy computer bag with Richard and went back through the transit security (the wrong way) with only my camera.

After the crowded bustling transit terminal, I was almost stunned at how sleepy the arrivals area was. Later, I realized that it was Eid al Fitr – the Muslim holiday for the end of Ramadan.

Once the light rail line is completed, the trip into Dubai will be easy. In the meantime, here’s what I did. My recommendations are starred:

  • *went to the tourist info got a map and tried to get oriented and went across the hall and changed $20 into local currency.
  • headed out the door towards the bus stop (my years in Paris taught me that getting the right public buses can be the best and cheapest way to see a city).
  • refused the offer from a taxi driver for an all-day tour around all the famous spots for only $300 . . .  $200 . . . $150.
  • convinced a Philippino man that I really did want to take the “workers” (public) bus and got him to tell me which one to get, so that I could get to Dubai Creek.
  • *Took bus 13X to Gold Souk Continue reading

25 (or so) random things about me

From Facebook; a little break in the middle of my series of “heavy” posts. [I can see why people hate this, but I wound up getting into it.]

1. My dad told me it would never work out with Christi. She was too much of a “Wow! Wow! woman.” I definitely married up. Her mom said it wouldn’t work out either . . . until she saw me pummel Christi with snow.
2. I had elephant for my 9th birthday dinner.
3. My dream world: a comfortable chair outside a great library in the warm shade overlooking a mountain setting: a pine forest, a stream, and the ocean or a small lake (great for adventures with the kids); no deadlines; all my great friends around to talk to; regular games of soccer & basketball (at my speed) – plus weight machines; all the amenities of modern life a short drive away, but hidden from view.
4. My setup now is probably as good as it will get.
5. I was born in Switzerland while my parents were in language school; we left for Congo (Zaire) when I was 10 months old.
6. One of my most vivid childhood memories is going hunting with my dad – in the savanna of north-eastern Congo.
7. I used to be known as Benjamin Barfuly for what would happen on the little Cessna plane on the way to and from boarding school (grades 1-3). In High School, my track teammates used to place bets on how long I could last before disappearing behind the bleachers after the 800m. Christi still takes care of the smelliest messes in our house—not because I’m afraid of them; she just doesn’t want to hear me gag.
8. I probably speak more French in Nairobi than I did in Paris.
9. I ate more ugali (the Kenyan staple) during six weeks in Cambridge than I have in three years in Kenya.
10. Wow! I’m up to #10 already. I appeared in the evening news on all the major French TV networks – even spoke a few words of broken French for one of them (Christi made the magazine).
11. Unlike every one of my five siblings, I don’t drink caffeine in any form. (I confess that I am addicted to chocolate). I was once

Continue reading

Something dramatic just happened in America’s moral economy

In the last couple of days, I’ve been touched by reading articles and posts by African Americans that have been deeply moved by Barak Obama’s election. As you already know, I was moved for many of the same reasons, but obviously, I can never feel it as deeply as they feel it (nor can the younger generations feel it like the older generations). My challenge to my white friends is to read some of these reflections and try to absorb some of the history and emotion. This is a very teachable moment, and it may help us begin to change the way we think about certain things. (These examples just happen to be from sites I regularly peruse; I’m sure there are many more.)

Eugene Robinson – (Washington post): Morning in America

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In our Lifetime (the Root): “From toiling as White House slaves to President-elect Barack Obama, we have crossed the ultimate color line.”

Alice Walker – an Open Letter to Obama (The Root)

Edward Gilbreath – What Obama, Tchaikovsky, and Dante Have in Common (Reconciliation Blog)

Todd Burkes – I wish you could have been here. (Follow)

Kevin Merida: A Day of Transformation: America’s History Gives Way to It’s Future (Washington Post)

. . . Presidential elections often reveal something about the nation’s character, its temperament and state of mind. Many who are wondering how it happened that Barack Obama was elected president this season are also wondering what else they may be missing in their cities and towns and neighborhoods. Transformation rarely announces itself with trumpets. It usually happens gradually, over time, and then — clang!— a singular moment chimes the news. From its founding, the United States has seen itself as a special place, an example to other nations, a “city on the hill.” With the election of its first black president, it can now begin to erase one of the stains on that reputation, one that repeatedly shamed us in front of other countries. . .

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Man of Tomorrow (Washington Post) – sort of a side note.

I also liked this quote about where Obama stands (and differs) with other civil rights leaders – some perspective: “He ran the last leg of a 60-year tag race . . . The wall is down now. Barack must build the bridge for the next generation.” He leapt the tallest barrier. What does it mean for Black America? (Washington Post)

BONUS: Here is a looong New Yorker article that I highly recommend: The Joshua Generation: Race and the Campaign of Barack Obama

As white Americans (especially white evangelicals), we need to come to grips with the reality that something deeply significant just happened in the moral economy of our nation. Let’s put our political reservations aside for a minute and wholeheartedly celebrate what this means within the moral paradoxes of our nation’s history.

Disclaimers: This is only a beginning, and the harsh political realities will emerge soon enough. As far as I recall, none of these writers is saying that Obama is the messiah; this is bigger than any one individual. Also, I do make a distinction between celebrating this moral milestone and Obamamania. Some people (worldwide) might as well be cheering for their favorite sports team; it almost cheapens it for the rest of us.

When the worldviews of friends clash; how blogging has blown my cover

[Side note: November is likely going to be a very light blogging month – writing focus, so I’m mostly going to scam good quotes from friends ;-). This may be the last thoughtful post for a while.]

One of the animals with a special place in my heart is the chameleon. It’s not that my looks make it easy for me to blend in anywhere, but I’ve tried to make myself believe that if I proceed carefully and slowly enough, I could somehow keep my wildly disparate worlds from clashing (1 Cor. 9:20 comes to mind and stereotypical missionary kid (MK) tendencies).

Blogging has blown my cover. I used to be able to say one thing to one group of friends, and an entirely different thing to another. It’s not that I would lie or be deceitful in any way. It’s just that I would focus on the common ground. Now anything I post can be read by a my entire range of friends.

I’m getting used to it, but it’s still uncomfortable because I’m sensitive and I know how passionate some of my friends are about certain issues. Last week was a tough week in that regard.

  • I wrote a post with a title that understandably hit some buttons from an internet friend whose comments I’ve really come to appreciate over recent months. In the ensuing comments exchange, she was very gracious about an issue I know she feels strongly about. On the other hand, I kept thinking how a different group of friends reading the exchange might think I was selling out.
  • I wrote an e-mail to many of my conservative high school classmates (where I was the chief of conservatives). I was responding to the Huntley Brown e-mail that has been circulating – something about how a Christian can’t vote for Obama. Knowing where most of them were coming from, it wasn’t “comfortable” explaining how I thought I could vote for Obama and still be a Christian – even if some of his really liberal policies give me the chills. They were all really loving, and it turned out to be a fun exchange.
  • I posted an article on Facebook and got some positive feedback and a caution from great friends.

All great exchanges that serve as a reminder of how tense it can be when your friends from polar opposites of the spectrum “get together.” (Two-thirds of this is my own fault for opening my mouth about politics.) Part of me wants to crawl back into into a shell or become a chameleon again; I’m not the only one. Here’s an example where one of my favorite blogging friends who retracted a post about his own theological journeys (read his relational reasons for the retraction.) I’m also constantly reminded that anything I say can and will be used against me; future employment is likely at stake.

The hottest, most dangerous issues seem to be related to:

  • politics
  • ethnicity and racism
  • religion; theology related ideas (doctrinal viewpoints).

The three regularly appear together and they are a potent mix as we all know.

The beauty of the recent exchanges is that they have forced me to think much more deeply about some of my views. They they have also reminded me of the importance of our contexts, experiences, and who we associate with. If I had one piece of advice to all my friends, it would be this:


Make sure you develop deep relationships with people who are very different from you and think very differently than you do. You’ll never be the same. Bill Dyrness once said, (quoting someone else I think). “We will never fully understand the gospel until we have heard it articulated in every different language and culture.”

Here is a great quote along those lines from a newly discovered blog – Todd Burkes, Follow – In his post My World 2008, he writes:

I have changed because I am surrounded by people who think differently from myself. I can’t avoid it.

I realized it was useless to try when my Facebook friend list started growing and I realized I could no longer keep my extremely diverse circles from perceiving one another.

And nor did I want to anymore. If it’s been healthy for me to be confronted with all of these people, the same could probably be said for all of them.

I know that this blog is read not only by my conservative Christian friends . . . , but also by my atheist and agnostic friends. It is read by black friends and family from the inner city and the suburbs … by white friends from every economic level …

All of these friends — truly friends — make it impossible for me to be closed in my thinking. They don’t let me get away with that.

I must think about how I am saying things and how different people will understand what I am saying.

More than that, I have learned from all of them. I have learned that none of them are out to harm me. They all want basically the same things in life, even if they disagree about how to go about seeking it.

[Not surprisingly, both of these bloggers are black men who have moved in white evangelical circles. From my experience, these guys get hit the hardest and every one of them should get some kind of medal.]

So here’s to radically different social contexts. To all my widely divergent friends out there, I’d like to say a big thanks for hanging with me and shaping me.