Thursday, March 5, 2015

Like swirling in a whirlwind

I wrote this to my granddaughter, Maggie on July 30, 1996, from Nairobi:

…Your grandpa can hardly contain his joy—he has leased a facility for West Nairobi School, and the principal, James, has arrived. He’s working like crazy to orient James and work through stacks of paperwork.

Mr. James Ashdown, Principal of WNS
Parents love the school’s location, and increasing numbers of students have enrolled.…

Life right now is wild but wondrous. New teachers and school-related people fly in one after another after another. We just learned that a teacher family will arrive Thursday—we hadn’t heard a date before—and another teacher will arrive Thursday, too.

Another, scheduled to arrive Thursday, hasn’t received her work permit yet. She might have to wait another two weeks.

… Another teacher and the dorm parents will arrive on Saturday, and the schedule goes on like that for a couple more weeks.…           

The arrival of each person or family involves a run to the airport, meals at our house, stacks of dishes—no dishwashers here—and orientation. We take them to church and acquaint them with the city and its ways. We teach them sanitation, hygiene, how to soak vegetables in chemicals, and how to filter drinking water.

We also do a few fun things with them because we want them to fall in love with Kenya.

I help your grandpa with all these on top of my full-time job so I feel like I’m swirling in a whirlwind, but an exciting one.

This school is a dream-come-true for your grandfather.

Our dear friend, Elizabeth
At this wild and crazy time, I’m so thankful for Elizabeth’s help at home. I couldn’t do all this without her. Sometimes I ask her to buy a few items at a duka nearby, and other times I ask her to chop vegetables for a pot of soup. She does all kinds of chores that I don’t even ask her to do, and she lets me know when I need to add something to my grocery list. “Leen-dah,” she says, “we need more OWN-ee-owns” (onions).

The other day a friend suggested that a working woman needs a wife. Amen! Quaint I ain’t!

(from Chapter 17, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Glory like the flowers of the field

Last week I was telling you Dave hired Wycliffe and Benson to tame wild vegetation on the two and a half acres of land for the new school.

Trees and bushes and vines and flowers grew so fast in Nairobi—I had never seen anything like it.

And the colors! The intensity of the hues and the variety of shades nearly made me cry.

The property had been neglected so Wycliffe and Benson really had their work cut out for them, and they did an excellent job of creating "glory like the flowers of the field" (Isaiah 40:6).

Here are a few pictures of God's handiwork and the gorgeous grounds Wycliffe and Benson tended so lovingly:

 Jacaranda blossoms coated the ground like a layer of snow!


  Acacia, I think                                              


Pepper tree         

And there were so many other beautiful flowers and shrubs and trees: poinsettias and African daisies and so many others I couldn't name—red and blue and white and pink and every color you can imagine. They filled me with delight!                                      

Near the front entrance,
Wycliffe and Benson created this garden with the initials WNS. 
This was when they first made the garden 
so the plants are little, but they soon filled out.

 Thanks to Wycliffe and Benson and God, we had
such lovely grounds!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The joys of sprinting through life

Dave could hardly contain his joy. He leased an old colonial house on two and a half acres of land for the school—it was only temporary until West Nairobi School had its own permanent campus.
In those few months Dave sprinted through life on a wild, riotous schedule:

Recruiting teachers and a principal from North America,

ordering textbooks from the States,

searching for affordable ways to ship them,

buying hand-made desks and chairs and blackboards,

ordering computers and office furniture,

ordering classroom and office supplies,

converting the old home and its garage into classrooms and a library,

buying school buses and getting them painted,

interviewing and hiring bus drivers,

buying playground equipment,

setting up the faculty room:  refrigerator, water filter, copy machine, coffee pot,

driving our car at least half a dozen times to Rift Valley Academy (an excellent school for missionaries’ kids up north) to bring their almost-outdated English and literature textbooks down to West Nairobi School,

….and that was only the beginning!

The property was lush with trees and tropical vegetation but it had been neglected and needed a lot of work. That’s why Dave hired Wycliffe as a gardenerremember Wycliffe from last week’s post? I was delighted we could give him and his wife jobs! That was an answer to many prayers.

Dave hired another man, Benson, to help Wycliffe with the grounds and all-around chores and maintenance.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Benson. I was working in my office when he stopped at my door on his way to his job interview: bright-eyed, wearing a wide, nervous grin, clutching his hat in front of him, and dressed in his Sunday best—as long as a man wore a sport coat or a tie, he was properly dressed; he wore a sport coat. Benson was so excited he seemed to bounce when he asked me to direct him to David Thomas’s office. It was right next door so I showed the way.

For the next few minutes I couldn’t help but smile, wondering how the interview was going. On his way out, Benson poked his head in my office, even more radiant than before, and thanked me again for helping him find Dave’s office. He was about to burst with joy at landing a job. That was the beginning of an eight-year acquaintance with Benson.

It was a busy and exciting era, and we cherish the memories.

Benson (center) and Wycliffe (right) with our daughter Karen. She taught at WNS its first year!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Giving Wycliffe and Hellen jobs: One of my biggest joys

He was there from day one and, in the end, eight years later, he was one of the last persons I said goodbye to on the day I left Kenya for the last time.

At first I didn’t take any special notice of him as he stood with another guard by a wrought iron gate at the entrance to the Kiambere apartment complex. It was only after Dave and I had finished our orientation and began working in our new jobs that I looked into that young man’s face.

He and the other guard would open the gate for us on our way to and from work. The other guard didn’t catch my attention, but there was something special about him—his gentle voice, his kind eyes, his thoughtfulness, his presence.

During our first months in Nairobi, when Dave and I stepped through that gate, we set out into what seemed, to me, like a realm where evil lurked every step of the way until we got to the gate at our office.

The distance between the two gates was short—around a corner and about half a city block down a boulder-strewn hill—and at first I refused to walk to the office alone. I begged Dave to let me walk to and from work with him.

Eventually I marshaled enough courage to walk to the office by myself—at least sometimes—and that’s when that young gateman seemed like an angel, a visible gift from God, watching me until I rounded the corner. I knew he’d help if anyone tried to hurt me.  

And his name was Wycliffe. What a coincidence—Dave and I were working with Wycliffe Bible Translators!

I assumed Wycliffe had been hired to open and close gates for residents and their cars—every property and office had gates and guards—but later I learned he was unemployed. Kenya’s unemployment rate was staggering, hovering around 50%. Wycliffe was just donating his time, helping with the gate out of the goodness of his heart.

Week after week I was really troubled by Wycliffe’s lack of income. My heart ached for him and his young wife. I couldn’t imagine how they could be feeding themselves and where they might be living. Millions of Kenyans blessed to have jobs had to live in slums with no running water or plumbing or electricity. I wondered how he and his wife survived day by day, month after month.

For a long time I hoped and prayed someone would give Wycliffe a job but little did I know Dave could help answer those prayers!

Some two years went by and, in the spring of 1996 when Dave began staffing the soon-to-open West Nairobi School, Wycliffe was his first choice for maintaining the grounds. Dave also hired Wycliffe’s wife, Hellen, to cook lunch for the school’s cleaning staff. Giving Wycliffe and Hellen jobs was one of the biggest joys of my years in Kenya.

Wycliffe and Hellen (Karen Thomas Kelly photo)
The school’s first campus was in an old colonial home on a large piece of property that also had a couple of servants’ quarters. That meant Wycliffe and Hellen could live in a stone dwelling—small, but sturdy—with cement floor, electricity, and water! My heart still sings at the thought of it.

Year after year, Wycliffe and Hellen proved to be fine Christians, quiet, hard working, and dependable. 

How poor my life would be if God hadn’t caused my path to cross theirs!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Was this really happening?

So, having received approval from every direction, Dave proceeded to make West Nairobi School a reality.

He could hardly contain his joy.

He also knew an enormous, massive, colossal, gargantuan amount of work awaited him—and he was ready and eager. He didn’t let one or two critics get him down because he knew WNS was not just his own dream—it was clear this was God’s dream too.

In the years leading up to the current chapter of WNS, Dave had already learned that:

when God Himself is the instigator—
when something is according to His plan
and His will
and is in His timing
He can make it happen!

Dave sought God’s guidance every step of the way. First he tackled one of the most urgent goals: lining up teachers.

Many schools for missionaries' kids can't find enough teachers, year after year after year, and now WNS needed an entire staff! This would be no easy task. But God did it!

Over the next few months, Wycliffe Bible Translators’ headquarters in Huntington Beach, California, rounded up a school principal and teachers willing to arrive in Nairobi by August, 1996. (I’m eager to introduce you to some of them soon!)

Dave had to pinch himself. Was this really happening?!

What a ride when God’s at the wheel!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

“Laughs at impossibilities and shouts, ‘It shall be done!’”

So, like I was telling you, Dave’s job was to find a better way for missionaries’ kids across Africa to get a good education.

Many families had good options, but too many families had too many problems getting schooling for their kids.

When school options are not good, missionary families often give up their work and return home. Dave’s job was to find a way to keep them on the mission field: to come up good educational opportunities for those families.

It was a daunting task. Other people had tried to solve the problems, but nothing had yet worked.

For a couple of years, Dave assessed situations in over twenty sub-Saharan African countries in which our organization worked.

He prayed and he listened.

He pondered,
worked out mathematics,
devised possible plans,
experimented with them in his head,
revised them,
and perfected them.

Over time, God helped him develop a brilliant plan—one that was clever and intricate and complicated. I’m not going to try to explain it all. Just trust me: It was brilliant.

And, most importantly, it would work!

It all depended on opening West Nairobi School, but it would help more than Nairobi families—it would help missionaries’ kids all across the continent.

When Dave presented the initial idea to our boss, he worried John might not like it, but he did.

At John’s advice, Dave took the idea to the next level, and then the next, knowing it could be vetoed at any point. It was a heart-pounding, breath-holding number of months for Dave.

To our amazement, the school idea got one green light after another. Dave and I were amazed—almost stunned. God was doing all this and we were along for the ride!

Then the school idea faced its toughest hurdle: it became official business at our Africa Area meetings. We knew that there God could either make it happen or bring it to a halt.

Delegates debated and discussed the plan. A couple of people voiced concerns, but nothing came up that Dave, with God’s help, had not already thought through.

Next, it went to committee.

Soon it came back for the vote—and the school received the official okay!

And Uncle Cam’s favorite song danced in our minds:

Faith, mighty faith the promise sees,
And looks to God alone.
Laughs at impossibilities
And shouts, “It shall be done!”
Charles Wesley

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It’ll ever happen!

It’ll never happen,” one man scoffed.

A couple of other people, not quite so doubtful, called my husband crazy to try to open West Nairobi School in the fall of 1996. They urged him to aim instead for the following year.

But when God Himself is the instigator—
when something is according to His plan
and His will
and is in His timing
He can make it happen!

Oh, there are always doubters, there are skeptics and critics, and because of them many of us give up—but once in a while we run across a few choice servants who charge forward, confident of God’s leading. That’s what my husband, Dave, did.

But Dave wasn’t bent on his own big dreams. He sought God’s guidance every step of the way.

The founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Cameron Townsend (Uncle Cam), showed how it was done—many a time.

Take, for example, Uncle Cam’s vision to begin Bible translation in South American nations where Protestant Christians were unwelcome. Churches had been burned, some Protestants had been martyred, violence was widespread. Almost all new Protestant missions had been refused entrance into such countries. When Uncle Cam proposed beginning Bible translation there, people said, “It’ll never happen!”

But Uncle Cam didn’t give up just because someone was pessimistic.

Uncle Cam “was a man who possessed noble ideas and an inner vision to reach the world’s bypassed peoples for God through the Scriptures. It was this faith, this vision, this singlemindedness, that became Cameron Townsend’s hallmark, and it came from a settled conviction about why he had been created. He was a man at peace with himself, who knew he was appropriately placed in the scheme of God’s will. Thus when he believed a certain course of action was God-directed, he acted, never doubting. … He forthrightly forged ahead believing God was guiding his dreams.” (From A Thousand Trails: The personal journal of William Cameron Townsend, compiled and edited by Hugh Steven; emphasis mine)

And so, when Uncle Cam faced obstacles,
when the odds stacked against his God-given dreams seemed too high,
when others doubted,
he looked to God and sang Charles Wesley’s hymn:

Faith, mighty faith the promise sees,
And looks to God alone.
Laughs at impossibilities
And shouts, “It shall be done!”

Dave was well aware of Uncle Cam’s faith and holy boldness. Time and time again, Uncle Cam forged ahead when others held back, quaking in their boots.

Photo from WNS yearbook
Dave followed Uncle Cam’s example.

Dave had been charged by his bosses to find a way to help missionaries’ kids get a good education across Africa. The kids needed to be equipped to go to college in their home countries. 

Some families homeschooled but that wasn’t always a good option. Some families lived near a missions-run school and that was an excellent option—if the school wasn’t already full. Other families lived near international schools, another excellent option as long as families were wealthy enough to afford tuition—and missionary families are not wealthy!

Too many families had too many problems getting an adequate education for their kids.

When schooling options are not good, missionary families often give up their work and return to their home countries. Dave’s job was to find a way to keep them on the mission field: he had to come up good educational opportunities for those families.

It was a daunting task—our organization worked in over twenty countries across sub-Saharan Africa—but God had given Dave the kind of intellect, and passion, needed to figure it out.

Come back next week to see how this all unfolded.