The only thing I know about chickens is how to eat one!

In December, I left Kenya to return to the States for a short visit. I wanted to share what I was doing at the Home of the Good Shepherd and I also needed to find enough financial partners to allow me to return for four more years. I thought, “No problem. I will be back home to Kenya by March.” I boarded a plane for home about three weeks ago. That’s MAY, in case you didn’t catch that. As each week passed and I found myself still in the States, I began to question my ability to communicate effectively. Maybe I say “umm” too much when I talk. I remember reading somewhere that that word can kill the most brilliant speech after just one appearance. Naturally, once I began to question my ability to reach out to people, I also began to question my whole existence (you could say I’m a little overdramatic), including my presence at the children’s home. Do they really need me? I cannot sing. I cannot cook. I am not creative. I don’t know what sort of disease causes black spots on cabbage leaves. I can’t…well, there’s a lot more I can’t do, but let’s not get bogged down in too many trivial details. I do want to share a story with you about one of those trivial details, though. (Don’t stop reading. It gets more upbeat and there are some really funny bits coming up soon.)

A week before I left Kenya, I oversaw the construction of a new chicken coop. When I returned three weeks ago, we picked up progress as though I had never left. They had been waiting for me to return before ordering any chicks. Join me as I go back to the beginning of this saga. Two days after I arrived, I was told, “You’re here! Great! We’ve ordered your chicks Jennifer, so get ready!” Wait, What? What! Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh! Laptop! Where’s my laptop? Google raising chickens. Where’s the paper bag? Breathe in. Out. In. Out. That’s what they do on TV, right? Where did they ever get the idea I know anything about raising chickens!? Blood pressure rising. I can’t do this. Oh, my heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. Oh, good. The chicken expert is coming to help me. Oh no. He says the coop is oriented the wrong way and we have to take it down and start over. Thump. Thump. Thump. I gave him the look that made my servers at the restaurant turn and run whichever way I was NOT headed. He came up with an alternative. Alter two walls and build an awning on one side. Okay. Buy the wood. And the chicken wire. Hello Handyman. Welcome. Yes, please fix my chicken coop as fast as you can. What? Not enough wood? No nails? What? You can’t wait for me to get them today? You will come back in two days? What? THUMPTHUMPTHUMP. No. That’s fine. Maybe the truck bringing the chicks will break down for a few days. I can’t do this.
Okay, you’re back. You’re done. Thank you. It’s beautiful. Next? Oh, right. Disinfect the coop. And chicks apparently need bedding material. And heat. And light. And food. And a brooder ring. I can’t do this! Ummm, where to start? Bedding material. Thirty bags of sawdust should do it. Where do I find sawdust? Hmmmm. Make a phone call. Yes? Mr. Carpenter? Can I stop by your shop and fill thirty feed bags with sawdust? I can?! Oh, thank you. Ummm, now I just need a truck to get it all back home. No problem. Call for a truck. Just hang out at the saw mill for one..two..three hours.
Home again. Great. We’ll spread the bedding tomorrow, disinfect and build the brooder ring with the heat lamp. Just food and water drinkers after that. Now for dinner. 7:30. Knock, knock. Yes? What? What? WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE CHICKS ARE HERE?!?!?! THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP. What do I want you to do with them? Release them into the wild. Give them their freedom. Okayokay. I’m fine. I’m fine. The Titantic sinks. The Hindenburg explodes. Chernobyl melts down.
One hundred and fifty chicks arrive in two boxes. I can’t do this. Hello? Hello? Mr. Chicken Expert? Ummm…the chicks are here and I have no water, no food, no heat source, and no bedding for them. Is that a big problem? Calm down? Umm…Okay. Nope, sorry, my body is not cooperating. It never does. That’s why I can never get a good tan and I have age spots on my hands. Irrelevant. Leave them in the box tonight? Okay. Have the house ready early. Ummm, sure. No problem.
Up at 5 am. Spread the bedding. Build the brooder. Send out for chick feed. Find a charcoal stove to warm them. Send out for charcoal. Get a thermometer. 9 am. Open the boxes and release the chicks into the brooder. Ummm….they are two different breeds. That’s not what I ordered. I can’t do this! Thump. Thump. Thump. Hello? Hello? Ms. Chick Saleslady? What did you sell me? Oh, 50 broilers and 100 layers? Don’t they need different living environments? They do? Different food, too? Keep them separate? Thump. Thump. Thump. Umm…are you sure? Oh, okay. Yes, no problem.
Umm, need another brooder ring. Oh, and the charcoal heater has to have charcoal added every hour. No problem. Set my alarm to go off every hour all night. I can’t do this. 11 pm. 12 am. 1 am. 2 am. 3 am. Check the temperature in the brooder. Change their water. 9 am. Yes? Hello manager? Yes, I’ve missed you, too. Sorry, I have been very busy. What? There is more to the world than chickens? There is? Where is that planet?

Day 2. Here is where you begin to understand why this crazy story is relevant to my original point of feeling useless to the children’s home. One of the chicks is not walking or even standing. His legs are sticking out to the side. He looks like an Easter peep with a toothpick sticking out of each side. I once again called the chicken expert, who told me this sometimes happens and I would have to kill this chick. I hung up the phone and walked back to my house, wondering how I was going to kill this three day old baby chick. I’m just not the right person for this whole job. I don’t know anything. I don’t have the experience. I don’t have anything. I can’t raise chickens. While the emotional side of my brain spiraled into the bleak void of Sylvia Plath and Hemingway, the analytical side reminded me I hated their writing anyway and there was an alternative here. I vaguely remembered reading about something similar to this leg condition during my frantic research days earlier. I searched the internet once again and found what I was looking for. His legs were weak and were forming wrong. There was a way to try to fix it, but success was not guaranteed. I decided to try. To reshape his legs, I would have to cut a bandaid in half longways and wrap it around his legs, using the white gauze pad as a measure of the distance to spread his legs when I wrapped them. I recruited the night guard to help me. I could see in his eyes he thought this crazy white girl was maybe not a missionary, but an escaped mental patient. I saw the same judgement in the chick’s eyes as it yelled at me. I went back in my house and wondered if they had a point. The first time I needed to break into the medical supplies I had been so conscientious to bring for the children, it was to doctor a baby chicken that was destined to be slaughtered for meat.
Despite all that, though, I checked on my patient often, keeping him separate from the other chicks, and watched as he refused to try to walk. Tonight, Day 5, I went out to check on the chicks and the night guard was there. He pointed to the box I was keeping the injured chick in and said, “He walks.” I rushed over to the box and saw the chick standing by his water dish. Then I watched as he walked to his food dish. Thump. Thump. Thump. I smiled at the night guard and he smiled back and said, “You did a good work.” I nodded my thank you and left as fast as I could. I didn’t want him to go back to thinking I was crazy, and I was on the verge of tears over a chicken.

I have never raised chickens. I’ve barely been around chickens. The first time someone handed me a freshly slaughtered chicken and asked me if I knew what to do with it, I said, “Of course. Bury it.” But I’ve had these baby chicks for five days now, and they are still alive. There are plenty of things I don’t know how to do, but God raised me in a country and in a family where “I don’t know” simply means “I’ll figure it out.” He gave me the will to try, to ask for help until I get it, and to search for solutions to every problem that comes. After all, didn’t God tell Moses, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

I forgot it never works to try to explain to the Maker what He made. He already knows better than I do anyway and He also knows exactly what His child is capable of accomplishing. I don’t need to always know what exactly what I’m doing. He knows what I need and He will make sure I get it. The chick is walking, isn’t it.

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Fall Newsletter

Hi everyone,

I know it’s been awhile since I have written and I have several experiences I would like to share with you, so hopefully I will be able to add some stories here soon.  In the meantime, I wanted to add this link to the fall newsletter.  I know it isn’t really fall anymore, but I am running behind.  I apologize for that and have no excuse for you except to say it is fall-like weather here in Kenya!

Fall 2013

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Summer Newsletter

This is just a post to let everyone know the summer newsletter is out.  You can click here to see it.  If you want to be added to the mailing list, just send me an email and let me know!

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Of silverware and sacrifice

Aaauugghh! It’s been so long since I’ve been able to write that I am in a state of frozen indecision as to what I should share with you in this post.  I do not want to share too much in this blog about the orphanage and the kids; the summer newsletter will be out in two weeks and I am filling it with stories about the home. So, what to share with you today? The bout of malaria? Swahili lessons? The joys of bucket showers?  The universal utensil?  It would be a shame if I didn’t expound at all on a few of the baptisms by fire I’ve faced and how those obstacles were overcome (or avoided…).

So, here we go…

Did you know Americans are excessive? I’m sure you, like me, have heard this many times, but NOT ONCE, in all the articles, lectures, advertisements, or debates on this subject has anyone ever mentioned the ridiculous fetish Americans have with utensils. Yes, utensils. Butter knives, steak knives, salad forks, dinner forks, tea spoons, and on and on it goes. We even have hybrids! Who hasn’t used the white plastic spork? We are drowning in silverware and don’t even know it! Never fear! The Kenyans have the answer! Yes! One large spoon will do! For soup, for salad, for potatoes, for fruit, for pasta, for meat. The large spoon does it all.  And if you cannot cut chicken off the bone with a spoon, it is not the tool that is deficient, it is the operator. Much like my father’s theory about computers: “They only do what you tell them to do”. Malarkey, I say! I have always owned deficient computers with evil mad-scientist minds of their own, and now I have a collection of spoons that will not cut chicken or beef nor will they adequately assist in the movement of spaghetti from my plate to my mouth. Fine. I don’t like spaghetti anyway! The nine year old next to me can have it and I will watch discreetly and enviously as he eats my pasta effortlessly.  I shall steal his spoon when he is not looking.

Next!

I consider showers sacred. It is indecent to just jump in, soap up, rinse off, and jump out.  This is a special time. The hot water relaxes your muscles, and you can just put the world on pause while you enjoy a personal waterfall all to yourself. Turn on the radio and take a mini vacation. (I believe in the body wash commercials that transform your shower into a tropical paradise.)  I knew this would be hard to leave behind, but you go where you are called.  So, one 7,000 mile flight later, I looked at my new shower room.  It is a small, concrete room with a drain in the floor and a wooden door.  A red plastic basin about 17 inches wide and 10 inches deep is my shower. Okay. Tropical waterfall paradise, here I come! You should know waterfalls are not featured in body wash commercials in this country. First of all, you have to heat the water you want on the stove and just take your best guess as to how hot you need the water and how much hot water you need.  So far, I have had the Glacier Stream and the Sahara Sauna. Also, you have heard of kneeling to the porcelain throne? I kneel to the red plastic basin in an effort to wet my hair without wasting water by pouring it over my head. My greatest shower fear is that I will run out of water in my basin before I have rinsed all the soap off.  I cannot even begin to decide what I would do, but taking up permanent residence in the shower room is a definite option. After soaping up, I conservatively wash the bubbles away, always mindful of the lowering water level in the basin. Success! Leftover water and no soap left!  I gleefully take advantage of the fact that I have extra water and dump it rather exuberantly over my head.  Oops.  Too exuberantly.  I got water all over my towel hanging on the door. Space is smaller than I realized.  Hmmm. Dry off with my t-shirt. Use the towel on my hair. Done! I still find great joy in my showers, because I did it without having to send out an SOS for more water.

Next!

Malaria.  The first workers on the Panama Canal suffered so severely from malaria, construction was halted for decades. De-cades.  Clearly, these men were not prepared to handle silly things like fatal bug bites. I can sympathize. I lay in bed one night with body chills that were actually making my teeth chatter and my body shake.  In sheer desperation, I buried myself under every blanket I could find and then, as extra insurance, I piled all of my clothes on top of the blankets. The bed now resembled a quaking, cotton and rayon volcano.  And I thought I might be suffocating at the bottom. One night of this was enough, so in the morning I turned to my roommate for help. After hearing my symptoms, she picked up her first aid kit and took out a malaria testing kit and antimalarial meds. Malaria! It’s a good thing I had someone who knew what she was doing.  My first aid kit has Disney Princess band aids and fingernail clippers. On my own, I will be doomed to die a fashion conscious, well-manicured nitwit. It’s a good thing I’m not in construction.

Wow, I’m overcoming one challenge after another…

As I sit here thinking of these and other challenges, big and small, I thought about Paul being bitten by the viper on Malta.  He should have died, but he suffered no ill effects; he just shook the snake off into the fire.  What a testimony that must have been for the people there to witness.  But the cost! A snake bite! Paul talks a lot about what it is to follow Christ and the sacrifice it takes to be the salt and light in this world. I have no doubt that Paul did not resent his own pain when he was bitten, nor did he consider his deliverance the result of his own inherent importance.  Instead, I think he knew that this miracle was the Lord’s way of showing His sovereignty to these people so that they might be saved. And I think he rejoiced in his chance to bring glory to God. Now, when I faced a disease that has killed many people, not for a moment did I consider how my obedience, faith and acceptance of the situation might glorify God. No. I thought of the inconvenience, the drama, and the pain. Me, me, me.   A modern day Pharisee. Each moment of drama another feather in my missionary cap.  I am still learning to accept that the difficulties I face are not there so that the world can see how much I am willing to sacrifice; they are there so the people can see God’s power and faithfulness through those who love and trust Him.  So I need to love and trust Him.  I’m not just being baptized into Kenyan culture; I’m being baptized anew into a sacrificial faith.

It’s only temperamental silverware for now, but if my spiritual walk one day brings me into chains and snake bites, I hope I will be able to say with Paul,

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”       (You should just read Philippians 1. He says it better than me!)

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Inner Reflections

I have decided one of the dangers of not being able to converse at the same level I usually do is that I end up having very deep conversations with things that cannot talk back.  My teddy bear, for example.   I have absolutely no defense for owning a teddy bear at 34 years old, except to say he was gift from my father for Valentine’s Day one year. (That’s your cue to say “Aawwww…that’s so sweet!” and then tell my father how very lucky he is to have such a sentimental daughter…) Besides, sometimes these “conversations” become so internally reflective, it is probably best the other party stay quiet and unassuming.  My bear excels at this. I wanted to share one of these conversations with you…

It was recently pointed out to me that I judge very harshly and sometimes my words do not convey any sense of the love Jesus told us to have for each other.  Of course, I took this criticism with all the grace you would expect a Christian to possess. Ha! Not quite. Although I did not immediately begin compiling a mental list of observed faults in my friend to use as a rebuttal, neither did I immediately concede to my friend’s observation. Instead, I found myself wondering if this was true, and if it was true, what I should do about it. I also worked to stamp out the small flame of anger I felt sparking to life inside me. (It took a while.) I retreated to my room and my bear.  After a spectacular rant which included an energetic pacing journey to all corners of my bedroom, I picked up my bear to see what he thought. He agreed my friend was unfair.

Have you ever had to deal with an unflattering revelation about yourself? And I mean deal with it, not just decide the other person just doesn’t understand you or you are justified in how you are because of things in your past. Those rationalizations allow you to retain whatever character qualities were in question in the first place.  Am I so harsh in my criticism of others that it overshadows any feelings of love toward them? I looked to my teddy bear for an answer.  Nothing came, but his eyes were full of understanding.  Right. If I anthropomorphize him any further, I will have to name him Hobbes.

After sharing more looks with my confidant on the bed, I came to the painful decision that my friend was not completely wrong.  I am a very black and white person.  An action is either right or wrong.  I don’t believe in “gray areas”.  This may be a mistake of youth (can I still claim that defense?) or an immature understanding of the Christian faith, but that is where I find myself right now and, for now, I do not believe this to be wrong. Now, my problem, then, is how do I stand in opposition to the wrong without alienating the person? Clearly, I am not doing this the right way, if Christ’s love is not shining out of me. I used to not like to “rock the boat” as they say; I reasoned that this would only make people reluctant to come to church, but I cannot find any timid apostles for Christ in the Bible.  In fact, they pray for boldness (Acts 4:29). Paul excelled at boldness. Somehow, though, I don’t think Paul is the example I need to be looking at for this problem. I looked at my bear to see what he thought of that and saw encouragement in his open-armed stance. Sigh of relief. He never judges me. Fine. Hobbes it is, then.

So now I have begun a personal Bible study to get a better understanding of how to be bold for Christ and still be a shining example of Christ’s love. It seems a very fine line to walk. To err too far on one side for the sake of inoffensiveness is to diminish the message of redemption through Christ’s sacrifice for us. To err too far on the other is to compromise the repeated message of loving one another and treating each other with respect and honor. The Scriptures have A LOT to say about all this and I have spent many evenings pouring over my Bible, trying to sort it all out.  I usually end up falling asleep with an assortment of notes spread around my bed and a silent sentinel with nappy white fur and a black nose keeping watch.

I’ll let you know what we find.

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The cat missionary

During my commissioning service, I had the opportunity to affirm my sincere belief that God had called me into the mission field and that I would genuinely devote myself to the advancement of His kingdom.  I pledged to commit myself to His will and sacrifice what was necessary to fulfill this call.  These are not words that easily slip from you; they weave a promise into your heart. I felt the weight of them being laid on me, giving my life focus. You are still you, but now a little bit more so.  Another step closer to becoming the “you” that Jesus died for you to be.

I will not begin to try to explain all the thoughts that were in my heart in those moments (be relieved; my thoughts spiral off into so many tangents and tangenettes you would soon be lost in the web and stuck forever.) I will say, though, that among the many things that passed through my mind, there was still the ever present question of: What will “Jennifer Saunders: Missionary” look like?

Turns out (and here’s the fun part for all of you) she looks quite a bit like a cat with her head stuck in a jug.  Cats, as you may know, are above petty inconveniences and when they are suddenly forced to deal with them are likely to exude a general attitude of bewilderment that this could be happening to them

Like….trying to tell the taxi drivers, “Thank you, no, I appreciate it, but really, I don’t want to marry you,” and actually telling them, “I love all of you!” I forgot one very important word in my translation, with the end result being a pirate-esque exclamation of “Huzzuh!” from all involved and an ironclad Guarantee that I will always be greeted with great enthusiasm on that street. Cue cat-jug expression from me.

Like…discovering all the things about myself I’d never known before.  A new friend seems to feel it is his duty to say to me “You have big problems” and “something is not right in your mind.” He tells me this at least once a day. After a month of that, I am sure he will be right.  His solution? “You are old. You should know how to handle life.” He is 24. Cue cat-jug expression again.

And…being told my skin is weak. What? Yes, many of you probably have the same problem. My pale skin. It gets red in the sun. It gets red when an ant bites it. It is not strong. They poke at the trail of red dots the mosquitoes leave on my legs.  Their skin does not change color.  They tell me I should do something about this sissy skin I have. They have no ideas to offer, though. That’s okay. I’m old and know how to handle life.  Cat-jug.

Like…laundry.  We have a washer. It uses water. This means you have to go outside first to turn on the tank. Then go out back to turn off the hose. Then come inside and turn on the electricity to the washer. And plug in the adapter and converter for the washer. Open the water line.  Select the water level. Oops. Check the water first and make sure it is clean-ish. Too much rain can add a lot of dirt to the water system. Okay, it’s clear. Fill the washer. Good. Finally. Forty minutes later…washer’s done. Except I forgot to put soap in the washer. Cue the cat-jug expression again.

Spiritual conviction and everyday reality do not always make the most graceful partners. (You’ve seen the alligators and hippos dance Swan Lake in Fantasia, right?) Since arriving, I have found the missionary role to not be exactly what I expected it to be. I was sent here to teach God’s Word. To live as an example of a Christ-follower. I need to learn how to be a leader. For some reason, I thought this might mean I would not have to deal with the “little” things of life.  Clearly, I forgot how significant these little things are.  A Christian life is built on embracing the little things!  To not feel offense at being called manic and old and instead discover your friend is just concerned about you and trying to reassure you. How easy to have missed that blessing!  And to have earned a child’s friendship because instead of brushing little hands away as they looked at my skin, I spread my arms and legs and, together, we counted all of my spots. In that village, I will never have to walk alone.

I thought I didn’t have time for these little things. I had to get to work doing the job of a missionary. And yet, these “petty inconveniences” keep popping up. And each time, the Lord takes my surprise at finding myself in these situations and uses it to help me become the leader and Christ-like example He sent me here to be.  I’m still me. But maybe a little less arrogant cat and a little bit more of the “me” He made me to be.

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Spring Newsletter

Hey everyone,

Sorry, no funny story right now.  I just wanted to let you know you can click here if you want to see my Spring newsletter.  I also emailed it out, so if you thought you were on the list and didn’t receive it, send me an email and I’ll add you to the list for next time.

I have a new word I wanted to share with you quickly: “wanasherehekeaje” My computer is underlining the word like mad. I don’t blame it.  It is not a word. It is an evil plot to render me the babbling idiot upon which my teacher bases all of his party stories. I know because when I tried to say it, he told me, “No, you have to say the last syllable with emphasis.” Right. He’s lucky I made it to the last syllable. By the time I got there, the last bit of breath I’d had was back at “re” or “he” or “ke”. Forget the emphasis. I needed an oxygen mask. (So maybe a short funny story…)

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