Thursday, September 26, 2013

Last day of class--in photo

Well, today was my last day of class at the YMCA this year. We'll fly back for furlough soon (more about that later!), and these ladies are gearing up for their practicums at local schools. Two of the kids came with me; J. was so disappointed I couldn't take more, and made me promise to tell the ladies about the Mickey Mouse hat he was wearing that day. The kids add a palpable energy to the classroom, and help with demonstrating some of the techniques.

The students presented their creative teaching strategies--not stellar, per se, but a big step up from last term in many senses. And more importantly, they're getting it. Slowly, and in small ways, I am seeing the light come on. They seem to grasp the need, and even more, to want their classrooms to be like this: full of grace, engaging, energized. They seem to want to make the playdough for themselves, craft the games, visit the websites as opposed to me wondering whether any of this would be actually utilized in one of their classrooms.

Later, I shared more ideas for teaching math (er, "maths"), and again allowed the ladies to try out learning centers spread around the perimeter of the room. They seem to eat this up, and I love that they can experience each idea and examine it.

I think I will remember for awhile the moment when, as I slid the last games into my basket after class (the students simply remain there for the next teacher), one of them came before the class and asked for a round of applause for such wonderful material. After a year of various questions of failure, it meant a great deal to experience that sound and those smiles. It reminded me of the verse B. and I talked about over lunch, when I explained to him I didn't have a teaching degree: The leaders saw that Peter and John were not afraid to speak, and they understood that these men had no special training or education. So they were amazed. Then they realized that Peter and John had been with Jesus.

And...I didn't update you on my prayer request for my talk about grace and the Gospel, because I felt the jury was still out. I'd started the talk as I usually do--"how many of you think we can earn our way to heaven?"--and was set back on my heels a bit when every single person, nuns included (I have three, and also a few Muslims), raised their hand. Later I wondered if I'd taken more of a tack of proving my point in a more Western manner rather than just speaking out of my own sheer delight at this incredible gift that has so wholly altered my existence. The English barrier--pointed out to me by a student after class, who subtly indicated I might be talking too fast for students coming from the village--was no help.

But I revisited the topic next week, and was encouraged by a few nods--which turned into a few smiles this week as I elaborated, and continued to point to how grace changes us. Then, how grace turns our classrooms from places of shame and fear to places of courage, confidence, and creativity.

I really don't know what the result of these devotional times are. But I felt like I was finally able to communicate relatively clearlynd like everything else, I find myself praying that God will turn a few crusty loaves and a couple of dead fish into a meal for more than my little mind grasps.

Tossing, counting, and adding balls of newspaper

Introducing science and math concepts with file folder games (

Exploring phonics taught with "word slides"

Using "word wheels" to teach word families

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What we're up to, and how you can pray--part three

Well, the life-altering adventure that is teaching the YMCA Institute Wandegeya commenced again last Thursday. I will admit to arriving a little bruised and skeptical, glancing around campus with a mental eyebrow turned down toward a pair of pursed lips. But still, the situation called for great faith.

Thankfully, a whole lotta things went a whole lot better. I have 40 (as opposed to 90) students. Even more, they’re all diploma students (as opposed to certificate students), so at first outlook, these ladies have greater dedication, training, personal investment, and caliber  that requires less cultural translation on my part in such a brief time. All in all, I’m energized that they seemed able to understand me and seemed engaged, even enthusiastic? the whole time. I’ve unquestionably learned a lot too, so being a veteran with more reasonable expectations and costly experiences has been a happy little surprise...not to mention considerably less labor intensive.

Little things gave some sizable relief: no gymnasium-sized classroom with six other simultaneous classes in it (or the obligatory I-shouted-across-the-room-for-a-couple-of-hours sore throat). Room between the desks instead of traipsing across the chairs oh-so-delicately in my skirt.  An unlocked classroom two flights up instead of six. The right person who tells when the term really does start, really does end, and really doesn't have class. It's little perks that make the difference, folks!

Pray for me tomorrow, if you would. It’s my class at where I’ll make the connection between showing students grace, undeserved favor...and connecting all that to the fact that we can't earn favor with God, but Jesus earned it for us. I get to show them what's changed my life. I get to share the Gospel (woot, woot)! 

Thank you, friends, for sending us here.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador…that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph. 6:18-20)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What we're up to--and how you can pray, #2

So. My (Janel's) second term at the Y starts tomorrow. They tried to casually sign me up for another class, but I think one will do the trick for now. I feel somewhat conflicted about this after last term's confusing...what? I don't even know what to call it.

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I've found myself naturally praying less for it, my heart sore and disillusioned, my enthusiasm a bit soggy (last night, I remembered: Brothers, never be lacking in zeal...). I'd love your prayers for faith, and for God to do more than I can ask, think, or imagine--whether I see it or not--for His own sake.


The visitors

It is a rare occasion that I would be able to mentally block out that I am homeschooling in Africa.

For one, we have this ideal indoor-outdoor schooling thing going on since it's palpably spring year-round; my children are regularly sprawled around the compound with piles of books, or painting a cardboard-box ziggurat in our garage-turned-schoolroom. (Anyone else not know what that was until they had to teach their kid?) There are the different birds we observe--like ibises or sizeable kites, or the African Grey parrot that we've heard but only glimpsed briefly.

There are also the random visitors that clink the gate in greeting. And there are the bodas that turn our heads to see if they are headed down the hill, or the fresh produce that we dive into shamelessly for snacks. There's co-op on a dusty driveway, or underneath an avocado tree.


And then--there's today, when a science lesson greeted me when I went to fling open the garage doors. We did indeed have unexpected visitors, though the latter pictured here is frequent enough. (We do school in a garage.)
That's six looong centimeters of cockroach. (Insert involuntary shudder.) I remember seeing these in Little Rock. You know, behind plexiglass at the zoo.

Frankly, I preferred our last guest, who popped his head over the eMi wall to chat with B. Usually on Wendesdays, the boys' Australian friend climbs a tree after finishing his 1:00 lunch, then whistles a tune until we come out and the boys inevitably get him to stay for the afternoon. Science lesson he is not, but I'll choose him over guest #1 any day of the week.

Peace for pastors

Last Thursday and Saturday found John and I in a breezy, tiled living room, palm trees waving out the window. It was comfortably crowded with nine pastors, give or take, and their wives. John was conducting a mini-seminar on biblical conflict management and peacemaking for Ugandan pastors-in-training....and--permit me to gush for just a second--that was incredible. John was, as he has been before in this area, sheerly a natural.
I think for me the best part was seeing them get the “aha” of the connection to the Gospel: that our vertical relationship with God plays out in the horizontal, the latter of which is so often fraught with pain and brokenness. But for all of time God's run after us, pursuing us as the great Relationship Mender, at the highest price: not faking peace or breaking peace, but going the distance to make true and lasting peace. It was such a privilege to talk with these co-laborers about practical ways to dig in and love well in relationships at the point when they're the least easy, the least comfortable.
It was also nothing short of sacred, there together, to hear this inspiring group of young leaders share some incredibly personal experiences. Watching John work and affect this type of impact was the kind of opportunity that makes you think, This is why we came here.  Watching him practically glow in his own private enthusiasm and passion for what he's doing after the first session, recalling how much he loved it, is something so fulfilling as a spouse.
So much of what we do here is decidedly unsexy; distinctly un-bloggable for one reason or another; vague and long-term at best in its fruitfulness. But there are a few sweet moments where God so clearly gives us opportunities to say, This--this!--is who our God is--and dream a bit about what He's doing, thankful we can be here and see it up close.