Friday, September 7, 2012

The past few months...

 I'm far worse at this whole "keeping people posted on what's happening while living in another country" thing than I ever thought I would be, but here's my attempt at encapsulating the comings and goings of recent months:

This summer was kinda interesting as it was split between the US and East Africa; I think most of you know I was back in the states for the months of May and June. My time stateside included three weddings (two of the newly-wedded being my brothers); catching up with old friends; time in Martinsville with my family, Winchester and Lancaster with grandparents, and Philadelphia with my wonderful friends and church family there; a camping trip; a family reunion; lots of time spent creating and making jewelry; and attempting to partake in most of the foods I miss while I’m here, which lead to having brunch at a great cafĂ© in Philly and ordering something called “The Kitchen Sink”. :-) After dealing with some big challenges and experiencing much loneliness during my December-May term here at COH, those 2 months in the US were very rejuvenating, life-giving, and joyful. Suffice it to say, I have been very blessed with an incredible family and friends in lots of different places.

While “summer” doesn’t have much bearing on the weather here (actually it tends to be colder in the June, July, and August due to the rains), it does mean that the season of large teams of people coming in and out of the City of Hope is upon us. It’s been an eventful summer, to say the least. The clinic at COH opened back in February after standing empty for years, and our new medical director, Ty Hopkins, was primarily the catalyst to make that happen. After heading back to the US for about 5 months, Ty returned for 2 months this summer with his wife Joi, two kids, and a team of 15 medical and nursing students who were all coming to take part in a class Ty taught called “Foundations of Health and Development” (FHD). The class was aimed at students who are considering becoming medical missionaries, and focused on a holistic, Biblical view of health, learning about the culture, and determining the root of so many systemic problems here.

In addition to the team of med students, we also had 3 summer interns, several longer-term young people, and various short-term teams coming and going. I think the largest count for people eating together in the mission house was 38 in July, but fortunately that was only for a few days. :-) Towards the end of August we hosted a team of nursing students from Duke University here, who made their exit along with the Hopkins family and the remaining members of the FHD team. Though it has been a great summer, I’ve been relishing having my own room again, a quieter house, and some quality time with the other 3 girls who are remaining here: Brittany (a nurse who’s staying til mid-Sept.), Angie (recent high school grad staying into Dec.), and my cousin Tenzi, who will be here for a year.  

After much thought and prayer, I’ve decided that I will be leaving the City of Hope in mid-October, one month after my two-year term is completed. I’m planning on doing some traveling to the Mt. Kilimanjaro region (Arusha and Moshi), and possibly elsewhere, and then returning to the states around the end of Oct. or beginning of Nov. At this point I’m not entirely sure how long I’ll be in the US, at least until January, but I really feel I need to spend more time with the people whom are both very dear to me and influential in my life as I consider what’s next. I also plan on putting a lot of energy into my creative efforts, since that’s something I haven’t been able to spend much time on over the past 2 years, and hopefully find more venues for selling my jewelry as I produce it.

I’m asking for your prayers as I make preparations to step into the next phase of my life -  leaving the place I’ve poured my life into for 2 years, considering the possibility of moving to Kenya next year, deciding whether to continue as a missionary raising support or to seek international employment, knowing that I want to work with a women’s co-op or income generation group and use my skills in craftsmanship to train and empower women of East Africa to be able to sustain themselves and even prosper in a trade. There are so many unknowns in my life right now, but I know that God has brought me this far and He has taught me so much on the journey, so I’m just trying to trust Him to lead me to the next stop on the path.

Thanks for caring, reading, supporting, and praying for me and with me... those things all mean more than you could know.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On being good

Holy cow, it's been about 9 months since I last blogged, and that is entirely too long! The problem is that I have way too much running around in my head, too many experiences, and constant lessons I'm learning that I just get overwhelmed when I try to write them down. However, I promised myself (and lots of people in the states) that I would be better about communication this year. While I don't place much stock in New Year's resolutions anymore - I think we start out setting ridiculously high goals for ourselves, failing to maintain or reach them, and then get depressed about how we never met those goals, and eventually completely forget - I did vow to myself that I would write a lot more this year. So far I have been doing that, even if it is fragmented musings on a myriad of topics, hopefully I can eventually piece them together and you'll be able to read some of them. I'm actually considering starting another blog where I just post my musings on life, relationships, and God, kinda separate from this one which is primarily about my work and experiences here in Tanzania and elsewhere. Actually this post kinda straddles the two categories.

*Disclaimer of sorts: In many of my previous posts, I tried to go light on the whole spiritual life thing, because I do have so many friends who don't believe all the same things as me, and I was concerned they wouldn't identify with that at all. However, I've realized that I can't extract my daily experiences and struggles from my relationship with Christ, and not sharing that would be untrue to who I am. That being said, I hope that you can still read this even if you don't identify yourself as a Christian, because maybe you can still find some hope within these words regardless of what you believe. 

I've been thinking a lot over the past few months about the notion of being "good", what that means, and if it's even possible for us as flawed human beings. Since moving to Tanzania, I have been referred to as "good" many times, or told that I am "a good person" by a number of people, and I never quite know how to respond to that. Somehow people think that my being in this position - moving overseas, choosing to work as a missionary instead making money, and living in a village with fewer resources - makes me a much better person than the average American. 

The thing is, I don't see it that way. While I may be sacrificing some things to be here, I know so many other people doing good in their own ways, in their own communities, and just because they don't live in another country or work with orphans doesn't mean they're any less "good" than I am. One of the reasons I've made the choice to do what I'm doing is that I'm simply not happy with a normal 9-5 job, and even though my primary aim in coming here was to work with the kids, there was also a need for adventure that fueled my drive to move overseas. Of course, I've been told that's a very self-serving reason to go into missions.

When I hear someone say that I'm good, my mind replays all the bad things I've done over the past few days and I think there's no way that can be true. I think, "I have so many downfalls", in fact, sometimes I'm selfish and I don't want to jump up when a kid injures himself and needs a bandage. Sometimes I get so frustrated by 25 children all saying my name over and over and telling me what they need all at the SAME TIME that I snap and yell at them. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to have a well-paying job with lots of international travel where I can live in a bustling city and wear fashionable clothes. Often I become impatient with the Americans, Tanzanians, and Kenyans I have to work with every day, and sometimes I complain about how much work I have to do, when in reality I'm surrounded by people who do back-breaking work for 10 hours every day so that they can simply manage to feed their families. I struggle with wanting to stay inside my room all day and only do things for myself instead of constantly giving to others, and there are days where I do just that, and then end up feeling guilty because I'm supposed to be here to serve other people and not myself. 
Therefore, my first instinct when someone says "Greta, you're so good", is to say "No, I'm not, only God is good", because all I can think about is how I am sinful and unworthy to be compared to the One who is truly good, and the Author of all good things. However, a dear friend reminded me just the other day that in spite of my shortcomings, God has renewed my heart and saved me from my sins, and therefore I am not bound by my failures or mistakes. As I have been working through this, what Paul wrote to the Roman Christians in Romans 8:1 came to mind:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Then later in verse 9, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you."

I think I was also afraid (knowing myself), that after hearing so many people tell me how good I am, that I would internalize that and start to dwell on it and see myself as so great, becoming proud and forgetting that it is only through Christ that I am made great. However, I am coming to understand that because of the new heart Christ has placed in me, one that is striving to love others without restraints, I may actually be good. Not because of anything that I have done, but because of what Christ has done in me. Not because I get everything right, but because I am striving to seek out what God has for me, and therefore God has brought me to this place where I am learning and growing so much. Even when I feel like there's no reason someone should refer to me as "good", it's because they aren't looking at me, but somehow they see Christ shining out of the cracks in this broken clay pot known as Greta Renae Ledyard. They see the work God is doing in me, and perhaps they are better at seeing the person I am becoming than I am.

I suppose my tendency towards pessimism and self-criticism leads me to believe the lie that I am not worthy of being called good, even though I am a child of God, and created in the likeness of the One who has redeemed me from my foul-ups. I am learning to see myself as others see me, and possibly how my heavenly Father sees me - as a beautiful, passionate woman who is serving God and others in the best way I know how, using my gifts to bless people and glorify my Father. The more I come to terms with this, the opposite of what I feared would happen is occurring: I am incredibly humbled that people view me that way and I only hope that I can live up to those perceptions. Every day I need to grab onto the truth that God is changing me and molding me in to who He wants me to be, and I need to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open so He can communicate with me during the process. 

So am I a good person? Yes, only through the power of Christ, I am becoming more like Him, which means I am, in fact, good.

It's awesome how God works in the small things, I was listening to Mute Math as I wrote this post, and their song "It's Ok" came on, and the lyrics were just so applicable. So, I think I'll leave you with these words:

Down on my knees, down on my face
You just say it's ok
So many days I've thrown away
You just say it's ok
I don't think I could ever repay
Your perfect grace, but it's ok

Your precious words intoxicate
A heart that aches; it's ok
You don't recall my past mistakes
You just say it's ok
The human mind can't calculate
Your perfect grace, but it's ok

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lessons of a long-termer

So I’m coming up on eight months of being here, which is a pretty substantial amount of time, and it’s causing me to reflect on what I’ve learned and how my relationships with people have changed since my coming here. Especially the children – I think my relationships with them have been the most simple yet the most complicated, considering there are 90 of them, they’re each so unique, I want to get to know all of them, and I’ve truly developed a love for each child as though they were one of my siblings.
At first the kids were all fun and adorable and they loved me and I loved them… and then after the honeymoon wore off and I wasn’t just a visitor anymore, they started pushing my buttons to see what my limits were, and to see if I would push back. The Kuria people (the local tribe that most of the children come from) are many things, but most people agree that a stubborn nature is their overwhelming congruous attribute, therefore making them very hard to work with at times. It can sometimes be very good, causing them not to give up on something until they see it through, to be exceptionally hard workers, to be fiercely protective of their families, and to be able to hold up their end of an argument. (Well, that last ability can really go either way.)
Buuuut it can also be very not good, as I’m sure you can imagine. I realized very quickly that when asked to do something they didn’t feel like doing at that particular moment, the children would flat out refuse, go along but then make life miserable for me the entire time, pretend they were working but then get into trouble with their buddies as soon as I turned my back, or straight up run away and hide! That’s gotta be the worst – you know you’re unpopular when you ask a kid to do something as simple as draw a picture, and then they’re impossible to find for the next three hours. Certain kids, when I would confront them on something they knew they weren’t supposed to be doing, would get angry at me and then refuse to speak to me for almost a month! Before coming here, I’d never known the memory of a 13-year old boy to be so powerful. It often upset me, because I was in the grown-up position of looking out for the kid’s best interest, which in the end was actually helping them, but I only got the silent treatment or sullen mutterings in Kikuria in return.
Nevertheless, I was determined to get through to those kids who were pretending to hate me (I knew they weren’t really as indifferent as they put on), so I just kept attempting to greet them every time I saw them, and I would even do things like slip them a piece of fruit or invite them to go on a walk with me and some other kids. Like I said, for a couple of them it took weeks before they would speak to me again, let alone be my friend, but I think I can safely say that I’m on good terms with all the kids in the children’s home now. Who knows, something could happen tomorrow to put one of the kids off and I’ll be back to getting the cold shoulder and the obnoxious mutterings, but I know I just have to thicken my skin a little, keep loving them, and they’ll eventually snap out of it.
 I think I have now reached somewhat of a happy medium; the children respect me and look up to me as their big sister and also as a teacher, they know that I’m not going anywhere for a while, and they know that the father of the children’s home, Baba Christopher, is going to back me up in whatever I do. I think this also has to do with the fact that slowly but surely, I’m understanding and speaking more Swahili, which gets their attention a whole lot faster than English, even though most of the children have been learning English for a couple years now. I can also pick up some Kikuria (their mother tongue), which is what they switch to when they don’t want me to hear what they’re saying, but many times I’m still lost until they throw some Swahili in there too.
Tonight I went down to the children’s rooms to give medicine to a couple boys, and even though it was technically “bed time”, no one was even considering going to sleep. I went into the first boy’s room, and I think chaos was a good term for the atmosphere in there. I told them to settle down, then moved on to the next room to find Joshua so I could give him his medication, and found that his room was also in an upheaval. After finally getting them to be quiet, I gave Joshua his meds, and then spoke to Leonard, the leader for that room, who told me he was trying to get the boys but they wouldn’t listen to him. I announced that all the boys needed to listen to Leonard and respect him, and then kicked out the boys who were coming in from other rooms and causing trouble. I made it to the last room which was also very far from quiet, found Emanuel John and gave him the medicine, explained to the other boys that they needed to go to sleep, and then went out again. On my way out, I noticed that the door to the middle room (Leonard’s room) was shut and its inhabitants were quiet – which means they listened to me and to Leonard! Woohoo for small victories!! However, the first room wasn’t any more calm then when I had left it, so I went in and told them all very sternly that they had to go to bed right now (in Swahili) and gave one of the boys who was running around “the look”, and to my surprise, they listened! Victory number 2! Who knows what they did after I left, but at that moment they were all shushed and tucking into bed.
I was pondering this as I headed back to the guesthouse, and I felt a surge of accomplishment after realizing that a few months ago, the children’s reaction to me probably would not have been the same. It’s not that I’ve figured everything out, I still have so much more to learn about the children’s stories, the culture, and the language, but right now I feel as though I have reached a good place with the children, and they know that I truly care for them. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

If we don't lose heart...

There are many days where I get discouraged, overwhelmed, or bogged down with wondering whether or not I'm doing all the things I'm supposed to do, and if so, am I doing them correctly and giving my best? This leads to entirely too much thinking and over-analyzing, and looking at the small picture instead of the larger one. But then encouragement or solace somehow finds its way to me, and helps me to take a deep breath, be thankful for everything I have been given, and see these challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. 
Often the encouragement that I need the most comes from one of the children here, and today it came to me in the form of a letter. I was walking through the field as the children were harvesting maize, looking for someone, and a very sweet but precocious 13-year-old boy named Samuel came up to me and handed me a folded piece of paper. He told me it was a list from one of the teachers for me, but after he ran off and I opened up the paper, I realized it was in fact a letter from him and Pascal, a kid that I've really bonded with over the past few months. The letter read as follows, and was probably one of the nicest things I've received since coming here:

Dear Greta,
 How are you? I hope you're fine and God is with you. I love you so much because you're a good person and you help us at the City of Hope. I will pray for you. God bless you, I know you're so good to us. 
You are so good because you teach us to draw the pictures, to paint, and to do puzzles. We are happy to work with you and to play with you. Don't forget the work of God is with you. I give thanks for you and God bless you all your life.
From: Pascal and Samuel

I guess what I want to say is, don't pass up an opportunity to encourage someone else, even if it's someone you're not particularly fond of at the moment. Searching for the good in someone in order to praise them for it, will actually cause you to recognize and appreciate their redemptive qualities. This might sound cliched, but you really never know how a kind word or a positive comment can lift someone's spirits and even alter the course of their day. And even though letters are somewhat of a dying art, especially in the US, that only makes them all the more appreciated when received. I can certainly attest to that! :)

So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don't give up. 
Galatians 6:9 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A collection of stories from the past week or so...

Last Saturday some of the kids invited me to go out to the the shamba (the farm) with them to see the work they were doing in a small grove of banana trees just a couple minutes walk outside the City of Hope compound. The older boys had gotten a number of new banana trees and carried them out to the field, many of the other children were digging large holes to plant the new trees in, some were separating the clusters of banana trees to spread them out, while still others were filling buckets and wheelbarrows full of maize stalks and carrying them to fertilize the new plantings. I helped to carry a banana tree (they're relatively small and light), dig a hole, and then bring a new jembe (hoe) for a girl named Elizabeth, since the handle of hers was badly cracked. As I carried the jembe out to Elizabeth, I got some raised eyebrows and laughter, especially from the older boys. One of them asked me, "Greta, are you going to work?" I said yes, but that the jembe was for Elizabeth, not for me. He then asked me if I liked to work, to which I replied, "Yes". I think the perception is that Americans always need other people to do the work for them, and they don't have any idea how to work the land or other such labor. 

 Once I got the jembe to Elizabeth, she thanked me and smiled her huge smile with the most adorable dimples I think I've ever seen. I have to say, I felt like a real African, traipsing barefoot through the muddy green field in my conga (wrapped skirt), with a jembe over my shoulder, encouraging the kids as I passed them with the little Swahili that I know. "Kazi mzuri!" - Good work! While I didn't necessarily accomplish much, I at least aided their efforts a little, and by the end of the day, they had finished planting the entire grove of banana trees. I think the kids were really motivated to work together on this endeavor, because it means that by next year, they'll have enough bananas to feed every kid in the children's home as many as they want. And they love bananas! :)

Last Sunday evening Alaina, Amy, and I took some of the older kids on a walk with us up to a small mountain that's not far down the road from the City of Hope. Out of the 5 kids - Musa, Consolata, Esther, Peter, and Sophia - 4 are from this area, so a couple of them knew people from the village that we passed along the way. The view from the top of the mountain is absolutely incredible, overlooking a valley full of green patchwork farms, banana trees, and clusters of round, thatched huts, and larger mountains in the distance. However, admiring the view didn't last very long when the kids spotted some fruit-bearing trees - they raced over and shimmied up the trunk of one of the trees, then perched themselves on the branches, popping the small fruits into their mouths like monkeys. Speaking of which, we also saw a couple monkeys in some trees further down the mountain, the kids spotted them and pointed them out to us. It was great just walking and talking with the kids, joking with them and learning a little more about their lives, where they've come from and where they want to go.

One morning last week several of the younger classes at the City of Hope school didn't have teachers for various reasons, so some of the kids from Class 5 (the equivalent of 6th grade) stepped in to help the younger children with their work, maintain order, and translate for the Americans who had been called on as substitute teachers. Seeing some of  the kids from Class 5 (the oldest class here at the school) forgo their own work to assist the younger students and take on the responsibility of someone much older than them was incredible to watch. Even though I've only known these kids for about a month, I've worked with some of the kids from Class 5 (especially the ones who live here at the children's home) quite a bit, so watching them go above and beyond what's expected made me so proud. Also, to think of the adults they're going to become is just amazing, because even now at 13, 14, and 15 years old they're showing such talent, maturity, and responsibility that I can't wait to see the amazing things they do with the rest of their lives. 

Since coming here and getting to know the people in this community, I have often been in a position where I can pitch in and help them in some small way, even if it is small, but other times I've seen people hurting or struggling, and had no way to help them at all. Many of the people that I interact with on a daily basis have experienced great loss and/or been through incredibly traumatic circumstances, and as I learn more of their stories, I am more and more impressed with what strong, giving, loving people they are in spite of everything. Whether it's teaching classes, reading a book to the children, cutting vegetables, consoling a child's tears, sharpening pencils, or sharing treats with the women who work in the kitchen, I am trying to do what little I can to put a smile on the faces of these beautiful people. They have certainly put a smile on my face, and taught me so much in the process.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life is beautiful

 I've been here for 3 1/2 weeks now and every day holds new adventures, hilarious stories, and the chance to get to know all of the incredible children here a little better. One of the children that I really love spending time with is my adopted cousin Tenzi; she's about 7 years old, has the most beautiful smile, and she can bust a move like no one's business. Yesterday after I'd finished my work, I was playing with little Tenzi and we started singing "Hakuna Matata" and dancing like Timon from the Lion King (the kids here have all seen The Lion King because every couple weekends we hook up a projector to a small generator and have a movie night). So Tenzi and I are strutting around, dancing and singing like cartoon animals, when suddenly I hear laughter behind me. I turn around, and the entirity of Class 3 and their teachers have just come in from working in the field, they're all carrying their tools, cheering my name, and laughing at me.

  Shortly thereafter, a huge rainstorm blew in, so some of the girls grabbed me and took me into a classroom on the school side of the building to wait out the storm. Several more kids came in, and soon it turned into a dance party, with the kids trying to teach me songs and traditional Kuria tribal dances over the roar of the rain on the tin roof. I'm convinced that the youngest kids here are the best dancers, they have incredible rhythm, and once they get going it's hilarious! Also, I've never seen boys who can shake their hips the way these boys can. :)

 Two weeks ago a few people helped me turn one of the guest rooms in the children's home into a classroom for my art lessons, and I'm now teaching 15 art classes a week in 30-45 minute blocks in the morning, and starting this week I'll also be teaching a couple science lessons with another girl named Amy (who rooms with me and my sister Alaina), that are very hands-on and interactive. Today I did bubble paintings with 2 of the older classes and they really enjoyed it, in fact they didn't want to leave the class when it was time for them to go!

 I think I'm about 3/4 of the way to knowing the names of all 88 children here at the orphanage, plus I'm attempting to learn the names of the 50 or so day scholars that come to the City of Hope school from the village. Every interaction I have with these kids, each time I learn something new about them, I am just so amazed at how talented, hilarious, adorable, determined, and smart each one of them is. The children here are just so incredible, and I feel so priviledged to get the chance to get to know each one of them. I'm so impressed that even after all they've seen in their young lives, and after having lost people very dear to them, they still love so freely. I've only known these children a few short weeks, and already they have impacted my life greatly... I only hope that I can do the same.