1 Year in Kenya!
We've officially been living in Kenya for 1 full calendar year! It's crazy how time has flown! This year has been full of growth, learning, and challenges as well as new friends, exciting adventures and wonderful memories. In the 52 weeks that we've lived in Nairobi, we've barely had two weeks that looked the same. It's been a whirlwind at times, but God has shown Himself to us in some incredible ways in the past year.
In the past 365 days, we've hosted 318 house guests over 137 nights. We've gone on numerous home visits to meet clients, celebrated graduations and taken more photos than I'd ever want to count (many of which are still waiting to be edited, yikes!). We've visited the CARE for AIDS centers in Kisumu, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. We've been transported by cars, buses, planes, trains, matatus, tuk-tuks, ferries and dhow boats. We photographed a wedding in Tanzania and been on a few incredible safaris. We've (unfortunately) been to the hospital quite a number of times, always for me (Casey), but we've had great doctors and care. We've learned broken fragments of Swahili and how to cook a few Kenyan dishes. Aaron has become a master at driving through the Nairobi traffic and gets us around town like a true local. This year has been full of new experiences and is one we're not likely to ever forget for the impact it has made on us.
While it has been good, this year has also been hard. I knew living in a foreign country and new culture would have it's challenges, but I've been stretched and grown more this year than I ever anticipated. Before we moved to Kenya last September, I'd spent a total of 12 weeks here (in the summers of 2011 & 2012). I naively assumed that I therefore "understood" much of what it would be like to "live in Kenya." However, I've come to realize that it's not until you move somewhere without that return ticket date to put on the calendar that you can truly begin to understand what everyday life is like. When you have a return date to look ahead to, any amount of "difficulties" or challenges faced can be written off or minimized by knowing that in "x" number of days, you'll be headed back "home." But when you ARE "home" and there is no return ticket or date ahead, how you handle and look at these challenges and difficulties becomes different (well, that's been my experience at least). This is now your normal, your "every day" and there is no "familiar" to look forward to going back to. We've only been abroad for a year, but I would conjecture that this only compounds the longer you stay somewhere.
Yet even with all the curve balls, it has been undoubtedly clear that this is exactly where God wants us to be in this season. Does Nairobi traffic give me extreme anxiety? Yes. Do I look forward to one day being comfortable driving wherever I want to go by myself again? Yes. Has it been hard being so far from family when hearing difficult health diagnoses? Yes. Was community easy to find and were friendships easy to make? No. Has my job looked exactly like I expected it would? No. Is it hard to grapple with the extreme material poverty we see all the time & feel somewhat helpless in light of it all? Yes. But would I have changed any of it? Absolutely not.
God has used this year to refine me. I've felt lonely, insecure, hurt, frustrated and confused, but he has walked with me through this uncomfortable season. God has been teaching me about prayer and what it looks like to really depend on him. I've learned about the Holy Spirit and how reliant I am upon his guidance and work in me. He's revealed sin in me that I've had to repent from and fight against. He's taught me about forgiveness, humility and surrender. He's reminded me over and over and over again (because I'm so stubborn) WHOSE I am and IN WHOM my identity is found because Jesus is my Savior! Goodness, I can't even tell you about the FREEDOM that comes when you can cling to these truths.
This year has been full of ups and downs, but overall, it's left me more thankful. I have felt God's presence in a new and different way this year; one that I don't think I would have experienced by staying in our comfortable lifestyle in Greenville. I have been forever impacted by co-workers, friends, and clients whose stories have both humbled and inspired me. Every day I've written down things that I am grateful for and not a day has gone by when I couldn't think of several things to write. There have been tears of sadness and dances of joy and God has been molding me through it all.
This morning, as I sat down to write this blog post, I stared at the screen for a while. Eventually I got frustrated, not knowing what exactly to share about this past year, not knowing how to sum it all up in a neat 5-paragraph blog post tied with a bow to send out into the world wide web for all to see. How much was too much to share? Should I be honest that it has been just as hard as it has been good? Will it sound like I'm bragging? Or worse, complaining? My phone dinged and I looked down to see a text message. It was from a co-worker who has become a good friend to both Aaron and me celebrating that we arrived in Kenya 1 year ago. He acknowledged that we have had to make a lot of adjustments to many new things this year and that more still lie ahead, but that he was grateful because we now call one another friend. Unexpectedly, it brought me to tears. It was the gentle reminder I needed that no matter how hard or magnificent our circumstances, no matter where we move or what we face, God is good and he gives us good gifts. I'm sure our friend is right, that many more adjustments and challenges likely still lie ahead, but I'll find comfort in knowing that God will continue to be faithful to teach us, change us, and give us precious gifts like this dear friend.