In July we passed our two year mark as missionaries in Kenya! What a milestone as we look back on all that we’ve become accustomed to and learned along the way.
With college right around the corner for our oldest two, we traveled to the United States in June/July for college visit and driver’s ed classes. We were so grateful to reconnect with family and friends again! Two years in a long time to be away. Reflecting on our trip, there were three things that stuck out to me (EJ).
Driving, no matter where you live, is scary business! With our three young
men learning to drive, all at the same time, Phil became instructor extraordinaire! More than once I bit my tongue as the oncoming traffic sped by. Their newly acquired learner’s permits are a signal of independence, which is also a scary, yet exciting milestone for this momma.
2. It’s all about people. What we miss most about living in the States is our people (although Matthew says he misses mini-golf most!). What we love most about Kenya is our people! How can our hearts be in two places at once? Even though it was difficult to say goodbye (always!), we know we belong with AIM AIR, serving in Kenya.
3. Treasure the moments! We all had expectations about what we would experience while in the U.S. However, life threw a few curve balls that challenged these expectations (family members moving, illnesses, deaths, etc.). We learned, and are still learning, to treasure each moment and cling to the positive.
…and Back Again
Our arrival back in Nairobi (July 25) was a timely one.
Just in time for an annual inspection on one plane and an engine change on another.
Just in time to welcome new families to the neighborhood and assist in a language learning course.
Just in time to experience Kenyan elections, which were mostly peaceful.
Exhaust fumes billowed around me as the bus rumbled by. Choke! Gag! A slight breeze kicked up dust from the road as Matthew and I walked down the street. I glanced up at the bright sky. I’m in Africa – in Kenya – in Nairobi – on Mtongwe Road. And I realize something. I love it here, exhaust and all!
I don’t understand all that I have experienced in our 18 months in Kenya. Not by a long shot. But what I do understand is this: I belong here, for this time, in this season. Most of the time it’s because of little things, those small moments that make up a day, a week, a year.
Small moments like when 9 year old Matthew watches our house help, Sarah, make tortillas and they have tiny conversations and laugh together.
Or when I attempt to use Swahili with a taxi driver and he grins large, and
conversation opens. When the woman hired to clean one of our missionary houses comes to my house to get the key, and together we share about God’s faithfulness to provide – cultural barriers crumble in the truths of His promises.
When my big boys, my young men, take time for their little brother and his friends – to teach them a new game, to play basketball with them, or just be available – it warms my momma heart.
When these same young men were asked to lead a three groups of home-schooled children in physical education classes because the regular teacher wasn’t there. And I see how they have matured and grown since arriving here in Kenya.
Or when our neighbor boy Max comes over with a piece of carefully wrapped birthday cake to share with all of us, such a small thing, but so vital as we learn to be receivers and not just givers.
When Mr. Michael, our strawberry and English muffin supplier, arrives I serve him chai and we talk about life, about God, and he tells me that our lives inspire him to do more for God – I am the one who is challenged and encouraged.
When my friend Carrie and I were the only white ladies at a church bridal shower, the focus was not on the gifts, but rather on passing along advice and experiences to the bride-to-be. I left amazed and encouraged by the wisdom shared with these godly Kenyan women.
When, over Christmas break, we visited a children’s home and I watched as a little deaf boy grabbed Phil’s hand and wouldn’t let go, my heart broke for the boy as I wondered about his future. But in that moment, he felt acceptance and love.
Or watching our sons develop friendships with people of all ages and backgrounds, and seeing God at work in their lives – this is a gift, because they are ministering right alongside us.
All these small moments – I treasure them deeply in my heart – and they add up to so much fullness.
Then there are other small ministry moments that don’t always feel like ministry at the time, but truly are important.
Like when a partner organization needed to be evacuated and our AIM AIR team provided the flights. My actual role was quite small – donating clothes, toys and chocolate bars to the traumatized family with children. And I prayed – we all prayed – for their safety and transition. Read the story from a pilot’s perspective here: http://tabrown.aimsites.org/
Or when we hosted a fellow AIM missionary from a remote village in South Sudan and when, as a joke he suggested chocolate covered strawberries for dessert. Hey, I can do that!
When Phil explains all the paperwork details of maintaining planes in a foreign country, I’m grateful for his attention to detail and abilities as a mechanic.
There are times when I feel tired, weary, inadequate – what am I doing for the Kingdom of God?
Yet He reminds me of so many more small moments that have made up our time in Nairobi. My heart fills, overflowing in thankfulness. The weariness dissipates like the exhaust fumes from the bus.
I do love living here in Nairobi, even though it isn’t easy. I love the people we meet and the people we serve. I love knowing we are making a small difference in people’s lives.
All these small, seemingly insignificant things, they all add up…and fill my heart. And I think, perhaps, that they fill God’s heart too.
We’re excited to announce that we are the proud owners for a ‘new to us’ mini van – a 2005 Toyota Alphard. It’s a Japanese manufactured car, so the owners manual is in Japanese. Due to his love of manuals, Phil may be motivated to learn a bit of Japanese. Or just use Google translate as needed.
Purchasing a vehicle in a foreign country is just, well, foreign! The process involves many factors that we’re just not familiar with. One of those things is a log book, which is actually a single sheet of paper. Each car has one, and it’s super important that the log book is correct. If one has never seen a log book, how does one know if it’s correct? Mmm. Understanding the process of bargaining for a good price is essential to the process. The car prices here are just so much higher than we are used to – we just had to gulp and take the plunge. Also important is asking the right questions about mileage, how many seats the car is rated for, was it in any accidents, or has it been painted a different color. Then we have to consider if parts are readily available or not. Some of the newer-to-Kenya models are very difficult to find parts for. There is no NAPA store down the street. My brain hurts looking at cars in the States – the process here puts me in coma!
It was with gratitude and humility that we turned to a friend, David Livingstone, for help. He is the director of the AIM guest house here in Nairobi (Mayfield). He enjoys helping people find just the right car – and his resources are extensive. He did the bargaining with the owner, he checked the log book, he took it for the first test drive, he arranged for Phil to be able to test drive it, he asked all the right questions, he had his own mechanic check it out, he had the insurance required safety switch installed, he got the tires changed (there is no super tire change center), he did all the paperwork…you get the picture! What a blessing to have his help in navigating this process.
Now this shiny silver van sits outside our gate. It’s got lots of leg room for the older boys, space for luggage, seats for 8 people (hint hint, come visit us!), a working radio (essential when sitting in traffic!), a back up camera and side sensors that beep when you get too close to something. It doesn’t have a roof rack, and it doesn’t have great ground clearance (which could be interesting with all the wicked speed bumps and pot holes in town). But we are at peace with this vehicle and know it’s the right one for us at this time. We feel so grateful to each one who gave to the vehicle fund project! Thank you!
The owners of our rental car arrive back in Nairobi in just a few days, so the timing is perfect! Isn’t that like our God? As we close the page on our car rental chapter, we look forward to helping others navigate the vehicle search. Phil has Livingstone on speed dial.
South Sudan has been in the news for a long time. Recently, fighting has once again erupted to the point where missionaries and foreigners are being evacuated. Our AIM AIR pilots have been busy! One of our pilots, Tom, described the airport in the capital, Juba, as intense. As soon as the plane lifted off the ground, the relief from his Kenyan passengers was palpable. Tom said it’s not a fun place to fly into right now, as procedures keep changing and one never knows what might happen with government officials.
I don’t understand all the politics and background involved. Although I’ve been praying earnestly for all our pilots and their passengers, and checking up on the wives as their husbands are flying (Tom’s wife is my very close friend!), Phil is home safe each night. The one missionary family that I know in South Sudan happens to be back in Canada right now. So, I haven’t been personally affected all that much.
Today, that changed.
The effects of the unrest DO reach us even here. Matthew’s buddy Chris, in the blue vest, is from South Sudan (his dad is Kenyan). He lived there until he was 3. His South Sudanese mom still lives there, while he lives with his auntie and grandma in our neighborhood.
He told me today that he had hoped to go visit his mom in August, during school holiday. But because of the fighting going on, the borders are closed to all South Sudanese. No one goes out and no one goes in. Chris will not be going to visit his mom.
My heart breaks for this 8 yr old boy, who cannot travel to his home country right now and who must worry about his mom’s safety every day.
Pray for the peace of South Sudan. Pray for our pilots and that Phil and the maintenance team can keep the planes in perfect condition, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
But from my mom heart to yours, pray that Chris and his mom will be reunited soon.
Phil’s attention to detail has been appreciated in the AIM AIR maintenance shop. He
often gets to do the paperwork for the same reason! He enjoys working on the planes and is grateful for the opportunity to be part of the larger picture of AIM AIR. It’s exciting to hear about and meet the people who are impacted by AIM AIR flights. In the last three months we flew 620 passengers! Flight hours topped 500 – which resulted in numerous maintenance inspections.
He often gives some of the Kenyan staff rides home, which is a great blessing to them (public transportation just isn’t very fun!) and gives him a chance to practice more Swahili.
On the home front, EJ and the boys are settling in more and more. Things that used to be strange or difficult (like the vegetable washing process, calling a taxi, handling repairmen) are becoming more normal. At night we have seven locks to check on all our doors, five are padlocks – that was not normal before!
Matthew has certainly grown more independent in our neighborhood! He has 2-3 buddies who have helped him grow in confidence. We are grateful for his Kenyan friends who come play on a regular basis. He also enjoyed the weekly homeschool co-op we attended this semester.
We continue to serve through hospitality, hosting folks for meals way more than we ever did in the States. EJ definitely has a heart for the missionary wives. Phil enjoys using his driving ability to cart new folks to the store. What a blessing to realize how much we have really learned in the last 11 months! Our Kenyan neighborhood has seven missionary homes (out of 100 houses), and those that live there change often. Life is always in flux and we’ve learned to make friends quickly and stay flexible.
The older three boys were able to attend a Christian youth camp recently, what a great week! Have you ever seen giraffes on the side of the road as you drove your kids to camp? On an adventure hike they found themselves walking among zebras, gazelles, giraffes and wildebeest! First time experiences for sure!
EJ stays connected with the AIM missionary ladies through a weekly prayer meeting. It’s so important for us to be encouraged and uplifted. She embraces these times with joy! Recently she organized a get together for them, which was well attended. The ladies’ positive feedback will likely lead to another luncheon.
EJ continues to meet with our Rwandan neighbor for Bible study and prayer. Slowly by slowly, relationships are being built with those around us. Just yesterday a different neighbor asked if we’d be interested in a couple’s Bible study. Pray for those details! It’s been exciting to see who the Lord puts into our life, of all different races. Discipleship, encouragement, mentoring – things that God has been preparing us for all along – now coming into fruition.
Now that the big rains have ceased (we’re headed into the winter season soon!), the soccer games within the neighborhood will begin again, which gives Phil and the older boys a chance for exercise, fellowship and
Phil was drafted to be the taste testing judge for the cream puff competition that a few of the neighbor gals put together. Tough job really, but someone had to try them! His job description just keeps expanding!
One of the police officers at the airport entrance recently asked Phil, “Where is my Bible? You promised me a NIV Bible!” Phil didn’t remember any such promise! Phil honored his request and brought him a brand new NIV Bible. The officer was SO happy! He took Phil’s hand, eyes bright with anticipation, and said “My heart is very happy!” Pray for this officer to understand what he reads.
Our job as missionaries doesn’t look like traditional missionaries who live in the bush; yet it is vital to the Kingdom! Our work from the big city of Nairobi enables the push for reaching the unreached people groups of Africa to continue. Your support and prayer make a difference! We thank you for investing in us as we invest in those in Kenya and beyond.
Our vehicle fund continues to grow. Many thanks for your generous gifts towards this project. We still need about $4,000 before we can purchase a van. Pray for the van hunt!
To contribute to the fund, send a check to AIM, PO Box 3611, Peachtree City, GA 30269 and write Blohm Vehicle Fund in the memo line. Or give online at www.aimint.org/usa.
“Hey, hon! I almost didn’t make it to work today,” Phil casually announced as he walked in the door Thursday evening.
It has been drilled into us from the moment of our arrival – relationships are important in Kenya. Get to know the guards at the airport entrance, at the malls, at your neighborhood. Be friendly and talk to them. We’ve taken that advice seriously, and on Thursday morning, Phil reaped the benefits!
As he drove into the airport entrance, which is always manned by police officers, one of them he didn’t know stopped him. Asked him to pull over. Never a good sign. He asked for his driver’s license and insurance papers. He wasn’t happy with the International Driver’s License Phil had. Well, we’ve been waiting a long time to get all our resident documents – and the last piece is the Kenyan driver’s license – which is in the works and should be ready for pick up any day. But the police officer wasn’t listening to Phil.
The officer was determined, and insisted that Phil needed to go to court. “The judge will decide what to do with you.” He then hopped into the car with Phil, fulling intending to take him to the courthouse (or possibly hoping for a bribe). That’s how the officers handle traffic violations – they get in your car and you drive them to the police station, whether or not they are really supposed to.
Getting a bit nervous, Phil glanced over at two other officers walking towards him. He sighed with relief as he recognized them as ones he’s talked with before. They walked up to Phil’s window and shook hands. Phil explained, “This officer wants me to go to court.” Phil’s officer friend shakes his head, “No, No! It’s ok, he’s with the church.” They all look at his International License, and again, the friendly officer says, “No, no! It’s ok.”
The accusing officer, a little dejected, got out of the car. Phil said thank you, then the officer stretched out his hand and said, “My name is James.” Go figure.
Perhaps it’s another relationship in the making. Although one Phil will pursue AFTER we get our Kenyan licenses! Meanwhile, we’ll keep chatting with the guards and building friendships. You never know when they might come to the rescue again!
“Hey, wait for me!” I heard from the kitchen. I smiled as one of our Kenyan neighbor boys hurried to catch up to Benji. They were all headed to the field for soccer! While that isn’t an unusual event around here, it would be totally unusual in December in Wisconsin. No gloves or hats or winter coats needed here! (although sometimes it gets down to 60 and then the locals wear stocking caps and coats).
I guess that is the main difference we’ve experienced – we missed the usual December smells of winter and pine trees, sights of houses decorated and lit up, the feel of heavy sweaters and winter coats, and sounds of snowblowers and festivities. It’s not that Kenyans don’t celebrate, they do. It’s just different. The big shopping malls did have Christmas trees and Santas and even decorations to purchase. But even with that, we did struggle a bit – it just didn’t “feel” like Christmas.
God always has a way of directing our paths, of bringing us folks to love on and be loved on while we are away from family. This holiday season was no exception! A missionary friend invited us to join her and her friend to a three day trip to Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya – right over my and Phil’s birthdays (20th and 21st).
What an amazing trip! To see wild animals in their natural habitat – places we’ve only read about until now – was thrilling. The scenery – being 25 miles from Mt. Kilimanjaro – was breathtaking and invigorating! The boys loved the wind in their faces as we bumped along the dirt roads in the park. What a way to start off our Christmas break!
On Christmas Eve we joined veteran missionaries, Denny and Sue. Denny is a retired AIM AIR pilot who regaled us with stories of Sudan, Egypt and Kenya. They just reached their 36th year in Africa – wow! They continue serving God in evangelism and discipleship to Muslims and refugees. Birthday cake for Jesus, white elephant gift exchange and wonderful fellowship rounded out the evening.
After a meaningful Christmas morning, included phone calls from the States (it was their
Christmas Eve night!), reading the Christmas story, and opening a few gifts, we welcomed our missionary neighbors, Mark and Terri, along with her cousin and family for dinner. What a privilege to host!
Phil had off from work until Jan. 4, so we were able to do some fun things as a family around Nairobi – including a mall that had a fabulous playground and splash pad! Just seemed odd to be in a swimsuit at the end of December!
Lots of food and fun with other missionary friends and neighbors.
We hosted a New Year’s Eve party for a few friends and that was also a fun time. The boys insisted on banging pots and pans at midnight in keeping with family tradition – and the noisemaker horns I found played a big part in the evening fun! Fortunately the neighbors didn’t mind! 🙂
On a walk down to the market, just before New Years, I met up with a man named Gaz, who I had purchased some artwork from a few times. He asked me to bring the boys back on New Years Day because he wanted to make them bracelets. He surprised Phil and I with bracelets too! He works hard with children and young adults in the slums, teaching them how to paint and bead. It’s been great to get to know him!
Overall, even though things “felt” different for us here in Nairobi and we truly missed our families, we had a full Christmas. Jesus is the same, no matter if we are in Kenya or the United States.
We try to practice thankfulness all year round, not just in November. However, last month we were ever so thankful for answered prayer!
Nov. 2 – our work permits arrived! This was a huge answer to prayer! Phil’s passport was immediately sent out to Mombasa (on the coast of Kenya) to get our crates cleared out of customs and storage.
And then we waited. And prayed. And thanked God for a safe arrival of our crates.
Nov. 8 – A cousin of one of our missionary friends arrived in Nairobi with a special surprise
for the boys! A special soccer ball that won’t pop on the thorn bushes! They were so excited and it’s come in very handy!
Nov. 16 – Phil texted me “our crates arrived at the airport!” Oh happy day! He and Billy, a Kenyan intern mechanic, unpacked his tools from the cardboard crates and loaded our totes and boxes onto a truck. His boss said – TAKE THEM HOME! What a joyous Monday! Everything arrived in tact (although our popcorn popper’s bottom was a bit dented).
A myriad of emotions flowed through all of us as we unpacked totes, laughing at things we brought with us, lamenting at the things we thought we brought, but didn’t; cringing at the amount of things piled up on the kitchen table, wondering where it would all go; crying with relief because we were not charged ANY import duty fees (which is very abnormal), just storage and processing fees (still a hefty sum of $3,700 but no where near the amount it COULD have been – thank you Kenya government man!)
The shipment arrived just in time for our first major holiday in Africa – Thanksgiving! We have a family tradition to write down what we are thankful for and put it into our Blessing Binder. What a joy to have that binder and reminisce about Thanksgivings past.
Nov. 20 – Immigration office day. Phil and I headed down to Nyayo House in downtown Nairobi to file for our foreigner’s cards, Kenyan ID’s. We were so grateful that AIM has Kenyan staff who know the process and accompanied us! After being fingerprinted on all 10 fingers, paying 2000 shillings (about $20), and getting all the papers to the right office window, the process was over.
Now we wait for the cards to arrive.
Nov. 20 – Car switcharoo day! The big 8 seater suv we often borrowed was headed to the car lot and the 5 seater rental car was needed by someone else. What to do about a car? God is the master of details! An AIM AIR family on home assignment just happened to have a 7 seater Mistral (suv) at their Nairobi home, not far from our house, and they don’t return until the end of March. We are now renting their Mistral while we look for a car of our own. And EJ has started driving it a bit, too! The generosity of all the AIM families has been an encouragement and blessing!
Nov. 26 – Thanksgiving Day! It’s not a holiday in Kenya, so Phil still had to work. But – Pope Francis was visiting Nairobi that week and it just “happened” to fall on Thanksgiving Day that he was traveling through the city so much that the Nairobi government declared a holiday to honor him and minimize traffic – and Phil got half a day off! We were able to make some yummy dishes and have a fun family night.
Nov. 28-Dec. 2 – AIM Spiritual Renewal Conference in Kijabe, Kenya! We traveled about an hour north of Nairobi to Rift Valley Academy, the location of
the conference. We met up with a number of families who had been at Orientation with us back in July (many of them are based in that area) to hold a real Thanksgiving Feast. Soo thankful for these friends who have become like family. Our Thanksgiving felt complete after this – fulfilled in some way. The boys had a blast with the other kids that they had spent 3 weeks with before – like long lost cousins! The conference was a good time as well!
All in all, November was truly a month to be thankful for! Thank you for joining with us in prayer and thanksgiving!
The boys were playing soccer the other day and got to talking with a few of the neighborhood boys about faith and religion. One of them asked if Michael was a Muslim. “No, I’m a Christian.”
The boy responded somewhat mockingly, “Preacher Michael! If you are a Christian, then you should preach to us.” Michael grabbed hold of the opportunity and told the boys that Jesus loves them, that He died for their sins and rose again.
One of them was Muslim. Even though there was laughter and mild mocking, I know the boys are listening – and watching.
Each month we have to pay a security fee – Francis came by last night to collect it. He told Phil and I that he enjoys seeing the boys play. Even when we think no one is watching, they are.
It’s not easy being the new kid on the block. It’s not easy being the “mzungu” kids (white kids).
Pray for Andrew, Ben, Michael and Matthew as they are lights on the soccer field – and that they can always be ready to share the Hope that is in them.
Pray for the neighbor boys’ hearts to be open to Jesus.
House help. It means to hire someone who helps around the house. I knew this was an expected part of life in Kenya, especially in Nairobi, but I didn’t expect the myriad of emotions involved!
Meet Sarah. She was introduced to me shortly after we arrived. Her first day with us I felt awkward. Embarrassed. Inept. Curious. Excited. Unsure. Expectant. While Sarah speaks Swahili and Kikomba, she is also pretty fluent in English. So when I asked her if she could make tortillas, she said “Ndiyo!” That means yes! She can read recipes with little assistance, organizes her day to get everything accomplished, works hard, doesn’t complain, has a cheerful attitude, and is an amazing cook!
Those first few times I hovered. I felt a bit useless in my own house as she swept and mopped the floors (which get really dusty in just a day), did the laundry (everything is hung on the clothesline but we do have washer!), did all the dishes, cooked meals, made chai, cleaned vegetables (water is not safe for us to drink or wash veggies/fruit in, so we have to soak them in a special solution and then rinse in filtered water), etc. etc. I kept thinking, “I can do that” or “I SHOULD be doing that” or “I’m secretly glad she is doing that but I feel bad about thinking that way!” (example: I hate cutting up a fresh pineapple, so we tend to have pineapple only when Sarah is here.)
But slowly, slowly I’ve realized that not only is Sarah a huge help to our busy household, her twice weekly presence allows me to focus on the kids’ schooling more, catch up on emails without worrying about laundry and supper prep, spend time with God, take a walk to the market, visit with a friend, have a language class, get to other tasks that I keep putting off. You get the idea.
While I still tend to hover a little, Sarah and I have become comfortable with each other. The boys love her cooking skills and are grateful for the two days a week they don’ t have to help with household chores! We are still in the “experimental” stage, as Sarah calls it – trying new recipes, finding foods we like or don’t like, exploring Kenyan cuisine with her expertise. Matthew likes to watch her deft fingers make chapati or tortillas or cinnamon rolls.
I still have to plan meals and make sure we have ingredients on hand for what Sarah will make, and decide what things need to be cleaned, ironed, washed, etc. Tuesdays and Fridays are Sarah days.
The other day I was purusing a cookbook and had written “Chicken Divan” on my meal wish list – thinking about
when we might try that recipe. The following morning Sarah was here and she said, “Do you like Chicken Divan? It has broccoli and chicken? Do you have recipe?” Um, YES! Great minds think alike. So, if you are in the area next Tuesday, come on over for Chicken Divan. Sarah is cooking!