As many of you know, COVID has had a significant impact on the missionaries that we support. The Andersons, who are a home-sent missionary family have sent a detailed letter explaining their situation, and we have made that available for you to view here.
Several of the psalms bear the following description - “A Miktam of David.” There is apparently some generous amount of speculation as to what a “miktam” actually was. But the psalms to which it is applied have some striking similarities in their content. They all contain some version of this formula:
(Life is hard right now, I might die) + (God is good, he saves me) = Praise God.
This is spiritual math, y’all. And something to which we can all relate as the stories of our lives continue to be written by the holy and unflinching pen of our Creator. After living our lives in a seemingly never ending stream circumstances in which this formula of worship was applied time and again, Tracy and I felt it fitting to use one of these miktam psalms of David to frame this, our latest and last family update. Psalm 16 will provide the rungs of the ladder we will climb together.
“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you.'”
Since our arrival to Kenya in 2020, before the world short circuited in a spasm of confusion and a thousand disparate worldview collisions, we have sputtered a great many prayers which matched this sentiment. All of our moves, restarts and transitions led us to strong feelings of futility and restlessness. David gives us here the only solid ground one can come to in these places, a confession that apart from God we have no good. We had found plenty of good in the work that we wanted to do and in our ability to do it. In the end, we had to realize that God is the greatest good in our lives. Ironically, the last several months of our time in Kenya was some of the most productive.
Much water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since our last update and there have been many new bridges under which that river of time has been rushing. In April all four of us visited Texas, having conceded to the fact that returning to the U.S. long term was both the most difficult and most reasonable choice for our family. We checked out some schools and areas then parted ways. I returned to Illinois in order to work in my home ER for several months while Tracy, Ian and Elyse returned to Kijabe so that the last term of school could play out. This was the longest we had been apart and our reunion in July was sweet indeed. Tracy returned to what we thought would be a closed Covid dorm and this was one more assumption in a long line of decimated assumptions. Right away the school began seeing many ill students with Covid and Tracy became the point person to take care of them all. Throughout the entire term she could usually be found in the isolation dorm, clad in the ever stylish blue gown, N95 and goggles. Because I was in the US this meant she spent up to 14 hours a day in the dorm, running home when she had someone to cover for her in order to care for our own children. All of this was done with a smile and a cry of “Preserve me, O God.” It was difficult logistics but Tracy commented many times to me how her goal was to connect with the students there and give them as good an experience as possible while separated from their schoolmates and classes. In all, Tracy cared for 53 students over the course of third term. Which is about 50 more than we cared for together during first two terms combined.
Ian and Elyse set about their last term at RVA grappling with the reality that it would be their last. Ian grappled with a bit more than that, literally, as he decided to play rugby for the term. While we are proud of him for trying something new we are not sad that the experience solidified soccer as his sport of choice. Elyse made full use of time with her friends both in and out of school. She also tried a new sport, volleyball, as a way of connecting with classmates. We were proud of them for engaging in new activities, knowing all along that it would be temporary. I returned to the ER in its post Covid state which means as crazy as when I left it. Returning to my old digs allowed me to get my clinical feet wet again. And while it only took two weeks before the hospital reduced our pay as travelers, this was still enough to provide us with a car and a little extra for future rent. God certainly was our refuge throughout the summer.
“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
“They are the excellent ones.” Perhaps verse three encompasses one of the peaks in the mountains and valleys of our two and a half years of life on the field. The number of precious souls who have been woven into the fabric of our lives in that time are innumerable. Some of you have committed to partnering with our family through prayer and sacrificial giving. Others walked the red dirt roads along side us. We are ever encouraged by your generosity and support in the midst of the last five years. A most grateful nod goes to Drs Scott and Jennifer Myhre. Five years ago they welcomed us to East Africa during a brief yet impactful vision trip. The short amount of time that we spent together was instrumental in introducing us to the realities of life and work in Kenya. When things began going sideways for us they were available to listen and offer encouragement, even in the midst of their own trying times. Ironically, the way in which they shaped our up front expectations of life on the field also served us in managing ourselves as that life seemingly collapsed in on itself.
There have been many families who saddled up beside us for stretches of time. From our original day of commission at Serge to missions training and the moto wa takaka that was our Swahili school experience, we laughed and cried with amazingly intrepid believers taking their families to the ends of the earth. (Moto = fire. Takaka = garbage. You get the idea.) We are ever grateful for the families in Litein and Kijabe who folded us into their lives as part of their respective teams.
Moving to new places means meeting new people. Moving to many new places in a short period of time means that many more people to meet and get to know. God was truly very kind and gracious to us in the form of teammates, hospital staff and community members in every place we lived during our time in Kenya. These folks not only welcomed us but walked with us, sometimes through our miry clay, sometimes through theirs. Space and discretion disallow a full acknowledgement of these individuals. Suffice to say, from supporters to teammates, coworkers and members of the Kenyan communities where we've lived, these are the saints of the land, the excellent ones. And they are truly our delight.
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…”
Now, the nitpicky part of my brain shudders at the association that I am about to make as it is not a strictly expositional thing to do. In our last update we told of exploring Texas as a future home for our family. God in his providence has led us elsewhere. One day this summer I was having coffee with a friend when he suggested talking to his buddy who moved east from Illinois with his family and was quite happy with the switch. A couple weeks and many virtual interviews later I had several job offers at hospitals in central and upstate South Carolina. We settled on Greenville, South Carolina for many reasons and from what we’ve seen so far, we are surrounded by pleasant places. Ian and Elyse have started at a new school and I begin working in the ER of a local hospital this week. (Night shift, yikes.) Tracy is going to take some time to serve our family in this transition, getting us settled, and then she too will look for work. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that our two cats survived the travel from Kenya to the U.S. We now tell people that our rescued kittens are African wild cats. It's a good conversation starter.
Just as we never planned to move from Litein to Brackenhurst, nor from Brackenhurst to Kijabe, Greenville was not on our radar as we set out to return from the field. Yet here we are two and a half weeks into living in an airbnb, trying to find a permanent home, trying to trust and follow the Lord and confess that no matter where we find ourselves he is our portion, our chosen cup.
“I bless the Lord who gives me counsel…because he is at my right hand I shall not be shaken…my flesh also dwells secure…For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol.”
A true and full reflection on our time in Kenya has only just begun. We can say with all honesty that we began our journey in earnest with no illusions that a life in international missions would be a cake walk. We were given an honest picture of such a life, from various perspectives and embraced the idea of walking the rough road, even as we had high hopes for what we might accomplish for the glory of our king and the good of people. Not to mention there was a long standing hunger for experiencing and learning another culture together as a family. We did not ever imagine, however, that our life and ministry would implode as it did, as soon as it did and certainly not for the various reasons that have since presented themselves. As a result, our family is trying to make sense of what felt like one long Goonies level mudslide, dumping us out into small pools for periods of respite only to be sucked once again into a swirl of chaos and confusion.
We’ve attempted to serve in whatever place that we found ourselves while grappling with feelings of futility, disappointment, disillusionment and seemingly continuous transition which simply equates to a cycle of gaining then losing. All of these feelings and the full impact of our experiences will take some time to untangle and we acknowledge that we may never have a conscious awareness of just what was happening over the last few years. Does this sound bleak? Remember our miktam formula. Life is hard right now. We might die. But God is good. He saves us. We did not set out eight years ago pursuing a life in missions with a plan to parachute Bear Grylls style out of what feels like the flaming wreckage of those hopeful and perhaps naive dreams. The breath expelled to utter this statement is sometimes a prayer and sometimes a curse. But with the very next one we must confess that God has not abandoned us. He gives us counsel. Shaken as we feel, he is at our right hand and we are secure in him.
At this point there are and will be many things left unsaid. Thank you to all who have partnered with us, prayed for us, encouraged us, cried with us and walk even now with us. We leave behind us the realization of a life long dream. One which, for a moment, came true. Today our daughter opined about the apparent lack of diversity in our new home area. If the net positive effects of our time in Africa were in service our children, expanding their view of the world and its inhabitants, then so be it. We hope very much to return to Kenya one day and perhaps to a life of serving internationally. As for now, I will begin garnering a wage at the end of this month. Our family will no longer be officially associated with Serge as under their leadership and no longer relying on the generosity of our partners to financially support us in our endeavors. Many people did not know us from Adam when these partnerships began. In the same way that we were introduced together, by the quiet providence of God, we would like to make your acquaintance with two families who would likewise be pleased to partner with you in their work of kingdom building. If you are looking to continue giving to the furtherance of the gospel and service of people in East Africa, then please visit the websites provided here and here. Reach out to us if you would like a more personal introduction and we will make such arrangements. These are our friends, kindred spirits and we wish to see them fully supported in their work.
Psalm 16 ends with a confession. One which can be uttered in all seasons of life, through every danger, toil and snare. One which is bedrock for the shaken, strength for the weary and vision for those blinded by the bright wildfires of life here on earth. This is the testimony of the miktam. And though we are not perfect in its application to our hearts it is presented to us as truth, leading the oft blinded soul through the smoke, out of the heat and into a settled confidence not in our own abilities but in the sovereignty and goodness of our God. Many roads have their end and many their beginning. But for the saints in the land, all roads lead to this one place. May our good father bless you, keep you and cause his face to shine upon you. For a reminder of where the twists and turns of your own journey are all ultimately leading, take with you now the confession of the psalmist:
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Soli deo gloria,
Derek, Tracy, Ian & Elyse
P.S. Below is our new contact information if the desire to get ahold of us may arise. We would be pleased to stay in touch.
Derek - 817-876-5198
Tracy - 309-258-2516