Posted by: speifer | July 7, 2013

It Will Be Better For Them: The End of the Chapter

A student comes into my office and asks, “What is the secret of getting into college?” My response is that there are no secrets, but an important part of the process is showing your passion for the school you are applying for. She says she doesn’t understand, so I use an analogy. Let’s say two guys ask you out. One says, “Yo. Saturday?” The second shows up with flowers and candy, and gives you a poem because you mentioned you like poetry in English class. Who would you most likely go with?

Her response:  What do they look like?

With everything that has happened in the last 14 years, it is sometimes easy to forget where we were at when we came to Africa. Our son had died the year before, and we were deep in sadness. What has happened is a reminder that God loves to redeem. The road we were on was not a road I would have chosen, but I am so grateful to be on it.

My brother had three sons, and deeply longed for a daughter. He has found his joy in his beautiful granddaughters, and after we had three sons, I let my hope for a daughter die. Being in an orphanage and holding Katie and realizing that the dream that had died was being born again was one of the most profound and humbling experiences in my life.

Ben-and-Katie-bdayIn a deeper way, adopting a son saved me. I was close to becoming a smug Christian, the one who had it all figured out and would be more than glad to share my wisdom with all who asked, and most who didn’t. Having a son with issues I couldn’t fix broke me and saved me in so many ways. I’m closer to the Lord and my wife than I have ever been, and it wouldn’t have happened without his struggles. The enemy meant it for evil, but He has redeemed it for His good.

Getting to become a college counselor in Kenya was so unlikely, but I can see how He prepared me for  a job that was so fulfilling and so much of an example of Him being strong in my weakness. I laugh out loud when I look at the awards I have won in that field, and know how underserving I am. RVA students have been an example to me in so many ways, and a blessing beyond what I could have ever imagined. In so many ways, they have been the example of the man who sold everything he had to buy the treasure he saw in the field. I have been given so much more than I could ever hope to repay at RVA.

A life’s highlight was opening the envelope and finding that the first RVA student in history was going to Harvard. A ceiling was broken, and since then six RVA students have gone to Harvard, five to Stanford, three to MIT, and the list goes on. Most of our kids go to Christian colleges, and that is the best choice for most of them. But God is pretty big, and His plans include different roads for some.

I didn’t have a concept of poverty before I came to RVA. I grew up in the suburbs and have always lived in the suburbs in America. I didn’t know how little most of the world lives on. I didn’t know that most people go through the day hungry, every day.

SchoolKids-and-SteveVisiting a school during a drought and seeing children lying on the ground because they didn’t have the strength to sit up straight broke me. I’m not sure I’ve ever visited a school since that day that I didn’t cry on the way home. To give a self-absorbed selfish guy like me a passion to feed children is a miracle that I still don’t quite understand. We never thought it would get as big as it has, but underlying all of that has become a life’s motto: Don’t make peace with children being hungry.

God showed me a year later that I was in reaction mode, and we needed to do something more. Because of the genius of my friend Walter, we got to begin building solar computer centers throughout our area. Once, we were attending a ceremony for a new center deep in Maasai country where the Maasai still live in mud huts. The chief’s wife got up to speak.

Masai are tall and the women shave their heads and somehow it makes them look elegant. She started by saying she was proud of her people and their ways. Then there was a long silence and she said, in a whisper, “I dream of a better time for my children.” There was another long silence and then, “This morning my daughter took me by the hand and took me into the computer center and sat down and with no help from the white man, she made my name appear on the screen.” Another long silence. “And then, she made my name dance.” And then she cried and cried.

When she came to speak to me later, she almost collapsed in my arms and she said something so softly that I almost missed it, but then she said it again: “It will be better for them.” The next week a mother took me aside and told me, “The hope the computers give is as important as the food they eat.”

Students-at-computersI’m not proud to admit this, but before I came to Africa, I didn’t find anybody outside my own race attractive. Africa has helped me see the beauty in all races, and in forms I would have ignored before I came here. People who have struggled to survive their whole lives that are brave and full of joy are beautiful to me now. 15% of the student body is Korean, and I never thought once about Korea before I came here. Now I think they are the most beautiful people, and they have inspired me in ways no one else can.

A student asked me recently how they would know they were successful in college. I know what I would have said 15 years ago, but my answer surprised me and let me know He was still changing me. I get to visit lots of colleges, and what I have discovered over the years that much of the cleaning of dorms is done by women in their sixties. All work is good if it is done unto the Lord, but my guess is that for most people, if you are cleaning dorms in your sixties, life may not have turned out the way you hoped it would. If you know the name of the person who cleans your dorm, and their story, and you go out of your way to show kindness to them, that is how you will know you are a success in college.

I promise you they were invisible to me before I came to Africa. Africa changed me.

We are returning to the states with joy and excitement because He has called us to a new place, but our hearts are with the projects we got to start. Any opportunity I have to speak at a church or a gathering about the work that will continue, we want to be a part of that. We are confident that the work is not in good hands, but better hands, and anytime we can fundraise for it, you can count on us.

CNN, two books, so much attention. Yet it was you all that made it happen. You supported us coming to Africa knowing that we were broken, and knowing I really had nothing to give. You were faithful to us during so many errors and false starts. You invested in faith, with no real hope of a success. We didn’t deserve all your support, but it meant everything to us. You were so much a part of our healing, and the good things that happened.

We are so grateful for 14 years in Africa, and so excited to be entering a new chapter. There will be hard times in it, but we know He has called us and His plans are good. I’m so grateful for Jesus, and when we think of all that has happened, we hunger to share His good news with all who don’t know His love.

Thank you so much. We look forward to being able to connect more in the U.S. Thank you and God bless you all.

Your pal,
Steve

PS:  Mark Daubenmier (daubenmier@rva.org) would love to hear from you; they are taking over the projects!

 

A Note from Nancy

My, oh my, oh my.

We never really expected to be in Africa … I had hoped to work here, but for years it seemed that God had closed that door. Then “out of the blue” and through a portal of pain and loss, he opened it. Now, when we have settled in and lived here for years, “out of the blue” He is calling us back to the U.S.

I thought it was going to be harder to leave this adopted home that I have grown to love; have sunk roots into; have invested years and tears into. But just as it was surprisingly easy to leave all we had ever known to come here, it is fairly easy to leave and go into the unknown-to-us land of Florida. Not that I haven’t shed tears and expect to shed more in the next weeks, but the incredible peace we are experiencing and the joyful anticipation of God meeting us in new ways has definitely out-weighed the sadness.

Like Steve, more than sadness at leaving here, I am filled with incredible gratitude. Gratitude that I could be stretched and shaken and pulled and reshaped by these years into a different vessel for Him – for His glory, His love, His grace. And gratitude to all of you who have been such an integral part of this journey as you have faithfully prayed for us and supported us financially and in so many ways, from picking us up at the airport (or dropping us off) to picking up our U.S. mail to storing our stuff to giving us gift cards to giving us cars to tutoring our kids to sharing your lives with us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Asante sana.

Africa has marked me and I will never be the same. I hope that I have done all that He wanted of me here, and I pray that I will do all He wants of me where we go. The one lesson I believe I have learned is that I don’t want to be anywhere but the center of His will.

May the Lord bless each of you. We hope we can connect now that we’ll be on the same continent!

Love,
Nancy

Posted by: speifer | June 25, 2013

Meet the Daubenmiers: The Torch Gets Passed

Mark and Sheri are new at RVA this year, but they made an impression immediately. Mark teaches math, and so impressed his students that they decided one day to all dress like him. Mark is the only member of the staff who wears a tie every day, so it wasn’t hard to figure out who the homage was for. Both are math teachers, and it was obvious that both were bright.

We have a college day every year, and I get the juniors for an entire day to share about college. I learned the hard way many years ago that me talking for very long was a recipe for a violent uprising. I started asking fellow staff members to speak during different parts of the day. I asked Mark to speak about college debt, and it was the most innovative talk we had ever had. He was someone to keep an eye on.

Mark at KKC schoolThey have seven children, three whom they adopted from Africa. And as we were led to leave Africa, the question that kept me up at night was, “Who would take on the computer and lunch project?” Mark came up to me after a prayer meeting and told me that he and his wife were interested in discussing working on the projects.

I invited the Daubenmiers to come with me to the valley to visit a school. Two amazing things happened. The first was that the Daubenmiers are teachers, and they were looking at the centers with much different eyes than I ever had. The questions they asked excited me. I had an immediate sense that they could take this much further than I ever could.

The second was special. Mark is a math teacher, and to call him analytical would be the ultimate understatement. He asks lots and lots of questions, which is a good thing. The better thing was that as our time went on, I saw his tears. It is great to have a brilliant, analytical person on board; when it is combined with a heart for the poor, it is pretty unbeatable.

Sheri is Mark’s intellectual equal, but she got on board long before Mark did. At one point, she told him that she was in, and he should let her know when he got on board. I didn’t feel like I had much in common with Mark before that, but then I realized that we shared one crucial thing:  we married up, to women that were more sensitive than we were.

Sheri at KKC schoolThis is to let you know that we feel like the projects are in better shape than they could have been with me. God used me to this point, and I’m so grateful, but it is time for new eyes and new perspectives. I walk away from talking to them so thrilled that they are the ones going forward with the projects.

We want to write one more email from Africa next month, but we wanted to thank you for all your support, and ask that you stop supporting us. We would like to request that starting in July that you would consider transferring your current support of us to the computer project or the food program. We are trusting the Lord, and seeing Him provide in a way that confirms He is in our move and that we can fully trust Him.

There aren’t words to describe how grateful we are to you all, but more about that next month.

Your pal,
Steve

The last few years, oh gosh, the last fifteen years have been different, and in many ways, a book tour is the most different thing that has ever happened to me. The book happened in the same way that so much has happened; out of nowhere. I was speaking in Rome, Georgia many years ago and Gregg Lewis came up to me and said, “I was the co-author of Tom Landry and Ben Carson’s autobiography, and we should do a book together.” There were a myriad of delays, but the book finally came out in March. It was during the RVA break, and the publisher picked up my flight, so we went back to promote the book.

It was lots and lots of radio interviews, and nine 6am flights in a three week period. 6am flights play to an international traveler for about nine days, because you wake up early. After that, you conclude you ate LOTS of stupid pills when you booked the flights. Highlights included:

  1. The first radio interview threw me for a loop. I think I am capturing the spirit of the first interviewer when she introduced me by saying, “The purity and nobility of his most holy mission has save untold millions of African children.” Since nothing about that statement is true, I learned that most radio people have LOTS of time to fill and couldn’t possibly read all the books that are being promoted. Therefore:
  2. I learned the politician’s trick: Answer the question you wish you were asked. I really feared that senior citizens would hear the interviews, and believe that the book was written by a mature learned Christian, and when they hit the chapter about junior high gas, they would all perish from heart attacks. So I told stories I thought were funny instead, and that was probably a more honest picture of the book.
  3. My last 6am flight was out of the Indianapolis airport. I was waiting in line at Starbucks, and I told the guy in front of me, “I’m really thirsty. Can I have cuts in the line?” I honestly think that is the closest I have ever been to being murdered, and in the midst of much yelling, I muttered, “Sorry, I was just trying to be funny.” The guy stopped yelling and started laughing, but I’m telling you:  it was CLOSE.

We learned who our friends are. The only book signing we did was at Mardel’s in Texas. It doesn’t make sense for an unknown author to sign books in a new area, unless he craves rejection. But we had the largest book signing in the store’s history, which included selling more than a Dallas Cowboy, which helped me conclude that the Super Bowl is in my future.

So many people put the book on their Facebook wall, contacted media outlets and churches, wrote reviews, and did everything they could to help us. We are so grateful.

The next part of this is hard to write. We’ve been in Kenya for 14 years, and we fully expected to stay here until the twins graduated from high school. But the last few months helped us realize that the twins really needed more time with us and more of our emotional energy. There were no discipline issues, and both are great students, but when you are adopted you have another layer to your identity to wrestle with – a huge layer. There are questions about your birth family, there are conflicted feelings about being adopted, and all of the emotions connected to being adopted are like a big, swirling mass that is so hard to figure out.

Peifer family picWe love RVA, and it has been a wonderful place for our family, but it became clear that Ben and Katie need more of us than we can give here with all of our other responsibilities. This is nothing against RVA; they have been so supportive of us in the process. But it became obvious that we needed to take an extended break from Africa. We will be leaving in mid July.

We weren’t planning this. I brought back FIVE bottles of barbecue sauce, which indicates you are settling in for the long haul. But it became clear that the best thing for the twins was to return to the states for a season.

I’ve struggled with this. Some of it has been honest pain from leaving a place that I love and that has been such a blessing to our family. But God has revealed some tough things to me in this process. I was talking to one of my students, and she feared that she would lose her Korean identity if she went to America. I think that is a legitimate fear, and I tried to let her know that I was empathetic. After a bit of time, I felt like He led me in the conversation:

Me:  You are not a Korean.

Her:  How can you say that?

Me:  Your identity needs to come from one thing: you are a daughter of Jesus. All the rest isn’t eternal. You can be proud that He made you Korean, but all your intelligence, all your gifting, all your beauty, even your Korean heritage will burn off in the end. All that you need to be is a child of Jesus.

God:  Do you EVER listen to yourself?

Because of the many underserved supernatural ways He has blessed us in the past few years, it has been easy to let that slide, and take my identity from awards and recognition and other stuff than what I am:  I am a son of the living God and that is all I am. It is time to take get back to that in a less public role for a season.

So we are going to take a compassionate leave from RVA. That means we are going for an open-ended amount of time. We have this hope that we may be able to come back someday, but our priority is our children, and we can’t timeframe these issues.

I thought we would go back to Texas, and the opportunities I thought might open didn’t, and the ones that did were great but involved lots of evening work, which sort of defeats the point of trying to be more engaged and involved with the family.

An amazing position in Florida opened up, but I struggled with the location. I really am not an audible voice of God type of guy usually, but during a sleepless night, I was calling out to the Lord:

Me:  Why Florida? We don’t really know anyone in the area we are going. We don’t have a house, a car, a place to live or any furniture. I don’t even know how we will get home from the airport.

God:  I wanted you in Florida so you would trust ME, not your friends.

A real missionary would have responded with joy for His clarity, but my response was different:

Me:  I’m TIRED of personal growth. I’m almost 58! It’s time for me to sit on the porch and talk about the ways things used to be, not start over. I’M DONE GROWING!

His silence was clear:  He hasn’t given up on a wretch like me. And as I’ve embraced this the best I could, I feel His peace and clarity. And as part of us is so sad to leave, we are elated to be on the same continent as the older kids.

Kids at schoolWhat does this mean for our projects? A few years ago, I knew it was time to step aside and start letting the Kenyans lead. My head of the projects is a Godly woman who has done an excellent job, and I know the projects will be in good hands with her. The other day, one of the best teachers at RVA told me that he was interested in working with the projects, and he already has ideas that can take them to a much higher level than I ever could.

We would ask that if you are supporting us, to continue supporting us through the end of this year. That will help a challenging transition be a bit easier. With the new year, we would ask that you stop supporting us and transfer your support to the food project or the computer project. Do what He calls you to, and we will be grateful for all you have done with us.

We are concerned that people will think we are crazy for leaving during a time of great success, but I am reminded that people thought we were crazy for COMING to Africa in the first place, so I take comfort in the fact that at least we are consistent.

I’m not sure about the future. Part of us hopes we will be able to come back to Africa at some point, but at this point, what we are clear about is that we are Ben and Katie’s parents, and for their sake, and in obedience to Him, we are laying down Africa for a season.

Thank you so much for all you have done for us all these years. We are so grateful, and we hope we can reconnect when we return to the states in July.

Your pal,
Steve

A Note from Nancy …

God really got my attention last January when I became so exhausted and depleted. I spent much of the last 4 months, when I wasn’t teaching, either sleeping or seeking God. It was an amazing time: a time of being humbled – I’d always been able to manage everything that came my way before, it was a time of learning more about His infinite grace, it was a time of getting to know my Father more deeply, and it was a time of feeling like big changes were coming, but not knowing what they were.

During that time God began to open my eyes to see the needs of my children (all 4) more clearly. All of them, in different ways, needed more of Steve and I. Our older kids, although they are adults, need and want more connection with us. Facetime is wonderful and phoning is now cheap, but time zone differences give us a narrow window of time to connect well. As Steve has written, Ben & Katie need a lot more of us. I began feeling like I needed to be a full-time mom again, but didn’t see how that could work here. Then, unbidden, came this job offer for Steve that will afford me that sweet privilege.

We are in awe of the way God is working things out and providing for our needs as we transition. As we begin to close things up over here and as we look back over these past 14 years we are also in awe of you all, our faithful, faithful friends and supporters. We can never fully express how grateful we are to each and every one of you – but we can try. With hearts overflowing with gratitude, appreciation, love and awe, we humbly thank you for your trust in us, your wonderful kindness to us and all those whose lives we connect with over here, and your incredible generosity. May God bless you as you have so richly blessed us.

We do covet your prayers for the next 3 months. It is not simple to relocate when you can’t take much with you. It is not easy to say goodbye to folks you may not see again this side of heaven. And it is complicated to continue responsibilities here through the end of the school term when half your attention is necessarily on the next destination. Then there is the small matters of a house, cars, furniture, new school for the twins, new church, new friends, new everything … but we do know that things will come together, because we can “trust in His unfailing love.”

Nancy

We had pizza the other night, and I got to slice one of them. I was rather rudely mocked by my children because my slices weren’t equal in size. On another day, we were invited to a friend’s home for pizza. Jim was a commander of a nuclear sub; now he is helping to expand the mission hospital. As I looked at his unequal pieces, it occurred to me that I could have been a commander of a nuclear sub.

This term I have substituted taught in French, Science and Art. My efforts to now be called “Lord Renaissance Man” have been strangely not embraced by the administration. I can report that the following monologue has occurred in EACH class: “Do I LOOK like I know stuff? I don’t know stuff. I’m here to make sure you don’t set fire to yourself.”

New computer center at Ngeya School - kids.We have a new computer center that has started at Ngeya School, and the kids were so excited. Several parents told me that the night before classes started, their kids were so excited they couldn’t sleep. Then several of them told me THEY were so excited THEY couldn’t sleep.

Students at Ngeya School seeing their first computers.

The first time you see something you have typed on the screen …

The big day happened and one kid told me, “I’m more excited than afraid.” What is really fun is to visit after a few months; it’s so great to see how fast they get confident.

Which leads us to publication date of our book. We are at that stage of being more excited than afraid. The reality of this book is that it will take a miracle for it to gain traction; unknown authors aren’t embraced by media. They like to get on the bandwagon, but if there isn’t a bandwagon, they find other things to occupy their time.

That is where you come in. On March 19th, could you raise the flag on this book? If you blog, blog about it. If you have Facebook, could you put the cover of the book as your picture for a couple of days? Would you consider purchasing a book? If you buy one, would you review it on Amazon, Good Reads, Shelfari, your blog and your Facebook page?

Katie asked what she might get when the book comes out. I asked her what she wanted, and she told me a pony. I told her that if the book was a number one bestseller, we would get her a pony.

Would you help a little girl’s dream come true?

Your pal,
Steve

Girls at Ngeya School learning on a computer.

Posted by: speifer | February 16, 2013

There Are People in America Who Love Your Daughter

Occasionally, people will ask me about working at Rift Valley Academy. How does someone who has never taken an education class manage to contribute anything? Is it hard to work in a small community where everyone knows your business? I respond by saying that teaching eighth grade English left a measurable benchmark that has yet to be equaled. During the diarrhea epidemic a few years ago, it WAS embarrassing to have people remark,”So it got you also; sorry.”

Little boy kenyaMy job entails some of the best parts of being here. I recently received a DHL package from a college and I walked to a class to personally deliver it to a student, because the look on her face was so rewarding I could walk back to my office being grateful that I get to see something like that. The inverse is true also; when a student lets me know they didn’t get in, there is so much pain involved, and in a larger place, you wouldn’t know, so you wouldn’t feel sad when you passed the kid who didn’t make the team, got rejected by the girl, or just struggles to live in a boarding school away from their parents.

So that is why this weekend meant so much. There was a young man who came to RVA last year as a junior, and this is a tough place to start new in a high school. He was all knees and elbows, and kind of an awkward kid. I did coverage in his dorm once a week to give my friends who were in charge a couple of hours off and because I loved their dog Stoney.

classroom_bindersThe juniors host an annual banquet for the seniors, and it is RVA’s form of the prom, although I really think the way RVA does it is superior to limos and hotel rooms and all the excesses in the US. I was in the young man’s dorm last year, and I asked him who he was going to ask to banquet. One of his roommates yelled “Stoney,” and although we all laughed, I knew that the whole banquet asking was going to be rough on him. He ended up going alone, and it was tough to see.

This year, I was in his dorm again, and I was almost afraid to ask him who he was going to ask. He told me her name, and I thought he was being funny. Besides being the nicest and sweetest senior girl, you could make an argument that she was also the prettiest.

On banquet night there is the traditional “walk up,” where the whole school comes out and lines the walkway to watch the junior and senior couples walk up to the banquet. When he walked up with her, I looked at him and got tears in my eyes. He was so happy to be with her that he was just glowing. Life is so difficult and you see so much hard stuff here; watching a victory, seeing someone who hung in there and didn’t give up, is the best explanation of why it is such an honor to be here.

feeding_lineWe completed another computer center, and I was trying to figure out why this one meant so much to me. The best explanation I have is the Dallas Cowboys. I grew up in Illinois, but moved to Texas a few years after I graduated from college. I could never forsake the Cubs, but it was hard to not fall for the Cowboys in the 90’s. They won back to back Superbowls, and then the STUPID OWNER FIRED THE COACH WHO GAVE HIM BACK TO BACK SUPERBOWLS. (Sorry, I keep thinking I’m over it.) He then hired some hillbilly who lost the next year, but it was such an awesome team that they managed to win the next year. Their quarterback throughout this time, Troy Aikman, said that the third Superbowl meant the most to him, because he had learned the hard way not to take it for granted.

We had a great run of building computer centers for several years, but when the economy collapsed, it was all we could do to continue to operate the ones we had built. We received a large gift recently which enabled us to open another one, and let me tell you, when you wonder if you will ever get to build another one, a new one is especially rewarding.

new_computer_centerI asked the headmaster how many of the 700 students had electricity in their homes and he laughed and said, “I don’t have electricity in MY home. None of them do.” Less than 100 students own shoes; it is pretty grimly poor there.

So we opened this center, and a mother of a little girl came to me and she was crying. She finally got out, “I never thought my daughter would have a chance to learn how to use a computer.” I hadn’t been able to say this for the longest time, so it was especially sweet to say, “There are people in America who love your daughter.”

Then she hugged me and we both cried. God is so good, and sometimes if you hang in there and don’t give up, He gives you the nicest moments, especially when you have learned not to take any for granted.

Your pal,
Steve

Book front coverPS. We received the covers of our book today, and it looks great! If you go to Amazon, you can find A Dream So Big.

Publication date is March 19th, and we will be back in the states during the RVA break to promote it from March 22-April 14. There will be a book signing on March 25 at Mardel’s Bookstore from 3-5pm at 664 Grapevine Hwy, Hurst, TX 76054. If you have an idea on how to promote it, or a place we can speak or share, we would be grateful.

If you can put this in your blog, or Facebook wall, or tweet it, or ask your library or church bookstore to carry it, we would be so thankful. A recent scientific study showed that buying 10 of the books made it read much better.

From Nancy:

As this year began, I hit a wall. For the first time ever, I didn’t think I had the emotional or physical energy to make it through the 12 weeks of the new school term. Usually I (actually all of us on staff at RVA) begin to think that around week 9 or 10. But to feel that way the second week …well it was pretty scary.

I know 2 Corinthians 12:9:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” I remind myself of this all the time, and occasionally I think I walk in it. But what really happens is that I bump into my weakness, remind myself of this verse, and then I suck it up and soldier on. But this was a different kind of exhaustion. I couldn’t suck it up and keep on. I was crying over everything and nothing. I was totally depleted. As I prayed about it, I felt like God was saying, “But I don’t want you to suck it up and soldier on. And I am not going to make you strong. I want you to learn to live weak.”

What?! But I have no frame of reference for that … I don’t know how to live weak. And especially not in the midst of a community that expects me to be strong … or is that just what I think they expect … and it is only me that expects that of myself?

So I am on a new and very different kind of journey right now. It’s not a comfortable one. It goes against every fiber of my flesh and the way I have lived the past 50 years. I feel like my world has tilted; the horizon is no longer where I thought it was.

But in this place of dislocation I’m discovering deeper connection with God. He’s dealing with my pride as never before. He’s dealing with my false notion of self-sufficiency. He’s dealing with my perspective on work. He’s requiring that I re-examine my priorities. He’s teaching me about true Sabbath rest. And above all, or maybe it is through it all, He’s calling me to Himself in a way that I can’t really articulate. And it is so worth everything I am going through, in order to know my Lord in a deeper, truer way.

I’m thinking that those “walls” we hit or those places of near-despair are the very places where God finally has our full attention and so can lavish His love on us in ways we never dreamed of – because we’ve previously been so very capable and able to go on without Him. I’m so grateful for this place of weakness and brokenness. These are definitely uncharted waters for me … but not for Him.

Nancy

Posted by: speifer | January 1, 2013

Cat Barfed ON Christmas Tree: Our Holiday Prayer Letter

Moshi_catNancy is out with a friend, and our cat throws up ON the Christmas tree. I immediately grab my phone and text her, because I know it will make her laugh. Later, I ponder something:  the enemy meant that to depress us, but what it exposed was that after 27 years, my favorite thing in the world is making my wife laugh. It was meant for evil, but He used it for good.

buffaloHard to write a holiday letter this year. The massacre in CT took all of it out of me. As I thought of the horror, it came to mind that 2000 years ago, there was another massacre. Herod ordered the death of all infants because one of those infants was a threat to his power. A reminder that we live in a fallen world, and that we need to share the Good News like it is a matter of life and death.

sunsetHonestly, this was a pretty crummy year in so many ways. And I am allergic to those that say that “Praise God Anyway” will carry the day. But in this year of disappointments and setbacks, there have been some hard-earned insights.

  1. Only in brokenness is there life.
  2. There used to be such a fear of saying I don’t know; now it is a relief.
  3. I just want to do what He wants me to do.
  4. What the enemy means for evil, the Lord longs to redeem for good; if we will let Him.

In the midst of a tough year, I’m closer to the Lord and my wife than I ever have been. It’s a gift, and it came from having to rely on Him because there were no other options open.

Africa_treesIt’s where I should have always been, and I’m sorry it took me so long to get here, but I promise you, it is a good place to be.

Our prayer is that 2013 draws you closer to the Father than you have ever been. Thanks for making it possible to be here, and be a part of helping so many.

We are so grateful for you, and our prayers are with you.

Your Pal,
Steve

From Nancy:

Emmanuel … God with us.

The reality of this truth is what sums up this year for me. Never before have I faced situations where I was so weak, so totally unable to do what needed to be done, so unable to do anything that could make things “right” … but in the midst of these difficult times, never before have I seen Jesus act so powerfully, so perfectly, so rightly.

And yet some of the situations remained seemingly unchanged. I guess the beauty of this year is that I am learning to encounter The Great I AM in the midst of messy situations. I am learning to abide in His presence even when everything is not “right”; to find His perfect peace when situations are not tidy and when I cannot alter them in any way; to know Him when there is a swirl of confusion and chaos around me.

This world is broken. God knows it full well. That is why Jesus-Emmanuel-God with us is so worth celebrating! Until that time when all is put right, we have Emmanuel-God with us right in the midst of the awful, the messy, the ugly, the wrongness of this broken world bringing hope and even joy to our weary hearts.

May the reality of Emmanuel be revealed in deeper and deeper ways to you in this season and in the new year.

Nancy

Posted by: speifer | November 21, 2012

Correcting a GRAVE Misconception

There is this unjust, grave misconception about me that MUST be cleared up.

Some people are under the impression that I can’t dance.

I believe that this started when I was in college, and I accepted an invitation to a fraternity party. Not being a detail person, I neglected to note that it was (a) a dance party and (b) sponsored by the African American fraternity. I ended up being the only white person there, but I had a blast and danced the night away.

The next day some guy at the party asked me a question:

Guy at Party: Man, how drunk were you last night?
Future Holy Missionary: I don’t drink.
Guy at Party (falls to his knees): Man, I ain’t playing with you! How drunk were you last night?
FHM: Honest, I don’t drink.
GAP (tears squirting from his eyes): Man, you couldn’t have been moving like that on PURPOSE.

From that, people have misinterpreted my fellow student’s OBVIOUS jealousy and thought that I couldn’t dance. I present the following as PROOF that I do indeed have MOVES:

ImageWhen I was visiting this school, I had a little girl tell me, “I get so excited when I get to eat.” I kept pondering it all day, and whenever I thought about it, it made me want to cry.

I get to be the DJ for Pinewood Derby, and it involves programming eight hours of music for the day. I’m always on the lookout for new music that would make the kids happy, and I found a new version of the World Cup Theme by Shakira called “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).”

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It was a live version, and at one point the whole crowd is chanting Africa! Africa! Africa! Africa! And I had this thought that people were excited about Africa, not because a cute pop star was singing, but because they had a vision of bringing the Kingdom of God to this troubled continent.

The song ended and the thought left, but it was such a sweet moment.

Your pal,
Steve

ImageNancy went to the States to help celebrate her father’s 90th birthday in July, and so it was the twins and I together for three weeks. There were no serious injuries, and while we missed her a lot, it was actually a lot of fun. When she came back, we had a trip to Masai Mara planned to see the migration. It was a lot of money, so we were grateful for a clear day. The bad news is that I had come down with bacterial dysentery. All I can say is that I didn’t go, I quite understand like never before how people used to die from this, and I lost six pounds in two days. If our next book is successful, I feel like I’ve got a diet book next.

When the term started, the country of Kenya had a teacher’s strike that was quite ugly, and it was safer to not visit schools while the strike was on. I was asked to go attend a counselor tour at Lafayette and Lehigh, which meant leaving on a Saturday night at midnight, arriving in PA at 1pm on Sunday, touring the campuses until Wednesday afternoon, and getting back to Kenya Thursday around midnight.

ImageThe highlight of the trip was the beginning. I went to security, and for the first time, they required that I remove my belt. When I did, my pants went down straight to the floor. There were two security guards; one was an older Kenyan woman who put her hands on her cheeks and screamed. The other security guard, a younger Kenyan man, pointed at me and laughed.

To this day, I’m not sure which was worse:  getting screamed at or laughed at.

It is hard to recommend a school you haven’t been to, and most of my students will never see a campus until they arrive, so when a college is nice enough to pick up my air fare, I’m happy to go. Two weeks later, I returned to the states to the big college conference in Denver, but I was able to go visit JT, Matthew and Janelle in VA before heading to Denver. Matthew had a choir concert Friday night, and I arrived nine minutes before the concert started. That was the good news; the bad news was that I had traveled thirty straight hours, and I kind of smelled pretty bad. I’m sure people changed seats to get a better view.

When I got to Denver, I desperately needed to do laundry, and I discovered the power of a college counselor. My hotel did not have laundry services, so they told me to go to the Hilton and maybe they could help me out. I get there, and the guy at the front desk loudly criticizes the intelligence of people at my hotel for suggesting such a stupid thing. He suddenly looks at my t-shirt, which is from the Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop in Missoula, MT. He tells me that he attended the University of Montana and, if I can tell him the specialty ice cream at the Big Dipper, he will let me do my laundry.

I look him in the eyes and say “Huckleberry” and he yells and jumps and I get to do my laundry.

College counselors have POWER.

Later in the week, I had received dozens of packages to take back to RVA. I realize I will need to buy another piece of luggage, so I find a TJ Maxx near the hotel and buy a really ugly bag. I’m walking back to the hotel and the light changed, so I put down my bag and waited for it to turn green.

I’m just standing there, with my ugly bag, and a guy walks up and gives me a quarter. He thought I was a homeless guy.

I made a GREAT impression in Denver.

I’m back now, and the strike is over, so I can begin to venture back to schools. I reflected on why we started the food program:  the dropout rate was 50%. At every school we have food, the dropout rate is less than 1%. Every school is ranked number one or two in their zone from the results of the annual national test. It really makes a difference, and the best part is that we get to share with the students that the food comes as a result of Americans who love Jesus and love them.

The computer centers came out of a despair of how ill-equipped Kenyan schools are to prepare students for the future. No power, no water, one textbook for every 14 students are just the tip of the myriad of issues students face. Our thought was that if students learned technology, they might have occupational options in a country with an official 58% unemployment rate and the average wage of about a dollar a day.

We’ve seen kids embrace technology and make huge strides in learning how to live in the 21st century. I was at a school last term where they were having a technology exam, and they begged me to take the test with them. I worked for a big tech firm in the US before I came to Africa.

I got the lowest grade on the test, and one of the students told me, “You did poor to make us feel good.” I replied that I wasn’t that kind of missionary; I wanted to CRUSH them, but they just did better than me. We have seen that learning how to use computers has given the students confidence and hope.

If we can get a generation through high school who have had proper nutrition and have learned technology, and know they have been given the opportunity because Jesus loves them, we think it will change the whole country.

I wanted to remind you of this because what you have done has been so powerful, and we need your help. I’m figuring that many of you are tapped out because of this horrific economy, but I wondered if you would consider making the lunch program or computer centers a Christmas project with your church or business or family. Our funds are drying up, and we need your help to continue. Our book comes out in April, and we are hoping that it might help increase donations again, but in the meantime, we really need your help to continue both programs.

Many of you have heard about The Tipping Point, the book that describes that point where things change.

Maybe you are the person that might be the tipping point. Would you consider praying about it?

Your pal,
Steve

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“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field that a man found and hid. In his excitement he went and sold everything he had and bought that field.”

I don’t write a lot about Rift Valley Academy, the school where we work. RVA is a boarding school for missionary kids. It is American accredited, 106 years old, has 30 different passport countries represented on it, and is so remote that there are baboons on the campus. Nancy teaches French and is in charge of professional development; I am the college guidance counselor.

I’m passionate about what we do outside the gate of RVA, but it was really the students of RVA who were the impetus for us staying in Africa. I may be the only person who came on staff who had never taken a Bible class or a teaching class, and my deficits in both areas were pretty staggering. What was truly amazing was the kindness of the students of RVA to us, and the amazing stories that they had to tell.

We couldn’t be bush missionaries; I have no skills. I can’t make or fix anything. I know cars have four wheels, and that is the extent of my mechanical knowledge and ability. Bush people are pretty special, and I knew I wasn’t one of them.

But seeing those kids made me want to be a part of something bigger. I had pretty much wasted my life, but those kids were worth investing in. These kids were going to be world changers, and it was them that inspired us to come back to Africa after our initial year.

ImageThere were three special seniors I wanted to mention this year. Jonathan is from Rwanda, and he and his parents were scheduled to be executed during the genocide when they received a miracle; they were able to flee to Scotland. His father ended up receiving his PhD but then returned to work in Africa.

What I love about Jonathan is that he has already figured out that life isn’t fair, but it is also a gift to be cherished. He is an amazing communicator and writer; he received a full tuition scholarship to Furman, a school known for its writing program. I can’t wait to see what kind of writing he produces.

ImageSoHee is the first Korean student in RVA’s history to be accepted to an Ivy League School. She will be attending Princeton in the fall, and the story of how that came to be is another part of the miracle that follows this place around.

A few years ago, SoHee’s sister had an opportunity to go to the states to participate in a summer college program. The plan was for her to go to the states for the program and then visit a score of colleges. I had arranged for a retired counselor to take her around.

That counselor had a heart attack, and I really didn’t know what to do. I finally called one of my oldest friends, Len Bergstrom, and asked him if he would consider taking around two high school girls for ten days in the US. He not only took them around, but he took them to their first Broadway play, bought them their first lobster dinner, and become an uncle to them. SoHee’s sister became our first student to attend Wellesley (that is another great story for another time; let me know if you would like to hear it).

SoHee asked if Uncle Len would consider doing the same for her, and when she won a scholarship to study at Columbia last July, the Bergstroms adopted another Korean girl for the summer and took her all around the country looking at colleges. It is so hard for poor international students to get into US colleges, especially Asians. There are so many great Asian students that it is almost impossible to break through. But God did it and another ceiling was broken.

ImageCaleb is a US citizen who wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. It is so hard for anyone to get into the Academy; they make you jump through so many hoops. Multiply that by five and you have an idea how hard it is to get in. Caleb was determined and worked so hard, and the miracle happened. He was accepted.

RVA has an unusually late graduation; it was July 14th this year. Caleb had to graduate early in order to report for orientation, and they did a special early graduation for him last month. Our principal did a great job with the ceremony and had this to share:  when Caleb was asked why he was going into the Academy, he responded that he didn’t think he should live for his own comfort.

That is when I absolutely lost it, because I knew a secret about Caleb that very few knew:  Caleb turned down a full ride to Yale to attend the Air Force Academy.

At the end of the ceremony, they had a line to congratulate and say goodbye. He had so many kind words to say to me, and I couldn’t get any words through my tears.

All I could think about is a common thought I have about RVA; I don’t deserve to be here, but what a gift it has been to our family. And I was again reminded of a broken man who had lost a son who came to Africa, and in the students of RVA, he saw the treasure, and his family sold everything they had to purchase the field.

Your pal,
Steve

From Nancy …

Getting our students off campus and into the community is a priority at RVA. It is unfortunately easy for our students to live in Kenya nine months out of the year and yet never really get involved with Kenyans. One way we encourage involvement is through outreach Sunday School classes.

ImageFor the past three years, Steve and I have led an outreach group of about 20 students. Each Sunday morning we walk down to the CURE Crippled Children’s Hospital, which is about a half mile below the school. There the students share a Bible lesson, sing Swahili songs and then visit with the patients.

This hospital and its doctors are an amazing ministry in and of itself as they perform life-changing surgeries on children with various physical disabilities, such as cleft lip and palates, club feet and burn constrictions. Often the surgeries seem to be miracles to the patients who have been viewed as outcasts in their communities, but leave the hospital as “normal.” Kenyans, as a whole, are fairly uneducated regarding people with disabilities, and “normalizing” these kids’ conditions not only helps them physically but enables them to become a part of regular village life.

ImageOur students do an amazing job of loving on and sharing with the patients and their parents. The favorite game is “Bat the Balloon.” Many of the patients are confined to their beds, but you can still lay there and hit a balloon back and forth! It’s such a privilege to interact with these brave kids and their equally brave parents – to share with them, pray with them and love on them. Many have never been in a hospital before, some never in a building with a cement floor. Often the surgeries and treatment are very painful and scary to kids fresh from a remote village. To watch our students bring smiles to their faces is worth more than a million bucks!Image

Posted by: speifer | May 5, 2012

The Attack: The Death of Big Whitey

They came after midnight. There were seven of them, and they attacked two of our guards. They snuck up behind the first guard and hit him so hard that he was knocked unconscious and was treated for a concussion. The second guard saw them and tried to fight them. They overpowered him and beat him until they broke his leg and then they tied up both guards.

Because other computer centers had been broken into, we had reinforced all the doors. It didn’t matter; seven men can do considerable damage to any door; reinforced or not. All computers are now locked in a safe, and that took more time for them to break into, but they managed to break it and steal all the computers at the Longonot School.

It was our fifth center that has been broken into, and we had done everything “the right way”. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I asked the man who used to be in charge of security here at RVA, and he told me that a Kenyan had once told him, “You have the fence and the guards and you think that makes you safe, but it is the community that keeps you safe.”

Computer center to left, school to right.

That started me on a journey that has resulted in lots of change.

After I had been in Kenya for a few years, I had the idea for a solar computer center.

Computer center to left, school to right.

I met with some Kenyans, but it was pretty much a one person show. I had computer teachers and I had someone who bought and delivered the food, but it was my show. When we had meetings, we had opening and closing prayer, but mostly the purpose was to get lots of information shared in as quick of a time as I could, because I approached this as a manager, and I had lots and lots of stuff to manage.

It has taken way too long for me to come to the end of myself, and finally stop fooling myself and realize that I don’t have a clue as to what I am doing. It took longer to not be embarrassed by it, and longer still to finally rejoice when my only option was the Lord.

So today we had a meeting with all the computer teachers and I looked at them and said, “I am ashamed that I have not sought your counsel. I am so sorry that this is the first time we have met to seek the Lord together. I came into this country like Big Whitey coming to the rescue, and thinking that I had all the answers. I am telling you today that I am sorry I was so arrogant, and that I do not have any answers. But I believe that Jesus has answers for us if we will seek Him together.”

It was a wonderful discussion, with lots of good ideas from teachers who are passionate about what they are doing and who want to continue to help these children. One take-away is that we are scheduling a meeting with the chief (similar to the mayor of a small town) at every school and asking him for help on how to protect the 12 centers we have left. We are going to improve the locks, and the procedures that the guards follow.

Then we prayed. It was powerful. They proclaimed that we could do all the protection we wanted, but if God wasn’t our protector, there was no hope. They beseeched Him to help us and protect us. They proclaimed their love of the Lord and their trust in Him.

I didn’t pray out loud. I agreed with what I heard, asked the Lord to forgive me, and thanked Him for all He had done. It was as powerful a prayer time as I have ever had. Desperate times will do that to you.

Afterwards, I felt like I had two words for them.

The Longonot School had one of our best teachers. Usually when a center is broken into, I am forced to release the teacher, because I don’t have the monies to replace the computers and I don’t have anything to for them to do. But we are going to use this chance to have John teach our teachers. He is going to give them weekly assignments, and they are going to have monthly tests to take. We are going to get better. The enemy meant this for evil, but the Lord is going to redeem this for good.

And second, Big Whitey is dead. The arrogance has been broken and we are going to proceed together. There is no food in this country; we have to buy our food from Uganda, and the price has gone through the roof. Before I would have told them how we will handle it. But you know what? I’ve never been hungry, and I don’t know how we should handle this. They’ve been hungry; I asked them what we should do. They offered a solution which I could not have come up with, but will work.

It’s taken so long to learn something I should have learned long ago, but I can stand before you grateful that He never gave up on me and continues to work with this obstinate heart. I came to Africa to teach computers, never realizing how much more He would teach me.

It is almost embarrassing to share with you the cover of our book coming out next year, because books wrap things up neatly and life isn’t always nice and tidy, but if you read it when it comes out, treat it as a chapter in a long journey. He has broken us, and we can tell you, it has been so painful but it has been so worth it.

Your pal,
Steve

 

 

From Nancy

How does a 4th grade boy in Texas bless kids in Kenya?

Well, Pierce Urbanosky has figured out a way. Pierce loves to race go-carts. And he is really good. And he uses that skill and passion to bless kids 10,000 miles away from where he lives.

Though I didn’t know it before I met Pierce, there is an entire race circuit for go-carts, and there are cash prizes for the races. Pierce races his go-cart, and he often wins. After he heard about kids in Kenya that may never drive a car – even as adults – and who don’t get to eat three meals a day because their parents can’t afford the food, he took stock of what he had and made a decision. He decided to give all of his winnings to help feed lunch to Kenyan school kids.

When his mother gently probed to be sure he wanted to give all of his winnings since he had expenses like paying for his cell phone time, he responded, “Mom, don’t you think it is more important to help feed those kids than it is from me to talk on my cellphone?”

I think that verse “and a little child shall lead them” has just come to life. Thank you Pierce.

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