Climbing to the Roof of Africa

•April 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Last Friday morning, in the middle of one of Dar’s characteristic downpours, I climbed onto a bus with seventeen high school students and five other chaperones with the intent of climbing Africa’s tallest mountain: Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a typical African road trip with multiple stops because the trailer on the back of the bus fell off. First, the hitch completely snapped off of the bus, and then the rope used to reattach it snapped several times before reaching our destination. T.I.A.

During the ride to Moshi, my mind was full of thoughts of my last climbing adventure. Back in 2007, I climbed Pike’s Peak with my brother, Nathan, and others from Summit. At the time, I was ill with a high fever, but wanted to take the opportunity while it was there. Aside from the fact that Nathan literally pushed me up that mountain, one thing I have never forgotten about that experience was the two passages from Scripture that I repeated thousands of times over as I trudged my way up the side of Pike’s Peak:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. (Psalm 121:1-3 ESV)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)


We spent Saturday in Moshi arranging rentals and acclimating to the change in elevation. Even the base of Mount Kilimanjaro can take the breath away from those of us who live at (or below) sea-level. Sunday morning, we started our trek up to Uhuru Peak, the “roof of Africa.” Because we chose to take the six-day Marangu route, our first stop was only about a five hour hike from the park gate. Even this first ascent was difficult for some students who were not accustomed to walking for multiple hours in a row. I chose to stay near the rear of the group, walking with the students who needed to go a bit slower or were tired by the end of the day. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the climb, because by walking a bit slower, I had the oxygen necessary to chat with some students that I didn’t know very well prior to our trip. Over the course of the week, I got to hear their stories, dreams, and even had one student tell me what type of guy I will marry someday! So much fun! When we arrived at Mandara Huts, we were welcomed with popcorn, coffee, hot chocolate, and tea.


The second day was the longest walk, and we spent most of it hiking through the clouds. This was a new experience for a lot of kids, and was fun…for a while. By the end, most of us were tired of walking in the mist and fog, but were once again welcomed with popcorn, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate upon our arrival at Horombo Huts. It was on the second day that I got a chance to share my Pike’s Peak experience and verses with a few students who were getting discouraged with the seemingly endless hours of walking through the wet fog. Ironically, the next morning at breakfast, Ben Cook, our group’s leader, had chosen to read the same two sets of verses.

Horombo Huts are at approximately 12,000 feet above sea level, and so as a part of our six-day trek, we arranged to spend a day resting here before continuing our ascent. During that third “rest day,” we walked up to Zebra rocks, which gave us a beautiful view of Mawenzi Peak. One thing we learned from our guide is that Mount Kilimanjaro is actually comprised of three individual peaks: Shira, Mawenzi, and Uhuru. Shira and Mawenzi peaks are both “extinct” as far as volcanoes go, but Uhuru is still dormant. Mawenzi Peak, which you can see in the background of the above picture, can still be climbed, but only by technical rock climbers, as many of the rocks are loose, making it extremely dangerous. It is also not as tall as Uhuru Peak, and thus is often bypassed when people refer to “Kilimanjaro” meaning more technically Uhuru Peak. I know, probably more information than you really wanted, but I thought it was interesting and cool.

Early on the fourth day, we started the trek to Kibo. Kibo Huts are at 15,400 feet, and represent a significant accomplishment. It is not uncommon for altitude sickness to prevent individuals from reaching Kibo, but by the grace and strength of God, our entire group of 23 made it. However, over the course of the evening and night hours, several students succumbed to altitude sickness before being able to make the hike up to Uhuru Peak. Really though, the fourth day is not really just one day, as it blends into the fifth day. At 11:00 p.m., those of us still feeling well enough to attempt the summit woke up, got dressed in our warmest layers, and ate (or attempted to eat) a bit of breakfast. At exactly 12:00 a.m. (yes, that is midnight!), we stumbled out into the icy darkness to begin the climb. We were split into three smaller groups for this final climb, with one or two chaperones, three or four students, and several guides per group. I was in the second group with one other chaperone and four girls. It was surreal climbing through the fog, snow, and darkness with only the light from my headlamp. I could see just the next step in front of me, and nothing more (later, when descending the mountain, I decided this had been a good thing…as if I had been able to see how much farther there was to climb, I would have given up). The hike up to Gilman’s Point was the hardest part of the entire climb, and consisted primarily of a rhythm of pole, breathe in, one foot, tuck chin into vest, pole, breathe out into vest/shirt, other foot, and repeat.  Very slowly. Very. Very. Slowly. And every few steps, the altitude required stopping, gasping for breath, and then starting the pattern all over again. Eventually, we reached Gilman’s Point, meaning the hardest part of the climb was over, and we had only about two hours of trekking along the side of the crater to reach the peak. But it was cold. So, so cold. (I still can’t feel the tips of any of my fingers!). So we stumbled (literally) along behind our guide, barely putting one foot in front of the other, and leaning heavily on our poles until we reached the summit, where it was too cold to even celebrate. After a few rushed pictures, and a potty break (yes, I peed on top of Uhuru Peak…I had been holding it for the previous six hours not wanting to pull my pants down in the cold…but eventually the pain made it impossible to keep going), we turned around to begin our descent.


The descent was actually really fun, as you could ski/slide through the dirt for most of the way back to Kibo. It took us over two hours running and sliding straight down the mountain to reach Kibo, at which point we realized exactly how far we had walked during the night. At Kibo, we took off a few layers, gave the porters our duffel bags, and continued on to Horombo Huts for the night. Speaking of porters, one of the really incredible things about the trip was the team that got us up the mountain. Duma (Mountain Cheetah) was the head guide, and with him, there were eight other guides leading us and helping us up the mountain. Guides often carried backpacks for those slowing down from exhaustion, and on the ascent to Uhuru Peak, our guides even hand-fed us cashews, helped us put gloves on and off, and essentially bottle-fed us water. Then, there were the porters. Nearly 40 porters carried our duffel bags (sleeping bags, toiletries, extra clothes, etc.), drinking water, food, cooking supplies, dishes, and more up and down the mountain in giant bags they carried on their heads or backs. We also had two cooks who made sure we were well-fed for the entire trip. It really shows the importance of teamwork, because if it wasn’t for the huge team supporting our little group up the mountain, we would never have made it. Especially with the size of some of the duffel bags these kids packed!

Our final day was the hike from Horombo all the way back to the park gate, where we ate lunch and took a bus back to our hotel for hot showers (yes!!), and one night’s sleep before the 14 hour bus ride back to Dar. And, you guessed it, the re-welded trailer came flying off the back of the bus just a few kilometers out of Moshi. This time, we opted to leave it and pack the bags inside and on the roof of the bus. Again, T.I.A. :)

All in all, it was a wonderful experience, though it is odd to answer the question, “How was it?” because so much of it was amazing, but the hike to the peak itself was, well, miserable. But the feeling of accomplishing yet another item on my bucket list is pretty awesome. I just wish my brothers could have been with me…because they’re awesome like that.


Unmet Expectations and Unfinished Stories

•March 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

Today, I know for a fact my life is part of a story. And right now I’m in the middle of the conflict. The part of the story where the character is slipping, losing sight of their goals and even who they are, all because of some problem, or, in my case, some unmet expectations. For you see that once upon a time….

…not so very long ago…

…this morning, in fact, I set out for a remote beach resort south of Dar es Salaam. I had my sunscreen, my towel, water, and a book, and was eagerly expecting a quiet, relaxing day on the beach with friends.

Didn’t happen.

At all.

Somewhere between the ferry leaving Dar es Salaam and my arrival at the beach resort, 30+ kilometers away, my very large handful of keys fell out of the ignition of my motorcycle. I have no idea how it happened. For one, I didn’t know that one could remove the key from the ignition while in the “on” position. Apparently it is possible. Because my motorcycle is still “on,” though no keys are to be found. The missing keys included two house keys, three gate keys, the motorcycle key, and the key for the box on my motorcycle. Seven keys, two carabiners, and the short end of an Indianapolis Colts lanyard. They should have been easy to find.

Not true.

At all.

Instead of enjoying a nice, relaxing day on the beach with friends, I spent all day looking for said keys. All day. 13 hours, in fact. I drove between Kigamboni and Kimbiji four different times at only 10-15 km/hour, stopping to ask nearly everyone I saw if they had seen my keys, and if they turned up, to call me. There were no keys to be found. So eventually, I turned back to go home.

But that wasn’t easy either.

At all.

After stopping by the beach resort to say hi to my friends for only fifteen minutes, I returned to my bike to find the battery completely drained (remember the ignition is still in the “on” position). When I went to use my multitool to remove the seat to access the battery, the pliers on my tool snapped in two, the result being that a fundi had to come from the nearby village to remove the seat. Eventually, the bike was running, and I was on my way. Until I got to the ferry. While waiting for the ferry to arrive, I switched my bike off. For five minutes. When I went to re-start it, it was once again dead. So I pushed the bike onto the ferry, and then up the hill off of the ferry to the nearest fundi so they could jump my bike. It should have been simple and quick.

Not true.

At all.

After sitting for over four hours while a group of about ten guys worked on my bike, I gave up. They had been able to start my bike several times, but, for some unknown reason, it would no longer continue running. Maybe a spark plug issue. Maybe a bad fuel issue (which is very possible since I didn’t have a choice of where to get fuel while driving endlessly in the search for my keys). Maybe something else. They didn’t really know, and it was dark, and I was downtown, alone, at night. I was done. I asked them to find a pickup truck that could take me and my bike to my nearest friend’s house. Going all the way to my house would be outrageously expensive, and I knew that I could always ride my bicycle down to my friend’s house in order to work on my bike. E

Eventually, I made it home. My neighbors had a spare key for my house, so I could get in. There was food in the fridge, so I could eat for the first time since breakfast. I still haven’t found dog food (the entire city of Dar seems to be out at the moment), so Amini is relegated to rice. I’m exhausted, sunburnt, and angry.

But I did learn a few things today.

1. I’m really glad that I’m saved by grace. In talking with a friend about this situation, I mentioned that all I wanted to do was scream the F-bomb and punch something. Hard. His response included some comment about it all being fine, and that I could go back to being good tomorrow. Yep, I was the one who needed to be punched. In the face. Its not about being good. And thank goodness for that. If it was about being good, I would fail epically. Especially on days like today.

2. Amidst all my prayers that God would please help me find my keys, I was certainly questioning how God could possibly be in control over this situation. It made me realize that when life gets rough, my true heart beliefs come out. Like how I’m not really confident that yes, God does have this situation in His hands, or that yes, He does have a plan. Because I don’t get this plan. And I certainly don’t like it. Even though I know He is in control and He is good.

3. The end of the day is not always the end of the story. Because God is in control and He is good, I can be confident (even though I don’t really feel like it) that this is all a part of His plan. Maybe this is the part in the story where the character is in freefall…and goes off the deep end. Or maybe its the part of the story where God waltzes into plain site and shows His hand in the impossible. Or maybe its just the part of the story where the character has to remember that she is just that, a character. Not the author.

4. Unmet expectations are bitter. Maybe if I had just been out for a drive when all of this happened, it wouldn’t have made me quite so angry. But I was looking forward to a wonderful day at the beach and dinner with friends afterwards. None of which happened. And so I got angry.

5. Sometimes, you just need to go to bed, and remember that “His mercies are new every morning” (I swear this is my theme verse for the year… it comes up on at least a weekly basis…).

6. This is #reallife. Like it or not.

Aljeco 19

•March 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Aljeco 19 SEW 2014

Aljeco 19
SEW 2014

Last week, I traveled to Dodoma with Marc Driesenga (HOPAC’s Bible teacher) and 17 eleventh and twelfth graders from HOPAC for the annual SEW (Service Emphasis Week). Just outside Dodoma, Allen Conrad and his wife Jennifer have started developing a plot of land with the dream of starting an orphanage, Aljeco Home Organization. Their vision is to built several small homes, allowing 5-6 children to be placed in each home with a “mama,” thus maintaining the family structure so vital to Tanzanian culture. Our task, as the Aljeco 19 SEW team, was to assist him in the development of this plot of land. We cleared nearly the entire two-acre plot of weeds and overgrown grass using jembes (essentially a cross between a hoe and a shovel), helped to cover an old well with concrete, worked on the block walls, and completed other odd jobs. I enjoyed the work. But people say I’m crazy. And maybe I am. But really, it felt good to be out in the sun doing hard physical labor. Growing up on a “farm” will do that to you, I guess.

Overall though, it was a great week. I learned a lot about leadership, and about the students I was working with. Some students worked harder than I did, others did their best not to work at all. Some of the students I expected to avoid work, didn’t, and some of the ones I thought would work hard, didn’t. My idea of leading by example by working as hard as I could ended up in a few more humble brags than I’d like to admit escaped my lips, and I fear wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped. But live and learn. Already, I’m looking forward to next year’s SEW week!

8 Months in Tanzania…

•March 24, 2014 • 1 Comment

I’ve officially lived in Tanzania for 8 months. Thought I would celebrate the occasion with a few lists of ’8′ for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

1.  The HOPAC students–they are excited to learn and great fun!
2. Living so close to the ocean / beach
3. Learning a new culture and language
4. The weather (i.e. no snow!)
5. The ability to play volleyball several times a week
6. Fresh fruit all year round!
7. Diversity – I get to hang out with people from all over the world on a daily basis!
8. My puppy Amini!

1. The traffic / lack of cause-and-effect thinking by Tanzanian drivers
2. Cooking for myself – it takes so much time and energy!
3. Learning a new culture and language
4. Loneliness
5.  Management of resources (money and time) – how will God most be glorified?
6.  Dealing with illness/medical issues here
7.  Balancing safety concerns and my love of life
8. Uncertainty about the future

1. My family & friends back in Indiana
2. Wallen Baptist Church / Single Minded / “Doc’s”
3. Smooth roads (without speed bumps!)
4. Family game nights (Settler’s with Mom & Hannah!)
5. Playing A-Level volleyball / Team Pineapple (having LJ, Dusty, & Will as coaches!)
6. Getting a paycheck & not depending on others generosity for my livelihood
7. Working as a team/department of English teachers at CHS
8. Singletrack mountain biking / Snowboarding / Nathan’s truck / Riding Symphony & Senorita / “Local” Apple stores

1. Snow
2. Working 80 hours a week
3. Corn syrup (I can even drink soda here!)
4. Cold weather
5. Driving a car
6. Dark mornings until 8 a.m. (or later)
7. A/C (most people here would disagree with me!)
8. Scraping ice off of my car in the mornings

1. That I can’t do it on my own–only God sustains me
2. The grace of God “is greater far than tongue or pen could ever tell…”
3. The only rule of the road that matters is “if there’s space, fill it” (jk!)
4. To keep something on hand to eat when the power’s out
5. Language learning is both an amazing joy and huge frustration at the same time….and is a very SLOW process!
6. A smile translates into any language
7. Everyone has a story…and some people have lots and lots of stories…especially if they’ve lived in Africa for a long time!
8. Its okay to cry sometimes…even when people can see me.

1. Not living life for the glory of God
2. Being hit or hitting someone/something while driving
3. Getting sucked into the “expat” culture and never learning Swahili
4. Never going home (What if God calls me to stay here…away from my friends and family?)
5. Getting too busy
6. Not taking time to cultivate my relationship with God
7. Not making a difference
8. Failing

1. How long will God call me here? 5 years? 10 years? 15? More? Less?
2. How long until I can converse fluently in Swahili?
3. How do I effectively live the Gospel every day?
4. How do I help my students understand that being a Christian is about life, not just Sunday mornings or school assemblies?
5. Will I lose all my friends back in Indiana because of being here?
6. Can I teach more effectively than I do? How?
7. Will my students pass their exams in May? Is there anything I can do better to help them succeed?
8. How do I invest in the lives of those around me?

1. For language learning
2. Ability to say NO, even to good things, when they aren’t what God is asking of me at the time
3. For safety on the roads
4. For wisdom
5. Building relationships – students/friends/co-workers/etc.
6. Direction for the future
7. That others would see the hope of Jesus Christ through my life
8. To live “all in”… to leave it all on the field…for the glory of God

The Joy of the Lord

•March 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment


“You make the going out of the morning and
the evening to shout for joy!”
(Psalm 65:8b)

I love watching the sunrise and sunset. When I read this verse, I nearly danced around my room. The sunrise and sunset are exclamations of joy!

For those of you who have followed my activities via Facebook and Instagram, many of the included photos are “old news,” but they are all photos of the skies shouting for joy. I don’t know about you guys, but I absolutely love that. The glory of the sunrise and sunset only point to the immensely greater glory of the Creator!

One of the positive things about getting sick is that the recovery process offers enormous amounts of time to think and pray. I tend to have trouble stopping long enough to just sit and “be still and know that [He] is God,” but when Dengue Fever kicks me in the pants, I am forced to stop. In case you are wondering, getting dengue is like having someone violently yank the battery out of my internal Energizer Bunny and scream “STOP!” in my face. Okay, okay. I get the message. You don’t have to break my back in half, or pierce my eyeballs out with jackhammers, or drain every bit of energy out of me. So I stopped. Its not like I had much of a choice.

But, when I was forced to stop and rest because of my illness, I decided that just lying around thinking about being sick was not an option either. That’s depressing. It made me homesick. Which makes being sick even less fun.

So I started praying.

Praying that my energy and passion for teaching at HOPAC this year be rekindled. Praying that I would live all-in here in Dar for the next four months — because when youa re sick and alone, home sounds pretty attractive. And praying for direction for the future.

As I started praying, God started stirring my heart. Deep down inside, God rekindled my dreams of discipling young, my passion to know and love God more, and my hope of living well by loving God and loving people. I don’t have (or expect) all the answers. I don’t know how long I will stay in Tanzania. I don’t know what the future holds. But, I know that God is faithful, and I know that I am only called to live right here and right now – taking the next right step. Being faithful in the small things.

And so under the brilliantly painted African skies… I’m joining the sunrise and sunset in shouting praises to my God. Because He has renewed my love for Him. Because He has healed me. Because He has given a wondrous purpose of loving Him and loving people here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Will you join me in proclaiming the joy of the Lord?



•February 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

To-do lists, packing lists, bucket lists….whatever kind of list it is, when I check off an item, I get a sweet sense of satisfaction. Well, almost. Apparently, hidden deep within the annals of missionary-dom, there is a list of things you must experience to achieve true “missionary” status. Among the items on that list are the dreaded tropical plagues of malaria and dengue fever. (I’m sure haggling over the price of a traffic fine, making ridiculous language and cultural foux-pas, and accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road are also on that list!). Since I managed to contract malaria within my first month of living in Tanzania, I thought I was scot-free. Nobody gets both malaria AND dengue. In fact, I know a lot of people who have lived in Tanzania their entire lives without getting either malaria OR dengue.

But such was not my fate. Last Tuesday, I went home from school and promptly fell asleep on the couch, waking up only long enough to feed my dog and move to my bed later that evening. Wednesday morning, I woke up with a killer headache and muscle aches that lasted all day (and the next two days), but went to school anyway. Once again, I went directly to bed when I got home. By Wednesday night, I was completely miserable and knew, even without a thermometer, I definitely had a fever. Early Thursday morning, I knew there was no way I could teach, and I called in sick. A bit of research on my iPhone identified my symptoms in the dengue playbook, and I had a friend pick me up in a bajaji to take me to get tested. I spent the next two days sleeping and drinking water, though by Friday, I was feeling a bit better and managed to teach my classes at school. Saturday morning, the textbook dengue rash presented itself, and, though I was feeling much better, I continued to sleep and drink water for the remainder of the weekend. Eating, other than to take an antibiotic in the morning and at night, was optional and consisted primarily of frozen juice boxes. Still does, for that matter. Who needs real food when you have frozen Azam juices?

Now that I’m back to teaching full-time (albeit, taking naps during my lunch break), I feel like I can check off “Dengue” on the “Real Missionary” list…though there is no sense of satisfaction in making that check-mark. Only gratefulness for God’s quick healing and the prayers of friends and family around the world. And hope for continued recovery as I slowly regain my appetite, strength, and endurance.

Please do not think that the “Real Missionary Checklist” mentioned in this post is in any way a real thing. You certainly don’t have to be a missionary to get dengue fever, nor do you have to get dengue fever (or live in Africa) to be a missionary. This was intended to be entirely satirical, while praising God for my quick healing. 

Happy Days

•February 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

Its somewhat ironic that by the time I found time to write this blog post, I’ve shed more tears in  a single day than I thought possible. After saying goodbye to my siblings this morning, I held it together until assembly at school. When we sang “Song of Hope” (Heaven Come Down), I lost it. That was at approximately 10:05 a.m. Since then, I’ve been bitten by a friend’s dog, had an infected blister lanced twice, and been either crying, or on the edge of crying. It is now 10:38 p.m. Its been a long day. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. But I still want to write this before the sheer joy of the last two weeks loses its edge.

Because you see, my two youngest siblings, Joshua and Hannah, flew over 24 hours to visit me on the last day of January. And for the next two weeks, we partied it up here in Tanzania. Here’s a few photos of our adventures…

We spent an entire day on an island….

…cooked steaks on a charcoal grill…

…camped in a National Park with lions….

…watched the Super Bowl at 2:30 a.m….

…went to a water park (yes, in Tanzania)…

…and just hung out.

It was awesome.

These were happy days.


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