October 28, 2011

27 October 2011

They say change is the only constant, and we Blacks have certainly been proving the truth of that recently. After a number of happy transitions during our time in the US earlier this year—new house in Virginia, Linnea’s graduation from UVA, new living situation for Caroline, Linnea & William’s wedding in July—Bill and I (Stephanie) thought we’d be returning to a smooth routine of teaching at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST). But no. Bill’s move to the Eastern Orthodox church has resulted in a number of changes in our ministry situation, changes we’re just beginning to ‘live into’ now. (I don’t actually much like that phrase, but somehow it does describe how things feel at the moment.) The state of flux we’re in is the reason you haven’t heard from us for awhile, as we try to sort where we are and where we’re headed. But I thought I should at least try to give you an update.

There were initial hopeful indications last year that SIM could manage having an Orthodox person on board, and that Bill would have a continuing role at NEGST (now part of Africa International University since receiving our government charter last March). However… both SIM and NEGST/AIU regretfully informed us just before we returned to Kenya in August that their governing bodies had decided that maintaining their Protestant evangelical ethos precluded having Orthodox members. Both SIM and AIU colleagues have been amazingly kind, affirming and encouraging throughout this process. They’ve done everything they can to be helpful. But the result is the same. Bill has been relieved of his role at NEGST/AIU and has been asked to withdraw his SIM membership by the end of December. On the other hand, my situation is unchanged. I continue to teach at NEGST/AIU, and I’ll continue to be a member of SIM with Bill as my non-SIM family member. Our donors can continue to give to SIM and I will receive a family-sized living allowance.

So what’s left is for us to find out just what God has in store for Bill at this point in his life. Bill has applied to teach in another church-related university here in Nairobi. They’ve been very receptive, but slow in getting back with details. He’s also applied for teaching positions in various parts of the world, and is looking around at other opportunities here in Kenya. In the meantime he’s immersed himself in a long-delayed church history project, taking advantage of time he rarely has for writing. And he’s been helping out as a speech writer for the Orthodox Archbishop of Kenya—a rather surprising role to find himself in!—and doing some editing for a publication of the Orthodox archdiocese. But as we all know, waiting is hard. You can imagine the strain this has put us under, on many different levels. Please do pray for the Lord’s leading in Bill’s life, and for us to have hearts open to whatever we’re meant to learn during this season. Bill hopes sometime in the next month or so to contact those of you who are our regular donors to let you know what the possible ways forward seem to be.

            Meanwhile I’m loving being back at NEGST/AIU. After spending a longer time than usual in the US (five months—the longest we’ve been away from Africa since 2003), there’s a definite sense of being ‘home’, back to a community where I know colleagues and students and feel like I’m beginning to make a lasting contribution. This term I’m teaching hermeneutics and Greek syntax, advising students writing master’s and doctoral theses, serving on a new committee exploring distance education and e-learning possibilities for AIU, helping with the campus-wide women’s fellowship, etc., etc., as well as continuing my role as ACTEA Accreditation Officer (but more about that below…)

The hermeneutics course is the most interesting at the moment, both because I enjoy the topic and because it’s a required course for all first-year MA and MDiv students at AIU so I get to meet all the new students. Unfortunately that means only about 20 of them, as the continuing global economic squeeze leaves fewer scholarships available, and AIU’s recent expansion has put the focus on undergraduate professional programs rather than graduate-level theology, so our MA/MDiv intake was relatively low this year. But oh well, it does mean I have 20 emerging leaders from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the brand new country of South Sudan, Korea, Australia, the UK and the US, whose ways of reading and using scripture I get to put my mark on. Basically what we do in this course is summed up in this quote from the textbook: “Hermeneutics is a dialogue between the text and reader where the text and reader enter into a conversational covenant informed by the world of the author.” Which means that we’re trying to understand how we as readers of the Bible engage with the biblical text in a living and active way in our own world today, while drawing from and remaining faithful to what God said to and through the original authors in their original contexts. And we’re trying to understand the Holy Spirit’s role in the whole process. Yes, it’s a mystery. But our task is to comprehend as much of that mystery as we can so that we can be effective and responsible preachers of God’s word. I love my job.

I also love my role as Accreditation Officer with the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA), but I’m sensing that that one is about over. In January 2007 I was asked to take this on for 18 months while the African leader being trained for the position did his PhD studies. Nearly five years later I’m still here! But it looks like that PhD thesis is about to be submitted, so I’ve told ACTEA that I’ll step down in December to make room for new leadership. I consider this significant progress for ACTEA. I’ll still finish up several accreditation and re-accreditation projects that are already underway—a couple of schools in Kenya and one in Zimbabwe—but basically I’m done with that and looking forward to seeing what else the Lord brings my way. The good news is that the thorough revision and updating of the ACTEA accreditation standards I’ve been working on the last couple of years was recently approved by the ACTEA Council, so even if I’m not around they’ll all be using ‘my’ standards for the foreseeable future. As Bill says, this fulfills my need to be in charge of everybody!


Yes, we’re back in Kenya! Bill communes with a colobus monkey

Lunch at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant with Cambridge friends Mark & Barbara Phippen, who were here in August-September serving as short-term missionaries—and who we hope are coming back!

(Thank you, Mark, for the above two photos)

Back in the classroom… Here’s me and my hermeneutics students

And Bill-the-scholar, happily immersed in reading and writing

On the home front: And then there were three! Our kids—Caroline, Linnea & William

Linnea & William in front of their first apartment, in Rockville, Maryland

Caroline (far right) celebrating her 21st birthday in September with some of her housemates…

(Photo taken at a winery near Charlottesville and near our house—makes me long for those Virginia mountains)

…and showing off her college spirit at a UVA football game with this rather unique (we can only hope!) article of apparel. A shout out to Bill’s former pastor’s wife, Lu Harkey, for this special hand-me-down.