A long time has passed, it seems, since I’ve sat behind these keys and typed out the memories I have from Kenya and how the Lord worked, and is continuing to work, in my life. It’s almost bittersweet for time to continue passing by, knowing that that season of my life just continues to grow further and further from me. I wish I could bottle up every single moment I spent in Africa and keep them close forever. There are so many things I still feel that I’ve yet to process fully and fear that I might not have the time to fully sit in the weight of each truth the Lord revealed to me before I begin to forget those times. I’m thankful, however, that somebody suggested I keep a daily journal throughout my time there. Often I find myself flipping through the pages, closing my eyes and imaging that my reality is still what is actually now a distant memory.
There was one day of my trip that I’m not sure I will fully wrap my heart around for quite some time. There was so much that led up to the day, so much that went on in my head the day of, and so much I continue to dwell on now that is has passed. Many of you knew my story, or have heard in the process of my going, why Kenya was special place to me. There was a school in the town of Njoro that a piece of me always felt a part of and longed to see. Through the faithful and gracious obedience of my grandparents to help a group of people put up the walls and fill the classrooms, a school was formed and built in my dad’s memory. Though my dad never knew these people personally, a piece of him and his legacy, I always felt, was left across the world from me. Since the beginning of the project I desired for the opportunity to step foot in its classrooms and hallways for myself. This is the story of the day that desire came to fruition:
The night before the scheduled day to visit the school we climbed into our matatu and headed out to Nakuru, Kenya. This part of our journey was towards the end of our four weeks in Kenya and the anticipation that had built up inside of me was so real. I journaled as we rode, trying to make sense of all of the emotions. I couldn’t quite fathom that this was real life.
“Tomorrow’s the day I’ve prayed over and dreamt about. I’m not entirely sure how my emotions will be, but I feel them welling up inside of me. I wish I could remember the lessons being taught to me by my dad that I now know and walk in. I wish I could feel his embrace and call him to hear his voice. I wish I could picture the day I get married with great anticipation of being walked down the aisle by him, without having to figure out how I will choose to honor his memory and fill the void.
But yet, here I am. Sitting in a van in Kenya, Africa traveling to the city where a school sits that has a sign that reads “This building in memory of Eric Tew.”
– Journal Entry
We arrived at the home of the Bulimu family. These people were precious in every way. They were full of life that flowed out of everything they did, and it was evident it was the joy of the Lord that was running over in their souls. We shared a meal and many laughs before I took time to share my story with the group. I wanted each person present to understand why this day meant so much to me so that they, too, may taste and see of a glimpse of the glory of the Lord at work. I was so thankful to be surrounded by the people in that room, as I knew each heart was first steadfast after the Lord and second steadfast in loving and caring for me in that day.
“When I think back on my life it’s easy to picture daddy fitting into each piece. He could’ve been there to teach Ben to drive a tractor and handle our yard. He could’ve picked me up from dance and slept through recitals like Uncle Myron. He would’ve been the one that Aaron took out to eat when he asked for Beth’s hand in marriage. But in that place, instead, I look and see the hand of God woven intricately into each detail of my family’s life.
– Journal Entry
After sharing my heart and shedding a few tears, I learned that the family that had taken us in for those few days had recently lost their husband and father to cancer. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the kindness of the Lord in that moment to realize that he had taken two families, two stories, and two different faithful men living across the world from each other and intertwined their stories in such a beautiful way that spoke of His glory. Seeing this family, their joy and faithfulness to the Lord, encouraged my hurting heart in such huge ways. Ms. Bulimu placed her hand over mine and smiled. Her smile was full of peace in her Abba Father as she whispered into my ear, “it’s okay to be emotional, those are real emotions, don’t hide them. We’re here with you. He is here with you.” How beautiful are the plans of our Lord?
I woke on the day of and butterflies filled my stomach. I didn’t want to have expectations for what was to come. After anticipating it for so long, it scared me to possibly be let down if it didn’t “live up” in some way to the ideas I had for it in my head. Oh, but how it exceeded all of those and more. We pulled into the school yard early that afternoon and before me were the buildings, the people, the students- all that I had only seen in pictures all laid out in front of me. A sense of calming peace rushed through my soul.
I was greeted by Isaac, the pastor who partnered with my grandparents those many years ago. It was his vision to build this school and he has been faithful to see it through over the years. The last time we had greeted each other would have been on American soil. Never in those moments did it cross either of our minds, I’m sure, that the next time we would embrace would be standing under the sky of an African day. My heart was so full of joy.
Isaac and other members of the school board showed us around the school grounds, from each office and every classroom. I walked slowly, trying to take it all in and not miss any detail. Thoughts of every kind rushed through my mind. One that I still haven’t been able to shake was the thought that real lives, real teachers, real students, with real families and real struggles- these were the souls that sat in these seats each day. This was their reality. This was their home, maybe all they ever knew. I rounded the corner of the new building and before me was the plaque I had long-awaited to see. Alas I read,
“This Wing of A.I.C Secondary School was built in honor of the late Eric Tew.
Son of David and MaryAnn Tew.
Husband to Andrea.
Father to Beth, Emily, and Ben.
Instantly the lives of these Kenyans and my own collided. Those names on that plaque: real names, real people, real lives.
“What if it took cancer coursing through my dad’s veins for a nurse to see a heart devoted to prayer, which led her to her own knees? What if it took a turn for the worst and a bad report for my dad’s friends to learn to cling to the Lord again? What if it took my dad’s dying breath to drive me to my knees in desperation so that I could find Christ as my Savior?”
Staring at the stone of the building, forever marked by my family’s names, sadness took hold of my heart. These were the emotions Ms. Bulimu told me not to push down. They were real, because sin is real and therefore death is real. “Is this all his life amounted to?” That’s the question that stung to the core. And for a moment I sat in that place. He lived, he died, and this is what is left. But the joy of the Lord came rushing in- yes, THIS is what is left! Yes- your life now redeemed by Christ THAT is what is left. My family, which now rejoices in hope and knows it so personally- THAT is what is left. And these children that live across the ocean from me and every day get to come to school and receive education, care, and love- THAT is what is left. What a purposeful life my dad lived, and died, if the Lord has used even his legacy to call the lost to his name and to provide for those without.
“What if it took the courage of my mom standing in front of the casket of her husband, singing, “It is well with my soul,” to inspire hope in a coworker’s heart that was facing dark days? What if it took the suffering of a family to bind them together in love and unity? What if it took the long days and hard nights for a single mother to learn true dependence on a Heavenly Father? What if it took the tears of a church family for them to understand God’s design for their local body? What if it took the life of three kids, growing without a father, for them to know intimately their heavenly Father?”
We walked into the newest building, their gathering place. I was told they had an assembly planned for our visit and was so anxious to put faces to the children I had imagined sitting in those desks. I was on top of the world walking into that room full of smiling children, who more than likely had no clue the weight of that day on my life. They never knew my dad and possibly had only ever heard brief stories of his life or why his picture was on the side of their building, but boy did I see him in each of their faces. They had prepared several presentations for us. Each of them were so talented as they recited poems and sang songs for our enjoyment. One student stood to recite her poem and prefaced her performance by saying that the poem had been written about her own life. I leaned in a little closer to make sure I did not miss one detail. The poem told the story of an orphan girl, without both her father and mother, left alone in the world. Through the school, teachers, and community of AIC Secondary School her life had gained new meaning. She no longer felt held back or left alone due to being raised an orphan. Instead, she felt empowered, able, and loved. My soul shook within me. This young girl’s life had been forever changed because of the opportunities and the people placed into her life just due to the fact that this school existed. It’s easy to say that I would do anything to have my dad back with me present in this life, but when I looked into this girl’s face and saw the hope that existed, the joy that was present, and the life that was beaming within her my heart knew that, though I lacked my dad physically in this life, the Lord had been sovereign and faithful over the death of His saint- even as far to this child’s life.
“What if it took the legacy of a man gone too soon to reach farther than his feet could have ever tread for the sake of the Gospel? And what if it took his memory to create a vision to build a school so that a child in the heart of Africa could earn an education?
“When peace like a river attended my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.”
I sing this song in full confidence of a sovereign God that has promised and proven to work all things together for good. I trust that the life and death of my dad was of no exception.”
I wanted to stay for days and get to know each soul that sat before me in that room. I wanted to hug each person’s neck and know their names, their hearts, their goals and dreams. Before the assembly was concluded I was able to take a few minutes to share my heart with them and hopefully, the heart of my dad, as well. I had prayed through what the Lord would have me say so that they might get a closer glimpse of Himself through my family’s story. Throughout my entire life I have played the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 over and over in my head. These are the words that are engraved at the foot of my dad’s grave. They were the guiding force of his life and the truth that he believed in. I knew that if there was anything I could share with these students, it had to be those words.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
… on good days when the sun shines bright
… on bad days when you’d rather stay inside
… when it all makes sense and you see the hand of God at work
… and when it all seems senseless and you have to ask God for eyes to see.
… when all seems well and praises flow out freely
… when your days are shattering- for He is with you in those moments, too
… for those you know and love, that they might know the hope of a savior
… and also for yourself, that you know him more and walk blameless in his sight.
Give Thanks in All Circumstances
… because God is good and He is working all things together with purpose
… because God is true and He has promised his presence and will never walk out
… because God is faithful and in the midst of it all, He is chasing after your heart all the more
… and because God is love and when all in this world falls away- He remains.
For This is the Will of God for You in Christ Jesus.
Now whether or not they understood my words or heard me clearly, I do not know. I believe that in that moment where my heart’s desire was to encourage them, instead, a piece of my own heart found rest and encouragement. Over the entirety of that day I saw firsthand the faithfulness of the Lord, the hope that He brings about, and the joy that exists only through knowing Him in an area of life where it would be very easy to never know those things.
“So, I joyfully ride through the countryside of Africa to step onto a school property that my God worked in a man’s life that would be born, raised, walk diligently with the Lord, marry, farm the land, raise a family, and go soon to sit at his father’s feet. If it took cancer, if it took tears, if it took desperation of one man and one family for many to be blessed- what glory to our God. Amen. “
I read a quote yesterday that said something along the lines of “maybe you were given the mountains to show others around you that they can be moved.” It’s easy to drift to a place of bitterness and questioning when I think about the reality of my life. How could this be the case for MY family, MY life? The faithfulness of the Lord has continually been etching on my heart throughout each day I have been given a renewed perspective that views all that my family has faced through the lenses of eternity. The sovereignty of God is not absent in our sufferings and in our tears, instead, it is at work for our good and for His glory.
In our college service at church a few weeks ago we looked at the mirroring truths in the following two verses:
“… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
“… He took our illness and bore all our disease.”
When Isaiah wrote the words “griefs and sorrows” he was referring to our sins. Matthew, many years later, interpreted those words into our “illnesses and diseases.” This is not a discrepancy in translation of what Isaiah originally meant for those words to mean. The effects of our sin IS death (Romans 6:23). The presence of sickness and suffering in our world is due to the absence of perfection in the world that we live in. In Romans 8 we read that the entire earth, creation and mankind, alike, are groaning together in pains of childbirth waiting for the complete restoration from our bondage to corruption. Jesus DID bear all effects of sin on the cross, but we don’t get to enjoy all of those quite yet on this earth. The purpose of our sickness and suffering is to show the bigger picture. It is only a parable for the worst problem that exists: sin. Jesus came to be our healer and our redeemer. The suffering that we face physically on this earth should be used to point us to our greater need of healing, healing from our sin, which is provided through the blood of Christ.
As believers we are not exempt from suffering. My family was not exempt from suffering just because we proclaimed Christ as Lord. Cancer coursed through my dad’s bones because sin exists in this world and therefore our health is compromised. But one day all will be restored. Our health, our brokenness, and our scars will come face to face with the supreme healer- Jesus Christ- who not only has the power to heal us physically if He chooses, but more importantly, can heal us spiritually for eternity. That’s the healing we need most.
So when I think about the reality of my dad’s life and the trials and sufferings that my family has faced since then I am led to the foot of the cross where I am able to see the bigger picture- the picture where the Lord is sovereign over even death as near as in my own heart and as far as to the other side of the world in the lives of 150 high school students.
Romans 8: 18-25
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.