We've been a little radio silent the past few months, so I wanted to write something about what we've been up to. We've been taking intentional sabbatical time in Tainan, Taiwan, since the end of September and now finishing it up this month here in Nairobi.
Our organization strongly encourages us to take three months of sabbatical every five years on the field. We're coming up on six years now, so we knew we were due for it. We made plans to take an intentional time for rest, personal development, professional growth, and to step back and get a better perspective on our lives and ministries.
I'll admit I was hesitant at first to take months out of our work here in Kenya, but Brandon convinced me it would be worthwhile. I think I was still a bit skeptical going into it, but after spending two months on sabbatical I can tell you I'm so glad we decided to do this. And I'd encourage anyone else with the option of sabbatical to take it.
First off, the location. Lots of people have asked us, "Why Taiwan?" Well, Brandon especially felt strongly that we needed to get out of our context here or we would just keep working. (This has proved especially true, because returning here to Nairobi and still trying to sabbatical has been almost impossible. Life just gets in the way!) And he thought if we went back to the U.S. we would end up doing a lot of support raising instead of resting.
So that left us looking for a third option. One of the three hubs for All Nations worldwide is in Taiwan, and we visited two years ago for a conference. At that time, we were blown away by the hospitality of the community there, and found that Taiwan was lovely, easy to get around, and pretty inexpensive. This year, we were again invited to a work conference in Taiwan in November. So we already had to buy airplane tickets to get there. We figured it would be a great place to go early and take sabbatical.
So how did it all go? Great! It was different than my expectations in a few ways. Being pregnant, I found I had less energy for exploring this beautiful foreign country than I had hoped. So we took a few short trips, but mostly just lived a low-key life in Tainan. But the huge difference between my life in Tainan and my life in Nairobi was the stress levels. I had no external or internal pressures telling me to stay busy, to always be working. I was able to enjoy playing with Mikayla, going out for lunch with Brandon and Mikayla, read fiction, etc. without feeling like I should be doing something "more productive." We also were blessed with a nice apartment to stay in while the owner was away. We could easily navigate around Tainan and even further afield with safe taxis and efficient and timely public transportation. Things were clean and modern, and we even enjoyed a lot of comforts from home that we don't have access to in Kenya (Starbucks! McDonalds!).
I didn't even realize how different our sabbatical life was from my normal life until we returned to Nairobi the week before last. Since arriving, we've been rudely reacquainted with the day-to-day challenges of life here. Our luggage was lost, our water pump broke so we had to go five days on limited water rations so we wouldn't run out, just going somewhere nearby makes you confront horrendous traffic, etc. And in general we have just had a lot more demands on our time. We only took two months of sabbatical in Tainan before returning because I'm just too pregnant to fly anymore (I'm due Jan. 16). So we planned to take December slow here, but it hasn't really worked out that way yet.
So what did we take away from sabbatical? Well, I can only summarize what Brandon learned, and then share more about what I learned. Brandon spent two days each week in Tainan coaching the staff at the All Nations church there in StrengthsFinder. He individually coached about 20 people, and then coached about a half dozen teams as well. It was invaluable experience that has increased his confidence and competence in StrengthsFinder coaching, something he hopes will lead to more supplemental income for us in the future (he already uses it a lot for free with missionary/church teams in Kenya). He also greatly benefited from unplugging from ceaseless work and intentionally slowing down. The nature of our work makes it hard to create clear-cut work/life boundaries, and that has really worn us down over time.
For me, I really benefitted from getting out of my context and taking a look at my life from a broader perspective. I spent time both before and during sabbatical asking the Lord to give me his perspective on my life and teach me things I didn't even know I needed. Well, he really came through for me. I was able to process my last five years, see patterns that I hadn't noticed before, and come up with practical things I want to apply in order to change these things in my lifestyle. The Lord revealed areas of my heart where I had built up hardness and cynicism and he brought healing where I needed it. I don't think I would have experienced all this without taking the time to make myself available to what God wanted to show me.
It was good timing for us as a family to take sabbatical. Things will be getting crazy again for us starting in January when move from a family of three to a family of four. And Brandon's schedule is already filling up with lots of regional trips to coach East African CPx students in their contexts. But we're feeling refreshed and prepared to jump into these roles.... as long as it's not until January. If we could change things, we would have started our sabbatical time earlier to get the full three months in Taiwan. We really miss the lifestyle and the wonderful community there. But Nairobi is our home, and we're happy to settle down here again.