On The Role of Outsiders in Mission

Originally Published by Brandon on mbjones.net.

In development work and church planting work, it’s fairly common in this day and age to question what role an outsider plays. There has been an important shift in recognizing the great need to empower strong local leadership, particularly where sustainability and long term transformation is desired. Where this isn’t a priority you often see colonialism rehashed and projects that fall apart as soon as outsiders leave. 

I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t just be better if people like us left; in our place we’d hope that local people would establish and run with everything. It would look indigenous this way and it’d likely last. I’ve never been able to shake the sense that we are called to this though - that we should be doing what we are doing (just making sure that what we are doing is responsible and sustainable).

To back this up, I once had the opportunity to hear a strong local African leader speak to these very points in the organization we predominantly partner with. Trying to be provocative I think, another American friend asked this African man if us westerners should even be here (or if we should just pack up and go home). His response was quite helpful and I thought I’d expand upon it here for those that might be wondering the same thing. He speaks more out of the church planting context than other developmental works but he is involved in many things and partners with many groups and I think the application spans many different areas. 

In his response, he pinpoints 7 clear ways that describe partnership and details why we shouldn’t just pack up and leave. Here, find each way and some commentary on what this means and why it’s important. 

7 Ways Outsiders Can Help Fuel Movement & Transformation

  1. By Providing Clear Vision. When we partner through vision, we help to identify what local leaders are called to lead into. This doesn’t mean we necessarily provide the vision wholesale. It’s an identification process. It means we take time to listen and tease out the perceived needs and desired direction a particular community is moving in. Often we are able to aid in articulating and casting the particulars of vision. Often we are able to paint that picture of what could be and point others directly to it. This is quite important as you cannot gain what you cannot see. Further, where vision isn’t clear human nature tends to dictate that we wander, mostly aimlessly, in directions that distract from what’s actually important.

  2. By Providing Necessary Training. You can’t really understate the importance of training. With the right knowledge and training people can go much further than they could without it. Often an outside perspective is able to discern the type and depth of training needed to move a leader or community from point A to point B. Training also insures that we are working ourselves out of positions, particularly positions of power, as we train local leaders to fill them. It’s an important “high impact / low visibility”thing we can do. If we are doing our jobs well, we should be giving our best away so that we remain invisible and locals step into the forefront.  

  3. By Providing Necessary Marketing. It’s important to let the world know what is going on. As example, the Syrian refugee crisis started several years ago but is just nowcapturing the world’s attention. While we talked about it back then, not everyone did and many people across the globe were surprised at the magnitude of the problem. As outsiders we can help clue the rest of the world into what’s going on on by capturing information and events in order to make them known to the world outside. This is a sensitive process though - it’s not always acceptable and permissible to share. It’s also a process where we need to be careful not to fall into slacktivism (activism from our lazy boys that doesn’t actually do anything, like simply changing a profile picture) or exploitation: we always tell the story out of relationship and with permission and onlywhere it will bring positive impact. Where we share the story for our own gain we are not helping but hurting, often tremendously. We can aid significantly through the marketing and awareness process but only where it’s done sensitively in partnership with local leadership.

  4. By Providing Necessary Administration. Developing the proper administrative efforts for supporting, empowering and encouraging work can be quite the challenge, specifically where it’s never been done before. It’s definitely not a glamorous role (most people don’t want to be stuck in an office) but it is a vital role in many circumstances. This is something we can teach locals to do and succeed at easily particularly as more often then not administrative efforts do not have to be incredibly elaborate and complex: just simple structure to aid the effort.

  5. By Identifying Emerging Leaders. If as outsiders we are able to successful identify emerging local leaders it becomes a real gift to the community as we encourage and empower them to take an active role in the work at hand. Often we will see and encourage potential where many will ignore it, especially those within a community. Looking for the outside in we carry a different perspective that might be a boon in this area (connecting potential leaders with appropriate positions). 

  6. By Identifying What Matters. Put in a different way, it’s not about making people look like us. In the context of church work, that’s focusing on the Gospel and not my preferred American version of church. In development work that’s through identifying solutions desired by indigenous culture rather than acting as colonial overseers. By separating our own culture (that means for me my “American-ness”) from the desired message itself, we enable the message to flourish locally. Where we don’t do that we create weird hybrid people that take on aspects of our culture that just aren’t reproducible and limit long term sustainability. And by modeling this, as local leadership seeks to take the next step in helping neighboring communities as they’ve helped there own, they will carry this notion with them.

  7. By Identifying Resources Locally (And Afar). We can help identify what a community already has that they might be overlooking. And where there might be lack - we can help find the necessary resources to compensate for any lack. Often through looking from the outside in we are able to see the hidden strengths that locals often overlook. Often the flip might be true as well: we can perceive potential needs that locals might also miss. We should be helping them identify these things. And no, this doesn’t mean we always bring in the money. Resource can mean a lot of different things and is very dependent on the community, project and task. When the focus is solely on money, particularly in the context of what can be brought in, we often hurt communities more than we help them (through creating dependency, creating false expectations, limiting sustainability and local reproducibility, etc). 

So that’s the perspective of one local African leader that perceives the importance of partnering with outsiders like us. We’ve seen the strength in this as well and it drives us to keep walking in this direction. Let me know in the comments if you have any additional thoughts!

What we learned on sabbatical

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.

We loved how inexpensive street food is in Taiwan. We mostly ate out, which was cheaper than grocery shopping. Our favorite place to go was a night market just down the street from our apartment. Here, a vendor makes fried sweet potato balls — delish! 

We loved how inexpensive street food is in Taiwan. We mostly ate out, which was cheaper than grocery shopping. Our favorite place to go was a night market just down the street from our apartment. Here, a vendor makes fried sweet potato balls — delish! 

This was a favorite inexepensive tepanyaki place walking distance from our house. 

This was a favorite inexepensive tepanyaki place walking distance from our house. 

Mikayla tried so hard to eat with chop sticks like the rest of us, but it she just wasn't coordinated enough. 

Mikayla tried so hard to eat with chop sticks like the rest of us, but it she just wasn't coordinated enough. 

These are pinball-type games that are very popular with kids at the night markets in Tainan. 

These are pinball-type games that are very popular with kids at the night markets in Tainan. 

Mikayla ended up making more friends than I did in Tainan! She was a hit, and we were so blessed by the people who loved on her while we were there. 

Mikayla ended up making more friends than I did in Tainan! She was a hit, and we were so blessed by the people who loved on her while we were there. 

A new team member

Hannah and the Joneses

We have an exciting announcement! Our team is growing! No, this isn't a pregnancy announcement. We're getting another actual adult on this team: Hannah Dennis (see picture of us together above). Hannah came out and visited us for the month of November last year and after much prayer she decided to join us here in Nairobi for the next two years.

Hannah graduated from university last May and attended All Nations' CPx (Church Planting Experience) in Kansas City, Mo., in July of last year. There, she learned about what we are doing here in Nairobi and it lined up really well with the work and the people the Lord had already placed on her heart. So All Nations leadership in KC encouraged her to check us out. We invited her to spend a month with us in November. She agreed, and we were all very pleasantly surprised with how it worked out. She's a mature, thoughtful, and dedicated person. We get on really well together, our callings line up well, and we're excited to be able to share life together starting mid-May when she'll arrive on our doorstep.

More team members was a big prayer request of ours for a while. So thank you to all who prayed! And we would love you to keep praying more people in!

Here's a link to Hannah's blog where she shares about how she made the decision to move here.

If you are someone interested in going overseas for missions, I'd encourage you to read Hannah's account and talk to other people who have\ done it too. I think sometimes we overspiritualize the process of "finding God's will for our lives." I've seen a lot of people waiting for some clear, supernatural sign from God, when there's a lot of steps you can take within God's will that then reveal more of his plan as you go.

If you're interested in missions, I'd highly recommend All Nations' training programs taking place around the world. There's a 3-week CPx in Kansas City in July and October, and you can find out more about here. There's also a CPx starting in October in Cape Town you can find out more about here.

One thing that helped me discern where God was calling me was a short-term trip to the location I was considering. Brandon and I would love for you to come to Nairobi on a short trip, or longer internship. We've got another recent college grad lined up to spend June with us this year. Just let us know if you're interested and we can talk through what all that would entail (and if this would be a good fit for you).

Who knows? Like Hannah, you might just end up staying.

No money? No problem.

Brandon shares about our work in Blackwell

We spent February, March, and half of April in the U.S. Most of that time we were meeting with supporters and trying to find new people to partner with us in prayer and finances. Every time I return to the States, I'm surprised and blessed by the generosity of our community there. Often, people think they have to write a check in order to support missions. And if they're not in a spot where they have extra cash around, they don't feel like they can be involved. But I thought I would share in this space some of the ways we were blessed that didn't include cash. Maybe you can use one of these ideas in the future when you want to help others but don't have money to give. Services

This year, we were blown away when a friend of ours who is an ophthalmologist said to us, "If anyone in your family ever needs an eye exam, let me know. I can do it for free." We took him up on the offer and Brandon got a new glasses prescription, which saved us over $100 right then and there.

Do you have a skill or expertise that a missionary might benefit from? Then offer it to them! Most probably won't come out and ask you to help, since they don't want to take advantage of people. But it can be hugely helpful! Are you an accountant? Offer to file a missionary's taxes. A Web designer? Help host or design a Web site for a missionary. Aromatherapist? Give some essential oils to a missionary. A doctor? Let the missionary know you can help with medical questions while they are around. These are just a few ideas.

Housing and car for furlough

On this trip, we only had to pay for a hotel one night of the entire 2 1/2 months. Friends and family opened their homes to us for the rest of the time. I know it can be inconvenient to have people staying with you (especially if they have kids), but this sacrifice can be a huge benefit to missionaries. Often they are still paying rent on their home in their host country and can't afford to also pay for housing in the U.S.

If you have a guest house or the like it can be even better. Often missionaries do end up spending tons of time staying in other people's homes, and having their own space for a bit can be a lifesaver. This time around, someone offered us their above-the-garage apartment for almost two weeks and it felt so luxurious!

One thing that I consistently hear is hard for missionaries to get when they are on furlough is a vehicle. People rarely want to lend out their cars (sometimes for months on end), or when they do it's because it's a very unreliable vehicle that might break at any moment. Renting a car is crazy expensive though! So lending out a car to a missionary is monumental. If you can't do that, you could also offer to find a local used car for the missionary to buy when they arrive and then help them sell it when they leave. This would serve people really well, especially when they are on furlough for more than a few months.

Travel rewards

Definitely check with the missionary to see what kind of airline miles they need, but if you can transfer some of your unused airline miles to one of the alliances they use it can save them big bucks. We spend a pretty large portion of our budget on travel, so anything here helps. The same goes for free hotel stays that you may not be able to use.


This category has two parts. First, because missionaries live so far from friends and family, they actually spend a lot of time on computers and smart phones staying up to date with them. This fact actually surprised Brandon and I. When we first moved to Cape Town, we sold our iPhones before we left and bought cheapo Nokias when we arrived. But we soon discovered that those phones weren't the luxuries we thought they were, they were actually fantastic tools to connect with locals and overseas family alike. So all that being said, smart phones and computers are still quite expensive. If you upgrade to a new phone or computer, consider contacting a missionary you know to see if they could use your old one. I say to contact them first because not every phone will work overseas (it needs to be able to be unlocked and have a sim card that can be switched out).

The second aspect of this category is that often electronics have better resale values overseas than they do in America. I am not sure about every device, but I know that Apple computers and phones sell for much more in Africa. So much so that Brandon is able to sell his two-year-old computer here and buy a brand new one in the U.S. for the same price. If you have a several-year-old Apple product in the U.S. you aren't using, you could give it to a missionary to resell for the profit.

Host an event

This one is a big deal. If you aren't in a place where you can financially support a missionary, but still want to help them out, then host an event for them. In February, a family friend hosted an amazing dinner party for us. She invited a few people she knew, and she allowed us to invite a few other people that we knew. We mingled and ate for a while, and then we shared about our work and showed pictures and video. We received a really great response from the people who attended, almost all of whom we would not have gotten face-to-face time with otherwise.

One of the things that made this event work really well was because people other than us invited people to the event. Even the ones we knew already, my mom actually invited personally. We tried to host an event ourselves once that pretty much no one attended. The ones that go well are advocated for by the hosts. If you don't feel like you can promote the event yourself, however, it can still be great to just open your home. I would recommend then teaming up with someone else locally who can help promote the event with their network. It's hard for the missionaries to promote it when they don't live in town and may only be passing through.

Don't have a home you feel like will accommodate something like that? No big deal. We also had someone organize a get together at a park, and once someone just invited a few of their friends out to dinner with us.

So why was I so excited about these events? People often aren't comfortable setting up a one-on-one meeting with these missionaries they've never met, but are cool with coming to a group event. It provides us opportunities to connect with people who may be interested in our work that we don't yet know.

Living by Faith

Jones family

Living by Faith We only go back to the U.S. every year and a half. The time came for another visit, so at the end of January Brandon, Mikayla, and I got on a plane and flew to America. We stayed until last Friday. We spent time with family, but also spent most of our time with other people, sharing about our work. It's one of the boons and banes of our missionary lifestyle: finding partners to support our work through prayer and finances.

I call it a bane, because for my own self, I'd really rather not ask people for money. I'd rather have the independence and security that comes with just having a regular salary. And it's hard to leave our lives every year and a half to take the time to maintain our support.

So why did we do it? Well, it's nigh impossible to get a work permit and get paid for what we feel called to do in Africa. Also, the only reason that really counts is because God told us to. He asked us to walk this journey with him and it's been an honor.

That's why I call support raising a boon too, and that's really what it is, because the process of being on support the past five years has taught me so much. I've learned how to depend on other people in a healthy way. I've learned to trust in God with all our needs. I've been blessed out the wazoo with unexpected generosity from others. And I've had the benefit of being prayed for by people all over the world. I've seen breakthroughs that never would have happened if we didn't have a whole team of people praying for the work we do.

So despite some hard things about this lifestyle, I am ever so thankful to be able to live on support. I know it's not just me and my family out here in Kenya on our own. We're part of a whole community of people invested in what God is doing here.

So for all of you who have given to us over the past five years, or prayed even one prayer for us -- THANK YOU! You have made our lives so much richer, and you've made a huge impact for the kingdom in Africa.

If you want to partner with us, you can go to the How to Give tab on this site to find out the details. We found more financial partners this time around in the U.S., but we still don't have all our monthly needs met in cash or pledges.

We are also looking for a lot more prayer support. We have experienced a lot more spiritual opposition since moving to Kenya last year. We are hoping to rally a lot more prayer around what's going on in our work this year.

If you would like to know how to pray for us, we have an email newsletter we send out with specific prayer requests. Please email me if you would like to be added: julianna.h.jones@gmail.com.

Growing in a community

House church

This past Wednesday evening we started a house church in our home. This is the first time we’ve hosted a house church here in Nairobi that’s intended to be a church from the beginning. I’m really excited, because I’ve been missing this aspect of spiritual community since we moved from Cape Town. We have a team here that meets on Tuesday mornings to pray and worship together, and we occasionally have a kids-oriented worship time on Sunday mornings. But to me, nothing beats a small group meeting in someone’s home and sharing a meal together as we learn more about Jesus and follow him together. I firmly believe that there are many forms of church that can be healthy and strong, but this one is just my personal favorite.

My first house church experience was in Norman, Oklahoma, during university. The Lord had recently grabbed my heart in a new way and convicted me about the need to have a relationship with God based on love and not just rules and self-importance. So I got involved in a house church in what later became Norman Community Church. I found it challenging at first. I couldn’t just show up and stay anonymous. People were sharing real struggles with each other, and that made me uncomfortable. I had to choose to open up and be vulnerable with others in ways I’d been too afraid to in the past. Through that, I began to understand God’s grace for me better, and in turn be able to extend that grace to others more too.

I haven’t actually regularly attended a Sunday morning church service in about 12 years. In Cape Town, we had other expressions of church too, but the heart was in our house church that met on Wednesday evenings. I learned to love this multicultural community and sharing life with them was one of my greatest joys there (the picture at the top of this point is from our last house church meeting in Cape Town in March). I learned about the importance of obeying Jesus, not ever leaving without saying how I would respond to the thing that I learned and then being held accountable to do it. It makes a radical difference in following Jesus when you start actually obeying him, and not just adding new head knowledge.

We’ve been waiting until the right time to start something here in Nairobi. We finally feel like we’ve made enough inroads here in the culture and settling in. (And, hey, we also didn’t have very much seating in our lounge until our container arrived last week!) So it felt like the time was right, and we started with just four other people last week. I’m excited to see where this goes. My dream is that it would be a safe place for people to experience Jesus and be part of the family of God.

What do you like most about church? Is there a certain expression of church that is most life-giving to you?

"10 Things Missionaries Won't Tell You"

web (15 of 119)

I don’t know if you saw this viral post or not but it’s worth a read. It’s not something that I entirely agree with, but there are many feelings expressed that we have felt at some time or another. Many of them are fleeting feelings that we deal with and seek God’s sovereignty in.

Because of this, I thought I’d give some specific thoughts to his various points; the original just felt a little negative and glossed over some of what we’ve been finding God to be up to. Hopefully it will give you a deeper insight into who we are.


It is sometimes difficult to find the time and energy to write but its importance goes beyond the simplistic “we do it for you.” We write because we want others drawn into the work but we write just as much because we want to draw ourselves deeper into the work. It helps to remember the joys, the victories and the sorrows and defeats. It helps us to pray and plan and dig deeper. Yes much of it gets published (but not all) because we want our community to feel as if they are really a part of the work (because they are!).


I think these are the two that struck me as the most negative. I think the attitude might stem from a misunderstanding of the role and place of fundraising. There are Biblical reasons to fundraise. It’s not the only way forward and sometimes it’s not what God calls us to, but when it is, it is a wonderful opportunity to invite and draw others into “kingdom work”. So like our facebooks statuses because of what we post. Give when the Lord prompts to give and don’t think that we’ll judge if you don’t.


Actually this is true in part. Not necessarily for the reasons the author lists (you wouldn’t believe or would just want to come rescue); often things like the fact that we don’t have permission to tell others peoples stories come in to play. Often what makes a day so bad we don’t have permission to talk about. Often openly talking about it on social media would involve denigrating our host culture (which is something we refuse to do especially in such a public fashion).

Ask us in person though and we will tell you everything we can. We’ll talk about the hard times. We might get into the cultural things we struggle with. We might mention some of the other things we won’t talk about in a public fashion. We want to be as open as possible.


Everyone needs time off. We aren’t machines. You aren’t machines. But this point he makes is true: it’s hard to talk about (especially when living on support). We have missionary friends that have gone on vacation and posted about it on facebook and got lots of flack for it (even though it wasn’t in any way an extravagant vacation nor was it something they always did). There is an expectation that because we are missionaries we should be working 24/7/365.

Luckily this isn’t something we’ve struggled as much with. We are blessed with an understanding community around us (as far as I know). We’ve had supporters and supporting churches specifically give for vacations. They will tell us “only use this gift to get away and have some fun.” And yes, we always try and do it as cheaply as possible even bumming stays at vacation homes when possible. But we don’t like talking about it for fear of the reaction that some friends have gotten.

And if you want to know, we do need a vacation (I wouldn't mind being in the picture attached to this post). We’ve been running hard (and stressed) from moving, settling, learning a language and culture and starting up a new work in East Africa. If you have a good idea for one, let us know!


This is the one I disagree with the strongest. It’s not a nightmare. It can be very tough work. And sometimes it doesn’t work out well. But it is worth the trouble. Seriously. We’ll set expectations from the get go (and maybe this is why short term trips are such a pain for the author of the original) and help guide you into the work as best as we can.

I do agree: don’t come on a mission trip with the same mindset that you’d take to a Caribbean beach. But come, experienced or not. We’ll walk with you, integrate you in to what’s going on as best as possible, and pray that you leave changed for the better.

Even if we need a vacation when your team leaves, we say come! Just prepare to bring a couple extra suitcases fully of goodies for our daughter from her grandparents.


This one is pretty accurate. Nothing to add here. It is a lot of work. It’s worth it, but it is a lot of work.


I think this is something that could affect anyone regardless of position. Sure we definitely have to watch out for it (and we have walked through drier seasons) but so does everyone.


I put this into the category of discernment. You’ve always have to measure the people you are surrounded by. The author’s conclusion (I refuse to get burned again. If that means I have to do everything myself, then so be it.) makes me a bit sad though. Maybe we haven’t been at it long enough (5 years now) but to not even try seems tragic. We are quite careful in our relationships but very open to them; it’s how the kingdom works. Doing everything on our own wouldn’t get us very far.


Yes there are times we can be quite lonely. We have experienced this quite a bit in this season of starting things up in East Africa. This is why we firmly believe in working at mission as a community. We had a fantastic community in Cape Town that kept lonliness at bay and we are building a wondeful community here; it is a high priority (that just takes time).

How to survive in Africa when you still want your home to look nice


I feel like I’ve been flexing my muscles of resourcefulness since moving to Kenya. I was impressed by the resourcefulness of the African cultures that I experienced in Cape Town — people in the townships made do with so little, creatively repurposing many things for different uses than those for which they were intended. But because of all the affordable Western amenities in South Africa, I wasn’t forced to be resourceful myself.

Not so in Kenya.

The Western lifestyle is expensive here. Looking in a store for a shelf to mount on the wall? Super pricey. Find a local carpenter to custom make you one? Very cheap. Want curtains in Western styles (hence, imported from the West)? Crazy expensive. Find a local seamstress to turn local African kangas into curtains? Cheap.

I still want my home to feel comfortable and look nice, but I don't have the moolah to make my home look like the Pottery Barn catalogue here. And we've got another challenge to this because we’re also waiting on our household goods to be shipped from South Africa. So we’ve been reluctant to spend money on household goods, furniture or decor, because we have all that stuff coming. But the arrival of our goods has been held up by the major delay of our Kenyan work permits. We've been here six months and are still waiting on our proper documents. Once we get all our paperwork here, in theory it only takes three weeks to get our container. But every week we’re told the papers will be completed “next week.” After being in Kenya some months, I decided I couldn’t just wait for our stuff to get here to start making a home out of our duplex. Is it just me, or do empty walls make you feel like your just camping out somewhere? Like you're not settled? Well, that's how I felt and it wasn't helping the transition to a new country!

So I’ve tried to learn from our Mennonite mission partners and our African neighbors, and make things myself from scratch, repurpose found objects, and generally make do with what’s available. I think we’ve done a pretty good job, and I wanted to share some of these projects with you. Maybe you also don’t have any money in the budget for decorations? Hopefully this will give you some ideas to help you too.

Brandon and Mikayla play in the lounge

This is one of my long-time favorite ways to cover a large space for as little money as possible. In our home in Cape Town, I strung a string along the wall of the staircase. Here, I put up two strings, then used mini clothes pins to clip on photos Brandon has taken. I also included some quotes that I rubber stamped on pretty paper.

Painted chalkboard

Have an office or play room with a big blank wall? Paint a chalkboard on it! Not only does it create a pice of art on the wall, it’s also functional. This is Brandon’s office, and he was looking at stores here for white boards in order to be able to jot down notes and mind map. I had no idea white boards were so expensive though — $150 was the cheapest we found (for a fairly large one). Are they that expensive in America? I was shocked. So instead we paid $6 for a liter of chalkboard paint. I also used the paint to create labels on some jars for kitchen storage. That brings us to our next project:

Mason jar cashe

I was blessed to be allowed to take some things that weren’t being used in the Mennonite storage rooms on their property here. I found some treasures, which I’ve used around the house. These glass canning jars now serve as storage for sugars (with chalkboard-paint labels), vases, etc. Here’s a display that I made for the top of the bookshelf in the lounge.

Decor at the top of the bookshelf

I think it turned out pretty nice, and since I used things I was given the only cost I incurred was the printing of the pictures. Speaking of pictures, I am really proud of my husband’s fantastic photographs. We haven’t gotten any printed in years, even though he takes great ones. So we thought we would finally get around to doing that here, so our walls wouldn’t be so bare. I wanted to create a photo wall, but pictures frames are really pricey in stores here. So I found a bunch of used ones being sold by someone who was leaving the country. They didn’t all match, so I spray painted them “matte black grey,” and then let them dry like this.

Frames drying outside after being spray painted

We printed five nice big pics, and then I printed out two free printables I found online (cheaper than getting two more photos printed). And here is the final art wall:

The final product

One final idea, which was incredibly cheap to make: a branch on the wall, with origami birds.

Zoomed out look at the art

Close-up look

I searched for just the right branch outside, then mounted it to the wall with command hooks that my mother in law sent me from America. Then Brandon folded birds out of simple construction paper, and I created loops by which to hang them with needle and thread.

I feel so much more peaceful in my home after getting things up on the walls. I no longer feel like I’m waiting around for something, but feel okay without our stuff for now. Although I am still praying every day for our paperwork to get sorted out soon!

What are your favorite ways to decorate on a budget? I’d love some more ideas! We still have a lot of blank walls in the house.

What to see in Cape Town


This past week we booked our flights back to Cape Town, South Africa. We’re going back Sept. 10-28 for the annual All Nations Leaders Retreat. I’m really excited about getting back to Cape Town for a visit — most especially to see our friends that we had to say goodbye to when we moved to Nairobi in March.

It was really hard to leave Cape Town, mainly because of the relationships we had there. But, let’s be honest, also because Cape Town is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It recently made it onto the list of Top 25 Cities You Should Visit in Your Lifetime. Also, Forbes named Cape Town the best African city to live in. There are mountains and beaches, access to Western amenities, great infrastructure, and with the falling value of the rand an American dollar can be stretched really far there.

So I’ve created a list of the things in Cape Town I’m most excited to visit, and I thought I’d post it here. In case you’ve ever thought of visiting Cape Town, you should check some of these places out (in no particular order):

  • Simon’s Town, to walk down the main street and then see the penguins. You can view the penguins for free; just take the boardwalk to the penguin sanctuary, but don’t go in. Keep walking on the boardwalk and keep your eyes peeled on the left. You’ll see lots of penguins beside the boardwalk. We may also try to go to Boulder’s Beach and swim with the penguins, weather permitting.

Simon's Town

  • Scratch Patch Mineral World. This is on the way south to Simon’s Town. Basically, someone carved out a fake cave and then covered the floor in polished stones. Kids can come and pay a few bucks and sift through the stones, collecting the ones they like best and filling up a bag or cup that they can take with them. We took Mikayla at about 18 months and she loved it. Those rocks made it in our carryon and are still some of Mikayla’s favorite toys.
  • A picnic on Noordhoek Commons, located on the left if you are heading north just before you enter Chapman’s Peak Drive. Lovely view of the Noordhoek mountains.
  • Chapman’s Peak Drive, seriously one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world.
  • Visit the play ground at Imhoff’s Gift. Good play ground, with an amazing view.
  • Petting zoo at Imhoff’s Farm. For less than $2 kids can play with chickens, bunnies, etc. Priceless! Then have a coffee or meal in the cafe and enjoy the scenery.

Dining at Imhoff's Farm

  • Boat ride at the V&A Waterfront. There’s a nice one that lasts about 30 minutes, and only costs about $6/person. Watch out for seals and sea birds!
  • A stroll along Kommetjie beach — gorgeous view, but too icy to swim. Then take the boardwalk to the Kommetjie lighthouse.
  • Beach day at Fish Hoek beach, making sure to stay in the shallows so the sharks don’t get us!
  • The Cape Town Aquarium — truly impressive and a big hit with the kids.
  • Kalk Bay. It was our favorite place to go on off day mornings. Pick up a cappuccino and pastry at Olympia Cafe or Bob’s Bagel Cafe, then walk down the pier or play in the park. I’m hoping to make this excursion more than once while we’re there!

Kalk Bay Harbour

  • Old Biscuit Mill, and Tokai Earth Fair Market. I still haven’t found a replacement for these wonderful markets, which we loved visiting on Saturdays.

That’s most of my list. Is there something else you think I should add to my list?

When There Are No Libraries

Mikayla reading

I have such wonderful memories of my parents reading to me as a child, and I wanted to pass on my love of reading to Mikayla. It certainly seems to be working! Mikayla loves to sit on our laps and be read to, and even likes to take out books on her own and look at the pictures. One challenge we’ve had in this process, though, is finding access to quality reading materials.

Books are quite expensive here in Nairobi, and there aren’t any libraries that offer children’s books. So every time someone comes to visit us from the States, one of the things they bring for Mikayla is books. We’re developing a pretty decent library, but we still get tired of the 30 or so books that we have. (We have some books on the iPad, too, but the reading experience just doesn’t seem as rich when Mikayla can’t turn the physical pages.)

Then one day I stumbled across a blog post from another American here in Nairobi. She and her friends started exchanging children’s books to get access to more reading material. I thought it was a great idea, so I started the same thing with five other moms in a play group of which I’m a part.

Snack time at our wonderful Baby Bible play group.

I thought I would share the idea here, too, in the hopes that it would benefit other moms!

Each mom chose five books to submit to the toddler book exchange. Then each mom got back a different set of books. We keep them for a month, then bring them back to rotate to the next mom. So every month we will get a new set of books, until we’ve rotated through everyone and then we can start again.

These are the books we received from the toddler book exchange this month. Mikayla's favorite is the shape book.

It’s gone really well so far — although we’re only in the first month of the exchange. I selected five books that Mikayla has loved at one point or another, but that she’s gotten tired of by now. I also chose books that were aimed at a little younger age than she is, because she is one of the oldest children taking part in the book exchange.

Maybe you have some other ideas about how to stretch toddler resources and materials further? I’d love to hear any ideas you have. One of the other moms in our groups suggested maybe doing a toy exchange after this. I’m not sure how that would work. If you have had any experience with that, I’d love to know!