We had a baby!

Our precious rainbow baby, Andrew Bennett, was born on December 9th at 9:13pm. He was nine pounds exactly and 20.9 inches long. We are overjoyed to finally have him in our arms!

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—— OUR SECOND AFRICAN BIRTH ——

This was my second time giving birth in Kenya. The thought of having a baby in Africa can sound scary at first, but let me assure you, we were well taken care of at Aga Khan University Hospital. Our team of doctors was stellar…with both Oxford and Cornell graduates at my bedside, I felt confident in their abilities to keep me and Andrew safe and healthy!

After weeks of all signs pointing to Andrew’s arrival to be an early one (he was measuring big, engaged for labor, etc.), I was induced on my due date of December 8th. I was SOOOOOOOO ready to have this baby!

I had my water broken by my doctor midday, then I was wheeled off to the other side of the hospital to find an open delivery room (the ones in our ward were all full!). From there, I was given an epidural, which I am convinced is a medical blessing from the Lord! They put me on a Pitocin drip to regulate contractions (which I barely felt) and a few hours later, Andrew was in my arms!

Similar to Levi, we officially named Andrew Bennett about 45 minutes after he was born. We weren’t trying to keep his name a secret…we honestly weren’t 100% set. Just two weeks prior, Nate and I were scrolling through “Top 1000 Baby Boy Names” for the hundredth time…boy names are tough! We chose Andrew Bennett for a very simple reason…we like it!

—— A FAMILY OF FOUR ——

Whew! What an adjustment it is to add a newborn to the family, especially with an energetic toddler! Levi first met Andrew at the hospital. He was so excited and even tried looking in other rooms for “baby brother” while we waited for Nate to bring him back from seeing the doctor. We were worried Levi would be jealous of Andrew, or angry towards him, but he has shown Andrew nothing but (intense) love!

According to Kenyan law, new moms get three months of maternity leave and dads get two weeks. WHAT. A. BLESSING. It was so nice to have Nate around to wrangle Levi and play with him while I figure out nursing and sleeping all over again.

Not all moments are perfect, as we learn to adjust. Levi has become a bit more defiant (we are currently reading books on discipline to implement ASAP!) and I struggled a lot with nursing and sleep deprivation when we first arrived home. A month later, we are finding a rhythm to the chaos. We have been so blessed by friends in our community who have brought delicious meals to us. (I’m convinced this is one of the best ways to minister to folks with newborns….FOOD!)

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—— BABY & MINISTRY ——

Unlike Levi’s birthday, Andrew’s ended up being at a wonderful time of year in regards to ministry. Things slowed down for the Christmas holidays (it’s more like a summer break here in Kenya) which has freed us up to focus on our family and get some quality time together. Gosh, when Levi was born it was quite stressful, as we were trying to get youth ministry up and rolling before his birth on September 10th!

Over the holidays we spent a bit of time planning for the upcoming semester and mapping out Disciple Now 2020 plans.  Nate has now started back to work full time, so I am now learning how to take care of two kiddos at the same time!

—— PRAYER REQUESTS ——

  • Praise the Lord for a smooth and healthy delivery!!!
  • Praise the Lord for our community who has loved us well through providing meals and snacks. It is such a help, especially as we are far from family.
  • Andrew has a Thrush infection…pray for healing to come quickly.
  • Pray for wisdom as we learn how to love and parent our boys in a Godly manner. (Especially in the realm of discipline.)

 

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Worlds Collide: FPC meets Kenya!!!!!

This past week, our home church, First Presbyterian Church of Rome, Georgia, sent a team of women to serve alongside us here in Nairobi. This has been a dream of mine for YEARS and it finally came to fruition…our FPC and Bluesky worlds collided! It was truly a blessing to have the seven ladies visit our homes, partner with Bluesky and get an experiential glimpse into our lives and ministry!

The week was jam-packed and flew by in a blink. We wanted the team to experience as much of Kenya and Bluesky as they could throughout their brief time here.

Here are some fun events that were on their schedule:

  • Attended an ICF Sunday morning service
  • Baked desserts and participate in “Trivia & Treats” night for SUMMIT youth group
  • Shared testimonies at ICF Women’s “Testimonies of Thankfulness” event
  • Climbed and bouldered around at Bluesky’s climbing gym
  • Tried a yummy Indian dinner at Maharaja restaurant (one of our favorites!)
  • Lead a full day of VBS games, Bible lessons and crafts at The Ark School in the Kariobangi slum
  • Stretched out of their comfort zone and tried Kenyan “nyama choma” (goat)!
  • Visited Kiambethu Tea Farm in Tigoni and tasted one of Kenya’s main exports…TEA!
  • Taught helpful lessons on proper  heart posture for Bluesky’s first ever Women’s Retreat
  • Learned about SERGE’s medical ministry in the slum of Eastleigh
  • Tasted a new cuisine at Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant….and devoured it!
  • Went on a morning safari drive and kept high spirits despite the unfortunate circumstance of getting stuck in the mud for 4 hours!
  • Toured Amani Ya Juu, a local non-profit that hires and teaches refugee women sewing skills

We are so thankful for the time we got to spend with each of the ladies. The week itself and the planning beforehand took quite a bit of energy (especially at 34 weeks pregnant), but we ended the week feeling so refreshed and energized! It is truly something special to have your hometown folks sacrifice a week of work/family/life to travel across the Atlantic and experience your life and ministry first hand !

My prayer for dear Sally, Melissa, Kinslee, Gina, Abby, Lisa and Wendy is that their eyes and hearts remain tender and open to God’s global work. …and that they may now be a “window” for other members of FPC to catch a peek into what is happening here in Kenya!

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The team of lovely ladies!
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The team brought a bunch of bins to Kenya…this is one HUGE way short term teams can bless full time missionaries…by bringing ministry supplies, American snacks and other random needs from the US! 
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Sunday morning at ICF (on Rosslyn’s campus). The flags represent the home countries of the students who attend the school! 
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For our Sunday evening high school youth group “SUMMIT” we had a “Trivia & Treats” night. Our house was full to the brim! The ladies brought special snacks and candy from the US, and joined forces with the students for a game of Trivia! 
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The ladies were so sweet to pack gifts for volunteers at our our church, the ladies at ICF and the women of Bluesky. 
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Michelle also found her way to Kenya during the time the FPC team was here! Michelle worked at FPC for a few years before moving to Kenya in 2011 to work with Bluesky, so she fit right in!

 

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On Monday morning, we hosted a “Testimonies of Thankfulness” tea for the women of our church, ICF. A few of the FPC ladies volunteered to share their testimonies, which was super impactful. The time together was so sweet! 
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On Tuesday, the ladies geared up for an entire day of leading VBS activities for The Ark School in the Kariobangi slum. Many of the children come from Muslim homes, and VBS is a special opportunity for them to hear the Gospel of Jesus! 
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The Ark School students were delighted to have visitors from the US! The ladies did a terrific job leading the students in games, songs, arts & crafts and Bible lessons. 
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Lots of children, so little space! The FPC women were great at being flexible and adjusting plans throughout the day. Leading VBS in a Kenyan slum is VERY different than leading VBS back at First Pres! 

 

 

 

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On Wednesday we headed to Tigoni to begin the first ever Bluesky Women’s Retreat! We kicked it off with a tea tour at Kiambethu Farm. Tea is a main export of Kenya and top quality tea is grown in Limuru, processed and shipped (mostly) to Europe and India. “Lipton Tea” is also grown in Kenya. 
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The beauty of the tea fields is definitely something we wanted the ladies to experience! 
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Wednesday to Thursday the ladies led the women of Bluesky through sessions on proper heart posture. On Thursday morning, we took a break from sessions for some team building on the ropes course!
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It was so special to have the FPC women get to know the ladies of Bluesky. Everyone bonded so quickly! 
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Two Kenyan mamas who I look up to and admire very much were at the retreat! 
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It was super special to have Abby, my second cousin, here in Kenya! 

 

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The ladies adventured into Nairobi National Park for a morning safari drive. Nairobi National is a neat experience, to see the animals with the skyline of Nairobi in the background.
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Unfortunately, the safari drive didn’t last long without a hiccup…the vans were stuck in some serious mud for 4 hours! Thankfully, FPC kept high spirits about the ordeal. This is how life in Kenya works…it’s so unpredictable and sometimes you just have to say “Hakuna Matata!” 
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We truly LOVED hosting the women of FPC and having them serve alongside us in ministry. They are already missed dearly! 

Our visit to the US!

The power has been out for two days.

We have to remind ourselves not to drink from the tap.

I’m having cheese withdrawals.

…but we are HOME in Kenya and it feels SO GOOD!

Our two month visit to the U.S. was a terrific blessing. We were able to catch up with family and friends, connect with supporters and share about ministry with Bluesky. We also got to satisfy our Chick-fil-a cravings, as well as Nate’s personal favorite – Chinese buffet.

We are fortunate to have two “home bases” to return to in the U.S., with half our time spent in Medina, Ohio and the other half in Rome, Georgia. We know a ton of missionary friends who spend 99% of their time in the U.S. on a cross-country road trip to visit many churches and people….we are so thankful for the strong support we have received from our two hometown communities that makes our visit more simplified and restful (especially with a toddler!).

Some big events from our time in the USA included:

  • Nate’s family surprising us with “Christmas Morning” in June!
  • Attending the 100th (and longest standing) family reunion in the state of Ohio!
  • A Mast family vacation to North Carolina, including such special cousin time for the kiddos!
  • Finding out the gender of our second baby…it’s a BOY!
  • Being invited to a missionary marriage retreat at Winshape, where we connected with many folks serving overseas…and even made new friends who live 15 minutes from us in Nairobi!
  • Shanna’s sister gave birth to our newest nephew, Chandler!

We were also able to connect with a lot of our supporters and share about ministry with Bluesky. We hosted a supporter banquet in Rome, Georgia and met with folks over coffee or a meal throughout our visit. We were invited to share with both First Baptist Church of Medina and First Presbyterian Church of Rome about how things were going in Kenya.

It was truly special to talk to folks in person about Kenya, answer questions and catch up. Although we post blogs and send newsletters, there is something irreplaceable about seeing people in “real life” and having solid conversations about life. We are truly grateful. We look forward to the next time we can cross the “pond,” but for now we are enjoying life in Kenya and jumping head-first back into ministry!

Here are some fun memories from our visit in the U.S….enjoy!

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Shanna and Levi visited the Yoder family for a few days in Dallas, Texas!
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Claire and Levi are BFFs!
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Shanna shared a slice of pie in Dallas with our dear friend Alexia who served with us in Kenya during our first year!
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Got to eat Torchy tacos with Sally! She was a student in our youth group in Kenya, and now she’s thriving as a sophomore at Baylor University!
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Levi got some time with his Granddaddy Landers…going up the driveway on their different modes of transport!
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Time with Sharon and Noah was so great!
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We FINALLY met our sweet niece, Olivia, who is 6 months younger than Levi!

 

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Levi playing peek-a-boo with his great-grandpa Mast!
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Grabbing ice-cream together with family!
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Nate and I spent a day in Cleveland, OH for our 5 year anniversary. We found a bacon lollipop to celebrate!
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Looking at family photos together in Medina.
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Three cousins having dinner together at Uncle Aaron (Nate’s brother) and Aunt Sara’s house!
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Three boys taking down Uncle Chris together at family vacation in NC.
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Of course, we had to get a family photo outside of The Mast General Store.

 

 

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Grandpa Mast with a handful of grandkids and great-grandkids in Ohio!
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3 generations of Mast boys hiking in NC…trying to beat the storm rolling in!
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Passed through Bristol, TN and grabbed lunch with these great friends! Chase and Audrey did mission work at the base of Kilimanjaro with the Maasai tribe. We sure miss them in Kenya now, but so thankful to see them in the US!
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Nate’s parents drove us down to Georgia. So thankful for time with them!
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Saw our friend Tessa in ATL for a bit…she worked with us at Bluesky during our first 1.5 years in Kenya!
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Levi got to hang out with his buddy Myles both at church and at Myles’ house!
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Finally got to meet little Bo and get some time with his fun parents in Chattanooga!
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Our sweet friend Michelle came up to Rome for a hike at Berry…it was so great to catch up! Michelle served with Bluesky before we moved to Kenya…we just tend to follow in her footsteps!
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A classic breakfast for dinner at the kitchen table in the Phillip’s home!
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Spent a few days at a marriage retreat at Winshape. Got to hang out with our friends Andrew and Abby, who live about 3 hours from us in Kenya.
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Levi instantly fell in love with our friend Sarah! Sarah was part of the Camp Bluesky team in 2010 when Nate and I first met!
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A girl outing in ATL with my dear friend Tiffany. She introduced me to her friend Katrina a while back….who is SUPER fun! I loved getting a day with these two!
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A little Berry picnic with Blake and Brittni…who are also expecting a little baby (girl!) in January!
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So thankful to get to meet baby Chandler! Levi was excited to have a cousin on the Landers side!
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Riding the Mule and looking for “critters”  was a regular evening habit for Levi and his Granddaddy Landers!
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Grandmama and Granddaddy Landers with their two grandsons!

 

 

 

Supporter Banquet – Rome, Ga

Hello Everyone!

We’ve really enjoyed seeing many friends, family and supporters throughout our time in the U.S. this summer!

We want to invite our supporters near the Rome, Georgia area to a supporter dessert banquet this coming Sunday, August 11 at First Presbyterian Church. It will be a chance for us to say THANK YOU and share updates about youth ministry with Bluesky.

If you are not a current financial supporter, but would like to join our support team, we would love for you to join as well! This will be a good chance to learn more about what we are doing in Nairobi, Kenya and ask questions.

Mark your calendars for Sunday, August 11, 6:30-8:00pm. See you there!

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The Many Visitors of May

The past month has been a wonderful season of hosting for us, in addition to regular youth ministry.

As of today, May 22, we have had over 150 people walk through our doors throughout the past month….amazing! They came from all over for staff meetings, Covenant Group bible studies, a student Spikeball tournament, a student bonfire party, and simply for a place to stay while visiting Kenya!

We started off our hosting adventures with having our dear friends Nathan and Jane stay with us during their counseling trip with their ministry. This was their second time staying with us during visits from Rome, GA. Having them here was refreshing for our souls and proves, yet again, that our world is SO small!

Bluesky held their bi-annual all staff meeting at our house. It was so great to have our director, Tammy Preston, in town to guide us through some strategic planning and goal setting for Bluesky. We ordered KFC for lunch, which is something I grew up eating at family reunions…it kind of felt like a Bluesky family reunion and I can promise you this: no fried chicken was left over!!!

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The Bluesky staff gathered together for strategic planning….Levi and Willow joined in!

We hosted a Spikeball tournament for students at the beginning of the month as well. Middle schoolers and high schoolers dueled it out to win the tournament and the grand prize: free t shirts! There are still bare spots in our yard where the grass hasn’t quite grown back, but it was totally worth the fun and friendly competition! We can’t wait to schedule another tournament for next year!

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Some students competing in the Spikeball tournament!

Many of you already know this…we host and lead morning Bible studies for students known as “Covenant Groups.” Two of Nate’s Covenant Groups meet at our home each Thursday and Friday morning. It has been a pleasure to have these boys discussing Scripture under our roof….and it’s a bonus when they get to show Willow and Levi some love!

Some friends of ours through SWAT (Students With a Testimony) Ministries visited us for a couple of days during their vacation to Kenya from Kennesaw, GA. It was fun to have Mary Kathryn with us again… she helped us with Disciple Now in 2017! She loved Kenya so much, she wanted to bring her husband Reno back for a visit! We are always happy to host friends from out of town!

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Showing the Barrera’s around town…the Giraffe Center was a must see!

This past Sunday we hosted our end-of-year “Bonfire Fiesta” for the high school youth group. They came over to get their fill of tacos and roast marshmallows. A high school student and and on of our volunteers led a great worship time by the fire. We enjoyed fellowship together before the craziness of exams hit the students’ busy schedules!

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A low quality photo of a high quality moment…worshipping with high school students around a bonfire!

Next week, we will welcome our friends Chase and Audrey (and their little son, Oliver!) to our home as they visit Kenya for a couple of weeks from Bristol, TN. They became dear friends to us during their time serving as missionaries to the Maasai Tribe near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. It will be so special to see them again as we are comforted by their southern accents, and finally get to meet Oliver!

We are so thankful to have the opportunity to host! This was our hope…since ICF does not have a church building, that we could utilize our home for a place of ministry! We are thanking God for the many faces we’ve been able to see this month!

 

As for the upcoming months…the tables will turn and we will be guests, rather than hosts…. in the USA!

We will be in Medina, Ohio June 18th – July 7th.  

We will be in Rome, Georgia July 13th – August 2Oth.

Please let us know if you would like to connect with us…we would love to add time with you to our schedule!

The epic weekend of DNOW!

DNOW 2019 was epic!

We began planning for it last semester, and to be honest, we were a bit anxious. It’s our biggest student event of the year and takes a LOT of energy and time to organize. Last year left us utterly exhausted and stretched us nearly beyond our physical and mental capacities. With an even smaller staff to work with this year, we were worried!

With prayer and the help of our new Bluesky director, we joined forces with our Bluesky co-workers on the other side of Nairobi to collaborate on a combined DNOW event.

We changed things up a bit:  We booked a nearby retreat center (Brackenhurst), to cut down on food prep and transportation logistic. (a.k.a. Shanna didn’t have to make a bazillion hamburgers and Nate didn’t have to hand-draw maps for bus drivers!)

We kept some things the same too: We continued our valued relationship with S.W.A.T. Ministries –  a team of college students out of Athens, Georgia who come to Kenya each year to help lead DNOW. (They are amazing!!!)  We asked Shawn Koonce, a fellow missionary in Nairobi (and Nate’s former youth pastor) to be our speaker again this year.

dnow 2019 sticker jpegThe weekend itself was amazing!

We hit capacity with nearly 100 students in attendance. Our theme was “Shine” and Shawn did a phenomenal job sharing with students about the “lightbulb moment” of understanding the Gospel, the need to shed light on our sin through repentance and accountability and how we can be a light in our community for the sake of Christ. The students (and leaders!) really connected to the messages throughout the weekend and were able to discuss them further in small group sessions.

We played some crazy upfront games… (let’s just say some of our props included: blindfolds, raw eggs, corn on the cob, a power drill, a very chewed up Snickers bar, and a can of sardines!!!) We also had a fun afternoon of large group games, scavenger hunts and coke floats!

We are so thankful to God that things came together in the planning phase. Even more so, we are grateful to Him for the impact DNOW weekend had on students’ hearts. We can plan all we want, import all the American candy and do the silliest of games, but at the end of the day, it is God who touches hearts and changes lives!

 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2nd Corinthians 4:6-7 

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Disciple Now 2019!

 

 

 

How to Take a Baby on Safari

Some families take their babies to play groups. Some take them to the park. On special occasions their babies may see the beach or Disneyworld. Here in Kenya, we took our baby(s) on safari.

It’s a wild (figuratively and literally) endeavor, and requires quite a bit of planning and flexibility.

Our friends Peter and Mary made the long haul from Dallas to Nairobi, along with their daughter Claire, to visit us for a few days. This was a long-standing dream coming to reality for us….we were SO excited to host them! It is so refreshing to have visitors…it renews us mentally, spiritually and physically forced us out of our Nairobi norms to experience the beauty of Kenya!

Peter and Mary made only one request for their time here – that we do a safari. This was great news, as we typically save our safari adventures for when visitors come in and we were itching to go see wildlife too!

Tip #1: Plan (at least a few days) Ahead. 

In the weeks/days leading up to their arrival, we sat down to plan a safari. Where should we go? What park? How many nights? How far away from Nairobi? …all questions we considered as we mapped out our plans to visit Samburu Conservancy, a protected park about 6 hours away. We had recently visited Samburu and fell in love with the beautiful, mountainous backdrop!

Our hopes were high: we aimed to straight-shot a 6 hour drive to the conservancy, with a lunch break half-way. In Kenya, their are no fancy rest stops with flushing toilets and snack machines! (side tip: bring lots of snacks…Mary had a stash of AMERICAN goldfish crackers that kept the kids happy.)

Not to mention, the last time we went to Samburu (during Christmas holiday) was in December…and our Land Cruiser had broken down. In fact, it was still in the shop, now two months later – getting some major engine repair completed. We would have to borrow a 4×4. Thankfully, our co-workers generously let us borrow their Land Cruiser!

Tip #2: Pray (This should probably be Tip #1)

On the early morning of our departure, we arranged two car seats side-by-side. All but one seat would be occupied by a person, the unused seat folded up to make room for our luggage. Sound machines, toys, shelf-stable milk and snacks all in tow. We prayed that our children would be somewhat agreeable throughout the travel.

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As we exited the neighborhood and cruised up the highway, we breezed past bumper-to-bumper traffic going the opposite way – towards Nairobi’s center. Praise the Lord we were headed away from the city, and we prayed no one forgot something important at the house.

Levi was the first, and thankfully, the only to have a breakdown. It last about 30 minutes until he finally fell asleep. The rest of the drive was quite peaceful as we passed through rolling hills of coffee farms, forest and wheat fields. Mount Kenya remained to our east for a bit leaving us amazed at the diversity and beauty of this country. After we passed the mountain, we descended into desert-like territory. We peeled the jackets off our babies, as the temperature increased drastically to match the terrain.

Once we entered the conservancy, the babies were out of their car seats, looking out the windows. The first spotting of the day was a female Somali Ostrich. This was the first of many animals that Levi labeled, “dog.” (Currently his favorite word.)

Tip #3: Be flexible and don’t underestimate the power of Nap Time. 

We arrived at our lodge, Samburu Intrepids, at 2:00pm, grabbed a quick lunch and laid the babies down for naps. We decided to take it easy that evening and stayed at the lodge, despite the temptation to go on a game drive and see the cheetah that had been spotted a couple of hours earlier. Both flexibility and nap time are important when safari-ing with 1 year olds!

A typical safari consists of early morning and late evening game drives. At midday, the animals are usually avoiding the heat by hiding in the shade. We were a little uncertain how this change in schedule would affect the little ones, but they were champs! Claire thoroughly enjoyed the morning views while Levi snored away in the back seat.

Tip #4: Don’t let your babies hang out the windows when looking at wild beasts. 

Our first morning’s drive we spotted what we were most hopeful to see…a leopard! It was brief, as she moved up towards the rocks where her babies were waiting. She walked within just a few feet of our vehicle!

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Keep in mind, we did what we call a DIY safari. We drove our own vehicle. Our spotting tactics were simple: look for parked 4x4s and folks with binoculars. The odds are, a parked vehicle (and gawking tourists) meant a good animal spotting!

Additionally, we were advised by a friend to ask for tips from the official guides. We repaid each tip with a monetary tip…thankful to have some help and to ensure we wouldn’t be searching around in no-man’s-land for the majority of our drives.

The next major sighting was incredible! We followed a few 4x4s up to a fallen tree….with three lion cubs perched on the limbs, just a couple of meters from the roadside. We stayed their a while, watching them nap and play. Claire and Levi enjoyed seeing the cubs nearly as much as we adults did!

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Throughout our game drives, we saw more lions, another female leopard (Mary spotted it on her own!), a number of elephants, some endangered Grevy’s zebra and even a giraffe awkwardly drinking water!

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Tip #5: Kenyans (of all ages) know a lot about babies. 

The lodge was wonderful and very accommodating for us. The staff introduced Claire and Levi to a stuffed leopard (whose job was protect the breakfast buffet against monkeys). Kenyans raise their families interdependently, and most have experienced caring for a younger sibling or neighbor.  Communal sharing of the babies was assumed of us as the staff freely picked our children up and walked them around the property to play. It was a great help as we sat down to enjoy our meals!

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Tip #6: Relax a bit. 

Three nights proved to be the perfect amount of time for our adventure. We didn’t feel pressured to squeeze in every possible game drive, and it allowed us to relax and catch up with one another. Claire and Levi seemed to adjust to the 5am wake up calls and later bedtimes.

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After a total of 4 game drives, we loaded up our borrowed Land Cruiser and said good-byes to the friendly staff. (On our last night they surprised us with a candle-lit, riverside dinner!) We fought off a monkey or two who tried to steal Claire’s toys, and then were on our way. Nine hours later, we arrived home, exhausted but content! (The true test of traveling endurance would be the following day for the Yoder family, as they flew back-to-back 9 hour flights to the US!)

Tip #7: Visit your friends in Kenya (if you’re up for an adventure!) 

We were so thankful that Peter, Mary and Claire made their way out to see us. It truly did our souls good and rejuvenated our spirits. Praise the Lord for such a wonderful adventure together!

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