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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2018: A year of heartbreak and celebration.

2018 was a fast-paced blur with long days but quick-moving months (if that makes any sense!). Some say it was the worst year ever, others say the best. For us and most of the world, it fell somewhere between with contrasting moments of heartbreak and celebration.

Living in this world (and definitely this country), life is full of unpredictability, surprises and a roller coaster of emotions.  We are so thankful to serve a God who is constant. He cares for us in our happy times and in our sad, painful times. He has carried us through 2018 and we aim to lean close to Him through 2019.

Here’s a summary of each month as we look back on the year:

January: Heartbreak. We began the year with heavy heartbreak. Bluesky’s founder, Kim Pace, tragically passed away in a paragliding accident. Her death left us in shock, grieving, and uncertain of the future of our ministry.

February: Celebration! A blurry month of planning and chugging along in weekly youth ministry…celebrating the little victories, like getting our to-do list done!

March: Celebration! We jam-packed the month with our biggest student event, Disciple Now, which spanned two weekends as we hosted the SWAT team from Athens, Georgia in-between. We followed that up with a camping safari in Tsavo East and the Chuyulu Hills with dear friends…and our poor little 6 month who got drug along for the 13 hour round trip (bumpy) ride!

April: Celebration! Honestly, we can’t remember anything significant about April, other than continuing along in weekly youth ministry. So, we call that a celebration because we love our job! Oh, and Levi began sitting on his own…another reason to celebrate!

May: Heartbreak.  We wrapped up regular youth ministry for the school year and said heartbreaking good-byes to some dear students and families that moved away.

June: Celebration! Camp Bluesky began, which is always a celebration in our books! Nate spent three weeks serving as a counselor. Shanna divided her time with Camp and leading a girl’s bible study known as “Lit Coffee Group” that met every week in Nairobi. We also celebrated Tammy Preston coming on staff as Bluesky Global’s director…praises for the Lord always providing exactly what we need!

July: Celebration! Another jam-packed month! We moved houses one more time to what feels like HOME! Two weeks after moving, we put our new house to full-capacity use by  hosting dear friends visiting from Rome, Georgia! Nate also wrapped up his last session as a counselor with Camp Bluesky!

August: Heartbreak. (…but maybe less to do with the heart and more to do with the back.) Shanna had some chronic back pain that began this month and carried on for 2 solid months without answers. It really put a damper on our lives and ministry. We were thankful for eventually finding a wonderful physical therapist to help.

September: Celebration! Regular school year youth ministry started back up again! On top of that, Shanna’s parents came for a visit and Levi celebrated his 1st birthday! We took Shanna’s parents out to the Maasai Mara for a classic safari experience…complete with three little cheetah cubs that got up close to (and under) our vehicle!

October: Celebration! We carried on with regular youth groups and during a school break, got to travel to the nearby Aberdere Mountains and explore more of the beauty of Kenya with friends! Nate also celebrated turning 28 years old!

November: Heartbreak. Shanna had a miscarriage (ectopic pregnancy) that was very painful, both physically and emotionally for us. We were so thankful for friends who visited us in the hospital and/or reached out to us by text and email with encouragement through it all.

December: Celebration! We were determined to end the year on a good note…and what better way to do that than explore! Just before Christmas, we traveled to Samburu National Reserve for safari with sweet friends. Our car may have broken down 4.5 hours from home, but it was still wonderful trip! (Hoping to get it fixed soon…prayers it’s not too expensive!) Also, Levi started walking…another fun celebration!

Here are some photos from our December trip to Samburu…a great way to end 2018 and welcome 2019!

 

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The view of Mount Kenya as we drove from our hike in Ngare Ndare Forest! 
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How many giraffe can you spot? (scroll to the end to see the answer!) 
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A big bull elephant came VERY near our vehicle! 
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These Grevy’s Zebra are endangered…there are only an estimated 2,800 alive today. Notice how their stripes are really close together, which is different from the common zebra. 
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Family photo in Ngare Ndare Forest! 
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Our adventuring friends who were flexible and endured sitting on the side of the road when our car broke down and extending our trip a day to get it fixed! Fun fact: Jessica went to Shorter University, which is in Shanna’s hometown…but we didn’t meet until living in Kenya. …small world! 
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And to top our trip off, Nate ran into Santa! (I think Santa went on a diet in 2018) 

 

Thank you so much for keeping up with our lives here in Kenya. It means so much to have friends check in on us here on our blog! Beginning this year, we will be adding an email newsletter for our supporters and friends that will be the main avenue for updating about our ministry with Bluesky. We hope an email update will provide a more secure place for us to give deeper insights and details of our ministry.  We will continue blogging as well, but this blog will have more of a lifestyle focus than a ministry focus.

If you would like to be added to our ministry update email (we aim to send 5-6 time a year) please let us know by emailing shannamast@gmail.com!

 

*There are 13 giraffe!

 

The Painful Path of a Miscarriage.

Last week we had the heartbreaking experience of a miscarriage.

I now understand the depth of sorrow that comes alongside losing a baby before getting to hold them in my arms. Before now, I didn’t quite get it…I wasn’t sure how to comfort or mourn with friends who had miscarriages. The immediate and intense connection a mom feels upon knowing there’s a baby growing inside her; The joy that is stripped away and replaced with grief; The physical pain that is a constant reminder of loss…all of these being hardships that a miscarriage brings.

We had just found out we were pregnant the week before and planned on telling our families over FaceTime on Thanksgiving. We were so excited and I even let the secret slip to a few friends here in Nairobi.

On Monday I felt weird all day. I struggled through a staff meeting, trying to dismiss my pain as normal. On the way home, the pain intensified, so we changed plans and headed straight to the hospital. It was 5:30pm, in the heart of Nairobi rush hour. It took us a grueling 45 minutes to drive the 4.4 miles from our meeting location to the Emergency Room.

After pain meds and an ultrasound, it was determined that I actually had an “ectopic pregnancy.” The baby was healthy, just implanted in the wrong place, making it both impossible for growth and dangerous for my health. We had two options: remove the baby through surgery, or stop him/her from growing via Chemotherapy. Either way, it was ultimately one difficult choice: to end the pregnancy.

With the doctor’s recommendation, we chose Chemotherapy. I was admitted that night and given the medicine, and was monitored throughout the night and next day. If the chemo doesn’t work, surgery is the back up plan. (We find out this week if it worked). The meds make me really tired and a bit nauseous…again, reminders of the heartbreak we are walking through.

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Flowers a sweet friend sent us after finding out about our loss.

I am still mourning the loss of our baby. In a way, I think sharing our story here helps heal my heart. We are praying for God to guide us in how to grieve and how to move forward. It’s times like these that makes the distance from our families most difficult. However, we are thankful for our Nairobi friends and community who have comforted us through hospital visits, meals and prayer.

Continue to pray for us as we process our loss and lean on the Lord, who is faithful, loves us and hears our cries.

– Shanna

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.                 

– 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5 

 

Visiting Samuel

Four years ago, soon after getting married, we decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International.

After looking through many photos of sweet children from around the world, we signed up to sponsor 7 year old Samuel. His home was in Kenya, and of course that connected us. His big brown eyes, along with the Holy Spirit tugging on our hearts, drew us in!

Over the past four years, we’ve written letters and sent photographs. It’s been harder to send letters since our move to Kenya, as we have few chances to receive our US mail throughout the year, but we still keep in touch. Samuel has grown over the years and has done well in school and in making friendships. Samuel’s photo hangs on our fridge door – reminding us to pray for him and his family often.

We hoped one day we would get the chance to visit Samuel and meet him in person – what a privilege it would be!

Our hopes turned into reality this week, as we took a couple of days off work and drove 3 hours out of Nairobi to a town called Njoro. There, we met with the local Compassion staff and finally hugged Samuel!

He is such a sweet boy. He was very shy – just as starstruck as us, probably – and introduced us to his mother and two baby sisters. He showed us where he enjoys playing football. He and his mom invited us into their home for a visit and then we shared a big Kenyan lunch of ugali, spinach, beef stew and chapati. Samuel was incredibly sweet to our Levi (who was super fussy after missing a couple of naps)….Samuel was so patient and loving, demonstrating what a good brother he is to his sisters.

What a blessing it was to know Samuel and his family on a deeper level, beyond letters. It is amazing that we now live so close to each other. We are so grateful for the opportunity Compassion has given us – without the organization our paths may have never crossed.

We were so impressed with the efficiency, organization and tangible impact Compassion International is having in the area of Njoro. It encouraged us to know that we have partnered with such a terrific organization. If you haven’t signed up to sponsor a child, we urge you to do so….it is such a magnificent way to further the Kingdom of God and be connected with others beyond country borders.

Click here to learn more about Compassion International. 

 

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Sweet Samuel! 

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Meeting the family!
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Squeezing into our Land Cruiser for a ride to Samuel’s house….there’s always room for one more!
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Samuel’s family in their home! 
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Just outside their home, along with some new, friendly neighbors!

 

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Samuel was so good with Levi!