total kenya girl update on COVID-19

*first half written 3/24 on a Kenya Airways direct flight, NBI -> JFK

The sun is chasing us west toward the land of the free, home of the brave. 

But is the United States of America really land of the free these days? Is there any land that feels brave during a global pandemic?

Is anyone immune to the long chilling fingers of disease and death and confusing times and canceled plans? Is there anywhere on earth we can be safe from the blood-thirsty eyes of COVID-19, seeking to wrap its death grip around everything that inspires us to peace and flourishing and happiness?

Something else other than the sun is chasing us. And no one seems to be able to outrun.

Welcome home” the United States customs officer says to me, muffled by his light blue mask.

wore a mask AND gloves through the airports, much to my family’s relief
shoutout to jack, my airport pickup party

TLDR: I’m back in North Carolina.

Last Friday, the Friends of Tenwek board of directors requested I leave Kenya and return to the states in light of the US State Department’s Level 4 travel advisory. Visiting American doctors won’t be coming to Tenwek in the coming months, so most of my primary job responsibilities are null. The guesthouse is empty and it could be 6 months, or even longer, before international travel is safe. Not to mention, if I got sick and needed oxygen, I wouldn’t want to take one of Tenwek’s 7 ventilators from a Kenyan.

These reasons among others, my head understands why I needed to return to the states. Being at home is comforting and safe and makes sense. I’m thankful for family who loves me and can provide for me. I don’t have to wonder where I’ll return to in the US.

But my heart longs to be at Tenwek, even with the knowns and unknowns.

It’s unnerving. To feel tug of war between 2 entirely different worlds. I love Kenya and love living at Tenwek. Aren’t I trying to design a life in Kenya, plant roots, set up shop and name it home for a bit?

All it takes is the click of a purchase ticket button and I’m on an airplane headed back over the Atlantic ocean.

pure relief. since Kenya closed it’s borders to all international flights, I fought hard for a seat on one of the last jets out of the country 😬

We are strangely good at deceiving ourselves. We lie to our anxious conscious and say: I know what’s going to happen, here’s the plan. We rub the back of our nervous minds, reassuring: I have control over this. I’ll have this job for 3 more years, we tell our calendar. This is where I’ll live for the rest of my life, we promise our neighbor.

I just bought a shiny new trash can and potted some succulents for my apartment. My Kenyan home is looking pretty cute, gotta admit.

And in 12 hours I had to pack up that little home. All of my stuff feels so valuable and important. Until all of a sudden 1/2 is tucked into a trunk labeled: ship to Janie if she never returns. And all of a sudden the other 1/2 is stuffed into a suitcase and tossed into the cargo hull of a 787 Dreamliner. (…and 1/2 is in a friend’s attic in Austin… and 1/2 is in my parents’ home in Tarboro…)

I had a plan. Dad and June come to Tenwek in April, my family comes to Kenya in May, I return to the states in June.

PLANS???? WHAT plans???? My ways are higher than yours, God tells me.

I remember it was hard for me to wave goodbye and venture into the unknown to Hong Kong to study abroad. My friends were starting jobs in different Texan cities. My heart suffered from unrequited love for a cute boy I was leaving behind. My stepmom cried as I walked through airport security. It felt painful to say goodbye. But four months FLEW by and (my total cutesters know), that semester was one of the most fun of my life. A few years later, I can reflect on the ways God was using Hong Kong to prepare me for what he had next. International travel, long distance friendships, separation from family… I was a little more ready for my trek to Kenya.

So all this to say – COVID-19 is causing pain and confusion and grief and mixed emotions in all of our lives. I want to stick to my plan and be in Kenya. I’m thankful to be home with my family. I’m unsure what the future will look like. I wonder if I’ll go back to Kenya. I wonder if I want to go back. I wonder how long I’ll be in the states. I wonder if I want to be in the states. Key words: mixed emotions. Making plans isn’t inherently evil; I think God is challenging me to hold them loosely.

Because I have no clue what the Lord is doing in my life and heart to prepare me. For NO CLUE what next. At least I can *plan* to be surprised on the adventure ahead.

It still sucks. The back and forth. The unsettling concept of a true home. The interrupted friendships. The flights and jet lag. The hellos and goodbyes. The boxes of my belongings, scattered between North Carolina and Texas and Kenya.

To me, these are humbling reminders. Here on earth, we have no lasting home. Come, let us set our hearts on the city that is to come. Come, let us set our hearts on eternity. Come, let us set our hearts on the Giver of Life. Come, in a constantly changing world, He never changes.

Yesterday afternoon, I went for a jog at perfect Southern dusk. I ran past the tall swaying North Carolina pines and down the quiet rolling hills as the crisp March air whipped through my ponytail. I drank in the sunshine and oxygen. I started to miss my usual Tenwek running route on rocky uneven dirt past tea fields and hoards of schoolchildren tugging at my skirt, screaming “gimmie sweets!”

I started to think about how much I love to run. How grateful I am for two strong legs and a healthy heart pumping blood through my veins. It’s so straightforward. It’s concrete. One foot in front of the other. Follow the dotted yellow line.

In the midst of instability, this is God’s mercy extended to me. The undeserved gift of a simple jog. And I think there’s a lesson in this.

For today, I can take one step in front of the other. Follow the dotted yellow line as far as I can see it for today. I’ll continue working for Friends of Tenwek, but stateside for now. I hope to return to Kenya soon. Just like I bet you hope to return to work, to church, to friends, to sanity.

But for today?

We don’t have to be afraid of the enemy that chases. We don’t have to be anxious that we don’t know the future.

We can step one foot in front of the other.

And indeed, we can give thanks to God. For He is good.

Do not be anxious about anything

But in everything, by prayer with thanksgiving

Present your requests to God

And the peace that surpasses all understanding

Will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

eastern nc always graciously welcomes me home ❤

Interested in how you can pray for and support Tenwek Hospital as the number of COVID-19 cases in Kenya continue to rise? Read here.

5 thoughts on “total kenya girl update on COVID-19

  1. Jeffrey Hallett April 4, 2020 — 8:46 am

    Thank you Janie. Spend more time with Jesus during this time and you can’t go wrong. J

    Jeffrey Hallett, MD

    Friends of Tenwek Gastroenterology/ Endoscopy Champion

    PAACS Surgical Endoscopy Task Force



  2. I know your heart is in two places right now-Kenya and the US. I am so thankful you are safe at home with your family. Take care!


  3. natalielcoulter April 7, 2020 — 8:40 pm

    Love the update Janie! Can’t imagine what it must feel like to experience such a dramatic shift and now be in a really unknown place of what next? Hope eventually God leads you back to Austin 🙂


  4. Janie….I met you in November when I stayed with Russ and Beth. Gosh….I can’t imagine having to just leave Tenwek like that with hurried goodbyes! And now the adjustment!! To be honest with you, I’m not sure I’ve totally adjusted after leaving Tenwek about 20 years ago. This is to encourage you to embrace the awesomeness of Tenwek/Kenya and hold it close in your heart! (and of course, grieve too).


  5. This is beautifully written and expressed, Janie. My one month left me with lighter mixed emotions of the same vein. I expect many short and longer term visitors feel this way.
    You were clearly in His place for you; a wonderful, shining, responsible, ever- helpful blessing as an Ambassador for FOT. I do so hope our paths cross again on this Earth- as I hope to see other sweet Tenwek friends again. If not, eternity in glory. Not a consolation prize. Blessings, Dear Girl.


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