Sunday, December 2, 2018


"Why?"  That's the most common question we've been asked during our time back stateside these last few months.  
Why take this circus show on the road?
Not “What have you been doing?” but "Why did you do it? Why did you just spend two years after residency in Kenya?  And why are you going back?"

“Who am I that I should go?” That’s actually the first question Alisa asked herself when God began directing our family to move to Kenya. She was willing, she just questioned whether she was the right person to go.  I, on the other hand, tried to ignore God at first. I was busy with what had become most important to me - my career and trying to position myself to be one of the best. Sure I said my relationship with God, and my marriage, and my kids were my top priorities, but deep down I knew - and Alisa knew - that wasn't the case.

During my fifth year of residency I was applying for sub-specialty training and beginning to inquire about jobs, not once thinking about living overseas.  I had some elective time and decided to take a trip through the Mayo International Health Program to this placed called Tenwek Hospital to see what doing neurosurgery looked like in a developing country.  The trip literally changed my life.  I found myself face-to-face with people in poverty and sickness like I'd never known before.  Face-to-face with people whom I'd read about Jesus caring so much for, but people who were so far from my mind.
The look of despair on faces like this mother's was hard to ignore.
When I returned home, I was unsettled.  I was trying to reconcile the world I had just visited with the world I was living in.  Shortly thereafter Alisa and I learned of an opportunity to serve for two years at Tenwek through the Post-Residency Program with Samaritan's Purse.  About that same time I began to receive job offers.  All my hard work was paying off and the very thing I had wanted was now in hand.  But somehow it didn't seem to shine so bright anymore.  I couldn't shake the immense need for neurosurgical care that I'd encountered at Tenwek.  I remember thinking "If I turn down such and such a job they will easily fill my place with the next person in line.  But if I don't go to Kenya, who will?"  This dilemma actually irritated me.  I was perplexed with God.  "You brought me to an institution where I've received some of the best training in the world, and now you want me to go serve in obscurity?!  Don't you know how hard I've worked to get to this point?  Don't you know how much money I could make?  Why are you asking this of me?!"

I believe God was asking Alisa and I to put what we were clinging so tightly to all on the line.  Not because He was testing our allegiance, or because He's insecure and needed the reassurance.  But because He is good and wanted to free us of the things that He knows can never satisfy.  And because He knows that in our choosing Him over ourselves, His worth is put on display for others to contemplate.

Please don't hear me say that to be satisfied or to honor God you have to drop all your 'stuff' and move to Africa.  I don't believe that.  But I do believe that our 'stuff' has the potential to harden us to the needs of others and to deceive us into thinking that it will bring us happiness.

Alisa and I are finding instead our greatest joy in treasuring God and serving others.  The reason why we're doing what we're doing is because we are learning what the writer Paul says in Philippians 3:8 to be true - “I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus."
I love this circus show
We have now officially transitioned to World Gospel Mission, the founding organization of Tenwek, to serve there indefinitely. I don't get paid to work at Tenwek.  We are able to do what we're doing only because of the generous financial support of people like you who want to be a part of serving the people of Kenya with us.

Before we are allowed to return to Tenwek we must have 100% of our family's monthly expenses, as well as a portion of the anticipated neurosurgical needs, committed to by a team of monthly financial supporters.  If you would like to join that team go to, type in the amount of support, and then on the next page it gives you the option to make your contribution recurring.

Thank you to all of you who have supported our family and the work at Tenwek financially and in many other ways.  It is so very encouraging to us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Time to go

I started writing this a couple days ago from a hotel room in Nairobi, trying to process what's happening.  This past Saturday we drove away from Tenwek Hospital, the place we've come to call home these past two years while a part of the Samaritan's Purse Post-Residency Program.  Several things are weighing heavy on my mind...
Faces and stories of so many patients...
Uncertainty of what will happen to neurosurgery while I'm away...
We made a lot of progress in the OR during these past two years
And joined efforts to improve neurosurgical care country-wide.

This is a photo from a recent course held at Tenwek in which 86 general surgeons and medical officers from 31 of Kenya's 47 counties
(like states) attended.
The hardest part of leaving? Relationships being put on hold...
The surgical department
The clinic
The neuro team
Tomorrow we get on a plane to go back to Arkansas.  As I struggle to walk away from the patients, my hopes for neurosurgery at Tenwek, relationships, and so much more, I'm reminded of two things.  One, I'm not that important.  Tenwek Hospital went on just fine without me and it will continue to this next year while I'm away.  Secondly, God will accomplish His purposes, in His time, regardless of me or what I think needs to be done and when.  In the midst of my uncertainties of walking away, this assurance of His sovereignty is comforting.
"I am God, and there is no other.
I am God, and there is none like me.
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things not yet done.
Saying, 'My counsel will stand,
And I will accomplish all my purpose.'"
Isaiah 46:9,10
We're excited to see many of you in person and have the chance to tell more fully of what we've witnessed God doing at Tenwek. Our time with the Post-Residency Program has come to an end and we are returning to Little Rock, where Alisa and I grew up and both our families still live.  We anticipate being stateside for about a year as we go through the process of applying with World Gospel Mission, Tenwek's long-term mission partner. During these past two years, God has affirmed for our family that this is where He is asking us to serve Him, and so we are eager to take this next step.
We will no longer have financial support from Samaritan’s Purse so we are actively looking to grow our monthly support team.  If you would be interested in being a part of the work at Tenwek, we'd love to hear from you.  Feel free to email us at or  For details on how to support financially each month or to give a one-time gift, visit
If you are already part of our financial support team, please continue to give as you have been through Samaritan’s Purse.  We will continue to have ministry-related expenses while in the U.S. and we are required to be fully-funded before being allowed to return to Tenwek. We will then notify you when things officially changeover.
Thanks again to each of you who have supported us in various ways these past two years.  It has meant more than you know.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Going home or leaving home?

When we moved our family of almost 8 to Kenya, we left behind what we called home and everything that was familiar.  Minnesota was home.  

We arrived in East Africa and felt far from home.  Separated not only by distance, but also by culture, by language, by complete change of routine, by physical challenges, by new ways of doing daily tasks and schooling.  

And we talked about home.  “I wish we could go to Costco and get all the samples.” Or “I miss my friend at church.” or “We need snow.” And the most repeated “I just want a Chick-fil-A sandwich.” These things were part of the home that we had left behind.  

Nearly two years have passed now and Chick-fil-A and Costco are hardly mentioned.  In May, Will flew back to the US for a short medical conference.  Before flying back to Kenya, he went to Wal-Mart and called the kids and I to see what we might want him to bring back to us.  Joyfully, I announced, “Y’all, Dad is at WAL-MART!!!”  

Only 3 of the 6 kids knew what Wal-Mart was.  Charley said, “Is that a red place?”  Clearly, she’s having Costco flashbacks but just can’t put a name to it.  

It’s time now to pack up and go back to the states.  Our two-year term serving with Samaritan’s Purse is coming to a close. We board the plane in almost a week.

But are we going home or leaving home?

Pieces of our life here:
The road behind our house
(Emery, 1, Liam, 11)
the ladies that help us in our home and my friends
(Me, Joyce, Sheila)
first broken bone
(Will, Dr. Kiprono, Liam and Caleb)
growing up
(Charley, 5)

(Harper, 7)

Chai with Ms. Joyce
(Doreen, Nora and Joyce)
the everyday
church family
black eye and missing teeth
great friends
loved by Ms. Sheila

girls, girls, girls
(Nora, Harper, Charley)
co-workers and friends
(Will, Nellie, Umi, and Weldon)
Pizza night with friends
(Caroline, Joy, me)
Nora (2.5)
east coast of Kenya
(Hayden, Liam)
time with cousins
(Copelands and Nicholsons)
lunch at our gardener Felix's house
the beauty of this country
(Janeth, Nora, Purity, Emery)
Masai Mara retreat with co-workers

(Will and Hayden)
playing outside
(Nora, Emery, Harper)

our Kenya baby, Chepkemoi
(Emery, 1)
Saturday night with friends
(Will, me, Lydiah and Kimutai)

new hair
Kenya has become home.

So when we are asked “Are you excited to go home to the United States?  Won’t it be nice to be back home?”, it is not an easy answer.

I think we are forever split. Torn.  It is hard to leave our home in Kenya. But we also look forward to going back to our home in the U.S.  

We will be returning to Arkansas this month and staying in a rental house on the same street where Will grew up in Little Rock!  He may revert back to his childhood – sleeping in late, playing X-box, egging cars, and of course pining after his high school girlfriend (me). Probably not...

Will will be working, doing neurosurgery at the Arkansas Neuroscience Institute.  No time for egging cars.  

Our hope is to be in Little Rock for about a year as we prepare to return long-term to Kenya.   We are in the beginning stages of applying to get back to Tenwek Hospital in the summer of 2019 with an organization called World Gospel Mission.  

We will no longer have financial support from Samaritan’s Purse so we are actively looking to grow our monthly support team.  If you or your church would be interested in being a part of the work at Tenwek, please contact us at

For now, if you are already part of our financial support team, please continue to give as you have been giving with Samaritan’s Purse.  We will continue to have ministry-related expenses while in the U.S. and we are required to be fully–funded before returning to Tenwek. We will notify you when things change.   

Thank you to our supporters for sticking with us and being a part of this work here over the past two years.  We remain grateful and happy that this is just the beginning!

For all of this, to God be the glory!

“For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.”
Hebrews 3:4

Friday, February 16, 2018

Fire at Tenwek

I know many of you have seen the news of the terrible fire here at Tenwek hospital last Friday night.  Thankfully, not one patient or staff member was injured! The hospital staff worked bravely to evacuate the patients and to contain the fire.  However, the hospital suffered extensive damages.  The building housing the kitchen, restaurant, laundry, sterilization, statistics, offices and wound ward was largely destroyed.  Rebuilding efforts are just beginning.  If you want to help with the hospital recovery please go here.

To all of our support team, we deeply appreciate the important role you play in keeping us in Kenya so that we can be present for these moments of crisis and need.  We know you are lifting up Tenwek in your hearts and prayers and we are grateful.  God is with us even in the fire.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Summer and winter, springtime and harvest

There are two seasons here in Kenya.  Rainy and not rainy.  Most days it feels like it's just about to be summer.  Today it is dry and 78 degrees outside.  My garden is overflowing with lettuce, spinach, rhubarb, carrots and sukuma wiki (similar to kale).
Nora and Charley in the garden
Before my friends think that they don't know me anymore... I did not plant this garden, nor do I tend this garden.  The only thing I've ever personally planted and successfully grown was sugar snap peas the first year we lived in Minnesota.  I only did that so I could talk garden talk with my new crunchy midwestern friends.  My Kenyan garden however, was here by my house when we moved in and it is tended by a gardener that works here three days a week.  Points for life in Kenya.

This week in church we sang the song Great is Thy Faithfulness.  The second verse talks about God's faithfulness through "summer and winter and springtime and harvest."  I smiled to myself as I sang about seasons in an almost seasonless place.

We have certainly gone through seasons here though:

The homeschooling season.
It is comparable to a severe Minnesota winter.  You are trapped inside day after day with all of your children and digging deep for creativity and a positive attitude.

Harper and Charley in history class
The culture shock season.
This season involved vivid dreams of Chick-fil-a chicken biscuits and cheeseburgers.  It began to resolve when Will said to me in a stern voice, "You have got to stop talking about chicken biscuits."
Hayden and her homemade pop tarts this Christmas.  Now I need to get her to make me a chicken biscuit.
The pregnancy season.
This one keeps coming back around.  If you know a urologist that is interested in volunteering at a mission hospital in Kenya please give him our contact information.  This is not a joke.
This baby is cute though...
Emery Laura, 7 months old
The "we've got this" season.
We have had blurbs of time when we think we are adjusted.  But right before we get too big for our britches this season comes to an end... usually taken over by the homeschooling season, or the pregnancy season, or the culture shock season.
We all went to the wedding of Felix our gardener.  One of my best memories... particularly Will in his gourd shirt.
Felix is the man in the middle
Joyce and Harper
These words of the song in church sunk in though. "Morning by morning new mercies I see.  All I have needed Thy hand has provided."

New mercies I see... I want to say that each day I wake up with this perspective.  But some days I am bogged down in day-to-day challenges... survival of potty-training, slow internet, disobedient children, unfamiliar cultural situations, loneliness, broken appliances, and water-stained clothes.  And on those days I long for relief, for a get-away, for an easy button, for mercy!

But there are also many days when my eyes are open to the mercies around me.  One afternoon the week before Christmas, Will took me up to the hospital to sit with him in his clinic.  Patient after patient came in looking for good news from their neurosurgeon, looking for mercy.

There was a young girl that came in with her 2 year old daughter, Joy.  One side of little Joy's face had paralysis.  Will looked at her scans and it was not good.  She had a tumor deep in her brain that was too difficult to remove.  Even if surgery was favorable, her momma did not have healthcare coverage or the money to pay for her baby's care.  I sat and watched Will explain in Kiswahili to this young momma her baby's medical situation.  He then called in his Kenyan colleague to re-explain to make sure that she was understanding.  I was in tears as this mother, who had a little girl the same age as Nora, listened to the very news that I'm sure she had feared she would receive that day.

Waking up each day to healthy, living children is mercy.

The hope of heaven for baby Joy is mercy.

The opportunity for Joy's momma to see a neurosurgeon in rural Kenya and hear about the hope of Jesus, even in what may seem like a hopeless situation, is mercy.

I went home and hugged my messy two-year old a bit tighter.
Nora Ellis, 2 years old
I begin language school this week.  Will, the achiever that he is, completed 3 months of language school shortly after we arrived in Kenya.  I began with him and promptly dropped out.  It was too much for me at the time.  But I've carried this label of language school drop-out long enough.

The truth... I fear failure.  What if I am never able to speak the language here? I am motivated however, because I'm ready to speak with and understand the old woman that comes to my door every week.  I'm ready to speak with the workers in our home using their own language.  I'm ready for deeper relationships with my Kenyan neighbors.

But what if I can't clear enough space in my brain?  I've barely cleared enough space to fit 5th grade math back in.

On vacation near Lake Naivasha on New Years Eve.  A welcome break from 5th grade math. 
Thank you to all of you that pray for Kenya, for Tenwek Mission Hospital, and for our family.  We cherish your support and encouragement!  Please continue to pray, specifically that we will have stamina and that we will trust in God's provision.  We will pray the same for you.