Catherine shares the story behind the story of our upcoming move to Germany.
We weren't looking to leave
We were not looking for a new step, feeling very settled and purposeful and effective in our various roles at Rosslyn Academy and our church here in Nairobi. In fact, Phil and I had only recently spent time praying and reaffirming if this is where the Lord wanted us, and we felt it was. We were thankful. We didn’t want to leave this place or this precious community of friends that we love so well, but we were open to hear the Lord’s voice if He chose to guide us elsewhere.
Still, every time Phil has been to a conference at Black Forest Academy in Germany over the years, he has come back highly impressed with its vision for serving the missionaries in many hard and closed countries by lovingly providing their children with a quality education. So, it was an obvious choice when, three years ago, we were looking for somewhere to spend Phil’s three-month sabbatical.
Our Family's Kandern Experience
We quickly chose Kandern, BFA’s hometown, because it was a place he loved and because it was somewhere we could be a part of a lively, Christian, English-speaking community while allowing Phil time to work on a manuscript and giving the family a chance to explore a new part of God’s beautiful world. At the time, it seemed relatively inconsequential where we were. Now, we know better!
We loved our time there - both the people and the place are inspiring - but we were also excited to return home to Kenya. A couple of weeks before we left, though, I was walking into town by myself and caught a glimpse between two houses of a view across the town and the Lord suddenly impressed upon me a momentary but very clear recognition that we would be coming back. So, more than two years later, when Phil first mentioned that BFA was looking for a new Head of School, I was instantly on alert and hesitant. That inner knowledge kept playing and I knew that, if he applied, we had better be willing to move!
An Unexpected Opening
There was no doubt that this headship would be an almost tailor-made role for Phil, combining so many of his skills, interests, experiences and hopes. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) in Nairobi, attending boarding school himself (Rift Valley Academy), so he understands MKs and TCKs (Third Culture Kids), being one and raising two TCKs of his own. He has taught in two highly reputed Christian schools and, subsequently, has led Rosslyn Academy for twelve years. His research and writing have focused on missionaries and his desire to actively bring God’s truth into the realm of education and His Kingdom into a broken world. All these intersect at BFA, and we see this as God’s unique guidance and preparation.
At the time, it seemed relatively inconsequential where we were. Now, we know better!
Still, Nairobi has been our home for most of our married life (and for some before that), so the prospect of packing up and leaving a place where we have such deep roots was daunting. We both needed to submit this decision to the Lord. We wrestled with Him about the wisdom of moving our family from the only home the girls remember, but we also began to see signs of His subtle preparation over the previous few months… Without having mentioned anything of this to the girls, both randomly and independently ‘happened’ to comment that, “If I ever had to live anywhere else, I’d want to live in Kandern.” Multiple times I had found myself watching friends who were leaving and I thought, “I never want to leave, it would just be too painful.” But I was also increasingly being convicted that staying because it would be ‘too hard to leave’ is not a valid reason to stay. So, we applied and waited and prayed. I clung to Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still,” (and I would add, ‘and pray hard and trust’) – if this was His plan for us, then He would have to prepare all our hearts, the girls’ especially, for such a monumental change.
Phil was shortlisted. The evening of his second interview, the girls found out accidentally - literally five minutes beforehand - and mayhem ensued. They were, understandably, shocked and distressed at the thought of leaving a place that has been their home for most of their lives. Thankfully, the interview was readily rescheduled and went ahead successfully a couple of days later, but the sense of spiritual warfare at that time was strong. It had the unexpected benefit, however, of letting BFA’s board see us as a very real family and we were deeply touched by their obvious concern and care for us. It also became a blessing, giving the girls extra time to work through the possibility of moving. In the end, the process went so fast that this additional time turned out to be crucial, and by the time we had to make the decision, the girls were nervous but thoroughly on board.
The offer of the position came on the Friday of one of the busiest weekends imaginable. Everything any of us ever did seemed to fall over those two days and I couldn’t imagine how Phil and I would be in the same place for long enough even to begin to discuss this, let alone to talk it through properly with Emma and Sophie. Then we got an email saying one of the girls had potentially been exposed to COVID and we needed to isolate…suddenly the whole weekend was open! Phil and I were able to pray and talk and pray again and discuss this with the girls unhurriedly - and how we saw the Lord’s grace as we talked! All of us strongly felt this was the Lord’s desire for us and we all wanted to be obedient, even though it was scary and hurt. But there was also a joy and deep peace that can only have come from Him.
His grace didn’t end there. Over the next few days, the Lord confirmed His calling in highly personalized ways to both girls, affirming that this is His desire specifically for them, too, not just for Phil or for us as a family. For Emma, our creative writer, He used a school chapel sermon and a fiction-writing technique to show her that Germany is His “Call to Adventure” for her. God used a dream to speak to Sophie. As she walked through a beautiful but unknown garden, her heart full of fear, she dreamed Jesus came and walked beside her, talking and giving her His peace.
What a faithful and caring Father we have! Although He waited for us to make our decision to obey first, He was then quick to affirm our choices and our willingness with words and expressions of love and grace and encouragement.
There have been further confirmations since, too long to put in here, but I hope to be able to share some of them and ones yet to come with you over the next few months and years as we walk this journey of obedience and wonder together. This story so far is just the beginning of our experience at Black Forest Academy, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what the Lord has in mind for us as a family; for the students who will pass through the doors of BFA; for the staff who will partake in the wonderful task of educating and spiritually mentoring these students; for the parents, bringing the Lord’s light into some pretty hostile areas; and for you, our essential support team around the world, partnering with us in so many ways, covering us in prayer and fueling us to be able to live and lead well.
Together in His service,