Field of Service: Kenya
Mission Organization: MSC Canada
Ministry: I (Julia) have been living and ministering in Nairobi, Kenya since 2006. I began my missions journey with International Teams, and served on a small team that ministered primarily to urban refugees for about seven years. I am currently sent out under MSC Canada, and serving at 'Amani Ya Juu' (Swahili for 'Peace From Above') which is a Christian, social economic enterprise committed to peace and reconciliation for marginalized women from many African nations and cultures.
Although I wear many hats at Amani, one of my main roles is 'Ministry Coordinator' where I help to organize and oversee all of Amani's spiritual and social programs which include: daily times of prayer, Bible study & worship, monthly medical clinics, kids & teen camps during school breaks, home visits (i.e. to visit moms with newborn babies, to comfort our sisters during times of bereavement or illness, etc.), and annual retreats / days of prayer & fasting.
I've been married to an amazing Kenyan man named Kenny Nyaga since 2016 and we love music, coffee, worship, ministry, our local church / the global church, and our calico cat named Lola!
More about Amani Ya Juu: Amani uses beautiful African materials to create high-quality fair-trade home goods and accessories. We sell our one-of-a-kind products both online, in our centre in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in our onsite shop here in Nairobi. We also have a lovely garden café where we serve some of the best mochas and salads in the country! I help to make sure we've got new and delicious recipes in the café, and that our quilts and clothing are only made with the very best colour combinations! The aforementioned are the income-generating streams of Amani.
More than anything, our hope and prayer is that the ladies in our care find peace; peace with God, peace within, and peace with others. Everything we do points to and is motivated by that one powerful theme.
Ministry website: www.amaniafrica.org
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Dear Friends & Family!
Hello hello! Greetings one and all! And (from what I’ve heard), a very Happy-And-Long-Overdue-Spring to all my Canadians! Hoping and praying that the crocuses are peeking their heads through, and that the buckets of maple sap have turned into a glorious harvest of liquid gold on your pancakes! And if it’s snowing again today, I’m sorry about mentioning the crocuses. For my crew on the African continent - we indeed ‘bless the rains down in Africa’! The heat and the dust are dissipating, the trees & flowers are so happy, and Imara and I are enjoying slightly cooler and more pleasant (albeit more muddy) walks in our local park these days. He’s learned to greet the roosters that roam about with a hearty ‘cockadoodledoo’ of his own. It’s great. They seem less than impressed at his language acquisition and usually speed off in the opposite direction, sadly. Such are the ups and downs in the day of a precocious two-and-a-half year old!
The rain has also refreshed the Amani Garden Café - causing a bloom of beauty that makes me catch my breath every time I see it bathed in morning sunlight. It truly is a blessing that I don’t take for granted to work in such a pretty, inspiring environment. God is good.
The garden is even lovelier these days because of some changes & upgrades that we’ve been able to make in the last little while. We have new, stylish, comfortable, woven chairs at our tables. A professional landscaper turned what was already naturally beautiful into a veritable piece of art. Speaking of art, a state of the art JBL outdoor sound system was installed by none other than Ken and his business partner Albert - and the bossa nova, jazz, and African soul music that wafts through the trees & flowers is a major addition to our ambience. The installation of new, larger umbrellas not only improves things aesthetically, but helps to protect our customers from the elements - meaning that business can stay a little steadier during the rainy seasons. Pot belly stoves, lanterns hanging over the tables, and twinkle lights everywhere also means that we can stay open into the evenings instead of closing at 4:30 like we’ve always had to do in the past. And these extended, sundown hours mean we’ve also added new dinner entrées to our menu, which is an exciting development. We’ve always been famous in Nairobi for our delicious & substantial (*read ‘huge’!) salads. Now we’re hoping we can become just as well known for our roasted chicken!
These points of growth in our little (but mighty) café are worth celebrating in and of themselves. However, the main reason for their noteworthy-ness is how they can change the lives of all the ladies that we minister to for the better. Since the inception of Amani Ya Juu, our founder/director’s vision has always been that the ministry would be self-sustaining. Practically, this means that our operations don’t depend on donations, but rather on the success and stability of the two income-generating areas of the organization: the cafe, and the gift shop where we sell all the gorgeous products that our ladies make. In short, the more customers that visit us, the more ladies we are able to bring on board to sew, which results in more families and, by extension, more communities that are transformed both economically and spiritually. Or to use a food analogy (which are my personal favourite) - more pizzas equal more peace! : ) Check out the picture of our cafe that I’ve included below. I hope it makes you want to come and visit us! Wouldn’t that be great!?
After having to put a pause on a lot of our in-person spiritual and social programs (such as devotions and kids camps) over the last few years because of Covid, we’ve been able to get back to somewhat of a new normal these days! Our lunchtime devotions have picked back up, and I’m honoured and energized to be leading those again. We’re working through James right now, and I jokingly warned the ladies before we started that this Mr. James doesn’t pull any punches - he tells it like it is and therefore we might feel a bit (or a lot) convicted as we dig into his book. However, I also encouraged them that it’s a good thing - kind of like having someone tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. Not fun to have it pointed out, but better than walking around smiling green at everybody all day!
I was so touched and encouraged during one of the sessions last week. We were looking at chapter 2 where he talks about showing partiality or favouritism, and how that shouldn’t be something that is found amongst followers of Jesus. I asked them to get into groups of 3 and share a time where they either saw or experienced favouritism. I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to think of examples, as discrimination based on socio-economic status, tribe, education, even clothing, is all too common on this side of the world. Or, I should say, all over the world, actually. Anyway, they got into their groups and started sharing. I could see real compassionate listening happening, and a genuine, sisterly concern for one another’s pain. After sharing, I got them to pray for one another; both that the Lord would bring healing to each heart that had been made to feel ‘less than’, and that He would help us to identify and root out any favouritism we might harbour within. By the end of the prayer time, there was a palpable spirit of His presence bringing both revelation and healing in a tangible way. Always amazed and humbled to be in the room when He shows up and indelibly changes things as only He can.
All throughout scripture, the Lord is always concerned with ‘the one’. The individual. Leaving the ninety nine to find her. So for my final little snapshot of ministry at Amani these days, let me share - in her own words - Vestine’s story. She’s a shy, petite, loveable woman from Burundi who has been through a lot, and who has found a special place in all of our hearts.
I was adopted by a lady in Burundi at a very young age. I have no idea who my parents are. A couple years later, the lady that adopted me arranged for me to marry someone as his second wife. I was very disappointed because my husband was way older than me. I was very scared of him. By that time, he had just left his job with Burundi’s army. One day, he just came home and told me that we needed to leave Burundi immediately. I didn’t ask much, but I suspected that it was something to do with the government. So we began our journey from Burundi to Kenya via Tanzania. This was about 7 years ago.
My husband and I were hosted by friends here in Kenya. After a little while, his friends moved to another country. Now it was just him, me and the bills. My husband started doing side jobs which would allow us to rent an affordable place, but the only task I knew was farming. I loved farming because I grew up on a farm. When my husband was not able to get enough money to support us, I looked for jobs in the local market and found one in Kawangware. I could be paid 200 shillings (about 1.7 US Dollars) for every 100 kg of groundnuts from which I sorted out all the bad ones and stones. This became my job for quite some time. Then I met a lady there who told me about TSU (Tushirikiane Africa) that can help me train in sewing. Then after training, they mentioned Amani Ya Juu to me.
Finally, I joined Amani Ya Juu. Here, I came to realize that my skills in stitching were little. Amani started training me. It was like a new beginning. At first, I didn’t know how to speak to people. I would just keep quiet. Later, I began opening up, and when I did I felt freedom in my heart. Here, we share our stories, and finally I started to feel like a person. In the past, I used to feel like I was nobody. Before, when I felt angry, I would think of death because nobody cared about me. I don’t have any children, no parents, so what’s the point of living? Amani helped me to open up with other women. This has become my family. I call Amani ‘my parents’. Amani has walked with me when my marriage was falling apart. I experienced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse and my heart was always troubled. Some of the Amani women who knew what was going on held my hands and went through all of it with me. Here, I have found friends and sisters. Sometimes, I feel like Amani has helped me more than my parents. I have learned more skills in sewing, and I have learned how to make a lot of beautiful products. And I am able to support myself now that I am on my own.
When I hear Vestine’s story, and those of other refugees I meet and work with , I’m reminded of a powerful revelation from the inimitable Beth Moore. She was being interviewed about her latest book, which is all about vines, and was just marveling at the extent to which the imagery of vines is woven all throughout scripture from beginning to end. Of course, John 15 is the main passage that comes to mind - where Jesus says that He is the vine, and that our life and fruitfulness depends on staying connected to Him. She talked about how this is a passage that, although lovely, may have become so familiar that we miss some of the staggeringly beautiful truth that it reveals. In the Old Testament, land and boundaries were talked about a lot. Everything was about square miles, and dirt, and the Promised Land. Perimeters on a map. Israel - the place, the location - was where the people found their life and identity. It was, in essence, the vine. Jesus was flipping all of this beautifully on its head (as He so often does) by saying that, now, He is that vine. They - we - no longer abide in a place, but in a Person. It’s no longer about real estate, but about a real Saviour. He’s where we sink our feet. He’s Home. So although it breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes to hear stories like Vestine’s - people driven from country and family and familiarity by violence, greed, and all manner of sin - it brings a different type of tears when I begin to fully grasp the comfort that Him being Home brings. And that’s a Home that can never be taken away from us.
As a family, we’re doing well! Imara is growing like a cute little weed, learning fifteen new words every day it seems, becoming more gentle with our beloved calico cat Lola, and showing us in leaps and bounds what his personality is! He loves jokes and games and all manner of funny stuff, animals (Shaun The Sheep in particular), babyccinos and frozen peas (not at the same time, of course), the aforementioned park and the roosters therein, and the amazing kidzone at the mall near our house. He LOVES music and seems to have perfect pitch - which is both amazing and hilarious to see in action. Singing along in rhythm and right on key to Elevation Worship ballads and Tye Tribett praise bops. And Raffi. Of course Raffi. He does NOT like sharp cheddar cheese, having to leave a group of people when he’s just getting into his socializing groove, or messes. Even if he’s the ‘mess-ee’. He just doesn’t like ‘em. Let the church say amen : ) In all sincerity, we’re so thankful for his good health, good eating, good sleeping, and generally sweet and happy demeanour. We don’t take it for granted.
Ken’s doing great. Continues to be the very best husband & father, which I’m grateful to God for on the daily. He has quite a few musical gigs coming up, which is nice. He & Albert have also finished a few audio-visual installation jobs recently, which we’re grateful for, as things pick back up after the Covid lull. They’ve also had a few meetings with architects and churches about various new jobs, so we’re praying that those can come through! His back still continues to flare up every once in a while, as a fall on some black ice in Canada years ago really did a number on it. Lots of stretching, and chiropractor appointments needed. But otherwise, he’s good!
I’m doing well too! Enjoying our little family, our cute attic apartment, our new-ish van (thanks a bajillion once again, Bethel family), our worship team, and of course Amani ministry. I’ve had a few health issues over the last while that have slowed me down a bit. Although they’re relatively minor in the grand scheme of things (thank the Lord), they have a significant impact on my life - both on a physical and emotional level. I’ve been battling a particular infection for years, and after what seemed like the 50th round of antibiotics, we found a specialist who is giving me great care. I had a minor procedure done about a month ago, and things seem to be on the right trajectory as of now, which I’m extremely grateful for and pray it remains so. My throat has also been really sore for about a year, and so I went to see an ENT a while ago. She discovered that the issue is silent acid reflux, and nothing to do with my vocal chords, which I was glad to hear. Her first round of treatment didn’t seem to make much change, so I’ll be going back to see her again soon. It’s a bit discouraging, as it means I can’t sing or lead worship, and even talking at more than a conversational level will make me cough almost every time. So specific prayers in this direction would be wonderful! I really want to be healthy and strong and able to do all that I feel in my heart the Lord is calling me to do!
Let me stop there for now.
Thank you. Merci. Asante.
For reading this, for keeping us in your hearts and prayers. For cheering us on.
It means the world, and we are beyond grateful.
May He bless you, keep you, shine on you, and fill you up to overflowing.
Julia, Ken & Imara