We’re back “home”–rolled into NY a few days later than planned. Most of the family caught the flu toward the end of the trip, and it seemed wise to extend our stay in Virginia to recover and make up for some lost days. They were sunny and warm ones, so we were reluctant to leave anyway. Our trip was a blessing. From Indiana and Illinois, through Pennsylvania, down to Virginia and Tennessee… one big encouraging circuit through eastern America, and the hearts and homes of a bunch of great people. I think the years and years of prayers for our family have helped forge some close bonds. I lost track of how many times we spoke, how many evening visits in peoples homes, or how many meals we were treated to. But one particular dinner out with a dear couple who are the parents of our pastor in Tennessee (and short-term missionaries themselves) seemed representative of all our encounters. James prayed in a kindly southern accent over our meal of fried catfish and barbecue pork, and summed up the sentiment of so many as he ended his prayer for us, “Lord, just bless ’em real good.”

And we were, at every turn on our 4000 mile trip. Much to our disappointment, time didn’t allow for us to see everyone we had hoped to, but for everyone we did see on the road… thank you. Thank you for your hospitality and kindness. Thanks for the good meals and the encouraging words. For listening to our stories and sharing your lives with us. For your generosity. And most of all, for your prayers.

Back in New York now we have booked our return flight for April 15th, a Wednesday. With a date on the board, we’ve mentally switched gears to attend to the logistics of a departure in 33 days. A whiteboard in the dining room is counting down the days and below that is a long list of everything we need to (or hope to) accomplish before we leave. Zach and Amelia are excited about going back, even if there’s a touch of idealism in their memories of the home they left behind. Renee and I are well aware that the grass is not necessarily greener there in Nairobi, but we are equally excited anyway. Kenya still has some serious problems simmering. There were riots in the city just this past week. But even so, I think we are returning to a slightly less stressing situation than the one we left last year. No matter what we go back to, there’s a certain amount of anxiety that always comes with the anticipation of leaving America for Africa. Both Renee and I take a little comfort in the fact that we’ve done this before, and we’re getting used to it. But this transition is more complicated than other furloughs because we’ve been home so long. So we covet your prayers as we work through our to-do lists these next 4 weeks. And even more as we transition back to life in Kenya.

Here at the mission office today, we were all off-duty. I walked up to the glass door this morning and noticed a note taped there declaring it “closed.” Very unofficial in nature, you might have supposed that they were being fumigated on a Friday afternoon. But the real reason: today was our annual “day of prayer.” The staff, prohibited from even checking emails, gathered to sing in worship and pray in small groups. We prayed for hours through a long list of issues and concerns from each of AIM’s sending offices, and each of AIM’s fields of service in Africa. As we prayed, I was transported to some of the places. And I could see some of the faces of missionaries we know and admire. Two things struck me as we did this. One, how much I missed being there, even as we spoke of dangers and discouragements. And two, how much I appreciated being part of an organization that prays.

They only set apart this one special day to actually close the doors and make an event of it, but they pray together nearly every day in some small, structured way here at the home office. I think I’ll miss that once we get back to Kenya, where I’ll once again find my sanctuary in the solitude at twelve thousand feet.

That place still seems so far in time and space from right here and now. But it’s probably closer than I know.