Great Rift

So this post has actually been a long time coming – mostly because it’s been something so significant that we’ve really needed some time to process.

At the beginning of this school year – we took Jonah to Rift Valley Academy about an hour outside of Nairobi.

photo from

That’s right:

We left our child in Kenya for school.

There’s a phrase I never in a million years would have believed that I would utter.

dsc05232The whole thing actually kind of snuck up on us. In late August we started thinking about what next year might look like, and started to look into RVA – and then the idea of going this year was raised. We contacted the school -even though we knew there was no real chance of it being possible (people often are registering a year ahead of time) we asked – and there were two spots for 9th grade boys.

So we found out that it was even a possibility via email and 10 days later our family was landing in Nairobi.

Suffice it to say that it was a bit of a whirlwind of activities -and emotions – for all of us.


typical sight in front of Jonah’s new dorm on moving-in day – Land Rovers on the lawn with roof-racks packed with their kids stuff

Rift Valley Academy is (not surprisingly) along the Great Rift Valley – which runs north-south right through much of East Africa. (Fun Fact: from a technically geographical stand point – it starts in Lebanon, includes the Dead Sea and runs to Mozambique) RVA itself  is up quite high overlooking that Rift, sitting 2200m above sea level, so it’s really quite cool (well – relatively speaking – we are still in East Africa).

It’s a school that has kids representing over 30 nationalities – but that number probably under-estimates the international, multi-cultural flavor of the place. I think Jonah is not that out of the ordinary  -where he represents one nation on that list (Canada), but has spent most of his life in several other countries on multiple continents.

It’s a place that is full of Third-Culture Kids – kids for whom the answer to the question “where are you from?” or “where is home?” – is almost always followed up by “what do you mean?” or an answer hedged in contingencies, and explanations. All the kids there are from families who are serving as missionaries in different parts of Africa – so they all have that in common- which is nice because those kids (I’ve been told) often can feel like they’re pretty different.

We obviously feel that this is the best thing for him – but that doesn’t make it easy.

let’s just say the playground equipment was a pretty big hit with the other kids

One thing that has made all of this easier is the experience of those close to us – who we trust. We have several teammates here in Kibuye who themselves went to RVA. We have Serge teammates on other teams who have had kids there recently. We have a Serge team at Kijabe (mostly working at the hospital there) who also have kids currently at RVA. Is the place perfect? – of course not.  But it would be hard to imagine a place better suited for kids who have had life experiences like ours have.

…because let’s face it, I’m not sure I know of a single ‘real’ playground in the country where we live

There are plenty of positive points about it, and lots of things that make leaving him more manageable: there really are no great schooling options for him in this country, he would have had an even harder time fitting in at any school (Canada, France etc) where he is ‘that strange kid’ who has lived and traveled many places, having good friends who can testify to what being at RVA meant to them as either students or parents, and of course the way the whole thing seemed so orchestrated by God – having a spot available at the very last minute and everything working out smoothly for getting there, staying with friends, etc

That doesn’t change the fact that even just a year ago I would have said “we will never send our kids to boarding school”

It doesn’t take away the thought that most people send off their children at 18 – and that we feel like we’ve somehow had this happen for the first time 4 years before it was supposed to. 

Buffalo & Zebra watching you eat
I know high-school was a long time ago for me, & I probably don’t’ remember everything accurately…but I’m pretty sure there were not Big Game trophies in the cafeteria from the classes a generation before ours.

However – what it does –  is re-emphasise that feeling – that belief – that we are not ultimately in control of how our children turn out. We are the largest single human influence on them, our words, and more so – our actions – have a massive impact on our kids. But I refuse to believe that we are guaranteed outcomes – if we are good parents and make all the right decisions, our kids will turn out great, and if our kids don’t  -then clearly we’ve made grave errors. Thinking that way does two things: makes us really, really stressed out and fearful because we live with the knowledge that any mistake we make may be the one that irreversibly screws up our kid. Secondly, it’s actually pretty vain to think that we can basically do all the right things to overcome all other influences in the world (spiritual, emotional, social, physical) and have

We believe that there is a loving God – who loves our kids more than we do, and who knows much more than we do, and who knows our kids even better than we do. If he has more influence over our kids than we do, if He is more in control than we are – than some of that fear and pride gets taken away.

So – this post is so late in coming – that we will actually be reunited very soon – for the entire month of December. Jonah flies in on Saturday – and his siblings have been counting down the days until his arrival for weeks.