'reMoving to a new community can be exciting, terrifying, refreshing and a little weird all at the same time. For us moving back to the Ozarks feels familiar yet different. The smells, humidity, scenery, regional businesses names, and even the friendly smiles of people in Northwest Arkansas (NWA) so closely matches Southwest Missouri that it genuinely feels like we are back home. Since our first "home" really is an hour and a half away in Missouri, this means we're close enough to easily visit family but still far enough away that everything is NEW! As we dive into life in our community there is much to explore.
To embrace this adventure, and also to help others get to know Arkansas better, I'm engaging in a fun project.
For the month of September I'll be highlighting some Northwest Arkansas (NWA) treasures I have found and will continue to find. All of these places and activities, we've uncovered as "newbies" to Arkansas. It seemed fitting to do this in September as many things are starting up, plus it is a month with 30 days in it. To capitalize and focus the fun, I'll be using #30daysinNWA. This special tag will be dedicated to highlighting things people might do when first moving to NWA or great activities folks might consider when visiting NWA for a short amount of time.
I hope you enjoy the journey. When visiting or exploring Northwest Arkansas, consider sharing your own stories and photos on social media with #30daysinNWA.
Our moving adventure begins as we packed out our car with our final load - emptying our Smoketree home of all things Josh & Jenn. We then took it to our awesome friend’s (the Uhts) garage (where the rest of our items are staying until they get moved to Arkansas with us). Here we hung out like homeless people outside their house, sorting our items a more to make our car a little more road-trip ready.
We opted to spend our first night at Tahoe at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. It is a quite fun place as the musical themes of rock and roll are perfectly on display from themed radio and tape room keys to song lyrics in the elevators, on the bathroom soaps and of course at the ice machine cleverly labeled “Ice, Ice Baby” - how fitting. I had the opportunity to attend the grand opening of this place with my friend Michelle a couple years back and it was great to stay here as we wrapped up our day as Nevada home owners.
We kicked off day 2 with a stroll to Stateline Beach on the boarder of Nevada and California. Tahoe is a true treasure. The cool air today - with a high of only 58 is keeping most people off the summer beach. The guy monitoring the beach let us skip the beach fee with the statement, “No one is swimming today.” The clear waters with the snow-capped mountains was the perfect way to launch into our day of adventure that also came with a nice gift of house-closing paperwork.
Over the mountain we connected with Highway 50, also known as the “loneliest highway” on our way to Great Basin National Park. This park formed in 1986 and is not the most popular of parks to visit. We will arrive later tonight and will get to see how this one ranks in comparison. For now we are very much enjoying the scenic drive of this lonely highway that is lined with dusty mountains, white sands, windy dirt devils and few cars. So far it is definitely worth the drive and a great reprieve from the busy roads and life that have made up the past few weeks. Fittingly I’m wearing my “adventure is out there tee.” The big decision of the day is do we camp in our tent in 37 degree weather or do we go for the experimental hotel in downtown Baker, Nevada… All yet to be determined.
After following along two giant mining dump trucks taking up the entire highway for many miles with the average speed of 10! We will were able to make it to Great Basin and secure a campsite before dark. The site was perfect as our little tent fit perfectly in the spot next to the following water. Although we have determined we are too old to sleep on the ground the sounds of rushing water, after a few hours around the campfire lulled us to sleep. The beauty of the Nevada highway was the perfect way to wrap up our first few days of adventure.
What an adventure the past few months have been! Today we want to share some exciting news as we move on to what God has next for us. In July we will be moving to Springdale, Arkansas (AR).
Josh has been offered a job as a Community Pastor for Fellowship Northwest Arkansas (Fellowship NWA). In this role, Josh will be primarily focused on serving the community of Springdale. We are so excited about the great work God is already doing in this community and at this church. The main church campus is located in Rogers, AR and reaches people in the communities of Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, and Fayetteville (which also has its own campus).
For the next few weeks, we are wrapping up our time in Nevada - completing the sell of our Nevada home and then traveling around the West while we have a little time to sight-see and visit friends. Follow along with us on Instagram #joshandjennadventures. Below are a few photos of our recent trip to Fellowship, of the church campus and some trees! Yea for trees!
After a few moves around the nation – to Dallas, Texas; Abingdon, Virginia & Carson City, Nevada, and about 10 years of living "away," it will be nice to only be 2 hours south of our family and some amazing friends. It is a beautiful area with many opportunities for hiking and canoeing - we invite you to come visit (once we have a home - ha, ha - still working on that). In the meantime, Jenn is looking around for a great opportunity in communications and marketing but if you're in need of some graphic design she's taking on clients while also still selling Noonday. See more of Jenn's work & info here.
Thanks for your prayers and encouragement as we take on yet another adventure!!
For those who may not know where Springdale is - or even Arkansas here is a map to help. :)
Other landmarks: Close to Fayetteville, 2 hours from Tulsa & Branson.
As my husband and I prepared for our trip to Kenya this summer, we heard words like "poverty" and "living with nothing" mentioned by people who had visited Huruma or wrote books about these topics. Hearing these phrases, I pre-built a picture in my mind of what to expect to see: sad-looking children, begging for food; piles of trash, dirt roads and crumbling buildings. I knew the trip would be a heart-wrenching experience and that I would continue to be overwhelmed with guilt for the over-stuffed closets, extra shoes and bedrooms that we already own. So, in some ways I thought I was ready. Prepared to see the poverty and prepared to know what to do or say and to act heroically. But none of this turned out to be the case.
Nothing can really prepare you for this reality. In my case, seeing really meant believing -- believing that poverty truly exists in our 21st century world. Everyday in Huruma was eye-opening, and every moment revealed a new layer of life found in the most unexpected place -- a slum outside of Nairobi made up approximately 500,000 people. What surprised me most was what I didn't expect to see. Smack in the middle of dirty, muddy, sewer-filled streets I discovered VIBRANCE! From brightly-colored clothes hanging off balconies, to colorful custom-made signs for every type of business to colorful uniforms and classroom décor. Diving in deeper, I came face to face with the vibrant spirit radiating from the people I met. Throughout the community a spirit of hope drives people to do whatever possible to provide a better life for the next generation. This hope lingers in the streets of Huruma and especially within the walls of the Furaha Community Foundation.
Today, several weeks back from this life-changing experience, I have a new understanding of poverty. Yes there are dirty, hungry children living in less-than-ideal homes - but there is SO much more to it. There are smiling, hopeful students, parents, and creative business owners who challenge me more than I ever thought possible to have hope despite all obstacles. The poverty I witnessed is larger than life and seems like an uphill battle, but the HOPE that resonates from the core of the community - especially for people connected to the Furaha Community Foundation (and WIGU) -- is contagious and powerful. If anything, experiencing poverty with my own eyes, reminded me of the overwhelming power that can be found in HOPE.
At a recent conference for Noonday Collection, a woman named Anne shared a powerful quote: "The poorest person in the world is not one without food and clothing but one without hope." Anne propels hope in the country of Kenya by creating custom hand-made jewelry at a company called Bawa Hope which is one of suppliers for the Noonday Collection. Learn more about Noonday Collection here.
Tonight we said our final “goodnight” to our most loved and treasured dog Pluto. It was a terribly sad few hours (and days) filled with many tears as we accepted the news that he had cancer and wasn’t going to get any better. Pluto has long been part of our family, for a little over 12 years in fact, and we will miss every part of his fun-loving character. For me especially, Pluto has always been more than a pet. And losing him as part of our daily lives feels a bit like losing a part of myself. Some people may say, “it was just a dog.” but he was so much more than that.
I bought Pluto at my own garage sale in Republic, Missouri from a guy in the neighborhood looking to sell the adorable six-month-old golden Cocker Spaniel puppy because he was getting picked on too much by his older sibling dogs. In our first meeting, Pluto came and sat on my lap with his big fluffy paws hanging over my legs. It didn’t take long for me to know he was the perfect dog for me (and us). On that cool, fall day in 2004, on the porch of the first house Josh and I owned, I said, “I’ll take him,” without asking my spouse first - which caused me a little trouble later but it all worked out. After a little negotiation, Josh quickly began to love him too.
Pluto moved and changed with us and continued to be that constant, faithful friend that we came home to, wherever that home might be - Missouri, Texas, Virginia or Nevada. He traveled with us often, camped with us in a tiny tent, slept with us in cars when needed and visited family and friends everywhere. For a little over 12 years, Pluto has been the sleepy friend waiting for us by the door or sometimes on the couch. He would quickly welcome us with a happy smile, pant, and tail wag and immediately get his bone. We loved that he only liked one kind of bone - which was the one that could rarely be found because it was technically unsafe for dogs. He loved each new version regardless of safety.
Beyond our everyday greetings and adventures, Pluto has been a constant companion who held all my secrets and listened to my silly stories. This cuddly creature comforted my aching heart when loved ones passed away, he sat beside us when the challenges of infertility surrounded us, and entertained us when we needed it most.
Pluto also was a source of creativity and imagination. During the past few years, Pluto’s quirky behavior of sleeping in our closet, on or around our clothes became the inspiration for @fashionistapluto (on Instagram). More than an Instagram character, Pluto also has a whole life inside my head and partially inside a current children’s book I am writing about a dog who teaches his family to have fashion sense. Keep watching for the official post about this; it is nearly ready. I started Pluto’s Instagram account to keep me motivated – and since I still have thousands of pictures of Pluto - his story and whimsical photos will continue to echo on social media.
The many great moments with Pluto will continue to bring great memories mixed with a new grief of losing a beloved part of our family. We are beyond thankful for the 12+ years we had with Pluto and are thankful that God allowed us to share the many wonderful moments with this unique God-created pup.
He is survived by two grieving owners and countless friends and followers.
It is always hard to say goodbye to friends new and old. This week we made some incredible new friends. These new friends are teachers and staff at the Furaha school who treated us like family, students who hugged our necks so sincerely and melted our hearts with smiles all week long.
Both Josh and I are thankful for so any moments! We both had an opportunity to spend time in the classrooms with kids, learning with them and getting to know them. I (Jenn) spent quite a while hanging out with the grade 6 students. Their curiosity about everything was so exciting. They leaned in and learned a new silly song from me, we made graphics and mini movies on my phone, and talked about computers and art (by the way none of these students own an iphone or computer, many of the parents do have a phone called Impesa that is used to help find jobs and transfer money around). One student drew a rooster on the board and I tried to draw a picture of my dog and car, which was actually quite comical – his drawing was much better. Meanwhile, Josh spent time with the 8th grade students talking about how lungs work – and specifically how his is a bit different since he only has one lung.
The amazing thing we discovered this week is how easy it is to connect and find joy in spending time with these students and teachers from a completely different culture. We are both equally fascinated by one another and have completely different worldviews. At the end of each day, I was left with a desire to keep learning more about how the kids and teachers think, about their hopes and dreams, and about their deep sense of faith. Even today, I want to better understand how each of them maintain hope in a place like Huruma (one of three large slums around Nairobi).
While the people are incredibly beautiful in so many ways, there is no denying the fact that this is a hard place to live - and the complete poverty does create many questions of faith. How could this be a real place? Does God see this? (And yes he does.) I find myself torn by how to balance the life I have as a middle class American – with a house that is the size of about 10 shanties (homes) in Nairobi, that is average size in Minden – with all of this poverty. Now that we have seen this, how do I respond, how do we respond?
God totally grabbed my heart yesterday morning as we prayed alongside a teacher who lives in the Huruma slums and gives back so much everyday to help change the future of this community. This woman is talented, educated and could move out of the slums but she stays because of Furaha. She prayed, “Lord forgive us for forgetting about you, for the times we snap our worship away from you and think only of ourselves.” Yikes!
Today, we ask that you take a moment to consider how you can make a difference in the lives of people living in extreme poverty. Pray that God will continue to open your heart and lives to this issue.
Take some time today to see what When I Grow Up is doing or to research extreme poverty in the world. Click here to go to When I Grow Up's site.
When you first get a glimpse of Huruma there is so much to take in – your heart breaks at the poverty and kids who stand on streets hungry and just the hard life that is there. In the middle of this you discover a drive for work – and a spirit of entrepreneurship. On our first day, our Matatu driver said to us, as he described the work ethic of people in Nairobi, “If you don’t work you die. You die on the streets or you die in your home.”
Working isn’t about getting a great paycheck, having a nice office space, vacation time, and a lot of amenities. For the businesses we visited today it is about providing for the basic needs of their families and the people in the community. Many of the business owners are doing things they enjoy – they are tailors who love to make clothes, cooks who specialize in a dish that provides a basic need, and suppliers. For Mary, a grandmother of 4 – her fruit market business allows her to eat and also have enough money to send three kids to school. View photos
Furaha’s main focus is providing education – that changes lives and provides for basic needs. But because of the shear number of kids and people in the slums not every kid can attend the Furaha community school. So while Furaha may not be able to accept a family’s child to school, they can still make a difference for a family by helping provide a business microloan. These loans allow people to generate enough income to feed their family and send them to another fee-based community school. (The kids who attend Furaha do not have a fee to attend but are carefully selected based on various factors and needs.)
The people we visited today are growing their businesses and providing food and shelter for their families because of microloans. A microloan is a loan of a small amount that has a short repayment period, and a favorable interest rate. As a small business proves their ability to consistently pay off their loan they can reapply for larger amounts.
As an example, let me tell you about Ann, she has a home goods business – selling basic household items, dishes, mattresses, etc. In starting out her business a great opportunity came her way. A local school came to her seeking to buy a large number of mattresses. Ann did not have enough mattresses in stock and she needed capital to purchase the stock needed to fulfill the order. This business owner, seeing the opportunity, applied for a microloan through Furaha, and was awarded $100 loan (10,000 shillings) to be paid off within six weeks. She immediately bought the mattresses, fulfilled the order and paid off her loan within one week. She made enough money from this transaction to bring on a new employee and position herself for an even larger order of plastic chairs from the school.
With Ann’s second loan, she received even more capital to buy stock and make needed improvements to her store. The first $100 loan helped launch her business and changed her life, and the life of her new employee. With the second loan, Ann positioned her business as a dependable source for goods and services within the community. More and more opportunities are pouring in and it is clear this is helping Ann and also providing for the needs of people in Huruma.
In all we visited eight businesses today and each business told a story of how these microloans have changed their lives. One story stood out beyond the rest. This is the story of Rose a local seamstress/tailor. As she stood in her shop, surrounded by fabric of all kinds, she had a creative look in her eye. It is clear she is working in a field that gives her life. She has been part of Furaha for 11 years and was one of the first loan recipients. She serves as a guardian for kids at the Furaha school and also has been able to send her own kids to school. (Guardians help care for kids who may be orphaned or are not being cared for by their own parents). Her relationship with Furaha started with a $100 loan so she could buy material to make dresses. This created an opportunity for Rose to make enough money to send her oldest child of five to primary school. After several loans and much support from Furaha over the years, today Rose has two children attending University, one in secondary school, and two in primary school. That first loan changed Rose’s life and the lives of her children.
While $100 may seem like very little to us, it is life giving and life changing to have an opportunity to borrow this kind of capital to expand, start or develop a business. In the end, these loans are fueling hope within the community and strengthening the relationship Furaha has with people in need. The have a growing reputation as an organization that cares for and provides for people. As we talked to the business owners, many of them shared their dreams for what is next – either expanding their business, providing jobs for more people, and most of the time making it possible for all of their children to attend school and eat everyday.
Today we ask that you pray for the business owners that are being supported and cared by the Furaha community.
Today, we continued our venture by heading out of the city into the country where the Furaha high school is located. Traveling through the busy city streets and on through the bumpy and adventuresome roads, we stopped on the way to pick up fresh fruit for the students at the school, and were part of the bargaining process for 10 watermelons and 10 pineapples at the Ruai fruit market.
The school’s location is remote, which provides a great opportunity for students to focus on their studies – free from the stresses and distractions that living in the Huruma slums can have. This distance is hard for students but really does provide the best opportunity for focused study for all of the 127 students. The school has developed a lot in the past several years with a full school building equipped with a science labs, a boys and girls dormitory, a water well, and much land for agriculture projects.
In talking with the school’s Principal, Moses, we hear his heart for the school – to become a place of academic excellence where students believe they can succeed. Moses shared the hardest part about leading the school is trying to convince kids of their value and potential. He shared that so many of the kids come from home lives that have left them emotionally scarred – these scars echo lies like, “You aren’t good enough, you can’t make it, you will never succeed, you can’t pass, go ahead and quit while you’re ahead...” Through the love, dedication and continued personalized education, the leaders and teachers at the high school are able to remind each student that they are more than conquerors! They remind them over and over of the hope and belief they have in them as teachers. This continued positive influence is making a difference - the school continues to have high passing rates and the commitment to excellence continues to rise.
During our visit, we stopped in each class to meet the students. One student, who wants to be an engineer, showed off a science experiment with much enthusiasm. Another student focusing on agriculture showed us the progress of his corn-growing project. The school also recently started raising chickens as a way to teach business and agriculture together. The chickens are fed left overs from the kids meals (so there is no waste). The hope is that this will some day become a sustainable business model that the students at the school can operate as they learn real life skills about things like supply and demand.
As visitors to the school, we once again were able to participate in a celebration assembly. This year WIGU is celebrating 10 years. Together with the students we cheered and danced to celebrate! Our whole team had a blast – not only watching the kids perform but hearing the laughter, and seeing the huge smiles and the joy that reflected out from the students performing poems, dances, and songs and from the fellow students listening and watching with us. The energy from the students filled us with the same feeling of joy.
Over and over again – Furaha meaning of joy rings true. In a middle of a rigorous academic setting, where students begin studying at 4:30 a.m. and continue until 9:30 p.m. (with a few breaks for food and activities but mostly studying) we continue to discover something special. When you look into these student’s eyes, we can see the joy in their hearts because they have found hope. As Principal Moses said today, “It is not about where we come from but where we are going.”
Today we ask for you to pray for these high school students. They are currently preparing for the exams, which is an important time for the school and the students. Pray for these teachers who are committed to making a difference.
Furaha Community School is an oasis in a desert. It is not that it looks very different from its surroundings (it is located in the middle of slums and space is still at a premium) but there is something unique and different about this place. Today, I think we found out why. Jennifer and I were part of a team lead by Josephine, one of Furaha’s social workers, and Christopher, a social justice advocate. On average, Josephine conducts 500 home visits a month, and today she took us along to meet some of the families being positivity impacted by Furaha. We visited seven families in all. Each home was similar yet different. We walked through dark alleys, often crossing running sewer water, up or down various flights of tight stairs, through short metal doorways, and into a 10 ft x 10 ft room that serves as the living room, bedroom, and kitchen – where often an average of 5 people live. Each home has its own style and each home has its own story about God’s transformative work. Here are a few of these stories:
We entered into Grace’s home and we were warmly greeted. We were invited to sit on her couch as she sat on the only bed in the one room home talking to Josephine about her child’s academic performance. As the conversation continued, we learned Grace had recently moved into this apartment because where she had been living had been marked for destruction.You see, about two months ago a building collapsed just a few hundred yards from the Furaha Community Center. Grace lived in a building that neighbored this failed structure. With cries of public safety the Kenyan government has moved to condemn and destroy several, “At-Risk,” buildings throughout the Huruma slum; and Grace has been impacted these actions. As we sat in Grace’s home listening to her story I was reminded of God’s provision and faithfulness. Yes, Grace’s roof leaked; yes she has been forced to find employment outside of the home, and yes her apartment is cramped beyond knowledge. Yet, there is a joy in her when she speaks about Furaha and their support, there is hope when she describes all that her daughter is learning, and there is love in her eyes as she embraces Josephine. The road ahead for Grace will be difficult but she is not alone.
10 years ago, Esther married and had a beautiful little girl. After five years, Esther’s husband passed away and after a short time Ester remarried. Since being remarried she has had two other children and this has put her oldest daughter is a vulnerable position. Frequently, within Kenyan culture stepchildren are mistreated. In Esther’s case her new husband feels no obligation to the daughter from Esther’s previous marriage. This has resulted in this little girl receiving various kinds of abuse. The one good thing to have happened to Esther and her little girl is that she is a student at Furaha. When this girl’s grades began to plummet her teacher became worried and notified Josephine. As more information came to light Josephine was able to help Esther see that the best way for her little girl to receive an education and have better opportunities in life was for this daughter to be removed from the home and be placed in a safe house operated by Furaha. This is not a permanent situation but it will be a safe home as long as it is needed. For this 4th grader, the safe house is a dream – she is gaining confidence again as she is provided with a warm bed, safety from abuse, consistent meals, a caring house parent, and a place to focus on her studies. On holidays and long weekends she is able to go home and be with her mom. As a result this girl’s grades have risen sharply, and her sense of safety, security, and trust are being restored.
Iglee’s story is one of community. Iglee has five kids and one them is a student at Furaha. A few weeks ago Iglee brushed her foot up against something, which left a long scratch. The scratch did not go away and in fact it got very bad. When we stopped by to check on Iglee late this morning we found out she had just returned from hospital. This amazed Josephine, and then me, as she explained. Another Furaha parent notified the neighbors of Iglee’s situation. One neighbor stepped in to care for Iglee’s 5-month-old child, another grabbed all of Iglee’s laundry and did it for her, two other neighbors prepared meals for the family, and yet another assisted with care for the other 4 children. This happened with very short notice and allowed Iglee the opportunity to the seek treatment she needed for her foot. This tight-knit community responded with great care and love for one of their own. This picture of community amazed our group but for these Kenyans, this is just what you do as a neighbor and friend. As we talked about the visits with Josphine during the day, she shared that IT IS hard work – that sometimes leads to “Compassion fatigue” -- but at the same time, she loves working for Furaha and seeing the hope and joy that the school brings to these parents, who more than anything want to see their kids' lives be better than their own. The word Furaha is Swahili means Joy. And, today this is the difference I saw. The families connected to Furaha are different from those in every other corner of Huruma because of a consistent joy that echoes throughout the small homes, businesses, and sewer-filled alleys.
Everyone lives in abject poverty but Furaha families are marked by a miraculous joy – that truly is God given. Today we ask that you pray for the social workers who make hard decisions everyday. Pray their compassion grows stronger and is sustaining. Pray for parents who are struggling to balance what is best for them personally and what is best for their kids.
This week Josh and I are off on an epic adventure with an organization called When I Grow Up. We had the honor of going to represent LifePoint and this organization. We are traveling to Nairobi, Kenya to a community of deep poverty. Here is a look at what we are seeing and experiencing. We hope this will encourage you as you imagine life beyond what you know today.
Follow us on social media: #travelingabrowns
Traveling a Browns
This page highlights many of our adventures of traveling our nation and world.