Reflecting Rionchogu- April 24, 2015

Waking Up

Waking Up

I am not a morning person.  Well, I am not a person who likes to wake up.  I love sleeping and the comfort of being snuggled up in bed.  I love spending time with friends and living life.  But I do not love the transition between the two.

When you are on long international flights, time loses all meaning.  You just have to guess when it is time to sleep and kick yourself if sleep through the meals.  Sleeping in an upright position is not always the easiest, but instead of counting sheep, I look out the window.  As I stare out the window I watch the clouds drift past and dream about what is happening on the ground far below me.

I had been dreaming about being reunited with the village for years now.  It has become a part of one of my longest running dreams, becoming a teacher.  And as I sat looking out at the clouds, my dream was about to come to a partial fruition.  Needless to say this one was one dream that I was excited to wake up from.

Yet saying waking up in Kenya was easy would be a lie.  The village has changed so much in three years, but so have I.  The children were distant, at first.  Everyone was making comments on my weight.  Most questions were about how other travelers were doing in the U.S.  I heard the heart breaking stories of D who is 14 and pregnant, M who has turned to stealing instead of going to school, and a family affected by HIV.  I was also exhausted from 56 hours of travel.  But I did it.  I woke up in Kenya.

I got to hug people I haven’t seen in three years. I got to see smiles on faces that make them even more beautiful.  I got to listen to praises being sung to my God that I could not understand, but could feel.  I got to start a 10 day journey to get to know Rionchogu all over again.  I got to experience God’s love in a whole new way.

Waking up is hard to do, but it is essential if we want to live the life God has called us to.  Waking up each day is our most precious gift from God.  Don’t let the need for comfort stop you from seeking the new opportunities God has placed in front of you.  Remember that in every uncomfortable situation, Jesus provides comfort that no thing can give you.


Meet Rionchogu… School


A view of the new classrooms built at Neema Nuru Academy

Schule: School

School is a place for growth.  I have seen so much growth in my students and myself as we have dug deep and planted the seeds of knowledge in the classroom.

I cannot think of a better example of growth than Neema Nuru Academy.  Literally out of the dirt, like all good plants, the school community at Neema has blossomed.  Look at how amazing the physical community looks in the picture above, but the most amazing part is the academic community.

Like American schools, Neema is faced with high stakes testing and used to be one of the lowest ranking schools in the area.  Yet through the commitment of students, teachers, parents, and the community at large to growing the school, Neema was ranked in the top four schools for grades 1-4 at the end of 2013.  Needless to say, the title of “Most Improved School” was a honor and a no brainer.

When I was in the village in 2012, the Neema I saw was a small, budding community of learners and teachers.  Now through pictures and stories I have watched as the community blossomed and is now thriving.  I cannot wait for the chance to walk through the gates of the school to be greeted by the cheerful faces of a school community and continue to share the story of growth that God has started at Neema.

Please be praying for:

  • The continued growth of Neema and ending the poverty cycle in Rionchogu.
  • My future students in Kenya.
  • My support discovery journey to get to Neema.

Meet Rionchogu… Friend

Sharon is standing between mother and daughter, Concepter and Ruth.

Rafiki : Friend

12 weeks.  Its been 12 weeks since I last posted a blog and in those 12 weeks my life has changed.  I finished student teaching, became a licensed teacher in the state of Texas, graduated from college, moved across the country, went through missionary training, became one of the unemployed masses, saw heartache, saw revitalization, got hired, and have come through it all with a deeper appreciation of the vastness of God’s love.  12 weeks ago, my friend Concepter and her family’s life was completely different as well.

In the picture above Madam Concepter is the left and one of her daughters, Ruth is on the right.  While I was in Kenya I was able to teach in Madam Concepter classroom a few times, and was really excited and anxious to teach with her full time when I returned.  She had such a kind and gentle spirit as she lead Rionchogu’s young through their preschool years for 11 years.  I will never forget the time she  thrust this activity book into my hands and then ran out of the room.  As I looked down at the pages and tried to figure out what was happening she came back into the classroom with a huge pile of leaves in her hands.  Then I knew what I was going to be teaching.  The students, Concepter, my fellow American Amanda, and I proceeded to talk about leaves and then trace them into notebooks and color with the magical crayons.  I never knew how much joy some leaves and green crayons could bring to my heart, but Concepter knew.

It was exactly one month ago that Concepter was taken to her heavenly home after battling an unknown infection for many weeks.  My world was shaken when I logged onto  Facebook that day.  The woman who I was filled with such gratitude toward for opening up her classroom and department not once but soon to be twice, was gone.  My partner in reaching the young hearts of Rionchogu for the years to come, was gone.  She has left behind so many beautiful memories in the hearts of the people of the village, the travelers, and all those who have been told her story.

Enjoy your heavenly crown, my friend.  Your family and ministry are safe in the loving arms of your earthly family.

Nakupenda times infinity.

Please be praying for:

  • Concepter’s five children as they grieve the loss of their mother.
  • Concepter’s students as they remember and honor her in their commitment to education.
  • God’s guidance as Neema takes the next steps in growth and change in their Preschool department.
  • My future students in Kenya.

Meet Rionchogu… Build

Kenyan Men build the new brick and cement classrooms at Neema Nuru Academy

Jenga: Build

What do you need to have a school? There may be a million details running through your head right now as you think back through all your educational experiences.  Come and see how Neema Nuru Academy has built  a learning environment from the humblest of beginnings.

Sticks and mud may be my present, but education will be my future.  When Neema Nuru opened in 2003, students meet in rooms made of stick frames covered in mud with a metal roof.  Every time it rained, the rooms were unusable and anything left in them would be waterlogged or ruined.  Their desire to learn and change their surrounding was filled with obstacles of the most basic kind.  No where to meet, no where to grow, no where to change.  Yet the students and teachers persevered through all their challenges with fierce dedication to their dreams of a better community.

Bricks and cement may be my present, but education will be my future.  In 2009 the first brick and cement rooms were built. Now fast forward to the picture at the beginning of this post when I was able to witness the tearing down of the old mud and stick rooms and the building of even more brick and cement rooms.  Now the entire campus is made of structurally sound buildings.

Education is my future.  No longer do they students have to worry about whether or not they can have class.  They are secure in knowing that their basic needs are met and their minds can explore this great world around them.  The student population at Neema has exploded over the past 2 years.  There are almost 70 children in the Early Childhood Department!  (I am going to have my hands full!)  Through building this one simple school, a community has been forever impacted and forever changed.   My life has been forever impacted and forever changed.

To see some of the transformation for yourself, go to .

Come back over the next couple of weeks as I share even more growth and what Neema looks like today.

Please be praying for:

  • The students, teachers, and parents of Neema Nuru Academy.
  • God’s guidance as Neema takes the next steps in growth and change.
  • My future students in Kenya.

Meet Rionchogu… Teach

Sharon is standing in front of a class of Kenyan preschoolers teaching about the number 6.

Fundisha: Teach

This picture was taken my second week in Kenya as I taught a class of 4 years olds about the number six and the addition families that equal six.   But before I get ahead of myself, let’s go back in time to when I was 4.
Sharon at 4 years oldHere I am at 4 years old.  (Wasn’t I a cutie?!?)  We have to go back to this point in time because this is when God started speaking the passion to teach into my heart.  Since I was only 4 and did not have my own classroom, I would line up my stuffed animals and teach them their ABC’s and how to count.  I also had a board game to help facilitate play.  I am not kidding!  The board looked like a classroom and had cards for you to draw and ask or teach the other players.  I felt legit.

As time continued God kept placing opportunities in my path to allow my skills to get sharper and my passion to burn brighter, leading me all the way to the front gate of Concordia University Texas in the Fall of 2010.  Over the last four years at Concordia I have been learning how to become the best teacher possible.  God has truly been faithful while leading me down this path and has made my passion for teaching and education brighter than ever before.

Now back to the photo from Kenya 2012.  Teaching Kenyans is one of the most humbling experience I have had.  The students are eager to learn and ready to prove to you that they know their stuff.  (Some 6th graders demolished me in Bible Trivia one day.  In my defense, how many of you know how old Methuselah was?  *Scroll down for the answer.)  I love being in an environment that values learning and the power of education.  The village is now centered on using education to end their poverty cycle by providing sustainable change.  I cannot wait to bring my own passion to them and encourage and support their educational journeys.

Thank you to all my amazing professors and mentors for the support and opportunities they gave with me!  Also, thank you to Madam Carlotta, the new principal of Neema Nuru, for letting me into your community!

Please be praying for:

  • The home stretch of my student teaching experience.
  • My future students in Kenya.









*Methuselah was 969.

Meet Rionchogu… Worship

Inside view of King of Victory church.  The women's choir sings at the front of the church while the congregation watches.

Abudu: Worship

Welcome to King of Victory church, my new faith community.  I have been blessed with many great faith communities over the years, and King of Victory is no exception.  Kiefa, whose family I will be joining, is the pastor of this amazing community and I will be serving as Sunday School teacher.

Worship in Kenya looks and feels very different from that of American worship.  First off, there is this phenomenon called “African Time”.   In a culture where there is limited access to clocks or watches, not having every moment scheduled is understandable.   Yet when my American nature walks into church at 10 AM sharp, I could be greeted by 5 to 20 people, and church won’t start until it seems like most people are there.  3 to 4 hours later we have sung our hearts out, listened to choirs sing, read Scripture, prayed, collected offering, and heard a sermon.   Then once we leave the church building we walk up the hill to Kiefa’s house for a meal and more church.

My favorite part of the service is listening to the people sing.  As we wait for the rest of the congregation to come random people will lead songs and everyone joins in.  This even happens during worship too.  My Kenyans sings with every fiber of their being and their faith, joy, and trust come pouring out in every note.


Please be praying for:

  • My adjustment to “African Time”
  • The faith walk of the members of King of Victory
  • My studies in Swahili and Ekegusii so I can understand what is being said in worship.
  • God’s continued hand on all preparations for my journey.

Meet Rionchogu… Home

View of Sharon's House and surrounding scenery in Rionchogu, Kenya.

Shamba: Home

In the village, the area of land that includes your home, stable, and field is known as a shamba.  During my trip 2012 “Shamba, Sweet Shamba” became a common refrain as we enjoyed the comforts of spotty electricity, Pringles, Cadbury Chocolate, and THE Western toilet after a long day of loving on people.  

When I move to Rionchogu, this shamba will become my home.  Along with a new home I will become a member of a new and fabulous family.  The Moseti family includes Kiefa, Rachel, Damacline, Purity, Valnetine, Cynthia, Winston, Blessina, and Anastasia.  This family is much bigger than the one I am currently a member of, but I am so excited to live life together with them.  Kiefa and Rachel do so much for their community through their ministry, Go and Do Kenya, and their church, King of Victory.  Their shamba acts as the base of operations, providing space for worship, meetings, practices, playing, and a general gathering place.  In other words, this shamba is where all the cool kids go to hang out.

This photo shows one of my favorite views in the whole world. Every time I come home I will be in awe of God and His creation.  I will be able to see these majestic hills dotted with tin roofs and trees.  Yet my favorite view is of the sky.  The colors are so vibrant and the clouds look close enough to touch some days.  (Perk of living on the equator and in the highlands.)   How could you doubt God artistic talent with a view like that?!

Thank you so much Kiefa and Rachel for opening up your home to me.

Please be praying for:

  • The hospitality of Kiefa and Rachel.
  • The preparations for my stay in Kenya.

Meet Rionchogu… Journey

Sharon walks on a red dirt road with a group of Kenyan girls.

Mwendo: Journey

Even though my feet are on American soil right now, my Kenyan journey has already begun.  As I prepare myself for this journey I will be sharing with you the stories and the people that made me fall in love with a village.

In this picture I am on a journey to my friend Raphael’s house, and believe me it was a journey!  You know how kids get when they are on a sugar high, well these girls were on a sugar cane high.  They were running, screaming, singing, and dancing down the roads of Rionchogu.  I loved every minute of that walk as I heard broken English songs being repeated at great volumes and the bright and cheerful laughs mixed with a language I did not know.   When we finally reached Raphael’s the joy continued as we sat in his house and continued to sing.  Yet my favorite moment was when Raphael led us in prayer for his family, his future, his church, and my soon to be journey back to America.

Rionchogu is filled with my friends and I cannot wait to share them with you.

Please be praying for:

  • The fundraising journey that has just begun.
  • Peace and perseverance as I answer the call God has placed on my life.

Kenya… Believe It?

Hand-drawn globe with heart over Kenya.  Picture drawn by little yellow pencil.

I am a little pencil in the hands of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
-Mother Teresa

I stumbled across this quote on a Pinterest binge a while ago and completely fell in love.  It sums up what I want my life to be.  The next adventure in my life is a way for me to live up to these words.

I cannot believe where God has taken my next steps in life.  RIONCHOGU, KENYA!  If you had asked me four years ago if I thought I, Sharon Martha Whightsil, would be moving across the globe to teach, I would have said no.  Teaching had been my passion and missions had been an interest, but over the past four years teaching and missions have become my passions.

I am so excited to move to Rionchogu and start writing my love letter to the people who have captured my heart.  When  I was living in the village in 2012 I was barely able to scratch the surface of getting to know people, but now I will have two years to get to know these amazing people.  Their language.  Their culture.  Their joys.  Their smiles.  Their pain.  Their struggles.  But most importantly, their faith.  The people have such a strong identity in who they are as children of God and it is truly inspiring.  I cannot wait to be a part of their community!

God is working mightily in the village and I cannot wait to play my part.  Keep following my blog to see where God leads and how my letter evolves.

Mungu Akubariki,