Story by Jonathan Fitzgerald '03
Jonathan Fitzgerald is finding his past, present and future converging in Nairobi, Kenya.
After roughly three months of living and volunteering in Nairobi, Kenya, my wife Stephanie (Skinner) '05 and I caught a glimpse of God's plan for our lives. We were walking home from the orphanage school where we teach art, flanked on either side by children grasping our hands and staring up at us with bright smiles and runny noses. Something about that moment gave us an overwhelming sense that we were exactly where God wanted us at this time in our lives, providing a hint of our purpose as a couple.
Back in 2001, when I was a sophomore at Gordon, I went to a short meeting that changed the course of my life. The meeting was an introduction to the study abroad program at Daystar University in Kenya, and though I had never considered travelling to Africa, within a year I found myself sitting on a plane bound for Nairobi. As one might expect, everything felt foreign and strange. I was a minority for the first time in my life; I was housed with three African roommates who spoke a combined 10 languages; and I was exposed to contrasts of tremendous wealth and cavernous poverty. But somehow, despite all those new feelings and experiences, within a couple short months I began to feel at home. I came to know one of the many wonders of Africa: that just beneath the awkward suit the West has stretched over its frame, there are people struggling for identity against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful, resource-rich landscapes on the planet.
This wonder is what eventually brought me back to Nairobi, five years older and married. After two years of living and working on the North Shore, Stephanie and I had both begun to feel restless. We had talked frequently of travelling and volunteering, and finally it seemed like the right time. We knew we felt a call to Kenya, but that's about all we knew. We didn't know what kind of work awaited us here or even how long we would stay, but we have found there are plenty of opportunities to use our gifts as well as to push us beyond where we are comfortable.
Over the last four months we have taught in schools on both ends of the gaping wealth spectrum, volunteering at the orphanage school in the Mitumba slum as well as at a school for missionary kids in the wealthy Nairobi suburb of Karen. We have been working with an organization that supports and sponsors former street children and orphans, and traveling as much as possible. I have discovered that my gifts lie more in higher education and have been refamiliarizing myself with the postcolonial African literature I studied years ago as well as spending time on the much-improved campus of Daystar University. I have had the opportunity
to meet with many members of Daystar's faculty in addition to attending a conference on Christian Higher Education in Africa, hosted by the university.
All of these experiences have opened our eyes to both the great needs and the incredible promise of Kenya. We are beginning to see how our time here is shaping our future. And when I'm on Daystar's campus, I get a sense of how four months in this place five years ago set me on a path that has led me back to Kenya. It's exciting for Stephanie and me to imagine where else this path might take us.
Jonathan, pictured above, and Stephanie Fitzgerald have since returned from Kenya to prepare for their next adventure, a move to New York City, where Stephanie will study painting at the New York Academy of Art. Currently they are living at the Sally Webster Inn in Rockport, Massachusetts, and Jonathan is teaching writing at Gordon.