Dr. Chip Kingsbury and his wife Chari have been missionaries in Kenya since 1980. Chip serves at Daystar University as the coordinator for faculty development programmes while Chari trains lay-counsellors, counsels students, and works part-time in a counselling clinic. The couple is involved in pre-marital and marriage counselling, as well as conducting marriage enrichment workshops and mentoring young adults. From their picturesque home in Lukenya village in Athi River, the blissful couple shares with EDNA GICOVI the interesting journey of their 37-year-old marriage.
A chance meeting…
The year was 1971. A division of the Boy Scouts of America had recently been opened up to young women. Chari’s friend was excited about joining, though she didn’t want to be the only girl. She asked Chari to accompany her, casually mentioning that her boyfriend would also be tagging along. Boyfriend? Chari was initially apprehensive about attending, afraid to be a third wheel, though she reluctantly agreed after some convincing.
“I remember seeing Chip and thinking, ‘well, this is not going to be so bad after all’,” she says smiling. “I also remember being put off by my friend’s behaviour. She spent the entire time flirting and surrounded by many boys. I thought ‘that’s a horrible way to treat your boyfriend!’” she continues. Chari would however later find out that her friend and Chip were only good friends, and not really dating like she had said. Chari’s anxieties about being the third wheel that night were dispelled as she and Chip spent time getting to know one another. “For me, it was almost like love at first sight,” she says.
Chip on the other hand never thought much about their meeting and never encountered Chari again until a year later, despite the two of them attending the same public school in Maryland State. The two met in a shared chemistry class, where Chip asked Chari to be his lab partner when they were asked to pair up. They started dating sometime in 1972. “I was around 16 then and both of us were unattached. We were both very much involved in Christian ministry and most of our dates were bible studies,” says Chip adding that they dated for about four years.
Chip and Chari had a wonderful relationship and spent a lot of time together sharing and growing together in their Christian faith. After high school, Chip attended a university nearly two thousand kilometres away from home, while Chari joined a university in their hometown. For about two years, they saw each other two or three times a year. They had plans to get married after they had both graduated but this was taking too long and in 1976 they tied the knot when Chip was 20 and Chari 19.
While Chari had intentions of joining Chip’s university now that they were married, the young couple realised that they would not be able to cope financially. Thus, Chari offered to work while Chip completed his undergraduate studies in history. She planned to join the university later on, which she did but ended up not completing her undergraduate studies in psychology right away because in the middle of her studies they moved to Kenya to become missionaries.
The missionary couple…
Interestingly, both Chip and Chari felt a calling into missionary work long before they met, which made them a good match for one another. They came to Kenya in July 1980. “I remember an official at the airport inquiring about our visit to Kenya when we first got here, and when we told her we were missionaries, she asked ‘you mean your parents are missionaries?’ I repeated that we were missionaries and she said we looked too young to be missionaries. She was right; we were young. I was 24 and Chari was 23,” says Chip.
The couple lived in different parts of Nyeri when they first came to Kenya and worked with the Pentecostal Evangelism Fellowship of Africa (PEFA), their mission church. An older couple that had been missionaries in Kenya for eight years at the time mentored and helped them grow. Chip and Chari became good friends with their Kenyan counterparts.
After about eight years in Kenya, they flew back to the states where Chip did his Masters degree in intercultural studies in a year’s time before they returned to Kenya again. Not too long afterwards, he started his PhD in adult education. Chari had enrolled at Daystar University to complete her undergraduate degree but ended up finishing her degree in the states during their year there. “She went to three different universities for her undergraduate degree,” Chip comments.
Chip and Chari have been in Kenya for 33 years. They lived in Nyeri for 13 years before moving to Nairobi, then Athi River when Chip started serving at the Daystar University. Chari has since done a Masters in counselling psychology at Daystar, graduating in 2011.
A noisy first year and lessons in communication…
Chip admits that he and Chari still had a lot of growing up to do, as they were both very young when they married. “Our first year at marriage was rough and we fought a lot,” says Chari, a little animatedly. “I think we had a good marriage even then. It was just a little noisy,” her husband quips.
“We were just dealing with adjustment issues. We have always been each other’s best friend since our teenage years and there’s no one I would rather spend time with than her.” Chari affirms her husband’s words saying, “Though we wandered through our first years, it helped that we were each other’s best friend because you cannot leave your best friend all too quickly. If something is not working out, you do your best to work it out.”
When they were first married, Chip took a year off university to work full time. Even after his return to the university, he would attend classes during the day, bible school in the evenings, and work over the weekends. “My life was pretty busy. I graduated from both the university and the bible school two weeks a part. Then shortly after that we came to Kenya,” he says. Chari says she had some baggage she needed to deal with that made her an unhappy wife in the early years of their marriage and that Chip was blissfully unaware of this because she wouldn’t open up about how she felt until later.
“When I began dealing with my issues, I let him know what was going on, that I wasn’t really as happy as I was making everyone think. During that time, we decided to work on keeping our communication more open to one other. I let him in instead of keeping my feelings to myself and he worked on being more sensitive,” she says, adding that at the time they were also working with other couples, and this went a long way in helping solidify their own marriage.
“It’s extremely wonderful to have a loving and patient wife, who when I make a mess of things, still comes to me, holds me and says, ‘we need to work things out’. For us the most important thing is that, even though we have not done the best, in terms of communicating, we have always been committed to working things out. Even in the heat of an argument when our voices are loud and people are saying things they shouldn’t say, we are still very committed to our marriage and to each other,” says Chip. “Create time to communicate. It’s really easy for a couple to get wrapped up in their individual things,” adds Chari.
Since Chip and Chari had moved from their hometown following their plans to attend the same university, they were far away from their families. “Our friends at church and a small care group that we were part of became our support base. We had friends, peers and older couples who were in our lives at the time and they held us accountable, which helped us grow. We knew we were headed for ministry and wanted to grow in our relationship with God and with each other. It certainly wasn’t perfect but this was always the goal for us,” says Chip.
“I think for many couples, even those who have been married for a long time, it’s hard to talk to each other about physical intimacy. For a long time, it was the same for us. Getting over the strangeness and difficulty of talking about it was a huge thing. What really worked for us was using books that talk about real intimacy issues from a Christian perspective. Reading these together and then talking about them brought up important subjects on intimacy which we addressed,” says Chip.
“It was sometimes embarrassing, since we grew up in a generation where people did not talk about such things quite literally. There was also the thought that most women probably think about ‘if I talk about sex, he will want it all the time, and I’m busy and tired’, and the fear of not knowing what one wants or how to describe how this or that makes you feel. There are a lot of reasons that make talking about intimacy awkward, but written materials really helped,” says Chari. Chip and Chari have also found attending marriage enrichment seminars together and discussing with other couples issues of communication and sexual intimacy, useful.
Parenting in Kenya…
The couple’s three children were all born and raised in Kenya. “At first we had difficulty having kids. The first two years it was by choice because we wanted Chip to finish his first degree, but when we relocated to Kenya and wanted to start our family, we were not able to for five years. That was a difficult time,” says Chari. They were however lucky that they married young, as they were only in their late twenties when they had their children.
“Raising our kids in Kenya was a huge benefit and so much healthier than raising them in America. They got lots of exercise and got to have a healthy diet unlike in the states where it’s so easy to get hooked to an unhealthy lifestyle. The children loved their life here, had a lot of friends and mixed so easily with people,” says Chip.
Their oldest son, Joshua, who is a teacher, just turned 30 and lives in America with his wife and two children. The second-born son, Sam, is 27 and he and his wife live in Kijabe and are both teachers at the Rift Valley Academy, while their last-born, Amanda, is a fourth year psychology student at Daystar University’s Athi River campus.
Commenting on spending time with one’s children, Chip says that it’s about quantity and not quality. “The more time you spend with your child even if it is digging the garden or going for a walk, the better it is for your relationship. I think if you can just spend a lot of time with your kids talking openly and honestly, they will be open and honest with you. You will feel honoured when your teenage son or daughter comes to you and says something like ‘I’m really struggling with my relationship with my girlfriend in school’,” he says. Communication shouldn’t be one way, with parents giving orders, directions or advice, according to Chari. Parents should also listen to their children.
Chip and Chari grew up in two financial extremes. Chip’s family was much more liberal on spending money while Chari’s was strict on saving as much as possible. Chip acknowledges the fact that both of those extremes can lead to negative results, but says that they helped him and Chari find a middle ground. “I think he has learnt over time that we need to budget and save a little bit and I have learnt to be less stingy,” says Chari, smiling at Chip.
She adds, “I have learnt to be generous and to give because God will take care of us. Over the years, it has been great to see how God has provided for us, as we have never starved, always had a roof over our head and been able to pay at least the basic bills. Even though we have not always been able to do everything we want, Chip and I have found a middle ground.”
Marry your best friend…
The couple have always tried their best to show interest and be somehow involved in each other’s worlds. Together, they do pre-marital and marriage counselling as well as mentor students. “This has helped forge a deeper bond in our relationship,” says Chip.
Chari says that she and Chip have very different personalities but have learnt over the years that just because one person thinks very differently from the other, doesn’t make them wrong. “I think we have done a fairly good job over the years, learning to mesh – me learning to appreciate his extroverted ways, and him learning to appreciate my organisational skills and the many other ways in which we are different from each other. We have learnt to embrace it and use it to make our marriage even stronger,” she says.
“Don’t marry anyone who is not your best friend. Become best friends before you get married. It is much harder to create this after you are married, so work on it when you are courting,” says Chip in conclusion