Saturday, April 11, 2009

New Eyes: Praying for Ones that REALLY SEE!

A few weeks ago when Bethany and I were walking across the garbage filled field that we always pass through on our way to work, I stumbled across a dead cat. It caught me completely off guard. Bethany asked if I was going to start crying, but I managed to hold back the tears. Now some of you ((those who obviously are NOT cat lovers)) are probably thinking, “Jenny, really…it’s only a cat; there are hundreds more and after all it’s only an animal- no emotions, no feelings, and no human spirit.” Well what I have to tell you is it wasn’t so much that it was cat that was so upsetting, but the whole dead part. The death is what got me. I guess though I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Death isn’t exactly what you would call a foreign concept here in Kenya.
With the cycles of poverty, hunger, and AIDS, the funeral processions come weekly; every Thursday and Friday morning brings the sound of drums and tambourines as the bodies are carried from the mortuary, through the town, and to the burial sites. Even more, garbage, muck, and mess litter the streets and fields. Homeless street boys roam the town with disintegrating clothes, scavenging among the trash searching for something to sustain them for the day. These same street kids grow up to be the street men and women, who are penniless, homeless, dirty, sick, and hungry, with nothing to do all day but sit and wait. They’ve tried to get an education and have gone looking for work, but without the money to pay for school fees, education is impossible. And without an education, a job is unfathomable ((even with an education, employment is hard to come by)). So they sit and wait, and it looks as if they are waiting for death. With the lack of environmental awareness coupled with the drought Kenya has experienced of late, even the vegetation seems to be withering away. No green grass or smell of fresh air; luscious trees and blooming flowers are few and far between. On top of all of this, there is a heaviness felt- a burdened load. I think we could label it as the powers and principalities at work. That presence you can’t quite put your finger on, but you feel it day-in and day-out, as real as anything you’ve ever felt. I could go on with descriptions from all my senses- sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. But the point is they’ve processed the same observation. Through my eyes- the selfish, prideful, limited, flakey, greedy, uncompassionate, unloving, and deceitful eyes that I have- seeing that dead cat “crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s” on the question that had been toiling around in my mind: “Is Kenya dying? Where is life here in Kisumu?” The sufferings, the diseases, the burials, the reports, the surrounding environment, the history records, the newscasts, the frame of mind people live in, the corrupted government, and the deception people live with all kept my mind busy with, “Lord where are you? What are you doing here in Kenya? Can you hear the cries of your people?” And the answer I got was, “Jenny, I’m right here all around!”
At first I didn’t really get it, and I kept praying. I knew He was here, and I knew he was doing something, but I was still overwhelmed with the fatalism Kenya seemed to be caught in. But slowly I started to see glimpses here and there, and I have started to have eyes that really see. God really has been here all along. He was in the smile of the old woman who was missing her teeth; He was in the enthusiastic greetings and thumbs up of the kids; He was in every heartache planting a seed of restoration; He was in the little moments of laughter the suffering people enjoyed; He was in my embraces with the sick; He was comforting me every time Cathis ran up with arms wide open for a hug; He was in the grass and trees pushing through the garbage; He was in the little baby who realized mzungu’s weren’t dangerous; He was in the hope he restores in people through organizations like LCW; He was in the prayer of the street boy George during Sunday school; He is in Chris’ crazy prayers over our food every night; He is in the friendships He orchestrated with everyone in the office; He was in the starving woman scavenging for vegetables yet still welcoming us in her home with prayer and thanksgiving; He was the only foundation holding up the crumbling house; He really was EVERYWHERE!
And I started to have new eyes. Where I had looked with my eyes and could only see hopelessness, dejection, and death, God was seeing something entirely different. It is exactly at this moment of fatalism and desperation that God sees His greatest opportunity for intersection. He sees the seeds He rooted from the beginning of time, being watered and nurtured to fruition. He sees the glorious harvest to come. He sees his Kenyan children gathered around him, and he knows why his son was given as a ransom for all.
I think when God looks down and sees suffering, when he looks down and sees the epitome of his creation- the ones he made in his image- hurting themselves and hurting each other, he weeps. He sees the wounds, and it hurts him more deeply than we could ever imagine. But instead of only seeing destruction, He sees redemption. Where we throw up our hands in disgust and helplessness, he loves more deeply and gets his hands dirtier, holding the brokenness in his outstretched arms. Instead of seeing all the pieces, He sees the redeemed whole.
I recently found myself reading in Habakkuk, and I couldn’t help but notice some similarities. In chapter one, Habakkuk makes this plea,
“Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.”
He continues to have dialogue with God about these things that he is witnessing. He can’t understand why God is allowing them. God replies with an interesting plan to rectify. Habakkuk can’t understand why or how God is going to use the people he is planning to use, nor can he really see God’s goodness through it all. But Habakkuk ends by saying this,
“Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
I find myself here in Kenya, and I was looking through eyes like those that Habakkuk were first looking through. Every morning on my way to work, I am greeted by injustice. All my senses take in destruction and violence; strife and conflict are abounding. But like Habakkuk who went into dialogue with God, I have started to have new eyes. Eyes that even though sometimes I can only see the withering trees of the field and the empty stomachs of the kids I meet, I rejoice because I know that God sees something more glorious. I continue to pray for new eyes; I know it is only through a daily re-visioning that I will truly be able to see. And as I prepare to return to the states, I pray that my vision only becomes clearer. I invite you to join me in this prayer, praying that we will really have eyes that see.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

HoMa BaY!!!

I finally got to go back to Homa Bay last weekend, and for lack of a better word, the trip was AMAZING! It started out with lots of laughs as Bethany and I attempted to squeeze under one mosquito net. We slept on mattresses on the floor of Julie’s house, and we only had one mosquito net and nothing to hang it from. So we got innovative and positioned a fan, a computer chair, a piece of luggage, and two other chairs around our mattresses; we then fastened the corners of the net to whatever would hold it and stretched it across our mattresses. If you can imagine the type of forts kids build with chairs and sheets in the living room that leave only enough room to crawl through, then you would see what we slept under. The net only covered a sliver of my bed, and Bethany’s mattress was a bit higher than mine, so I was completely enclosed. I felt like I was slipping in a coffin or something, with a wedding veil over my head as the net was draped on my face most of the night. I didn’t necessarily get the best sleep, especial because every two minutes Bethany was asking, “hey are you asleep yet?” but we got some good laughs out of it. It was a fun time we won’t soon be forgetting.
It was Fellowship there on Saturday, so the day was very full. Julie brought in a couple of nurses to do HIV testing, and all of the guardians were tested. There were about 40 in number and less than 10 tested positive. In a weird sort of way, that number is a miracle. The testing went on in Julie’s house, and while she took charge of that process, she left the kids in our hands- Bethany and mine. We were supposed to organize games and get things going, but it started out a little awkward. Robert had us take profile pictures of all the kids, and they definitely were NOT interested in looking happy for our snap shots. We then brought out a couple of mini-footballs ((it was all we had)), and I attempted to get a game going. Unfortunately most of the kids couldn’t and didn’t speak English, so mostly I just got blank stares. Ordinarily I think I would have just given up, but for some unknown reason an idea came to mind and we pushed through. I went and got a sheet and had Bethany hold one end. We put the balls in the middle and started shaking it like a parachute. This got the kids interested, and some of them came over to join us. Once they knew we were safe and weren’t quite as alien as they thought, a couple of the older girls came over and started playing volleyball with the football, and I got to join in with them. So we had about 8 of the 30 or so kids playing at this point. It still wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but at least some of them were having fun, and I was getting to interact. After about 30 minutes of the footballs, they got old and everyone went back to sit down under the tree. Bethany started taking down their names, so I just started taking more pictures. I was beginning to think that all was lost on the whole “let’s have fun playing games today,” but then like always, God blew my mind. Who comes walking up to me but Purity, the one girl I met last time I was there!!! She came up, greeted me excitedly, and though last time she hardly said two words to me ((me thinking she couldn’t really speak English)) we carried on a whole conversation. Her English is impeccable. She asked to take a picture with me, and then she asked how to use the camera. I showed her and that is all it took. Apparently Purity is somewhat the ring leader when it comes to all the older girls in the program, and once she approved of me, I had an “in” with the rest of the group. I think we spent the next hour taking photos together with her and the rest of the girls, and they, in turn, got all the little ones interested too. Peter then ordered all of them to come together to sing; Purity invited me along as well. I didn’t really know any of the songs we were singing, but everyone thought it was funny that I was trying to sing along. Then came the dreaded moment where I had to lead two songs. Yeah, that was really interesting because remember they don’t speak or understand much English. So I picked two songs that had hand motions, and they followed along. The guardians really found humor in this, and there were smiles all over. It was A LOT of fun, but worship leader is definitely NOT my calling. The sun was really shining, so it was time for another break. Purity was talking with me some more, and we decided it would be fun to play some games. I taught them one- red light, green light- and then they taught me one with a ball- similar to a random rendition of dodge ball. Then we combined two of our games- tag and duck, duck, goose- and everyone joined in. By this time, most of the testing was finished, and all the guardians were outside watching. The joy, the smiles, and the laughter echoing throughout was a glorious occasion. Julie said she hasn’t heard them laugh like that in a really long time. Praise be to God because that was my prayer! To finish up the day, we ate lunch (rice and tea) and distributed the maize. I was sad to see the day come to an end, but it was getting late; the families had a far way to walk, and we had to get back to Kisumu before the rains came. We said our goodbyes, and the girls taught me goodbye in Luo, which is “oritti.” Peter, Robert, Bethany, a guardian from Kisumu ((don’t know how he ended up in Homa Bay)), and I loaded up in the truck and headed for home. The ride home was great fun. We took turns teaching each other worship songs some in English and some in Kiswahili. The roads were really bumpy, so we sounded like chipmunks, but it was a joyful noise nonetheless. We stopped for a bite to eat, and as a gift, the Kisumu guardian bought our meal. He was probably the only one there who REALLY couldn’t afford it, but he wanted to do something for us. Talk about sacrificial giving; I can’t get over it.
Well that is Homa Bay in a nutshell ((or maybe too many details for you; it all depends on how you look at it I guess)). At first, I am tempted to say that God showed up in a big way while I was there. But then if I say that, it looks as if God wasn’t there in the first place, which is overwhelmingly NOT true. He was ALWAYS there in a BIG way, and I think maybe this weekend I was ready to show up as well. Like Jacob said when he woke up from his dream in Genesis 28:16, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Praise God that He is ALWAYS bigger than anyone or anything I could ever be, and He is always overwhelmingly present. Please pray for the people at Homa Bay; pray for the guardians who tested positive, pray for Purity as she continues in school, and pray for LCW to continue to show up where God is at work. Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stolen My Heart <3

Have you ever met someone and before a word is even spoken, you are connected to them in some way? There is just something about them that makes you smile. There is some connection within and something in their presence that brings life inside you. My newfound friend Francis Odhiambo is one of those people for me. I have mentioned him briefly before; in a field report after the first time I met him but I can’t get over him. He has stolen my whole heart. Not only is he one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen ((Peter calls him an old man trapped in a little kids body, and his smile lights up a room)) but he has one of the sweetest spirits. At the last fellowship, Bethany and I brought out some rope, and we made jump ropes. Of course, the kids were all excited to play, and they came over to see what it was all about. Francis joined the group a little late, and the rope he was trying to use was quickly over run with a bunch of girls. He soon gave up trying to wait in line, and instead went around the yard collecting straws. He was connecting the straws end to end, until he made a triangular hula-hoop looking thing, which he proceeded to hold above his head like a crown and walk around with it like a steering wheel. He was off in his own little world, having the time of his life. I asked him what he was doing, and he just gave me his sheepish little smile and continued on with his playing. That is Francis for you. At another fellowship, all the kids were singing, and there came a song that had some dancing motions. While every kid was moving in one direction, Francis was going against the current- using the other foot, clapping on the off beat, and swaying in the opposite direction. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was doing it on purpose, but Francis was blissfully unaware. He is a rather shy boy and doesn’t sing loudly; he definitely doesn’t like the attention on himself, but I can’t help but watch him and smile. That is Francis for you.
But Francis has been through a lot. Pretty much every evil imaginable that could possibly happen to a child, Francis has experienced. He is a total orphan, left an only child, to abusive guardians. The first time I met him, he was at nursery school, where he is finishing the final form, and the teachers were telling us of how his shoes are two sizes too small, his uniforms are torn and disintegrating, and he always comes to school hungry. Besides these obvious observations, there was something deeper going on in Francis. I then found out from Robert that his previous guardian had been abusing him, and though he is 9 years old, he looks like he’s 5 because of stunted growth and development due to malnourishment and abuse. However thankfully at the beginning of this year, LCW found a different guardian for Francis, and he was immediately moved to live with his uncle, Joseph Odhiambo. Joseph is an artist, and he makes very little. He doesn’t have much financial support to offer Francis- income is inconsistent and his house is rented in the Manyetta slums- but in terms of being his family and caring for Francis as he grows, Joseph is one of the best guardians he could ask for. I was able to visit Joseph the last time we went in the field, and he really has an interest for Francis and has taken responsibility for his well being. Joseph is a huge answer to prayer, and I believe a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
I could go on and on about Francis. Just ask anyone here in the office, and you would know that if given the chance, I could talk about him all day. However, I know my last post was long, so I will try to give you a break with this one. But I ask that you be in prayer for Francis and his new family; pray fervently and without ceasing. Petition and plea on his behalf; please be his intercessor this week. Sometimes I think Francis has captured my heart for a bigger reason than just knowing him these three months. Please pray for discernment on my part as well. Thanks for the prayers, and until next time…peace!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Update: Life in the office and Out in the field

Time is flying by these days, and I can’t believe it. I realized though that I haven’t mentioned much of what has been going on in the office specifically, so here is what’s new:
-Robert ((a social worker and assistant coordinator; AKA the comedian)) has just finished exams and is very happy. He has been going to college night classes to continue his education from the diploma/degree he has already earned. He still has his loans to pay off, and he keeps asking for prayers for his family ((they live in Tanzania ((that is where he is from))), but overall, Robert is doing well. He is the comical one of the group and always keeps us laughing.
-Peter ((project coordinator; AKA the boss)) is doing well too. He just completed his rural home at Homa Bay, which is a huge dream come true and answer to prayer. His wife recently returned to work after being on maternity leave with their youngest born ((in December)) John Mark. Peter’s other kids, Emmanuel and Juliet, are both doing well in school and health, and they are looking forward to their exams being finished soon and enjoying a short break in about two weeks. Peter himself is actually starting more school in April, and we could really be in prayer for him as the whole process starts.
-Prisca ((the accountant AKA meek but most zealous woman I have met)) has fully recovered from typhoid and is in very good spirits. She loves singing, and throughout the day in the office, she graces our ears with her beautiful voice. She was recently married in December and is adjusting well and enjoying married life. Her next big plans include making an investment in farming for her future family. She is starting to save whatever money she can in order to be ready for the planting season next year. ((She really wanted to plant this year, but she didn’t have the financial capability at the time of planting season, which actually turned out to be a blessing because the rains have refused to come leaving the seed to dry up and die)).
-Carolyn ((a local volunteer social worker)) has not been back since the day she found out the bad news about her college education being revoked. As far as I know, she has had to start all over again…that could use some major prayers!
-Mary ((a volunteer social worker; AKA my best friend)) is getting along. Times have been a little rough. Her older brother died a few weeks ago, and we went to his funeral last weekend. Her sister, who she has been living with, is moving back to their rural home, so Mary is trying to move in with another sister in town. On top of these things, I recently discovered that Mary’s college education has been put on hold due to a few things. Her exams have been put on hold for now. Time is of the essence, and I can tell she is a little worried about it. She tries to keep relying on God’s provision, but I can tell it is a weight she is carrying. So prayers for her please.
-Bethany ((another USA intern like me; AKA the newbie ) is doing really well. She is starting to find her place and learning the ropes. Everyone in the office loves her, and I think she is starting to really enjoy it!
-And finally there is me. I was a little sick last week, but I’m almost fully recovered. I am absolutely loving life and everyone I meet. I can’t believe my time is coming to an end. Peter keeps joking around with ways to keep me here. The time really has flown by!
Things in the office are good; they aren’t as ripe for the writing of a country music song as they were last time I wrote about the office, but we always welcome prayers!!! Please be praying.
Outside of the office, we have gotten to go into the field a little. I have started to revisit some places I have been before, and it has been an exciting process actually knowing a little more each time I go. With Bethany’s arrival, we have been making more visits in the truck rather than the motorbike. One day it was Peter, Robert, Bethany and I, and we headed out to Chiga, the remote village where Evans, Elvis, and Lillian Adhiambo live and go to school (the place Robert and I visited on the motorbike two weeks prior). As I have mentioned before, the roads are no good for driving. Even though there were repairs going on, it took the truck about an hour to navigate its way through. On the way out, we stopped at Ayaro Primary School where Eugene Okoth and Carolynn Awino go to school. We met in the office with the headmaster for a while, before she sent for the two kids. Both children seem to be doing well in school. Eugene is in Class 2 and is ranked 12th out of 52 students, while Carolynn is in Class 4, ranking in the 50’s out of 81 students. Carolynn has a hearing problem in her ears, so learning comes at a bit more tedious task than others. The teacher had no complaints about the children themselves, only that Carolynn had not paid her mid-term examine fees. The headmaster talked with Peter about making sure that any money given to the children for school fees goes straight to the school because if given to the guardian, you never know where the many will end up. This is normally LCW’s policy, but I think the headmaster just wanted to make sure everyone was working from the same standpoint. On other observations, both Eugene and Carolynn were missing their socks, and their uniforms were not in very good order. They were clean, for the most part, but they had holes and were coming apart at the seams. Nonetheless, the children were in good spirits with smiles here and there, and they did not have anything negative to report.
We left Ayaro in good standing with the headmaster and headed out to Orenge Primary School. The difference in this school environment and atmosphere compared to Ayaro is striking. It is only about 30 minutes more of a drive, but it is like entering a whole other world. Ayaro had pretty nice facilities. The administration building was made of cement, and they were in the process of building more classrooms made of cement blocks. The rest of the classrooms were made of the mud-like substance, but the walls looked nice and the roof was still intact. They even had some equipment for the children to play on and with. However, Orenge Primary was made almost entirely of the mudlike substance, and as we pulled up in the truck, there were community members ((those parents and guardians who couldn’t afford to pay school fees came to work on the school to compensate the costs)) working to repair the walls because a lot of the walls had been washed away with recent rain. The roof was made of pieced together tin, but they are doing their best to give their students a good environment for learning. ((For example, the school did manage to have one building made of cement block, but instead of using it for administration, they used it for classrooms for the older children)). The school had been over run with an insect of some type that is causing students to be sick and break out with bites. They were trying to clean it out, but still again, it was very difficult! But the teachers were in good spirits about their students. The headmaster invited us into the office, and he was able to greet me by name. I had only met him once, but he remembered me. I thought that was amazing; he made me feel very welcome and allowed us to go into two of the classrooms. We first went into a Class 5 room. The children greeted us with huge smiles. We got to sit in their desks with them, and the teachers were joking around that we were new students entering the school. The kids got a kick out of this, and there were giggles all over. Evans and Elvis are in Class 5, so we were hoping to see them in there, but unfortunately, they were missing. No one really knew why, but later Elvis showed up and said his guardian had sent him on an errand to help repair the house with cow dung. (We went to check up on this and Evans a little bit later). We also went into the Class 4 classroom and saw Lillian Adhiambo. We sat with them for a bit and took some pictures. The headmaster kept boasting about the students being very bright and working very hard. It was encouraging to see the care of the teachers for the children.
After taking a few more pictures and talking a little longer with the headmaster, we went with Lillian to see her guardian. We went down the road a bit, and found her aunt walking along the road. We met her at he home, and she greeted us with prayer. We found out that her aunt had been at the school earlier that day helping repair the walls because she was not able to pay the school fees. We also learned that she was out scavenging for vegetables in order to have something for her family to eat today. Apparently, Lillian moves back and forth between her uncle’s house and this aunt, depending on who is in the best position to care for her that week. Even though their situation is desperate, it is somewhat encouraging to see two relatives work so hard to care for Lillian. It is rare where two younger adults are willing to care for one who is not their own. Additionally, despite the situation looking so gloom, the aunt welcomed us and bid us farewell with prayer. She truly calls on God to be her provider. We didn’t stay too long at Lillian’s home because we wanted to make a quick stop by both Elvis Okoth’s home and Evan’s home.
We went to Evan’s first. As I mentioned before, he was not at school earlier. Come to find out, he was home sick. It didn’t seem to be anything too serious because he was able to come and sit with us for a while, but apparently he was not feeling well. Doris, his guardian, welcomed us warmly, and was happy to meet Bethany. She allowed us to eat a piece of sugar cane, and then she presented us with a chicken to take home. She was very happy to see me again and remembered who I was. Her home was busy with activity today, as she carried around a little child and had two more running around. There were two younger girls also there, who I think were helping around the house. I was not sure if all these children were staying in Doris’ home, but they felt comfortable around the place. There was nothing negative to report from the guardian or the child, so we said goodbye to them and went to Elvis’s home. We met his guardian, Consolata, sitting out in the yard. That morning they redid the inside of the house by affirming it with cow dung, which is why Elvis missed the first half of school. We sat for a while with her in chairs she had brought for us to relax under the trees. We had fun taking pictures again, and she was delighted to see me and meet Bethany for the first time. Consolata walked us back to the truck, holding my hand the whole way and talking to me about something I couldn’t understand. But it felt good to be so comfortable with her ,just to listen and hold hands as we walked. She said goodbye, and I think we will see her at fellowship on Saturday.
I really love going into the field and visiting with all the children and their guardians. Orenge School out in the Chiga village has quickly captured a special part of me. It is definitely on my “tops” list of most favorite places I’ve ever visited.
Sorry this one was a long one, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this glance into my family here in Kenya. As always, please be praying- for everyone in the office, for Ayaro and Orenge school, and for Kenya in general. Faith, hope and love…but the greatest of these is love.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Only Defense

Sometimes you see things, hear things, experience things, smell things and do things, and the only thing you can do is laugh. Here is a list of some of those moments for me so far:

*I’ve entered a home, and my neighbor in the seat next to me is a chicken.

*I saw a tanker truck pass with “DANGER PETROL” written on the side of it and something in liquid form is spewing from an open faucet all over the road…did I mention no one seems to mind.

*Not enough room in the mtatoo ((the local van transportation)) for your things? No worries, just attach it to the windshield wipers or the side mirrors. ((this allows for great scenes of vans driving down the road with mattresses, water jugs, grocery sacks, chickens, and all other things attached to the outside of the vehicle wherever it can hang))

*I am riding in a tuk-tuk ((another local transportation, kind of the cross between a three wheeler, golf cart, and bumper car)) and the driver is a maniac, going over bumps that make me leave my seat and hit my head on the ceiling and making U-turns in the middle of the road just as a bicyclist comes flying down the hill, resulting in the bicyclist colliding right into the side of the tuk-tuk

*I am back pedaling to get out of someone’s way unnoticed but forget about the table behind me. I tripped over the table landing flat on my back, just in time for the other person to turn around and see me lying on the floor.

*I walk through the villages and a parade of kids starts following. They run up to shake my hand like I am the president, and they keep saying, “mzungu, how are you? I’m fine” in one breathe over and over and over and over and over…..

*A loose cat climbs through my bedroom window, and a nine year old boy proceeds to chase it around the house trying to get it out the door, but really just causing more damage than good.

*Mary took some Advil for her headache, but then she was paranoid all day that she would turn into a mzungu; even tried convincing me her skin was turning a lighter shade.

*I snuck into the kitchen at night to get a bottle of water, but when I put my hand on what I thought was a rolled up pile of plastic sacks and garbage…much to my surprise and scaring me like crazy, it starts moving and it is a CHICKEN!!! ((Yeah, I don’t know when we got the chicken, but we had a chicken in the house. Although it didn’t last long because the next night it was on my plate; yep came home the next day to find Akorth plucking the feathers out, and then I saw it in its entirety on the charcoal burning…head and all….fun stuff)).

*Robert ((one of the guys in the office)) saw a picture of a marching band and asks, “why do they have to march before they play?”

*I met a Kenyan kid named Thomas Aquinas

*Mary and I exercised in the office, and every “move” we did reminded me of some animal…a frog, a chicken, etc. By the end of it rather than exercising we were rolling on the floor laughing…it was a good ab workout I guess.

*I forgot that the English expressions are not quite the same, and my witty sarcastic comments start to come out. Everyone still thinks its funny, but Robert starts to pick up on these expressions and uses them in the most inopportune times. I realized no one really understood what I was saying in the first place

*I look out on a field that is covered in trash. Someone has started to burn it, but someone has also let their cows graze upon the heap of burning garbage. So through the smoke, all I saw were cows eating in the distance, surrounded by a fire. I don’t know why but I thought it gave an interesting twist to roast beef or having hamburger hot off the grill.

*I continue to realize just how tough the communication barrier is even when both are speaking English. I was trying to ask Ann about visiting this nearby forest, and all she kept hearing me say was something about a fast.

*I was sitting outside enjoying the company of friends, while a couple of dogs gather around and decided they wanted to be lions. No worries they were not interested in me as their prey, only who would be king among their den.

*I was riding along in the truck with the window rolled down. The truck ran over some fresh cow patties in the road, and the tire flung it up onto my arm through the window…yeah really nice…but what can you do but laugh.

*I love when I see men dressed in nice pants and a button up shirt herding cows through the street.

*I am not used to eating so much with my fingers or with so many bones in my food, and I always walk away from the table with food flung all over me and the unfortunate soul who sat next to me, normally Mary is the victim ((she doesn’t know what to do with me sometimes)).

The list could go on and on. I realize some of them probably aren’t as funny if you didn’t experience them first hand, but I hope you got to enjoy a little bit of the laughter I’ve shared with my new friends and family.
Prayers still this week please. I have been sick since Sunday; nothing to worry about, but prayers of healing would be greatly appreciated. And Robert is taking exams, so prayers for a steady mind and firm hand would be good too. And as always, pray for Kenya, pray for the orphans, and pray for LCW. Peace and smiles : )

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Confession: Christ tapped me on the shoulder, and I missed it!

“For I was hungry and you gave me NOTHING to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me NOTHING to drink, I was a stranger and you did NOT welcome me in, I needed clothes and you did NOT clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did NOT look after me.
They will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a strnger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?
He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did NOT do for one of the least of these, you did NOT do for me.” -Matthew 25: 42-45
One of my best friends once wrote a drama called KNOCKS. From what I can remember when I saw it, it was about these two people preparing their house and getting ready for an honored guest ((I don’t remember if the audience was told the honored guest was Jesus or maybe I just assumed)) but one way or another the honored guest was Jesus. As the hosts were preparing for the guest, a few different strangers came knocking on their door looking for help- food, clothing, use of the telephone, or a place just to rest. Each time, the hosts turned the visitor away, claiming they could not help because they were preparing for their special guest. By the end of the drama, Jesus never showed up, and the hosts received a phone call from him. They demanded to know why he had not come, and Jesus replies with something like, “I did but every time you turned me away.” The hosts couldn’t believe it; “that was you!” they exclaimed. Jesus had come in the hungry, in the thirsty, as the stranger, as one in need of clothes, in the sick, and as one in prison, and the hosts had missed him.
I went to the rural district of Homa Bay last week, staying from Tuesday to Friday. I went with the project coordinator from the Kisumu office named Peter, and I stayed with the USA missionary living in Homa Bay named Julie. The surrounding community knew I was coming, so everyone was coming to greet me. As with everywhere, it was warm smiles and enthusiastic handshakes. Throughout the week, I got to see, do, and learn a lot.
One day we went to Ruma National Park, which is comparable to a reservation park, that you can drive through and see wild animals ((uncaged)). Two of the more exciting animals I saw were an endangered species only found in this area called roan antelope, and then get ready for it…GIRAFFES!!! Tons and tons of giraffes; it was incredible J Just imagine real live wild giraffes standing by the roadside as you pass. In addition to the visit to Ruma, I did a little work as well. I got to paint the LCW logo and headline on the side of their community posho mill; it was a lot of fun getting to share something I love doing (art) with the people in the community. We also went on a recon-mission for one of the orphans named Purity. Purity had run away from home a week ago, to live with a different aunt, who brews ale for a living, in another district. She had managed to get herself into another school, and we discovered the reason why she had run away was due to the fact that she didn’t want to repeat Class 7, which is what she would have had to do if she stayed in the school she was previously going to. So she thought if she ran to live with this other aunt, then she could join this new better school as a Class 8 student. I loved her ambition to succeed and move forward; unfortunately though, her other aunt was in no condition to care properly for Purity, and we had to take her back to her original guardian and her original school, where she will struggle through Class 7 again. Julie did some counseling with her, and we got her re-instated at her former school with the encouraging words to work hard. I will be going back to Homa Bay in a couple of weeks, and I am eagerly waiting to hear how Purity is doing. Well, like I said, I did, saw, and learned a lot this week, but as I was travelling back from this area ((I believe it is the second most impoverished areas of Kenya)), I missed Jesus. It is time for a confession.
We had been on the road for about 20 minutes, and Peter stopped on the side of the road to run into one of the little shops (four walls of tin and a roof that was caving in) to get some oil for the truck and a newspaper. I was waiting in the truck for his return, and I had the windows rolled down to allow for the breeze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing closely to the truck, but most of the time it is someone trying to sell you something so I thought nothing of it and tried to ignore the gaze. Ignoring is what you do here is you aren’t interested in buying because eye contact gives the seller permission to approach you and hassle you to buy something from them. Well while I was waiting I decided to get out a piece of gum from the bag at my feet; I snuck it into my mouth and stayed looking out the opposite window waiting for Peter. All of a sudden, I felt someone tapping on my shoulder thru the window I was purposefully avoiding. When I turned, I was met by a pair of very sad eyes and an outstretched hand belonging to a young boy dressed in ragged clothes saying, “Add me” (“add” is the word used for “give”). He wanted me to give him something- money, food, something. All I could think about were the reasons why I shouldn’t or couldn’t help. I only had big bills, and then I couldn’t find enough coins fast enough before Peter came back. Everything that came to mind were excuses. I was a bit panicky, and I knew I was missing something. Mind you, the whole time, the gospel of Luke is being read over the radio, I had just been praying about coming across situations like this, it was a young boy asking for my help, and instead of giving and thinking of creative solutions, all I did was lie to him saying I didn’t have anything. He pleaded with me about 3 times before Peter came back to the truck, and we left. As we were leaving, I had this sickening feeling of guilt, and then I remembered I had a few pieces of bread stashed in my bad left over from the week stay at Homa Bay. I wish I could say, I boldly told Peter to stop the car, and then I ran back to the by with the bread, but shamefully, I didn’t. I remained silent; I was a coward, and I started praying for forgiveness. I missed Jesus that day, and rightly so according to Matthew 25:46, I deserve eternal punishment. And what is even worse on my part, about 45 minutes down the road, we were stopped again. He didn’t come up to the window this time, but another young boy was again asking for my help. Peter was in the car, and I didn’t know what he would think about my idea to give the boy the bread. Stupid I know, but I was keeping quiet yet again. Thankfully though, the Holy Spirit got me over my stupidity, and I offered the boy the bread.
I missed Jesus once that day, and I almost missed him again 45 minutes later. I fear I fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy:
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn.”
Christ was tapping on my shoulder, pleading with me repeatedly to help. How did I miss him?!?!?! And how often I must miss him because I have closed my eyes and covered my ears? I’ve been praying- repentance, forgiveness, and for my calloused heart to be broken. And I’ve been praying that even though I was disobedient, God will be faithful to care for that boy. I ask that you be praying for him as well. AMEN.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Deeper Understanding

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” –Luke 18: 24-25
This, as some of you may know, Jesus says after the rich young ruler leaves Jesus sorrowfully because he can’t give up all he has for the poor and follow Him. I think I am truly beginning to understand why this is the case. For the most part, I have always seen this in connection with something else Jesus said in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money.” Furthermore, I’ve understood it in connection with what Jesus taught and showed about serving the poor, being poor in spirit, etc. And the truths that I’ve previously found still hold, but I think God has shown me even more of what he was talking about.
It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God because it is hard for him to let go of himself, his riches, and what he sees as his righteousness and exchange it for Christ’s salvation, exchange it for full obedience and reliance on God, and exchange it for the real riches of the kingdom ((“he” being used for the universal of “humanity”)). The wealth becomes a barrier because we start to see it as our own kingdom. The wealth is the thing we start to turn to for strength, for power, for love, for all our provisions, our protection, and our needs and wants. We rely on our riches- our education, our medicine, our intelligence, our resources, and all we have- to make us righteous and give us a good life. Even in some circumstances we are like the rich young ruler who used his wealth in a way that kept him on a path of following/ keeping all the commandments. So while we serve money, we hold tightly to our riches, thinking we are righteous or at least heading towards righteousness. And sometimes these things look good, pure, and holy, and we don’t even realize that we have built up this false security in this kingdom of wealth. But really we just keep building a bigger wall and gap in front of the very kingdom that we think our riches have provided. We get so wrapped up in our riches that we put our hope and faith in these false gods of wealth, therefore refusing to put our faith in God and forfeiting our entrance into the kingdom.
On the other hand, when you are poor, when you have nothing, not much to your name, when all hope of a future is gone, when you are in a constant state of suffering and struggling, when you can’t afford an education, when you have to sell your body just for one fish to eat, when you have physically nothing that can change your circumstances or where you find yourself, God and his kingdom is the only hope and faith you have. You are free from the temptation and hold wealth and riches have on someone to build their own kingdom. You are free from building your own righteousness because God’s is all you have, and therefore, you obediently and whole heartedly accept and embrace Christ’s salvation, finding yourself on the straight and narrow path into the kingdom of God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
-Matthew 5:3
For the rich, wealth and everything that comes with it, is an illusion that we believe gives power, respect, love, strength, and all things good. But when that is finally stripped away, in the poor, one finally sees and can embrace that the only one who really fulfills all this is God; prayer, the Word ((His Son)), and obediently following after Him is the only access we have.
A friend I’ve met while I’ve been here has really showed me this truth. Her name is Akorth.
Akorth lives with Ann and is the house help. She takes care of Chris and Cathis and practically keeps the house running. She cooks, cleans, and does everything in between. Basically her occupation is equivalent to what we would consider a nanny, but without the convenient appliances and living situations ((her work is hard)). She is always the first one up and normally the last one to bed. She comes from a family of 7 siblings, but two of her siblings have died. She is the second youngest with a younger sister that she helps support. Both her parents have died, leaving her a total orphan- her father when she was 10 years old and her mom just as she finished primary school ((which is equivalent to our 8th grade)). After school, she continued her education to become a dress maker. However, she has been unable to use this education due to financial burden to find a job to support her and her younger sister. This is how she ended up with Ann. Akorth is what we, the rich, would consider to be at the end of her rope. Her resources are completely exasperated. Neither her education nor limited income can change her situation. All of her time, energy, efforts, and finances go into supporting her and her sister. Her dream is to one day open a “shop” for her dress making. You may ask, “why doesn’t she save the money from her job and eventually raise enough to start something?” The answer is she can’t. There isn’t anything to save; there is nothing left. But as Akorth was telling me all of this, she finally said, “All I can do is rely on God. I know one day he will open doors. He hears me, and he will open a door some way…one day.”
Akorth has inherited the kingdom of God. There is no education to rely on to make something of herself; she can’t work harder and make her way up the business ladder. There is no such thing as a savings account to invest for the future, and there are no riches or material resources to save her from her predicament. God is all she has- her hope, her strength, her future, her entire being rests in Him. Prayer and faith are the only things she has, and WOW has she taught me how that is more than enough!!!
See what happens when we have wealth and riches, we get bogged down with the rags of this world, and we miss out on the true riches of the kingdom. Akorth is not bound by the rags, and she has real riches- righteousness is hers and she will inherit the earth.
It sounds like something we have all heard before, and yet it’s a different thing when it is actually realized in front of you. God is all we have, and until we are really willing to give up all our riches, I don’t think we will ever inherit the kingdom. And I don’t think it means we have to give away all we own to live on the streets; I don’t think it means we don’t go for an education; I don’t think it means we intentionally become unemployed; and I don’t think it means we stop going to doctors when we are sick. But I think we must ask ourselves, what riches are we clinging to, what walls have we let them build in front of us, how much are we relying on that next grade, or financial raise, or doctor visit, or popularity, or friendship, or what...It’s for you to decide. What is poor in spirit? What self-righteousness are you clinging to? And are you willing to lose the rags to find the riches? For me it’s been coming to a place of abandonment- a place completely outside of myself, outside of my schooling, outside of my resources, outside of my comfort zone, outside of my moral codes, outside of my acts of service, outside of everything that I thought was safe- in order to lose my rags. What is it for you?
Please be in prayer. Pray for Akorth. Petition for the door to be opened for her and the way be made clear. Please stand in the gap and pray.