Saturday, September 09, 2006

Airport scenes

I was talking with a missionary friend last year and we both agreed that one of the hardest things about being a missionary is the “airport scenes” – that moment in the airport when I walk away from my family and friends and wonder if I’ve lost my mind for leaving my country and the people I love. Well on Monday I experienced the other side of the airport scene – this time I was the one staying behind and not the one leaving. The one leaving was my friend Muigai, who had been selected for a one year ministry internship with an organization in the UK called Careforce (www.careforce.org).

I met Muigai (pronounced Mwee-guy with the accent on the 2nd syllable) in April of last year when I started attending Karen Community Church, where he was working as an intern. We got to know each other through a young adults Bible study and started hanging out together in September of last year. In January, we decided to begin a relationship.

Muigai was born and grew up in Nairobi, and studied economics and sociology at the University of Nairobi. He is a gifted musician and plays the keyboard, guitar, and leads worship at the church. After this year in the UK, he plans to go to graduate school and get a Masters degree in peace and reconciliation studies. Eventually, he would like to go into ministry with African children and youth from traumatic or difficult backgrounds.

Muigai has been an incredible friend to me – we pray together, study the Bible together, he accompanies me to the children’s home on the weekends to play with the kids (who have completely fallen in love with him), and he takes me hiking or for nyama choma (roasted meat) when I am stressed with classes. He is committed to the Lord, caring, compassionate, and a lot of fun to be with.

Several months ago, Muigai found out about Careforce through an elder in our church who had gone through the program ten years ago. We both prayed about it and decided it was a great opportunity for him and could also be beneficial for our relationship by allowing him to experience life in a Western culture. He was accepted into the program, raised money for a plane ticket, and a few weeks ago was granted a visa, which was surprising for a young single male. God’s hand has clearly been seen throughout the entire process. He will be working with children and youth in an Anglican parish in Bargoed, South Wales.

Although I am excited for him, it will be challenging to be away from him for a year and I will really miss him. Please join the two of us in prayer for the following items:

- That as we spend time apart, we would seek the Lord and be able to discern His guidance for our future and our relationship

- That God would give us grace and strength over the next year

- That Muigai would be able to adapt quickly to life in Wales

- That Muigai would make good friends in the UK and be effective in his ministry there

Friday, August 18, 2006

Visiting ministries in Kisumu

I recently spent a good but tiring week in two villages outside of Kisumu City, about 7 hours from Nairobi on the shores of Lake Victoria. A good friend of mine, Ken Prussner, founded an NGO called STARS Children Africa which supports orphaned children in secondary school. By working together with a Kenyan pastor in Kisumu called Joshua, they were able to send 55 orphaned children to secondary school this year (there is no free secondary school in Kenya). Ken offered to pay my travel expenses if I would be willing to travel to Kisumu to get stories, interviews, and pictures of children involved in STARS, as well as details for a group of 10 American volunteers who will be traveling to Kenya next year. Of course I was more than willing!

Through friends in Nairobi, I learned of another small community based program in a village near Kisumu. This program is connected with the Mennonite church and reaches out to orphaned and vulnerable children and widows in several villages. The bishop of the Mennonite churches in that region, Clyde Angola, invited me to stay with him and spend a few days visiting there. So I spent the first half of the week with Pastor Joshua and the second half with Clyde.

I spent the first two days with visiting secondary schools in the area and interviewing children who have been sponsored by STARS Children Africa. I was both inspired and heartbroken by their stories. Largely due to cultural traditions and poverty, the Nyanza district (where I was) is the hardest hit district by AIDS in the country. The five children that I interviewed had all gone through incredible challenges after losing their parents to AIDS. Two of them had contemplated suicide, one had turned to prostitution to survive, and another had become pregnant at the age of 15, when she desperately attempted to support her ill mother by finding a “boyfriend” who would give her money. All of these children are now in school and are doing very well. They have received incredible support from Pastor Joshua and his wife Abigael, but more importantly they all have a strong faith, hope, and trust in Jesus Christ which encourages and sustains them.

In the middle of the week I headed to a village called Songhor, which is about 2 hours from Kisumu City and is very rural. The small program there is called KEDHAP (Kenya East Diocese HIV/AIDS Program). This program was started several years ago when a few church members decided they needed to reach out to people affected by AIDS in their community. They began by doing a survey, and spent several months going from house to house to identify all of the orphans and widows in the community. They had kept very organized records and had recorded 648 orphans in their community (these were very small rural villages, so 648 is a huge number!). The program is organized and run completely by community members. Clyde is the overseer, and then there is a program manager, four district coordinators, and six local church coordinators. There are also five people who have been trained as community health workers. The community health workers visit HIV positive people in the community to pray with them and do home based care.

One of the things about the program that impressed me the most is that KEDHAP does not have a single paid employee – all of the people involved are community volunteers. Even Clyde is not paid anything by the program or even by the Mennonite churches – the average offering at his church is about 200 shillings ($3) because the people in the village are very poor. All of the people are involved in farming or other small projects to earn an income.

Despite a lack of resources, the KEPHAP workers are committed and are doing everything that they can to help their community. They have received donation to provide school uniforms for hundreds of orphans, and recently received a donation for 98 goats. They gave one male and one female goat to families that were caring for orphans as a sustainability project to help the community members earn an income.

They also have a support group for widows who are HIV positive. They offer these widows home based care and referrals to the closest hospital, which is one hour away. (They have a long term plan of starting a hospital in the village, and they are in the process of receiving free land from the government for this hospital). There are free ARVs available at the hospital; unfortunately, many of the members cannot afford the 200 shillings ($3) each month to get to the hospital to pick up their medicine. One of their goals for a sustainability project is to buy a dairy cow for the HIV support group. The women could sell the milk and the profits could be distributed to cover the medical costs for the women as needs arise. As the cow gives birth and continues to reproduce, the calves can be given to community members so they will be able to earn an income.

On the last day that I was there, I had the privilege of taking part in a Luo tradition (Luo is one of 42 tribes in Kenya). In Luo culture, when sons grow up and get married, they build a house for their families on their parents’ land. However, at a certain point, they move off their parents land and establish their own home on their own land. Gordon, the project coordinator for KEDHAP, happened to be moving to his own land the last day I was there. The new house is built as their old house is being demolished. According to their culture, the family must sleep in the new house that night, so the house has to be built completely in one day or they have nowhere to sleep!

Clyde told me that Gordon had spent about one year gathering material and saving money for this day. About 50 people from the community gathered starting at 9am. The women cooked and the men built the house. There was one carpenter who was paid a small amount, but the rest were community volunteers. The house was made out of wood, sticks, mud, and a tin roof. I was amazed that they were able to build a house in a single day and I really enjoyed seeing the whole process. They had very tools – for example, there was no ladder but the carpenter spent about 10 minutes nailing some branches together and making his own ladder!

Now I am back at NEGST enjoying the last few weeks of my holiday. The family who I was housesitting for has returned, so I back in student housing. All of my roommates have been away this week, so I have been there alone (although I discovered I am not really alone because there are rats living in my ceiling, but the maintenance people came today to take care of that so hopefully they will be gone soon! And thankfully there is no way for the rats to get out of the ceiling and into my room).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

One year down, one to go!

I am officially finished with my first year at NEGST! Now I have two whole months to relax before I go back to the books in September for my second and final year. I handed in my last term paper of the year last week Friday, which was a 30 page first draft of my thesis proposal. After changing my topic several times, I plan to do a comparative study of a community based approach and a residential approach to caring for HIV positive orphaned children. I will continue to refine this proposal over the next several months, and then begin my research in the beginning of next year. My final thesis will be due in May of 2008 and it is a major component of my program at NEGST.

We had graduation last week Saturday. The graduation ceremony was really fun, and I am glad to report that as far as I know, nobody missed graduation because of a lack of school fees (the school received donations from individuals and scholarships that were able to cover all of the balances of the graduating students). So thank you all so much for your prayers in that regard. After graduation, the graduating students had parties all over the compound. At the place where I am housesitting, I hosted 2 parties – one inside the house and one in the backyard. I helped cook and clean for one of those parties. We started setting things up at 7 am and finally finished cleaning at 8 pm, so by the end of the day we were exhausted!

For the last week I’ve been relaxing, reading, catching up on sleep, and catching up with friends. I’ve recovered completely from the minor case of malaria and have been feeling much better in the past two weeks – thank you all for your prayers. I still haven’t fixed the shower, but I bought a ski cap and a hot water bottle to help keep me warm during the cold month of July (it gets surprisingly cold here in Nairobi – even though it’s practically on the equator, the elevation is really high and there is no heating system in any of the houses or buildings. The house I am staying in gets especially cold at night, and for the past few weeks I have sleeping under 4 blankets!)

I will have the opportunity to travel a little over this school holiday – I will be traveling to Kisumu again at the end of this month to visit two ministries there. I just had dinner last night with a Kenyan couple who were missionaries in Tanzania for several years, and I am hoping to be able to visit their ministry in Mwanza, Tanzania in August.

I am hosting a big nyama choma (goat barbecue) tomorrow for the young adults at my church. We were debating whether to buy a live goat and slaughter and skin it here, or to a buy a dead goat that has already been skinned. Thankfully, the group decided on the dead goat (although the men claimed that killing and skinning a goat is a good bonding experience for them!).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Finishing up the year...

I apologize that I’ve been so quiet recently – I think it’s been almost two months since I emailed an update. Part of the reason is that school has been busy, like usual, this term. But it’s also been a pretty uneventful two months. Today was my last day of class for this academic year. I have an exam next week and two term papers, and then I will have over two whole months off – and I am definitely ready for that holiday!! At the moment I’ve recovering from a mild case of malaria. I’m feeling much better today but please pray for a complete restoration of my health so that I can finish up my work for this term.

Some of the highlights from this term were:

- In preparation for my thesis, I had to do a small anthropological research project. Through a local church, I was able to meet with and interview several street boys. I was trying to discover the factors that led children to the streets in this particular town. I was surprised to find out that most of the boys were not orphans, but came from very poor families with many children. In most cases, the parents couldn’t afford to feed the kids and so they went to the streets to try and care for themselves.

- For my trauma and loss counseling class I wrote my final paper on HIV positive orphans. I interviewed a social worker at a children’s home for HIV positive and it was really interesting to find out more about the psychosocial needs of these children.

- I’m house sitting for a professor for the next two months. I moved in about two weeks ago. There are several things in my life that I didn’t appreciate until I didn’t have them anymore. Hot showers, for example. My dorm has a solar heater for the shower but it’s broken, and even if it did work, the hot water would only be available at 5 pm and only on days that it’s been sunny. So instead we heat water in an electric kettle every morning and shower using a bucket. From the time I was asked to house sit, I have been eagerly looking forward to hot showers, especially since it’s the coldest time of the year. Unfortunately, either the shower here is broken or I just can’t figure it out. I need to contact the maintenance guy to come check it out. In the meantime, my bucket will have to suffice…

- Despite the lack of hot showers, I’m enjoying the other benefits of house sitting, especially having a big house to invite people to. I hosted a dinner where we cooked “mzungu” (white person) foods – spaghetti, garlic bread, and ice cream. I’ll be hosting a lunch for my negst small group tomorrow, and in July I’ll be hosting a big goat barbecue for all of the young adults in our young adults ministry at church.

- I’ve been enjoying the young adults ministry in my church. I’m one of 8 leaders for the ministry which is about 40 people. We recently completed a series on dating and marriage, and now I’m working with one of the other leaders to coordinate a series on social justice. We did an intro last week, and we’ll be taking about issues like HIV/AIDS and poverty in the upcoming weeks



I think those are the major things that have been going on. I just found out today that there are 29 students who will not graduate unless they pay their school fees balance. Considering this is a small school, 29 students is a big deal. Please pray that God will provide finances for all of them, and no one will be prevented from graduating because of a lack of finances.

Please also pray for me as I finish up this term. I’m looking into a few short term mission opportunities for the long holiday. Please pray that an opportunity will open up for me to serve for one or two weeks.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Back to class again...

The short April holiday is over and I’m already 2 weeks into the third term. It’s hard to believe that in just 10 weeks my first year at NEGST will be finished. This term I have a much lighter course load than last term – I am only taking three classes: New Testament Theology, African Independent Churches, and Anthropological Research Methods. In addition to those classes, I am also continuing with my Kikuyu classes.

After returning from Kisumu, I spent the rest of my holiday catching up with sleep and catching up with friends. One of my friends from church, Jane, came by and finally helped me dig and plant my shamba (small garden), so now I have spinach, sukuma wiki (kales), and onions growing. Jane has a small project in a nearby slum for orphaned and vulnerable children, so I also spent an afternoon visiting the project with her. A few years ago, Jane visited a family in this slum where an old grandmother was struggling to care for several of her orphaned grandchildren. Through this family, Jane came to learn about several other orphaned children in the community. So she started a feeding program for the children. Whenever she could get money, she would stop by and cook lunch for the kids (usually children in slum schools go home for lunch but most of the time the caretakers for these kids were too poor to afford lunch for them.) Now Jane continues with the feeding program and rents a small two room tin building where she gives the kids porridge in the morning, lunch at noontime, and bread in the afternoon, teaches the kids about God, and provides them with some toys to play with. One of the children has even been sleeping in this building with his siblings because they do not have a home. There are currently 30 kids in her program, and 8 of them are HIV positive. Visiting her project was both overwhelming and inspiring. It was overwhelming to see the need in the community, but it was inspiring to see what Jane has been doing. She is only 23 years old and her family is Kenyan middle class, which means they are definitely not wealthy, and yet she has been using the little that she has in order to help those who have even less.

I also spent a morning volunteering at Grace Children’s Center, the children’s home that I visit on the weekends. I went with my friend Muigai and we washed clothes all morning (keep in mind there are no washing machines so we hand washed clothing for 37 children!) It made me appreciate how hard the house mothers work every day!

Last weekend, Glory (a friend from NEGST) and I had the opportunity to visit Mary in her home. I have mentioned Mary several times in my emails – she washes clothes at NEGST and has recently become a single mother after her husband of 19 years left her. Mary lives in a small two room tin house in a slum area (although the area is much nicer than many other slums in the city, Mary still classified it as a slum). It was nice to have her welcome me into her home and to have the opportunity to meet her three children. Please continue to pray for her – she is currently only working 3 days in the week and is looking for additional work so she can support her family.

One final prayer request is that several of the students at NEGST are really struggling to pay school fees, which are very high by Kenyan standards. Some of them still have a deficit remaining from the second term, and may be kicked out of school if they are not able to pay. Please pray for God to provide them with the funds that they need in order to continue with their education.

You can also join us in thanking God for the rains he has sent to Kenya. There was a severe famine in some parts of Kenya due to lack of rain, but in the last month we have had rain in abundance! It is the rainy season, which means we get daily downpours, lots of mud, and power outages several times a day. But these small inconveniences are definitely worth the blessings that the rain brings.

Friday, April 07, 2006

An Adventure in Kisumu!

I returned to NEGST exhausted yesterday after a 4 day adventure in Kisumu. Elly and Caroline, friends of mine from NEGST, invited me and our friend Muigai to spend a few days with them in their village near Kisumu, a small city in Kenya.

We arrived in their village on Sunday evening after a very bumpy 7 hour bus ride from Nairobi. This was a real rural village – no electricity, no running water (they got their water from a well), a hole in the ground used as a toilet, a pile of firewood used as a stove, etc. Rural Kisumu is primarily made up of the Luo ethnic group, one of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya. According to their culture, once a man gets married, he can no longer stay in his mother’s house and must build his own house on her land where he and his family can stay when they come to visit. So Elly’s place consisted of four small, simple one story houses made of concrete with tin roofs – one was his mother’s house and the other were for her three sons.

On Monday morning, Elly and Caroline were busy talking to some people from their village so Muigai and I set out to explore the village. It was exactly how I had pictured a rural African village – huts with thatched roofs, cows, goats, and chickens running around, lots of farmed land, etc. We found many people working in their shambas (gardens) and we stopped along the way to chat with several people. At one house, one of the men showed me how to use a hoe and work in the shamba.

In the afternoon we visited some of Elly and Caroline’s friends in the village. One of the people we visited was an old lady who had been the chief brewer in the village for 33 years. She brewed an illegal and very toxic alcoholic beverage called changaa. She would get drunk as early as 9 in the morning and stay drunk all day. Elly is a pastor and in 2004 he had organized an outreach to minister to the people in his village. This lady came to the outreach and decided to change her life and serve God. She stopped brewing and drinking, and Elly gave her some money to start a small business to sustain herself. She was a very nice lady and was very grateful that Elly had brought visitors to come see her. She told me that she wanted to give me something that I could take back to Elly’s house and eat later. So she walked out of the house and came back with a live chicken!!! I was so shocked – nobody has ever given me a chicken before!

On Tuesday morning we headed out of the village to try to find a ministry called St Luke’s which works in another part of Kisumu. A good friend of mine from the states, Ken Prussner, has started an NGO called STARS Children Africa to assist orphaned children in Africa with secondary school fees. He had been introduced to the pastor running St. Luke’s and they have worked together to send 55 orphans to secondary school. Primary school is free in Kenya but secondary school is not, and many children with two parents cannot even afford it. Therefore, most orphans are forced to drop out of school after grade 8.

Elly’s house is very far from the main road, so we had to walk for about 15 minutes and then get on boda-bodas. Boda-bodas are bicycles with seats on the back. There are many of these all over Kisumu - you pay between 30 cents and a dollar, jump on back of the bike, and the driver will take you where you want to go. They’re a lot of fun and I got many amused looks when the villagers saw a white woman flying through their village on the back of a bicycle!

Once we got to the main road, we took a matatu (15 person van) to the town where St. Luke’s is. However, St. Luke’s is very far from the main road. So we boarded into the back of a vehicle with two benches on each side, which could comfortably fit about 4 people on each side, but we had 7 on each side! The vehicle was very hot and one of the women had just bought fish from the market, so you can image how the inside of that humid vehicle was smelling! We went for about 15 minutes in the car, jumped on some more boda-bodas, and finally arrived at St. Luke’s.

St. Luke’s was started three years ago and the compound has a church and a children’s home. We had a very nice visit and on the way back to Kisumu we stopped at one of the local secondary schools where St Luke’s was sponsoring 14 orphans. We talked with the headmaster of the school and asked if we could take a picture of the orphaned children. We went to the front of the school and more and more kids started coming out of the classrooms to be in the picture. I thought they must have misunderstood. When I mentioned to the headmaster that we only wanted a photo of the orphaned children and not all of them, he replied that 81 out of 190 students in the school are orphans!

We were all shocked that there were so many orphans at that school – Nyanza, the district that Kisumu is in, is the worst hit by HIV/AIDS in the entire country. In fact, Elly had planned for us to visit one woman in his village but she died from AIDS on Monday morning so we were not able to. One of the major problems in that district is the Luo tradition of “wife inheritance,” where a man’s brother will “inherit” his wife if he dies. Originally, this tradition was somewhat beneficial to the woman and children in a male dominated society where they would really struggle to survive without a man. However, because of AIDS, this tradition is wiping out entire families. Usually, when a couple is HIV positive, the man will die first. Because someone can have HIV for many years without showing symptoms, the woman often appears to be very healthy. Therefore, she will be “inherited” and then pass HIV to her brother in law, who will then also pass it on to his wife. When that man dies, his HIV-positive wife will be inherited by another brother, and the cycle will continue.

After we got back to Kisumu, we headed to Lake Victoria, one of the largest lakes in East Africa, surrounded by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It was getting late, but we had time for a quick 15 minute boat ride (the boat was just a large canoe with a small motor attached to the back, but it was fun.) Then we headed back to Elly’s house - our trip from Kisumu back to Elly’s village was quite an adventure!

We boarded a matatu but 5 minutes into the journey we got a flat tire. They finally got it fixed and we all climbed back into the matatu, but ten minutes later there was another flat tire! This time there was no spare so we had to wait for another matatu to pass that had extra space. By the time we reached the town near Elly’s house, it was after 7 pm and it was already dark (Unlike Nairobi, rural Kisumu has very little crime or insecurity, so being out at night is not a problem.) Walking would have taken at least an hour and a half, so we boarded boda-bodas again (they had little lights in the front) and headed for his house. After we were going for about 15 minutes one of the bicycles got a flat tire!!! We couldn’t believe it. So we flagged down another bicycle and kept going. Then it started raining! I could not believe I was riding on the back of a bicycle in the dark and in the rain in the middle of a village. It was crazy. I was very glad when we finally reached his house after a 45 minute bike ride. We relaxed for the rest of the evening and enjoyed my chicken for dinner.

On Wednesday morning we woke up to pouring rains but we had to head to Kisumu at 630 to make our 9am bus back to Nairobi. Once again, we had to ride on the bicycles in the rain and I was covered in mud by the time we reached Kisumu. We made the bus and started our long and bumpy trip back to Nairobi.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reflection

I am back into the swing of life in Kenya and studies at NEGST. I have to admit that it was challenging to go from one of the poorest countries in the world to the most affluent and back again in less than a month. Today I wanted to share with you a reflection that I wrote in my journal less than a week after I returned to Kenya. Before I left for the US, my friend Mary told me that her two oldest sons had qualified for secondary school but she didn’t have money to send them. She asked me if I would be able to find some money in the US to help her sons go to school. Below is my journal account of what happened:



Mary stopped by my room today and I told her that I would be able to give her 12,000 shillings (about $150) to help her sons go to school. She immediately began sobbing, hugged me, and uttered thank you and praise God amidst her many tears. She then proceeded to tell me that her husband had abandoned her on Dec 21. On top of that, she is five months behind on rent (about $30 a month) and her landlord has given her a deadline before he kicks her and her children onto the streets. She has four children and supports her family by washing clothes for students at NEGST, where she probably earns between 40 and 80 dollars each month.

As we stood there she asked if we could pray together, and began thanking the Lord for this $150 that I was giving her. To her, this was so much more than money. It was hope. Hope that her sons would get an education and have a good life. Hope that her children would be able to escape from the crippling poverty that she has known all of her life. Hope that her children will not have to suffer in the ways that she has. All that life changing hope wrapped up in a mere $150.

I wish I could say that I felt good as I stood there awkwardly in my room hugging this woman as she continued to cry and to praise God. But I didn’t feel good – instead I was overwhelmed by a sense of injustice, confusion, and anger. I had no idea what to say to Mary. I didn’t even have to pay for my secondary school. I have never faced the threat of being kicked onto the streets with no place to live, and I have never had to face the pain of not having enough money to buy food for my children.

Honestly, I am very grateful that I did not know these struggles. But, this woman is also a child of the same God that I call my Father. How is it that we come from such different worlds? How can I faithfully live out the love of Christ in a world that is so different from the one that I have known? How can I reconcile the fact that I come from the most affluent country in the history of the world when I see things every day that make me realize the evil, pain, and injustice of the poverty that devastates the majority of people in this world?

So often I struggle to know how I am to respond. I know that guilt is not an appropriate response – certainly I didn’t choose to be born in an affluent country any more than people here chose to be born in a slum or a poor rural village. I know that love is the only genuine and appropriate response. And yet as I study the book of James, I am challenged that love must be practical. If I see brothers or sisters in need and do nothing to help them, how can I say that I genuinely love them? But what does this mean for me here, and what would this practical love of Christ look like in my everyday life?



I am not looking for answers to all of the questions that this incident raised. I guess I am sharing it with you because it had such an impact on me. As far as I know, Mary’s landlord has not yet kicked them into the streets, and her sons should be able to enroll in school this month. I have not yet been able to give her all of the money because my wallet was stolen on a matatu last week and I lost my bank card. But my own struggles seem pretty insignificant in light of what this family is going through.