Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Riavo: Changing a Community

Riavo is a Kenyan village located 20 minutes outside of the larger city of Kitale. Several hundred people live in Riavo. Many are refugees to Kenya. Several years ago, they crossed the border from Uganda during the Lord's Resistance Army's infiltration of their country. To keep their families safe from murder and becoming child soldiers, these families moved within the border of Kenya and have set up a village here. The village farms a shared piece of land several acres in size. As a community, they farm this land and share the produce.

There is no water well in Riavo. The closest water source is 3km away, so most people have dug shallow wells in their backyard. These holes are nesting grounds for parasites and contamination. The nearest school is 12km away, so no child in this village is receiving an education.

A Kenyan woman named Mama Rose was compelled to help after hearing the stories from Riavo. She moved to this village, built a hut, and painted it pink so her home would be welcoming to small children. She took in 10 orphaned children into her own home. Every night she sets her table onto her sofa and spreads mattresses on the floor so that these ten children have a place to sleep.

Mama Rose was still disturbed by the lack of education available to this community, so she personally hired a preschool teacher and formed a class of 44 preschool children. These are the only children who live in the village of Riavo and get to go to school. They have no shoes, no uniforms, but their teacher is qualified and teaches them well. The older children often sit outside and listen to the lessons.

Currently the school is being held in a small church building. This church is located 1km from Mama Rose's house, so the small children must gather together, take hands, and walk barefoot between Rose's home and the school three times a day. The community has seen the danger this walk poses for the little ones, so they have been saving up what little they have to built a classroom for the children. They have managed to construct two iron sheet rooms and are hoping to hire a second preschool teacher since there are so many children ready to learn.

Mama Rose realized that children were unable to learn when they were malnourished. Most of the preschool children who were attending her classroom had rust-colored hair and were physically stunted due to hunger. She has begun feeding these children twice a day. They receive millet porridge and four slices of bread in the morning, and rice, beans, and kale in the afternoon. Mama Rose spends long hours each day farming an acre of land in her backyard to come up with most of the food that feeds these children. She buys the rest with some support from CRF.

The biggest need of this community is water. I spoke with a little girl named Joy who lives on the outskirts of Riavo, only 8km from the nearest school, so she is able to walk to school sometimes. She says she is out sick from class three days a week due to water-borne illnesses. One water well has been drilled in Riavo in June, but ideally we will drill another a few kilometers away for those who live on the outskirts of the village, like Joy. The cost of a water well is $5,000.


A future need for Riavo is a school. When so few children are attending school in a community, the cycle of poverty has been cemented for the next generation. No one can read. No one is learning trades. Putting children in a school environment would equip them to transform the community themselves in the next several years. A related need is a boarding section for this school that will serve as a respite center for at-risk girls. Many orphaned girls in this area are becoming pregnant due to sexual abuse from their foster fathers. Girls without living relatives would benefit from a location to stay during school holidays. The cost of a school that includes a small boarding center is $70,000.


Another need is uniforms for the children. In Kenya, uniforms determine whether a school is really a school. For shoes, socks, sweaters, shorts, skirts, and jumpers, the cost of a single uniform is $30. With 44 children, the cost of uniforms is in total $1,320.


A final need is more sponsorships in this area. 10 of the 44 children at this preschool are sponsored, and currently their support is stretched to help the others. More sponsorships in Riavo would be a tremendous blessing to this needy community.

You can make a difference in Riavo. www.christianrelieffund.org

Monday, June 5, 2017

Victor

Victor's abdomen was taut and round. I've never met this little one in person, but he is a child who I've been able to help with my career at Christian Relief Fund. A little boy with a tremendously large tumor in his abdomen, causing loss of appetite and excruciating pain. It endangered his life.

Michael sent me Victor's photograph along with a picture of his house - a crumbling mud hut with a grass-thatched roof. "Is there anything we can do for this child?" he asked.

Victor was only six. He didn't have a sponsor, but it was not hard to find him one with a single post on social media. Within two hours, Victor had his very first sponsor and we were planning a route to his medical care.

So many people donated towards Victor's life-saving surgery. Gifts of $50 or even $200 that helped cover an expensive procedure that would have cost several years of Victor's parents' salaries.

Soon I received a photograph of little Victor with a hospital gown. Sleeping in a cot, an IV hanging from his arm. Playing with a toy car for the first time since his major surgery. Wide-eyed and hurting, but eating a mandazi and drinking a cup of milk. And then Victor sitting up for the first time, standing, even walking by himself.

And within a week, Victor was able to walk out of the hospital on his own. His clothes fit him. His incision was well-healed. He smiled from ear to ear. No more pain, no more tumor, no more life-threatening illness. Victor was healed.

Victor is in his very first year of school now and often keeps busy writing his sponsor letters and showing off his skills at drawing and writing the alphabet. His tumor was not cancerous and is not believed to grow back ever again.

Because of generous donors, his sponsor, and Christian Relief Fund, little Victor Kiplangat now has hope for his future.

Sponsor a child like Victor today. www.christianrelieffund.org/sponsor

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Darkest Darkness

In Carlsbad Caverns, a memorable experience of any cave tour is when you have ventured deep within the caverns and it is time to turn out the lights. We were hiking by lantern. When our ranger asked us to blow out each candle that illuminated our path, our pulses sped up.

The flame of my lantern flickered and went out. One after another, our lanterns snuffed into smoke and warm wicks and darkness shut around us.

I've never been in such darkness that I could almost reach out and touch it. This darkness seemed to have a texture. Breathing it in felt thick and shaky. Standing within it was overwhelming.

The most interesting part of standing in total darkness over a thousand feet underground was the human brain's reaction. Although there was truly no source of light in this cavern, my mind played tricks on me.

"Can you see each other's outlines in the dark?" the ranger asked us. "Wave your hand in front of your eyes. Can you see it? The truth is that you can't see your hand. You can't see each other. But your brain is compensating for the total darkness by imagining that it sees these shapes." Stunned, I waved my hand in front of my eyes and felt certain I could see the outline of my fingers.

When the first candle flickered and light slowly made its way back into the depths of our cavern, I realized that the ranger was speaking truth. People weren't standing exactly how I thought I had seen them. I had stood in such overwhelming darkness that my mind had made up light.

Sin is like the true darkness deep inside Carlsbad Caverns. The more immersed you are in the overwhelming darkness of your sin, the more you are blinded to the reality of how lost you are, at how absorbed you are in that darkness.

Justification is one way that we blind ourselves to our sin. "I'm looking at photographs and not videos, so I do not have problems with pornography." "I'll pay her back, so this isn't really stealing." "Stretching the truth isn't lying."

Comparison is another way. "My friend has one night stands all the time; sex with my girlfriend isn't like that." "She is an actual gossip; what I'm doing is really just expressing worry." "I'm barely a bad person compared to him."

Ephesians 5:8-13 and 15 says, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light... and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. ...Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." Even as Christians we will find ourselves blinded (by our own sin and our own decisions, yet blinded all the same). We must intentionally put aside justifications and comparisons until our sin struggles are visible in our own eyes and we can work to make the most of every opportunity to live more like Christ.

The truth of Jesus is like that flickering flame that turned a dark cavern into a warm and visible space. It changed everything about that room - even the structure of how my mind comprehended what was around me. Light changed everything.

1 John 1:6-7 says, "If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

Do not allow yourself to walk in the darkness of your sin, imagining that you can clearly see the right way to go. What might seem like the faint outline of a road at your feet may very well be your mind playing tricks as you teeter at the edge of a chasm. Ask the Lord to reveal your sins and guide you in wisdom and truth. Let him shine a light into every facet of your life.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Magic

Glow-stick jewelry illuminated the faces of 150 orphans at the Tarakwa Orphanage. Their dark eyes widened at the sight of the glowing bracelets and necklaces. Their faces reminded me of my own reaction the first time I saw glow-stick jewelry. I was the age of many of these little ones.

Passing out glow sticks is like passing out magic.

We danced together that night, dressed in light and color. Our voices raised together to the heavens. Even teachers joined in on the fun and stacked glowing bracelets up their arms like royalty.

When we moved from the auditorium to outside, I saw little girls spinning in circles with ballooning skirts and smiles brighter than their jewelry. Wheels of light stretching around them as they danced, hectic shapes in the darkness. The boys tossed their glowing jewelry like magical frisbees that trailed light and color.

A security guard with a long sword came over and took some glow-sticks for himself. A grin marked by missing teeth, lit by the light of these gifts.

A sleepover at Tarakwa Orphanage turned into a ball. We danced into the night. We were dressed in glowing light. We laughed. We sang. We spun in circles.

And that night, hundreds of glowing bracelets were left dangling on the bedposts of a hundred bunk-beds, illuminating the dreams of children who had finally had an experience of a very normal childhood.

Monday, May 22, 2017

When Foster Care Isn't Needed

Sometimes foster care isn't what is needed.

Don't get me wrong. There is a tremendous lack of foster parents and respite caregivers in the United States. So many children in our country do not have a stable home environment because there aren't enough foster parents willing to take them.

However, sometimes there are children who need a place to stay who aren't in foster care.

In some cities, you can find Safe Families - an organization that contains members who are willing to take children into their homes for limited periods of times as their parents work through homelessness, addiction, or other difficult problems that make raising children almost impossible. Government intervention does not take place. They do not remove the children.

It takes a courageous parent to have the strength and the awareness to say, "I can't do this right now. I need help."

Before a home situation becomes too dangerous or complicated, before CPS becomes involved, and before true foster parents are needed, imagine if biological parents felt like they could ask for help without being judged or criticized or blown off entirely. Imagine if the church had families that would say, "Yes, I will take your child or your children for a short period of time while you adjust your life to fit them back. For a day, for a week, for a month, I am here to support you as a parent." Imagine how foster care would look different. Imagine helping a child to adjust and attach and develop in light of his best interest, on a biological parent's terms.

Safe families aren't present in every city. I wish the organization was established in mine. However, I am asking the Lord to allow me to be a safe family when one is needed, for a few hours or a few days or as long as is needed.

Not long ago, a single mother in my city approached me and confessed just how hard parenting alone has been for her. She was overwhelmed beyond words and had not slept in days. She felt like a terrible mother; but all what needed was rest. An evening, a night, and a morning of crawling babies in my house was a source of joy for me and a much-needed time of sleep and alone time for this brave young mama.

Sometimes being a safe family means spending a little of yourself to refill someone else. Sometimes it means sacrificing time or energy or even some money. But it means making a government issue a church issue and a family issue. It means intervening before anyone else has to intervene. And it means shining Christ to someone who is feeling more overwhelmed than I can imagine.

Will you consider becoming a safe family? You can learn more here.