Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Redeemed Child

Do you know what a starving child looks like?

I remember the first time I saw a starving child in a photograph. I was six years old. A man representing a humanitarian organization was speaking to my church’s congregation. He shared slide after slide decorated with the bare, ribbed bodies of hungry children.

If I remember correctly, I cried and refused to leave the building until my mom agreed to sponsor a little girl from India named Bornali.

The first time I realized what a starving child looked like, my heart was changed forever.

A starving child should always cause reactions of devastation and horror.  A photograph of a little boy whose tummy is taut from malnutrition and worms should make your heart freeze in your chest.  An image of a small girl with rusty-colored hair and lifeless eyes should cause you to stop and weep. 

This is a child of God. 

Children are not props to raise awareness.  Their photographs depict images of people on this earth who were created by a God who loves them so much He sent His Son to die for them.  These are children who laugh, play, learn, and who are waiting for someone to bring them hope.

One problem I’ve found in the media today is that images of starving children no longer have the effect that they once did.  If you’ve ever browsed the internet or watched TV, then you have probably seen the ads for relief organizations that are raising support to help these children.  Assisting starving children is very important, but I’ve found that the more ads that litter the sidebar of your screen, it's easier to find yourself purposefully pushing the faces of these children to the back of your mind. 

We have become deliberately indifferent to an image that breaks the heart of God.

Do you know what a starving child looks like?  Probably.  Does it tear you to pieces knowing that there are more than 13,000 children who die every single day from starvation?  Does the image of an abandoned, hungry child who is treasured by Christ and forgotten by the world make you leap to take action?  

Or does your stomach twinge uncomfortably as you hurry to click away from the advertisement?

God says that helping the poor and needy is what it means to know Him.  If what breaks His heart does not break yours, something needs to change.

Louie Giglio recently tweeted, “It’s tough to make the case that Jesus is in your heart if the poor are not on your mind.”  Are you apathetic towards the millions of orphans going hungry tonight or are you broken and challenged to fulfill the Great Commission and love these precious little ones with Christ’s love?

Okay, you know what a starving child looks like.  We’ve established this.

But do you know what a redeemed child looks like?

I’m talking about a little girl who has gone from being an abandoned, starving child living in the worst of slums to a well-fed, educated daughter of the Lord who knows she was created in the image of a King. There is joy in her face.  There is hope in her face.  There is transformation in her face.

Day after day, Americans are bombarded with images and statistics of how many children in this world are starving to death, how many orphans in Africa have been forgotten.  And we should be aware.  But how often are you shown the faces of hope?

Each year, Christian Relief Fund supports thousands of children across five continents.  CRF provides kids with what they need for brighter futures: nourishing food, basic medical care, clothing, schooling, and spiritual training.  These children go from having nothing to having hope.  They go from believing they are worthless to being told about their value as children of God.  They are growing up to become educated adults who will raise families, tell people about Jesus, and help end poverty in their own communities.

So many children in this world are hurting, forgotten by those of us who have more than enough to bring them relief.  But there is hope.  I go through stacks of photographs almost every day when I intern for CRF.  I am able to see the dramatic change in a child after only one year of sponsorship.  A hungry orphan becomes a beaming student.

Orphans shouldn't simply be boxed into statistics or awareness-raising photographs and left there to make people feel guilty.  An orphan is a child who is cherished by the Creator of the universe.  We should love orphans because Jesus loves them.  He knows their names, their stories, their memories.  We've been called to shine His love and hope in every corner of this globe.

Do you know what a redeemed child looks like?

I do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Civilian Pursuits

July 3, Wednesday

As I write these words, I am on an airplane headed to the United States.  Has it already been two weeks?  In some ways, I feel as if I have been in Africa for a very long time; in other ways, I cannot imagine the time passing more quickly than it has.

The plane to London was not very full, so we weren't crammed like we have been previously.  I had a window seat and a middle seat to myself, so I pushed up the arm rests, stretched out my legs, and actually slept in a nearly horizontal position.  It made for a good night's rest!  The Lord is faithful.  Sometimes being short in stature is a very good thing.

I brought "Follow Me" by David Platt to read on the plane, and the book's introduction left me floored.  Francis Chan wrote this section of the book.  His words blessed me tremendously.  What a God-given thing for me to read at a time like this.

Have you ever been on a short-term mission trip?  Wasn't it fascinating?  For a few days you explored a foreign country with a group of believers and were focused on ministry.  You laughed together as you ate strange foods and tried to speak the language.  Maybe you even suffered through sickness, harsh conditions, or actual persecution.

As nice as it was to return to the comforts of home, there was also a letdown.  You were back in the "real world."  There was a peace you felt when you did Kingdom work, and then it faded.  You returned to a routine in which you felt like much of what you do has no eternal value.

... The life God has for us is one of abundance.  It is meant to be full, not repetitive.  He wants us doing things that have eternal impact.  He wants us busy expanding his Kingdom in one way or another, today and every day.

... Paul said it like this: "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."

Don't most of us do the opposite?  We busy ourselves with "civilian pursuits" and occasionally jump into battle when we feel compelled.  Kingdom service is something we visit on a mission trip, day of service, or prayer meeting.  Being entangled in the civilian lifestyle has become the accepted norm.  It is even applauded so long as we can point to some occasional Kingdom activity.  But doesn't Scripture tell us to live differently?  And wouldn't your life be more "abundant" if you could figure out a way to be on the battlefield every day?

You may be looking at your life and assuming you have no options.  Isn't a person with bills, family, and responsibilities destined to be "entangled in civilian pursuits"?

Absolutely not.  You and I were made for more.

This came at perfect timing.  While I love working at Christian Relief Fund during the summers and Christmas break, I often feel so frustrated living a typical self-centered college life for the other eight months of the year.  I spend most of each day focused inward as I study, attend class, receive good things from Bible studies, and make sure I get enough sleep each night.  Sure, I am involved in ministries, but I so often feel like I want to explode, as if my life is on hold until I graduate.

I don't want to be this way!  I don't want to be focused on civilian pursuits.  I want to be focused on Kingdom service.  I do understand that in order for me to be fully effective in my ministry, I need to finish my college degree, but I never want to become too focused on getting through my college years to love people and to expand God's Kingdom.

My heart may be drawn to somewhere like Kenya in my future, but for now, I am in Texas.  Living here is no excuse.  I have been called to love and I have been called to share Christ's love.  The Gospel must be shared wherever I am.  The needy must be served wherever I am.

It hurts to leave Kenya right now; it really does.  The Lord's heart is for the needy and the broken.  To be in a place where His love and yearning for transformation can be found in the face of every person I see makes me long to step in and proclaim from the housetops, "Jesus loves you!  You have value!  You have hope!"

I do realize that people need this truth in each corner of our globe.  The Lord's love is shining.

How I yearn to be a vessel spilling out every bit of faithfulness and love I have been shown by God in my own life.  I want to be His hands and feet.

I'm not satisfied with remaining indifferent and slightly guilty as I live a life of excess while 13,000 children in Africa are dying each day from starvation.  If I am, does that not say something about my character?

If poverty breaks the heart of God, then being mildly bothered is not enough.

Father, wherever I am in this world, whether it be Africa or a suburban neighborhood in Texas, let me be your hands and feet.  Let me love with Your love.  Make me an aroma of You.

Two years ago: Q&A Day (Part I)

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Joyful Last Day

July 2, Tuesday

It has touched my heart to see the small farm beneath the looming shadow of the Westside Hotel.  The several children that reside on the property are so precious.  It must be a funny thing to wake up each morning from a life of struggle and watch wealthy tourists coming to stay at a four-story hotel a hundred yards away.  But it is a joy to watch these children playing instead of begging, working hard manual labor, or standing around listlessly because they are too hungry to focus on anything else.  There is hope in this place.

I slept through breakfast this morning by accident.  I suppose I needed sleep more than food!  Jason picked us up around nine and brought us back to the children's home.

When we arrived, a little girl around three years old had just been dropped off.  Her name is Sharon.  She had been found in the village covered in burns and bruises all over her body, the result of horrifically cruel parents.  Even her little face had been burned.  She is a beautiful little girl; I cannot understand how anyone would want to hurt her.

This story does not have a hopeless ending.  Sharon's parents arrived at the children's home around the time the Beagles were about to take her to the police station to record her abuse, which we all thought would mean Sharon would be forced to leave.  However, the Beagles took action and determinedly took her alongside her parents to the police station.  The police saw the damage done to this precious toddler, arrested her parents, set a court hearing, and said the child is to stay at the children's home for at least three months before they reevaluate the case.  Praise the Lord!  My heart is so burdened for this hurting, beautiful girl.

(An update written on July 28 is that Sharon is doing much better now that she is surrounded by an environment of love and care, but they have discovered that she is deaf.  Her mother would beat her out of frustration when Sharon could not communicate with her.  The next step will be to teach Sharon some Kenyan Sign Language and put her in school!)

The children performed traditional tribal dances for us.  They are amazing!

These kids won second place at a national competition last year.  They were supposed to attend this year's in Kitale while our group is here, but all of the teachers in Kenya are on strike at the moment, so the event will likely be canceled.  The children are so very talented.  It was a delightful performance.

After the dances, I stayed back with a few others in my team to get to know some of the children at the Bahati school.  We were swarmed!  Children were kissing my cheeks, pulling at my hair, and fighting over who got to hang onto my arms.  They were the most excited kids I've met so far in my life.  They were loving, saying over and over again, "I love you.  Please do not leave.  Stay here forever!"

They pushed Jake and I onto one of their school desks (made for more than one person) and gathered all around us to play with our hair.  When Jake showed them his tattoos, they pulled up my sleeves and were surprised to find I didn't have the same markings on my white arms.  At one point, Naana came into the classroom to see what was going on.  The crowd of shrieking kids nearly knocked her over, so Jake intervened.

A few of the girls were speaking excitedly to one another in Swahili.  I heard, "Blah-blah-take picture-blah-blah," so I said, "Do you want me to take a picture?"  The reaction I received was priceless.  The girls' eyes widened and they exclaimed, "You speak Swahili?!"  It was great.

We were soon on our feet again, kids hanging from our arms and shouting - joyful shouts, but still loud - so I began to feel a bit overwhelmed and claustrophobic.  I felt like I was in a maze of children and had no way to get out into the open air!

We did manage to untangle ourselves from all of the clinging hands and loud questions.  We said farewell to the joyful children and headed up to the house, where we reunited with our team and met Bravon's shy 5-year-old brother.  We gave him a Fanta and he smiled for a moment.  The poor guy lost his mom only two weeks ago.  He must feel so afraid and lonely. 

Naana came in at one point and gave me a handful of yellow beads.  "The children tore off your bracelet by mistake during the chaos," she said, "and they wanted me to tell you they are very, very sorry."  I had a good laugh.  The bracelet was only one I had brought to give away, but Mei, one of the Beagles' daughters, actually was able to put it back together.  I gave it to Bravon's brother.  

We went into town to get some things.  A street boy who was high from glue approached us asking for food.  Audie bought him a loaf of bread from the Nakumatt.  The boy asked for sukuma wiki to go along with it, but we had no kale to offer.  We got back into the matatu just in time, for three older boys with glue in their hands stood and peered into the windows while asking for money.  These boys were extremely high, with drool running down their chins and their eyes unfocused.  It's a little frightening to see the results of sniffing glue for several months.  The boys seemed emotionless and reasonless, staring straight ahead.  They broke my heart.  Street boys turn to sniffing glue because the high they receive numbs hunger pain.

We went to eat at a small restaurant in town.  We had kuku and chips (or chicken and French fries, as Americans would say).  Stephen sat beside me and kept slipping me bits of his samaki, scales and all.  I actually liked the fish better than the chicken dish.

It rained throughout our entire drive back to Eldoret.  We even drove over a river without a bridge as the ground flooded beneath our poor matatu.  We've put this vehicle through a lot on this trip.  We stopped by a little Maasai store to finish our shopping before we went to the airport.

Cassie presented Stephen with the "World's Best Driver" trophy and we also gave him an envelope full of collected tips from our team.  The smile on his face was precious.  Stephen showed the trophy to everyone we came across after that.  He really is an amazing driver.

Saying goodbye to Francis and Consolata was so sad.  I am not ready to leave Kenya.  The thought of leaving now makes me cry.  I could stay here for a few more months, easily.  This country and this people have won my heart.

After a two hour layover in Eldoret, we flew the short distance to Nairobi.  The airport was packed full of 600 British soldiers about to head home.  They were all very friendly, although we had trouble understanding much of what they said!  We joked that if we made it onto the same flight, we would have the safest return to England ever.

Cassie and I were happy eating our Kenyan Choco-Fingers and Biscuits.  Chocolate has been our shared treat throughout this trip. 

Now I am on the long overnight flight to London.  It'll be a long night of flying ahead of me.  I can't believe I've already left Africa.  If I could, I would turn around and fly right back.  These have been the sweetest two weeks of my life.

Three years ago: 40 Reasons to Eat (Part 8)
Two years ago: O Sleeper
One year ago: The Snake Attack

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In the Shadow of Luxury

July 1, Monday

All night long, matatus drive by anyone who happens to be out on the street and honk as loudly as they can to try to gain more passengers.  Because our hotel is located right next to a busy street and because our window is fixed open, I could hear these impatient matatu-drivers blasting their horns.  I didn't sleep as much as I would have liked, but after a little bit of grogginess in the morning, the Lord completely sustained me with His energy and rest.  He is faithful!

We were supposed to leave at ten this morning, but we were running on African time.  We waited in the lobby for an hour and then our drivers showed up.  Even when we're waiting, our team is never bored.  We've grown increasingly close, so our time together is always full of jokes and laughter.

After we eventually packed our matatu full of luggage and Americans, Jake offered up a single bottle of Coke to anyone who wanted it.  Cassie, Nicole, and I were all sitting in the very back seat.  We ended up sharing the bottle, passing it down the row as each of us took a drink.  It was like taking soda communion.

The ride to Kitale took just under two hours.  I'm trying to savor the Kenyan landscape while I still can, but I always fall asleep when I'm in a moving vehicle.  I just can't help it!  When I was in New York last summer, my family would laugh at me because whenever we rode in the subway, I would nod off within minutes.  And in our matatu in Kenya, I could not keep my eyes open... and then we would hit a speed bump and I would whack my head against the window and stay awake for a few more minutes.

Because there are not efficient ways to keep Kenyans maintaining proper speed laws on the roads, speed bumps have been constructed every fifteen yards or so, even on the highway.  This is actually a good idea; otherwise, I can imagine that many Kenyan drivers would drive as fast as their cars would take them.  The speed bumps do make for an interesting ride on an already rough road.

Jason Beagle picked us up at the posta (post office) and led us to the children's home.  Most of the kids were in class, so we didn't get to meet very many today, but they did introduce us to a nine-month-old baby named Bravon.  He and his five-year-old brother were dropped off at the orphanage two weeks ago.  Their father abandoned them to the care of their dying mother who was in the hospital.  When AIDS took her life, the two boys were stranded with nowhere to go.  They were taken to the children's home to live.  Bravon has tuberculosis and HIV, but he is otherwise a happy and fairly healthy little boy with a bright future ahead of him.  He and his brother are both waiting for sponsors.

The children's home is located on a beautiful property.  Trees, flowers, and maize are growing everywhere you turn.  The land hosts turkeys, chickens, a calf, and a few hilarious and scrawny dogs (one of them named Obama was shut up in what looked like a chicken coop for being naughty).  The kids' rooms are also very nice.  Their walls are decorated with cut-outs of movie stars and the pages of fashion magazines.  Teenagers will be teenagers, no matter where in the world they live.

We were served a delicious lunch of rice, mashed potatoes, and probably the best chapatti I've ever had in my life!

Our hotel is amazingly nice.  It's called the Westside Hotel.  We each have our own room, seemingly working showers, and space to move about.  Everything seems to be clean.  Of course, my windows are jammed open (wherever I go, this seems to be a theme), but this is by far the nicest place I've stayed in Kenya.  Wow, I'm blessed!

I people-watched from the window of my room for an hour or so.  Several child cowherds walked by, skipping and carrying long sticks or rope whips to convince the cattle to move.  A few mothers were walking their young children home from school.  I saw married couples and even a female police officer walking along the dirt road.

There is a mud hut resting directly in the shadow of the Westside Hotel. Its occupants, a family with several young children, work a small maize farm to grow food that they probably sell on the roadside.  I have not gotten to see the family up close, but I enjoy so much watching the children play.  Earlier today, I heard what sounded like several loudly-barking dogs, so I looked outside and their four or five kids were running around on their hands and knees, barking at each other like puppies!  I used to do this when I was a young child.  When living in poverty, many children are forced to work such long hours and difficult labor that they forget what it's like to play.  It brings my heart so much joy to hear the laughter of the children across the street.  I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a single-room mud hut without running water or electricity while living next-door to a hotel as nice as this one.

Jake, Amy, and I went to the restaurant next door to have some fresh mango juice.  After letting us rest and wander the hotel for about an hour, Jason picked us up and brought us to his home for dinner.  It was fantastic.

The Kitale Children's Home
I love the Beagles.  This missionary family has such wonderful stories about how the Lord has used their family to change the lives of impoverished children in Kenya.  You can feel the presence of the Lord in their stories and hope.  They are a precious family.  I so enjoyed sitting around their living room and hearing stories about what it is like to sell everything and move to a third-world country, simply trusting that the Lord will provide.  And He is faithful.

We had Mexican food for dinner, made by Amy Beagle and one of her helpers.  They had ground beef, salsa, and tortillas.  They even fried ugali to make chips for us to dip in the salsa!  The meal was delicious.  I've been craving Mexican food my entire time in Kenya, so I was thrilled to have a taste of back home.  We even had pink lemonade!  What a treat.

Later in the evening, the Turkana group arrived.  They were browned by the desert sun and had many stories about the turkana tribe and their experiences in this region.  Christian Relief Fund has been working hard to build wells in this bone-dry, struggling region of Kenya.  These people are dying.  Beggars beg for water instead of coins.  There has been a drought for years in this impoverished area.

A church meets weekly under a tree to worship Jesus.  Thirty people were baptized yesterday in the river.  I saw video footage of the praise songs, and let me tell you, these people were eager to worship the Lord!  They danced and sang and beat drums.  I would have loved to rejoice with them.

The wells CRF has helped to build in this dried-out place are saving lives daily.  It looks like the Lord is transforming hearts in Turkana and through the people there!  I am determined to visit this place one day.  It is a more dangerous region because of the Somalian pirates and because it is much more rural than where we've been, but one day, I long to meet these precious children of the Lord.

I think I'm caught up on my adventures so far.  I'll write more tomorrow.

Three years ago: 40 Reasons to Eat (Part 7)
Two years ago: Cute Old People

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Daughter's Shoes

June 30, Sunday

Today was a great day.  We gathered for breakfast and then split up to go to different churches.  Joel came in a car to pick up Kevin, Nicole, Naana, and me to take us to the Kipkaren Church of Christ.

For a Church of Christ, the Holy Spirit was alive in this place!  I loved it.  The worship team sang loudly through speakers that nearly blew our eardrums!  The congregation and worship team prayed and danced and moved and called upon the Spirit unlike anywhere I've ever seen.  We all ended up dancing by the end of the worship session.  I spent the morning holding a tiny African baby that danced happily on my hip.  The baby was precious; I was content to stay where I was for hours, if allowed.

As soon as I stepped through the gates of the school this morning, a tiny girl sprinted towards me and leaped into my arms.  When I caught her, she turned around to look at her friends and gave them a thumbs up and a cheeky grin, as if to say, "Look, now I'm friends with a real mzungu."  

Kevin preached this morning over Genesis 37, the story of Joseph.  The Lord spoke so much through his message.  Everyone was listening eagerly.  Lives were changed today.

Two children sat next to me.  One was Faith's brother.  He was using his sister's new Bible I gave her two days ago.  I forgot to write Faith's name inside and when I looked, she had written, "To Faith Jepkoech, From Milton Jones."  Sweet thing.  Of course every child that attends Milton Jones Eagles Academy will expect all of their blessings to come from Jesus and Milton Jones.

After the service, I watched to see if Faith's brother would return the Bible and he did!  I was wondering if he had stolen it, but no, Faith has good brothers.  I met them both today.  Faith's older brother is named Kevins and her younger brother is Nehemiah; he's only four.  Nehemiah literally hung on my arm, swinging and laughing, all afternoon, the booger.

The entire congregation meets outside after church, greeting each other in a large circle and shaking hands.  I probably shook the hands of 200 people today.  I was swarmed by children who were completely unafraid of me, much to my delight.  They hung onto my arms and said, "Picture!  Picture!"  Of course I was happy to oblige.

Faith found me almost immediately and hung around me for the rest of the day; at first, standing a few feet away and then eventually growing the courage to pull her chair right next to mine and grinning up at me every few moments.  Everywhere we went, kids would ask, "Is this your daughter?  Is this your daughter?"

The last two times I've seen Faith, she's worn this awful pair of sneakers that are literally falling apart and much too big for her.  Today, a couple of older girls approached me and said, "This is your daughter?"  When I said yes, Purity replied, "You would allow your own daughter to have shoes like these?"

This put me in my place.  I was extremely convicted.  "I'll make sure she gets new shoes," I said.


"Yeah, sure, today."  And they were satisfied.

Taking pictures is a big deal here.  Usually kids wherever I go will ask me to take a picture of them as soon as I turn on my camera.  Today several mothers with babies and toddlers approached me to ask if I would photograph their children.  They were so proud of them.  Several of these babies looked very healthy and fat, which made me so happy.  I praised their mothers and they beamed at me.  How I wish I could give each mother a printed copy of these photographs!

Lunch was taken in a back room: beans, rice, chapatti, and potatoes.  It was very good and self-service, which is a good thing in this country, where it's considered an act of hospitality to urge people to eat more and more.  They did urge, but we got to make the final decision this time.

Faith was waiting for me on the front porch when I finished lunch.  The church pastors asked if I would teach the youth, which I thought meant children.  I agreed.  The youth turned out to be what Americans consider youth: preteens and teens.

I shared the story of the Prodigal Son, a short version of my testimony, and the Gospel.  I made the entire lesson up off the top of my head and used an interpreter, so the fact that the teens responded well was totally because of the Lord's power.  Nicole prayed to finish and Kevin gave a final word of encouragement.  All in all, we had a wonderful youth class this Sunday.

At the end, a young man in his twenties who serves as the youth pastor stood up.  He pointed straight at me and said, "Emily, I have prayed for a godly wife and you have come!"

Well, this was pretty much a proposal, but I managed to keep my reaction to a friendly chuckle and nod, hoping it would be forgotten.  "I'll pray for you to find a godly wife," I mumbled, and everyone started clapping.  What an afternoon this was!

Later in the day, Simon (another pastor) said, "Did you hear him?  He wanted you to be his godly wife.  You tell me you love Kenya, so listen to God's plan for you."

How awkward!  I smiled again and said, "I know God's will will be done."

Naana was teaching the women, so the younger kids outside asked if they could put on a fashion show for me while we waited.  Boy, can these guys strut their stuff, even the littlest ones.  I had a good laugh and they enjoyed looking at pictures of their antics.

After church, we all went to Simon's house for tea.  Simon is a pastor at Kipkaren Church of Christ.  He is newly married to a sweet, shy woman named Caroline.  She made us all chai.  Their house is very small and located in the slums, but they fixed up the living room as nice as they possibly could.  It felt very much like home. 

We then went and picked up Faith from the church so that I could fulfill my promise and get her new shoes.  She was thrilled when she saw that we had returned.  She climbed over everyone in the back seat and pushed at Nicole so she could squeeze in right next to me, grinning from ear to ear.  Sweet thing.  We took Faith to the Nakumatt, where there was a Bata shoe store upstairs.

Faith got to choose from all of the school shoes, and she picked out a pretty buckled pair.

The saleslady was very kind and clearly was happy to see that Faith was getting a much-needed new pair of shoes.

We didn't know Faith's size, but we found a pair that fit her well with a little room to grow.

Naana bought Faith her very first book-bag ever.  Faith picked out a pretty pink one and wore it outside so proudly.  We stuck those awful worn-out shoes inside and let her leave the store in her shiny new ones.

Finally, I told Faith to pick out a coke and an ice cream, so she was absolutely delighted by the end of this trip.  I have never seen a little girl so excited and happy.  She sat in the backseat on the way back to the church, eating her ice cream and smiling from ear to ear.  She thanked me several times, sweet thing.  As I told her goodbye, Faith said, "I love you, Emily!"

Simon thanked me for having concern for her, but how could I not?  How I long to put shoes on every child in the slum.  I cannot personally change the life of every child in Kenya, but I have the ability to provide aid for a few, all glory to the Lord.  And Faith is precious.  The love of Christ shines in her.

Our small team re-grouped and went to Mamma Mia's, an Italian food restaurant, for dinner.  It was delicious!  We all had milkshakes for a pre-meal dessert.  We don't get a lot of sweets here other than sodas, so ice cream was savored.  Stephen, our driver, had his very first milkshake ever.  He was a fan.

We went to the Nakumatt again before we returned to the guesthouse.  Cassie bought a little trophy for a few hundred shillings.  Later tonight, she wrote "World's Best Driver" on the plaque in front.  We'll present it to Stephen before we leave, as well as a collected tip envelope.  I can't wait to see his reaction.  We always tell Stephen he is the world's best driver after he gets us through crazy roads... especially after the fairly problem-free trip up and down Mt. Elgon in a matatu.  Stephen always laughs and laughs when we tell him this.

Stephen has five young kids, so we leave our leftovers with him after meals to give to his family.  He's such a sweet man.

We have only two nights left in Kenya.  I am not at all ready to leave.

Three years ago: 40 Reasons to Eat (Part 6)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hungry Eyes

June 29, Saturday

Our team split up today.  Benny and Tori left for America a few days early.  Milton, Audie, Traivs, and Jim left for Turkana, a rural and more dangerous region in Northern Kenya.  Kevin, Amy, and Nicole left for Lake Nakuru to go on a safari.  Cassie, Jake, Naana, and I drove maybe an hour away to Naiberi, a small village near Eldoret.

My group got to sleep in until 8:00 this morning!  Can you believe it?  We were given fresh mango juice for breakfast and it was delicious.  Kenya has the sweetest of fruits.

Naiberi was pretty rural, dotted with traditional mud huts and wandering cattle.  Because it is Saturday, only the baby class was waiting for us at the school, but boy, were they excited!  They sang and squealed and giggled as we pulled up to the schoolyard in our matatu.  The Naiberi kids do not receive nearly as many wageni as the kids in Eldoret do, so they were all shy and afraid to actually touch us.  They laughed and laughed as Jake chased them around the schoolyard.

My attention was immediately captured by a 4-year-old boy standing calmly next to a waiting piki-piki.  David, the boy I was able to name when I was in Kenya last, has grown up so much since the time I held him when he was hardly four months old.  He is precious.

It was clear David had been told by his mother to be on his best behavior.  He stood with his little feet pressed together and his hands hanging straight at his sides.  He would try so hard not to smile, attempting to keep calm and solemn like a good Kenyan boy, but Jake and I managed to crack his wall a few times.

David's little mouth twitched when Jake put a cap on his head and then again when I set my blue sunglasses over his eyes.  He did like those big sunglasses, so I let him keep them, however funny they looked on such a small boy.

David took my hand and walked next to me as Barnabas showed us his maize fields, grinder, and school classrooms.  Everything on this CRF-sponsored property was made of metal, which isn't ideal, but it is much better than the crumbling mud huts all around.

Cassie filled David's pockets with trail mix as we walked; he ate it all!  Every few moments, he would look up at my face for reassurance and I would smile back at him.  He held my hand wherever we walked.  David is such a sweet little boy.

Philliph leaned down to speak to David in Swahili for a few moments and then translated for me.  Since David is too young to be in school, he does not yet know English.  "Do you know Emily is your sponsor?  Do you know she takes care of you?  Do you know she gave you your name when you were this big?"  To everything, David would nod and say in the sweetest little voice, "Yes, mmm.  Yes."

A very old woman in her eighties came to meet us.  They called her the grandmother of the community.  She had a deeply lined face and gaping holes in her earlobes.  She wanted several photos with the wageni, which we were happy to oblige.  This woman was truly beautiful and elegant in her old age.  Naana gave her some lotion.  She was thrilled, rubbing it on her hands and face.

They led us into the church where a worship service was held.  During the songs, David listened attentively, clapping exactly when he should and closing his eyes as tightly as he could during the prayers.

What I like most about Naiberi is the involvement of the adults in the community.  Women filled half the church and involved themselves in the lives of their children and the orphaned kids in the village as well.  They showed up because they've taken responsibility over every child in their village.  Love shines from this place.  Most of the women are several years past childbearing age.  Their children have died from AIDS, and now they work hard to provide for several children not their own by birth.  I loved meeting these women and hearing praise for the Lord come from their lips.

We were asked to speak to the members of the church, so we did.  With Barnabas translating, I praised them for their involvement in the lives of their precious, happy children. 

I had lunch at Barnabas's house.  Little David sat right next to me on the couch, leaning quietly against my shoulder.  I filled his plate with broth, chapatti, rice, and chicken.  He ate every bite, so I re-filled the plate and he finished it again.  David drank the broth from the bottom of the bowl and even picked off every little grain of rice that had fallen into his lap.  This little boy can eat!

An elder of the church approached me and asked, "Will you adopt this boy and take him back with you to America?"  His words broke my heart.

How I wish I could.  David has seen such hardship and poverty in his short lifetime.  His mother was forced into prostitution after her husband died, and this is how David was conceived.  He is the youngest of ten brothers and sisters.  They live in a tiny mud hut maybe the size of my small bedroom in college.  I cannot adopt David, but what I can do is continue to sponsor him.  Thankfully, sponsorship does make a huge impact on the lives of these children.  With my support, David does have daily food, an education, and hope for his future.

I filled a plastic bag with a new outfit for David, a book, small toys, and a bunch of snacks from Naana.  We set him atop the piki-piki, and I kissed his forehead and said, "I love you, David," before watching him ride away, the big blue glasses crooked on his nose.

The rest of the schoolchildren played with us for a while and then followed us out to the matatu, asking us to buy them soda.  Those funny kids.  They brought laughter when I was ready to cry!

Jake, Cassie, Naana, and I decided to go to Poa Place after visiting Naiberi.  Poa Place is a little park and zoo in Eldoret.  I actually visited there the last time I was in Kenya, but it has expanded since then.

We had strawberry and mango ice cream and then visited the zoo, where we saw several animals, including lions, cheetahs, monkeys, snakes, peacocks, and crocodiles.  There were also exhibits that displayed the traditional mud huts of each Kenyan tribe.  I've seen the real huts in Kenya, even today in Naiberi, but it was interesting to see which style was from each tribe.

Finally, our tiny team went to the Nakumatt to get pear-flavored Alvaro (the best Kenyan drink ever) and chocolate.  We ate at a pizza parlor on the first floor.  We watched an Ethiopian man and his two wives having dinner together, much to Naana's shock.

Today was a good day.  I didn't go on the safari, but I was able to serve and have some fun at the same time without spending hardly any money.  It was definitely worth it!  Seeing little David again was best of all.  I will never forget the time I spent with him, holding his hand and watching the way he stared at us with wide, dark eyes.  Philliph told me that this was David's first time seeing mzungus since I had visited when he was an infant.  In that case, David certainly is a brave little boy! 

Jake, Cassie, Amy, and I stayed up talking for a while back at the guesthouse after the safari team returned.  The thing I like about trips like these is that it connects you with people who share a calling for serving the least of these and loving the nations.  I've made some wonderful friends on this trip.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Favorite Place in the Entire World

June 28, Friday

The morning began chilly and damp, so we all bundled up in jackets, boarded the matatu, and were on our way to Milton Jones Eagles Academy.  The school has grown quite a bit since I was there in 2009, which is a good thing.  There are many more students, as well as larger and nicer facilities.

The kids at this school are very used to having mzungus around.  Immediately, several young ones hugged at my legs, stretched out their little arms, and said, "Me, me!" until I picked them up.  They are so cute.

It didn't take much asking around for me to find Faith, my family's sponsored girl.  She is nine years old and in the third grade.  Faith is lovely.  She's a little shy, but she lit up when I told her I was her sponsor.  She followed me around after that, grinning at me from behind corners.

I gave Faith the gift I brought for her from America.  What a pretty little girl.

The ceremony at Milton Jones Eagles Academy was quite fancy.  They had a speaker system set up, so the kids danced to recorded songs and recited poetry from the microphone.  For the final performance, a line of children appeared.  They were dressed in their very best clothes: shiny dresses, nice suits, plastic tiaras, and sunglasses.  They had a fashion show for us.  The girls strutted with hands on hips while the boys swaggered down the runway like rap stars.  After a round of modeling, they reappeared wearing paper banners with our names written across them.  The children presented each of our team with a necklace and then escorted us, dancing, into a line where everyone cheered and photographed us.  It was quite the procession.

We all took tea in a back room and then got back into our matatu to head along the bumpy road to Suzy Peacock High School.

We received one of the warmest welcomes we've had so far.  Students lined the driveway, holding up homemade banners that bore our names.  The students sang joyfully, clapping and dancing as we got out.  They are so welcoming.

Students clasped my hands and danced.  They were very tribal, singing in Kalenjin, Luhya, and Swahili.  They would trill, making shrill sounds with their tongues.  Some of the girls tried to show me how to do it and I got it down a little, but I'm nowhere near as talented as these girls are.  "Ai-lai-lai-lai-lai-lai-lai!"  Such fun.  

Suzy Peacock was only opened in mid-January, so they had an official opening now that Milton Jones is in Kenya.  Milt cut a ribbon and unveiled a plaque and even planted a tree!  Everyone was smiling from ear-to-ear and filled with joy.  So much hope hung in the air at Suzy Peacock High School.  Where there was once only slum and hunger and brokenness, now there is a school.  Now there is education.  Now there is future.

We had lunch and then gathered again for a ceremony that lasted for three hours.  Students performed poems and tribal dances for us and then speeches were made.  There is so much joy and hope in this school.  It was one of my favorite places in Kenya so far.  Say anything and the students erupt in cheers and whistles.  They are so excited and thankful to have the opportunity to learn and create a brighter future for themselves. 

All of us were able to speak and pour into these students, encouraging them to work hard and pursue Christ.  By the end of the afternoon, almost everyone was crying!  Suzy Peacock really is a special place.  So much potential is here.

These kids have gone from living as orphans in the slums to being given clean beds, an education, uniforms, and daily food.  They are so appreciative and so eager to make the most of what they have been given.  They take nothing for granted.

I befriended a few of the older girls.  The sweetest I met was named Faith.  She clung to me for two hours, holding my hand and leaning her head on my shoulder.  The girls would ask the funniest questions, like, "If I move to Texas, will my hair grow like yours?"  I have a sunburn on my face and they asked if I was born red like that.  I told them the sun burned my skin and they were horrified.

A teacher asked me several questions about the American school system.  He asked if many people could read and write.  When I told him school was mandatory by law, he was astonished.  When I explained how many students took school for granted and did not learn much on purpose, he was even more shocked.  What a different place America can be from Kenya, where even basic education is considered such a huge blessing.

Sign language is a source of much fascination here.  When people ask what languages I know, I say American Sign Language  They all want to learn how to spell their names and sign certain words.  "I love you" is the biggest hit.  The girls at Suzy Peacock were learning full sentences by the time I left, much to my delight (and theirs as well).

They convinced me to give them a photo of me from the little album I brought.  I had originally brought the picture to give to Lavin, but I forgot and still had it in the album.  Faith said they would hang it up in the girls' dormitory for all to see, so that's interesting.

It was sad to leave Suzy Peacock today.  I truly enjoyed that school.  We spent most of our day there, so we went straight to a Chinese restaurant for dinner.  It was nice to have a variety in food.

A young man named Peter sat next to me and befriended me.  I taught him how to play Rock, Paper, Scissors, and how to spell his name in sign language.  He told me all about Kenya.  He could hardly comprehend the facts that we have no wild elephants, rhinos, lions, zebras, and monkeys in Texas.

I found out we'll get to sleep in until 8:00 tomorrow, so that's thrilling.  We've been waking up at 6:00am or earlier every morning, so I'm a bit worn out!  I don't mind though.  I love getting to know the beautiful people in this country, even if it's bright and early.

Although we are not doing a lot of hard manual labor on this trip, we are pouring a lot of ourselves emotionally and spiritually into the people we meet.  But truly, we are gaining so much.

Kenya may be a land of little material wealth, but it is rich in love and hope.  I think this is my favorite place in the entire world.

Tomorrow they will bring David from Samabul to Naiberi so I can see him for the first time in four years.  I am so excited to see how much he has grown.  The last time I saw him, he was a tiny infant that I held sleeping in my arms.

I can't believe I'm flying back to America on Tuesday.  My time here is passing so quickly!  I am certainly not ready to leave.

Two years ago: My dog is part monkey. and Brown Water