Monday, July 15, 2013

Learning Thankfulness

June 25, Tuesday

The call to prayer woke everyone up not long after five this morning as it sang out from the nearby mosque.  I actually didn't mind the early wake-up; it gave time for a quiet time and some prayer.

I took my shower last night, but the other girls were all ready to shower this morning.  The electricity doesn't turn on until 5:30am, so we all stumble around with flashlights until then.  About five minutes into Cassie's shower, the electricity shut back off.  All we heard from the shower room was a feeble, "...Hello?"  Unfortunately, with the electricity comes hot water, so Amy got an ice cold shower... and immediately after she finished, the electricity came back on!

This hotel certainly has been an adventure.  Bungoma has a high malaria risk, so I attempted to sleep under my mosquito net last night.  I am claustrophobic and I just couldn't.  Every time I settled under the net, my heart would begin to race.  I was experiencing some anxiety for one of the first times since I've been here.  It took some prayer and some ZzzQuil in order for me to eventually fall asleep.  Unfortunately, there are bed bugs here, and Naana and I both woke up with bites on our arms and hands.  It's not too bad though, and I would much rather have bed bug bites than mosquito bites.

Also, there are frogs in Bungoma that sound like creaking swingsets, no joke.  They croak all night long.  Our windows are jammed open, so while I was awake for most of the night, I listened to these critters calling out to one another.  God surely had a good laugh when he made these funny frogs!

Please don't take these stories as complaints.  I'm re-telling them because they're funny and they happened.  I am enjoying every moment of my trip here, even the experiences that reach beyond my comfort zone.  I'm in Kenya to serve people and love like Christ, not to have plenty of rest or a working toilet.  I'm content.

In truth, I am far more advantaged with our wacky electricity, flooded bathroom, and creaky bed than millions of people on this continent who live in single-room huts made of mud, sleep on the floor, and fetch water from a nearby stream that is polluted with typhoid.  I am blessed

There is a big holographic portrait of a tiger hanging on the wall above me.  It's fantastic.  Naana is determined to buy it from the hotel owners so she can hang it up in her own house.  It's staring at me as I write this.

We left for the Eruli school around 8:00 this morning.  Emmanuel was there!  He has been in India undergoing an operation to fight cancer and only got back three days ago.  All things considered, he looks thin but healthy.  Emmanuel is an amazing man of God.  Milton retold his story again today; I could listen to it over and over again.  It pierces my heart with each telling.  Now I've seen all of this in person, I can only stand further in amazement at Emmanuel's selfless heart and love for children and the Lord.  Emmanuel puts Christ and his kids above everything else in his life and it is precious to see.

The Eruli School is located on a beautiful piece of land surrounded by crops and mountains.  The campus is flourishing.  They have a new dining hall and church building, a nice dormitory, and mosquito nets and mattresses for every bed.

We were taken into each classroom and introduced to all of Emmanuel's kids, grade by grade.  Then we went into Emmanuel's home to take tea.  His wife, Mama Alice, is a hostess unlike anyone I've ever met.  She prepared for us a feast for tea, a feast for lunch, and snacks in between!  Every few minutes, she would embrace me and say, "Please stay with me, please stay here forever.  I love you, I love you."  When I said, "My mother would be too sad if I stayed," she giggled and said, "Bring her!  You will both live with me."  This lady is darling, a woman of God.

We were brought into the big meeting hall after tea to listen to the directors and teachers speak and then watch the children perform.  They are all astoundingly talented.  They have beautiful singing voices, are articulate, and can recite poetry unlike anything I've ever seen come from American schools. 

Teachers and students alike cast vision before everything they say.  Over and over again, the children would say in unison, "God is good all the time and that's His nature. Wow!" and "Bwana sifuni! Amen!", which means, "Praise the Lord!"  Everyone who spoke credited all that they had - every ability, every possession, every blessing - to the Lord.  I have never met a more gracious, thankful group of people.  In their songs, in their words, they thanked us for our support over and over again, while still crediting all they had to the Lord's compassion. 

After the performances, we went outside.  400 children gathered around us and stared, giggling.  If we drew near, they'd squeal and run away.  These kids clearly have not had many American visitors.  Finally, I led a call and answer song that Barbie taught me when I was in Kenya last time.  This broke the ice a bit.  The song goes:

Jambo - Jambo
Jambo-sana, jambo. - Jambo-sana, jambo.
Hello - Hello
Hello, children, hello. - Hello, children, hello. 
Jambo - Jambo
Jambo, watoto, jambo - Jambo, watoto, jambo (Once again yelling, and again whispering)

A group of older girls surrounded me after we finished singing.  "Please, take a picture of us!" they said, so of course I did.  When I showed them, their leader - Dorcas - said, "Oh, we are so beautiful!"  They are. 

The girls surrounded me, touching my arms and hands and hair.  "Please tell us how you prepared your skin to be this color," one girl said.  "Did you use oils?"

I laughed.  "This is just how God made me!" 

"We admire your skin so much," Vivian told me.

"Well, I like your lovely dark skin!" I replied.

"Will you barter skin color with me?" Sylvia asked, and everyone burst into giggles.

Dorcas is very wise, and she spoke up at this point and said, "We are all very beautiful, aren't we, Emily?"  Yes!  More beautiful than a photograph could ever capture.  These girls absolutely glow with joy and hope.

They asked if they could take me to see the inside of the girls' dormitory and then if I would take a picture of them standing inside.  "We want our sponsors in the USA to see how clean and healthy we are.  We are not hungry.  We are not in need.  We have beds and good nets.  We are so thankful."  I have never seen appreciation like this until today.

Finally, the girls brought me into the dining hall.  "Isn't it nice?  God has provided us with food and a place to eat!  Even benches and tables!" they said.

For the last twenty minutes, the girls had been trying to convince me to move into their dormitories and live with them forever.  When I sat down at one of their tables, I said, "But my team will be looking for me."  Dorcas's reply was, "Maybe they will forget about you and you can stay here and become our standard 7 teacher!"

About this time, a young girl arrived carrying a bowl that was piled high with - no joke - three inches of rice towering above the rim.  "Please, please eat," they insisted.  "See how good of food we have been given.  See what the Lord has provided us!"  It was very good rice, although I couldn't eat it all... by far.

I showed everyone pictures of my family and friends from the little photo album I brought.  Sylvia asked, "Is it true America has no sun, only snow all year round?"  Not in Texas, it isn't!

Eventually, Audie came to fetch me and take me to lunch, much to the dismay of my new friends.  If Audie had not come, I truly think they would have kept me forever!  They all hugged me and shook my hand.  Dorcas told me, "I will pray for you every day that God will give you prosperity in all that you do in your schoolwork.  He will bless you and allow you to succeed in all things!  Please, pray for me too."  Her words were so honoring.  The fact that there are children across the world who are taking the time to pray for me every single day is mind-blowing.  I will not stop praying for these precious girls.

After eating so much rice, I returned to Emmanuel's home.  Mama Alice had prepared a massive feast of rice, chapatti, mandazi, chicken, beef, sukuma wiki, ugali, and crackers.  It was so, so good and so, so much!  I think I'll be full for the next two days just from that meal!

After lunch, we bid farewell and headed to visit the Eruli High School only a mile or so away.  This school is brand new and still being built at this very moment.  They have only form 1 (freshmen) right now, but their number of students will increase with each new year.  The school is small, but it is lovely.  The setting is surrounded by these tall, stunningly-placed rocks.

A man danced atop the tallest ("Pride Rock," we named it) and waved at us from afar.  I played with my new camera's zoom and managed to get a close-up of the funny man.  Sweet Mama Alice was delighted by the close-up picture.

Before the zoom.
After the zoom.
The high school students met us and performed songs, skits, tongue twisters, and excellently-written poetry.  The teachers spoke and then Emmanuel did as well.  "We were all made in God's image," he said.  "We might look a little different because of climate and location, but God made us all.  I just returned from India and saw that they are God's children there too.  It is the love of Jesus Christ that brings you here today.  Kenya was once a dark place and now it is shining with Christ's love."  His words brought tears to my eyes.

Our team arrived back at the hotel around 5:30 in the evening.  We went to the Yakumart - a store similar the Nakumatt, which is basically Kenyan Walmart - and I bought a Coca-Cola.  They charge for the bottle and actual Coke separately, which is funny.

Dinner was at six.  Two men named Moses and James showed up just as we began to eat.  They came by motorbike all the way from the top of Mt. Elgon.  CRF supports a high school there, but we will not be visiting because of road safety.  Apparently, it is nearly impossible to make it up the mountain, and we have a 2-wheel-drive matatu that carts around our team, so that will not be happening. 

The Mt. Elgon region has experienced much tribal warfare and suffering.  The stories these men told us were heartbreaking.  Only 12 of 100 kids at the high school are sponsored.  Many of the unsponsored children are without regular food, water, and school supplies.  Most of them have seen their families killed.  Some were even forced to become child soldiers themselves.  Poverty shadows this mountain.  Mt. Elgon needs a helping hand more than anywhere I've seen so far.

This day has taught me many things.  I'm still processing all of it.  I am slowly learning what it means to be thankful.

Four years ago: Observing from the Airport
Three years ago: 40 Reasons to Eat (Part 1)
Two years ago: We Are

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