Archive for July, 2009

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Thank goodness for Kenyan Time

July 30, 2009

Sorry for the lack of pictures! This is a quick update post- it’s a copy and paste of an e-mail I sent out, so sorry if it looks too familiar! And thank goodness for Kenyan time because our time left in Kenya is short! Oh no!

Jambo! Wow, I officially have a week until I fly away from this country that I’ve grown to love more and more with each passing day. We’ll actually be heading back to Makueni this Thursday to set up for the Southeast Christian Church medical team that will arrive on Saturday! There will be a free medical camp from August 4-6th for anyone who can make it to Makueni. We’ll be traveling a few days before the SECC team to set up the medical and living facilities!

This past week, we were in Kisumu, Kenya, located on the eastern side of Kenya on Lake Victoria. Life in Abundance began a partnership in Kisumu about one year ago, and the three staff members- Oke (pronounced “Okay”), Ephantus and Mary have been there for the last 4 months. LIA is partnering with 5 churches in Kisumu- and we had ample time with each church, pastor and congregation! LIA is in the process of working with the 5 churches to establish a program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) within each church. The LIA team along with the TOT’s (trainer of trainers- church members who have undergone training in Community Health Evangelism through LIA’s partnership with their church) has been identifying homes in which there is great need.

Our Mi2 team split up into 3 groups, each with an LIA staff and a TOT from a specific church. We went around in the slums to these identified houses to carry out a baseline survey that will show the LIA staff how to help meet the communities’ needs. Most of the homes we have been visiting have a widowed mother taking care of anywhere from 3-14 children (some take in other orphaned children from other friends or family). The baseline survey asks simple questions about the health of the mother and her children, about how they earn money, about church involvement, and about relationships with their family and other friends. Many of the women are making 50-150 schillings per day (which equates to about $0.75-$2 a day) by selling charcoal, vegetables, by braiding hair or by selling other food items or groceries. The women also make so very little profit at the end of the day that there isn’t any left for saving. One of the strangest survey questions at first was “Are you involved in a merry-go-round?” A merry go round is a group who meets each day to contribute a small amount of money (10-40 schillings) to a group ‘pot’, and each day, a different person gets the lump sum. Sometimes, the merry-go-rounds are members of the church coming together, sometimes the women have the groups with their neighbors. While it may sound a little strange, it’s the only way for some of them to have enough money at once to purchase the needed supplies for their small businesses for the week.

Another question on the survey asks about their salvation status- “Are you saved?” I think my heart literally breaks each time someone says no. It’s so very apparent when the head of the home is in a relationship with Christ- they have such a faith and trust in God for EVERYTHING in their lives and those homes in which God is present is just so very apparent! Amen! We have gotten to experience many women who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior! Amen again! We also heard many heart-wrenching stories of loss, abandonment and illness. I’m sure I could all go on for days about what these families have encountered.

There are a few selected stories that will be posted on this blog at some point in the future- but be praying for the people that we had a chance to visit with. The Post College team of 25 from Southeast also joined us in Kisumu. They were in Kenya for only 10 days, and they arrived in Kisumu on Wednesday night and traveled back to the states this past Friday. We broke into 5 groups, with a Mi2 “leader” and 3-4 Post Team members. Our groups did home visits, handouts of maize meal and laundry soap to families, and we had a chance to give short messages at church on Sunday.

LIA is also working on a “street kids” project in Kisumu, and we had the opportunity to join the staff in one of the very first “street kids feedings”. We gathered in one of the churches on Monday afternoon and waited a few minutes. About 30 rough looking guys poured into the church. These guys are literally living on the streets- many are orphans, others have been so badly mistreated that they ran to the streets. The boys had an opportunity to get up on stage to introduce themselves- Mary of LIA told us that this may have been the first time in a long time that someone cared to ask them their names. Can you imagine that sort of isolation? The boys group together- they have their ‘areas’ and their leaders, kind of like the structures found in gangs. The boys were ages 12-17, they wore tattered clothing, some had flasks of liquor in their pockets, and many had glue for sniffing as well. We gave them bread, juice and biscuit cookies before sharing a few words with them. These kids have poor manners, and the women ended up leaving after about an hour because some of the boys said or did inappropriate things to them. The thing that I had to keep reminding myself was that the boys are just reacting. They are so isolated from the community- no one talks to them; everyone thinks they are very bad people. The boys haven’t felt LOVE in so very long.

There is a Street Kids program that has been established for about 3 years in Ethiopia (another place where LIA is stationed)- they have seen such transformations in the boys who decide to enter the program. In Ethiopia, boys have come off of the streets, others have accepted Christ and they have transformed their street group to be God loving boys. After the Mi2 and Post team guys finished their ministry to the street kids, 4 of the boys decided that they didn’t want to be on the streets any longer- and 2 gave their lives to Christ. Praise the Lord! It was such a blessing to see the rawness of these boys. They walk around with their tough attitude and tattered clothing, but when you look in their eyes- you can see the deep scars and the empty void that only God can heal and fill.

LIA is doing some great work in Kenya (and in other parts of Africa, I’m sure!) I’m so blessed to get so much exposure to the wholistic ministry that they are spreading. We’ve really gotten the opportunity to be the hands and the feet- I’ve seen and heard so much, how will this look when I return to America in just a few short weeks? I mentioned that God had been placing the idea of a college transfer on my heart. I’m happy to say that I will be attending the University of Kentucky this coming fall! Why UK? I really want to be somewhere that fits me better spiritually. This summer experience in Kenya has taught me a lot about myself, and I need to be somewhere where I can grow in my faith. There are so many more opportunities to just dig in deeper in my relationship with God and with other Christians at UK. I also really want to be closer to my family. Again, Kenya has just shown me a new picture of a family, and I want to bring Christ back into our home! And of course, Daniel Cooper, my boyfriend of 13 months, is an important factor in this decision. We’ve both really been praying for God’s timing in our relationship, and we are both feeling a “yes, it’s time to be closer together” from the Lord. We’ve both grown a lot this summer, and we’ve got a lot of sharing and preparing to do together.

I’ll be living with a great friend named Amber whom I’ve known since 6th grade. God has just opened so many doors to this transfer, I am so blessed! I have no idea how much longer I’ll be in school, at this point, I don’t even know what classes I’m taking! So please be in prayer with me during this time of transition! If anyone in Lexington knows someone who will need a babysitter or who needs someone to work part time- please let me know. I would like to get a job in Lexington, so if you know of anyone who is looking for someone (I’d rather not work in fast food or retail), please pass my information along!  Keep our 2 Poland-guy friends- Dane and Erich- in your prayers, they are in Poland. Honestly, our Kenya team can’t wait till we meet up with them again in the Amsterdam airport on August 6th, but they’ve also got a few busy weeks of camp until then! Keep Daniel (www.godismyjudge.wordpress.com ) in your prayers, he finishes up his internship in California soon (I can’t wait to see him again!) Be in prayer for my family, God works miracles. And be in prayer for our team as we continue strong till the end of our stay! I love you all, thanks for keeping up with everything!

I’ll see you soon! Kwaheri (goodbye) and Bwana akubariki (Lord bless you),

Holly

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Thika: To Kill and to Bury (but a really awesome place)

July 13, 2009

We visited Thika, Kenya again this past week. We were actually in Thika for a full seven days, spread out between two weeks. Over our 7 days, we visited with 5 churches that LIA is partnering with in the Thika community. Thika has a history of being a factory town. Thika used to be very neat and clean, but as times have gotten harder, you can now see piles of trash along the dusty streets. Thika is like a little Nairobi, in the next couple of decades, there probably won’t be much distinction between Nairobi and Thika as they move towards each other.

Life in Abundance is actually partnered with 8 churches in Thika, but we only visited the 5 which have active OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) programs. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we visited three different churches that needed help with various “plaster repair” projects.

On Tuesday, we joined members of Christian Church International (CCI) in building an outhouse for one of their members. Before we got disgustingly muddy, we visited with the children at the CCI Early Childhood Development program. I made a little friend named Maggy, we spent most of the morning chasing each other around. The children were pretty young at this school, so we just spent time tossing them into the air and spinning them around. The family we were building the toilet for lived right behind a concrete-block Catholic Church. The church had two outhouses within 100 meters of the home, but that family is not allowed to use them. CCI had come together to raise support to help this family build their own toilet. When we arrived, men from the church were building scaffolding made of sticks and rocks to enclose the “toilet”. A hole had been dug about 3ft. down into the ground, and planks of wood were nailed to a square brace (to create a floor) that was just larger than the 3×4 ft hole. There is a hole cut out in one of the planks for the waste to fall into the hole. Next, the men began mixing dirt and mud (with a hoe, right on the ground) to create the plaster. I went to get water from a well with some of the women, then we all started plastering the structure once the mud mixture was made.

We finished the toilet in about 2 hours, and the family was very thankful. After we were all mucky and dirty, we headed down the road to the pastor house where we helped make Banana jam and Body oil. CCI has started these two economic empowerment programs to bring in extra money for the church. The banana jam was simply smashed bananas, mixed with sugar and boiled till the sugar dissolved, then fresh squeezed lemon juice was added for tang and as a preservative. Dollops of the delicious yellow goo were dropped on to our palms, and we eagerly licked up the banana-goodness. The body oil was a mixture of melted candlesticks, cooking fat, lemon juice and an antiseptic. The churches sold the products for a meager profit, but I think that banana jam would sell for crazy amounts at a store back home!

We visited another church called Good Hope International this week on Wednesday. This church had started a chicken project to generate more funds for the church. Pastor Peter’s wife taught the students at Good Hope. After our visit, we learned that she was a trained teacher- and you could really see the amount of time she put into helping the kids learn. She would use every opportunity possible to continue educating the kids- she used the back of our LIA van to quiz the kids on their knowledge of the alphabet! We met a little boy named Bernard who will remain in each of our hearts forever. Bernard was an interesting boy. He wasn’t more than 5 yrs old, but he had enough confidence to get up and toddle out of the classroom whenever he desired. He was definitely the troublemaker of the class, but his little infectious grin and quirky mannerisms captured each of our hearts. He wore his little toboggan on his head and waltzed around the active football game with no regard for anyone but himself. What a funny little kid.

We were helping Good Hope with another plastering project; their church was constructed of mud bricks held together with mud cement. They are currently working on expanding their building, and some of the funds from the chicken project will go towards their expansion. This day, we were helping to put up walls to a kitchen. The OVC programs often include a feeding program which feeds the children porridge, and they needed a better space for the porridge to be prepared! Some members of the church had already put up the stick scaffolding enclosing an area of about 7ft by 4ft. There was a sheet of tin nailed to the top of the structure to serve as a roof. We started out by placing some bricks made of mud in the structure (you kind of sandwich them between two layers of the sticks), then we packed mud in between the bricks. There were lots of small pebbles (just another new challenge) in the mud mixture! We finished in about 2 hours, we worked along with 2 guys from that church as well.

There was also a little girl named Mbithi, she had a huge wound on her ankle, it was super infected, lots of dead skin all around- pretty gross. My team mate Daniel Bachman cleaned her up with the first aid kit we brought, and I just set her on my lap and hugged the living daylights out of her. I just felt like I needed to sing her a song, so I hummed some songs and held her tightly when the alcohol pads made her wound hurt. It was just such a beautiful time of love- God was loving on me, and I got to love on that girl, it was such a special moment. Keep her in your prayers as her wound is healing!

On Thursday we visited End Times Restoration church where we helped to rebuild the church. The church existed, but it had been so weathered that it was the stick structure filled in about 60% with dirt/grass clods and mud. Before we started the “plastering”, we played with the kids (of course). We played some fun games with the kids, one was called “Meaty” (basically Simon says, someone in the middle shouts “Meaty” and then the kids shout back and clap, then they repeat that; then the person in the middle starts naming types of animals, and the kids repeat the animal named and clap, but if they clap on an animal that they DON’T eat, then they’re out! The kids were pretty young (2-8?) and they didn’t exactly know what kind of meat they ate. They just jumped and clapped happily (they thought that they ate snake and zebra- we had no idea what the correct answers were, so we just hopped along with them!)

There were many church members (mostly women) who were helping to mix mud and pack the walls with clods of grass & dirt. There was lots of thorny brush that had been used to fill in the scaffolding, so it was really hard to get the mud in there without poking yourself. A few puncture wounds later, we had pretty much finished the church! We were running short on time; we were heading to take tea with Joseph and Alice Muula. We stepped inside the finished church to pray, and they brought out giant bowls of rice and beans. We did our best to fill our stomachs (which already had lunch in them) with the delicious rice and beans! It was rough. And Lauren’s stomach was feeling upset, but she ate it like a champ.

We departed and arrived at the Muula’s house about an hour late (Kenyan time). We had an awesome time talking with them, they leave for Jamaica in about a month (this was the couple I mentioned about in the previous post), so we were asking how they thought things in Thika had been going. Anyways, they shared so many positive things with us, I wrote about 4 pages of notes in my Moleskin. So much has happened with the churches since LIA came in last year, and the whole idea of LIA is to create a sustainable atmosphere for the churches- it’s not like they pour tons of money into the churches- no dependability is created! The churches learn how to provide for themselves and for their communities!

Okay, so now we’re to Friday! We ran around to a few stores to pick up some odds and ends. We purchased 2 mattresses for the family of children that were sleeping on wooden beds. We delivered those and said goodbye to some of our new friends in Thika. Then we traveled back to Nairobi and chilled for a few hours before going over to Dr. Emily Obwaka’s (LIA country director) house. We had dinner with Dr. Emily where some AMAZING food was served! Dr. Emily was just asking us what we had learned since we arrived and stuff. My 3 things were relationships, faith and prayer.

As the title suggests, the meaning of Thika is “to kill and bury”. I had been struggling for a few days with the slightly violent attitudes I had seen in Thika. God is needed in that community- witchcraft is a large issue, as are HIV and AIDS. The churches are growing in unimaginable ways, and as they continue to put their faith and hearts in God, they will be able to absolutely transform their community!

We’re headed to Kisumu this week to help LIA get their “Street Children” program started. We’ll also be with the Post team from SECC at the tail end of this week heading into next week. We’re all pretty excited to hang out with ~20 other college aged kids! Our Poland counterparts are thick in their summer of camps, be praying for their continued patience and strength in dealing with lots of children! Daniel had the opportunity to go home for his older sister’s wedding this weekend (I wish I could have been there!), the pictures looked beautiful! He’s headed back out to California for a few weeks before his internship with InnerChange comes to an end. The InnerChange group decided to get out on the streets a bit more to minister to people, so pray for their protection- and pray that God brings those who need help to the places where his crew will be! The summer is winding down quickly, we only have this 10-day Kisumu trip and another trip back to Makueni to prepare and help out at the medical camp with the SECC medical team. Then we come home?! Wow.

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Can you feel the love tonight?

July 6, 2009

Watching the Lion King while in Africa is probably one of the best activities you can ever do. We visited with Pamella and Francis Bukachi, two LIA staff members this weekend. We were only a team of four as Daniel (after his bout with malaria) was having some stomach issues. Anyways- we’ll get to our awesome visit with the Bukachis in a moment. Since my last post about Makueni, we have been in Nairobi hanging out at the LIA office and then we traveled to Thika. On Monday (LIA’s prayer and fasting day), we traveled to the local Arboretum for a day of praying out in nature. I was needing some alone time, and while my time on Sunday was more than enough, God wanted some more time with me 🙂 Being surrounded by so many species of trees was the right prescription for my needs.

God took me on a journey back through one of my notebooks, and it was so humbling to read some of my prayer requests- and to realize that they had been answered! He also showed me how things I’ve read about in various devotional books (about Love, Grace, Simplicity, Forgiveness, etc) have been much more apparent in my life. It’s amazing that in just a few short months, the Lord can help you to better recognize your shortcomings and faults. And through recognizing that I am broken; it’s made me even more dependent on God- which is the ONLY way to live!

On Tuesday- we wrapped up some loose ends around the office- Courtney finished the new layout for the LIA Kenya quarterly newsletter, and I posted some videos up on Vimeo- check them out! You should play them in the following order: Ben, Lauren, Daniel, Holly, Courtney- hopefully you’ll see why after you view them! This was one of our video projects to send to The Post team from SECC coming to Kenya (in just a few weeks!) Enjoy them!

On Wednesday we traveled to Thika- northeast of Nairobi. LIA is partnered with 5 churches in Thika, and this past week we got to see how those churches are truly growing! On Wednesday we visited Christian Church International. There was a small tin church that had started it’s own Early Child Development Center. Volunteers from the church community teach two classes- the ‘baby class’ (basically a daycare with learning) and a ‘pre-unit’ class (preschool/kindergarden ages). The 30 children greeted us with porridge stained faces when we got there. For some, this may have been the first time they had seen a white person, a “muzungu”. We had a chance to sing songs with the kids. We performed “Jesus Loves Me” and tried to teach them “Mercy is falling”. They also sang back some English and Kiswahili songs- one of their favorites seems to be a song called “Ebenezer”. We had a fun time playing and singing with the kids- but it was difficult to look at the faces of the children of poverty that were dancing before our eyes.

Some of the kids were HIV+, some were orphans, and most were from very poor homes. About half of the children had shoes, most had holes in their worn clothing, and a few didn’t even have lunch. Their school benches were so full of children that not another one would fit on a bench. Yet without the Early Childhood Development program, some of the children may not be alive today due to lack of food (the porridge is a feeding program within the program). These kids are getting an opportunity to learn the basics- ABC’s, numbers and some words. These kids have hope because of what the church has done.

Somehow, in the dry, dusty land that is Thika- the members of Christian Church International have been able to provide for these kids. The volunteer teachers and porridge cook love these kids unconditionally. The most touching story, mentioned on our Team Blog, was of a little girl. We drove her home from school- it was a 10 minute van drive- which means a walk of an hour plus for her to get to and from school. When we were at the school- this little girl had such a lack of energy. She was all smiles, but you could tell her little body was just plain exhausted. Why does this girl have to walk so far? She lives right next to a government funded school- but the mandatory uniforms cost 50 schillings- about 70 cents. Her family can’t afford it, so she has to walk close to 4 kilometers to and from school. Wow. Just think about that. And so many other children are in a situation very similar to hers- lack of food, lack of money, yet a desire to learn and to be surrounded by people that give them love.

The next day we visited Redeemed Gospel Church. In January, the church started a chicken project (selling chickens and eggs) and a farming project. We visited the chickens, we looked over the 1.5 acres of farmed land in awe. Six months ago that same land was dust and grass, now it’s a place where locals can come to buy their vegetables! We also visited with the OVC (orphans and vulnerable children). Like Christian Church International- this program had a porridge feeding built into their system, as well as education from a volunteer teacher. The kids were awesome- we split our time between playing silly games with the children and helping to transplant some “Sukumu” plants into new holes. We had the chance to put in some labor into their project, and the pastors and teachers were so appreciative.

Those two visits in Thika were enough to convince me of LIA’s wholistic ministry. The churches are supporting these children, the churches are providing incomes for themselves, people from the church community are getting involved- and others are being reached via the small businesses that these churches are initiating. The body, mind, soul and most important- spirit are being ministered to!

This has been such a packed week- I apologize for the length of this post, but I want to make sure I include everything! On Friday we attended a commissioning ceremony for Joseph and Alice Muulas (and their two children). Joseph and Alice are LIA volunteers- and they are headed to Jamacia in a few weeks as missionaries. We had the opportunity to have dinner with them the night before their commissioning ceremony, and again we were shown such hospitality and love from people we just met. At the ceremony, there was a lot of praying for the Muulas family, as well as a time for them to share how God has worked in their lives to lead them to Jamacia. They have been missionaries in several countries in Africa- and now the Lord is leading them to new territory- Jamaica. Joseph and Alice are so smiley, so in love with God, and so in love with one another and with their children. What an awesome picture of a family!

Then we attended a pre-wedding party for Gus and Rose (LIA staff) who are getting married one day after we leave 😦 The party was put together by the “wedding committee”. The purpose of the gathering was to fund-raise for the wedding. Each guest wrote their name and the amount they were donating to the couple on the list, and the MC of the event read off the names, AND the amount donated! How cool?! There was no shame from anyone, and at the end everyone gave whatever extra they had!

On Saturday we headed to the Bukachi’s house (mentioned above) and had delicious home-cooked food and fellowship. And yes, we watched The Lion King and it was amazing- we pointed out sights and animals we had seen, it was the greatest Lion King experience I’ve ever had. Courtney spent the night in a tent with the 2 Bukachi girls- Joann and Emma, and Ben (without his partner in crime, Daniel) slept with the two twin boys- Abraham and Michael. Lauren and I had an adventure– we slept on the concrete “patio” of the water tank under the stars in the Bukachi’s back yard (Bukachi is fun to say, by the way).

The temperature dropped throughout the night- to probably 40 degrees or so, and a rude awakening by a bathroom call sent me inside to the warmth of the home- to stay. I didn’t find the idea of coming back to chilly blankets too appealing. We attended the Milimani Community Church with the Bukachi’s this morning, where we sang the one Kiswahili song we know in front of the congregation of about 15. After the inspiring church service (where Lauren was fighting the Benadryl doze in attempt to clear some strange face rash), we headed to a Masai Ostrich farm.

We ate some ostrich (very tasty) and then we rode an ostrich. We rode an ostrich while having ostrich in our stomachs. Is that wrong? Riding an ostrich is awesome, it was only a 30second ride, but for sure a once in a lifetime experience! I have plenty of pictures and video!

So, after a busy week of seeing lots of new sights and meeting new people- we’re headed back to Thika this week (Monday-Friday). Keep us in your prayers as we visit more churches- protect us from sickness- the kids in the schools often have nasty colds. Our Poland counterparts are busy with their camps, and it sounds like they may not be getting enough sleep or alone time as they would like- Pray that God gives them enough to get through each day- enough patience, enough graciousness, enough love! Also keep Daniel (my dear boyfriend) in your prayers. He had an awesome opportunity to have some one-on-one time with the Lord these past few days- I can’t wait to hear all about what our Father has shown him! Keep up with his BLOG as well! I love you all, thanks for keeping up with my summer!