Saturday, March 12

Snippets of friendly conversations wafted through the cabin as I toggled between sleeping and momentary wakefulness unaware of the plane streaming across the planet to our first destination: Nairobi, Kenya.  To a person, our gang of 26 was a mix of nervous excitement, anticipation  and, as the hours rolled by, an urgent readiness to get this adventure started!

By the way, it’s a long way from Atlanta to Kenya!

It was midnight, Nairobi time, by the time our heads hit their long awaited pillow targets. Thankfully the night passed quickly and morning began with a wonderful breakfast at Art Caffe.  Our leaders had allowed 2 hours for us to eat our morning meal, but we had to remember what we were told in our orientation for the trip: This is Kenya.  Roughly translated this means that Kenyans are not hurried, stressed out people on strict schedules.  Our waitstaff, for example,  do their jobs with big smiles and friendly attitudes, but then allow things (like our feast of omelets, Eggs Benedict, muesli and yogurt to be prepared and served as they were ready. The delays didn’t bother us, we were on “Kenya time,” enjoying each other’s company and hearing stories of mission trips past from those who had been here before.

With our bellies happily full, we headed out to our first real adventure.  We were to meet a group of street boys who had been sent away by their families to live on the streets.  This group of boys had been literally stolen away from those who would have had them on the streets, sniffing glue and stealing whatever they could for them.  John Kim, a Kenyan angel on earth, runs this ministry and literally goes out in the wee hours of the mornings to convince boys on the street that there is a better way to live that involved a home, a loving environment, food and, almost most importantly, education. The boys he has rescued are between the ages of about six until they are out of what we would call High School seniors which could be at the age of 19 or more.

Our first glimpse of these boys came as we drove to the banks of lake Naivasha where we were to ride in fiberglass boats to see the Hippos.  Some of the boys were very outgoing, and some, having been with John Kim and the others only a couple of days, were very,very shy.  Everyone divided into the boats and set off for the big adventure.  A few hours, many hippos and even more exotic bird sitings later we arrived back on shore having made new friendships and gaining a real picture of what it was like to be cast out their  families  to fend for themselves at ages from two (yes, two) on up.  Thank the Lord for John Kim and people like him who have given love and  hope to a group of boys who previously had no life whatsoever in front of them. God’s power was evident in every smile, whether bright or shy.

After that fabulous experience, it was back into the vans headed to our accommodations for the week at the Presbyterian Tumaini Conference Center in Nukuru.  There we settled in and convened for a lovely dinner and an exercise that was a bit challenging, but ultimately very interesting: We were each asked to come up with one word to describe our experience of the day, and to tell why we chose that word.  From the first person to the last, the words that came to mind were rich in meaning and heart-felt in the telling.  Some people used the name of their favorite street boy whom they had spent time that day, and who had effected our people in a particular way.  Others used words like “Hope”, “Life-Changing, ” and “Surprising.” It was an enriching experience for all.

Our evening ended with a quick unpacking and organizing of the trunk loads of school uniforms, school supplies, blankets, etc that we had brought from home for distribution to various schools in the region.  With 26 people the job was quickly done (“Many hands make light work” as my Grandmother always said), and I don’t think it took more than 15 minutes before the last one of us had laid his head on the pillow for the night.

As I dozed off, I was hit with one perplexing question: Why, in a country where Swahili is the primary language, are all of the signs and store names displayed in English? For example, we passed the Victory Tyre (like in car tires) company, the Valentine School of Cake, and the Smile Baby Baby store, just to name a few.

More tomorrow . . .

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Sunday, March 13

Today, we started off the day by going to a church planted 2 years ago by two Americans. We enjoyed fellowship with the church members and a great sermon. It is for missionaries to attend and be filled because the are constantly pouring out in their missions. Throughout church I was thinking about the week ahead.

Every thing in existence exists to portray an imagine / personality of the Father. A chair exists to demonstrate the Father wants to support us and give us a rest. A marriage is image of Jesus loving the church. Everything around shows an image of the Father.

So I can’t help but think about how the water filters represent Jesus.
The contaminated water the people consume leads to disease, sores, death. They are constantly sick and tired, drained emotionally and physically. We have heard stories from Cheif Frances and Sam about stories how these filters have changed lives. Miraculous transformations. Sores on skin going away, sickness is seizing to have power. People glow with health and their skin shines. The clean water that the filters gives provides life. The same water enters in dirty and promising death, and the change occurs in the filter, the end product- clean water and life.
What an image of the gospel. We are all in need of “clean water”. And the physical need we experience on earth is an image of our deeper spiritual need. We all are dirty water. Alone in our sins we are left dirty, and death is promised. As much as we can try to clean our selves up, work harder to improve, think about being clean, say the right words, these things will never purify. These self striving actions may appear to work, but on a micro-level are completely insufficient.
We need a filter. And we have a filter. Free for all. It’s name is Jesus. He takes our filth, every last bit, He took it all onto the cross. The final product? The water of life. Abundant life. Water that is life-giving. Water that flows freely.
The key to this? The filter, Jesus.

If there is any take away- it is this: in this world, our physical despair is guaranteed. But life is offered to all, through Jesus. Thirsty? Longing for something to satisfy? Come to the well, come to Jesus, He is the Living Water. He is the living water in Kenya, and the Living Water in Atlanta. Come and drink of the water of life.

We are blessed this week to give people water filters and clean water. Our hope also if that we both, can drink daily of the living water.

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Monday, March 14

Today, our team of 25 disparate gifts and talents was tasked with distributing 300 filters to village formed by the Kenyan Government for Internally Displaced People (IDP) on the outskirts of Subukia which is about a two hour drive from our anchor/home (Tumaimni) for the week.  Now a distribution of 300 may not sound like a daunting task especially when we have 10,000 to do, but to put this in perspective no team in the history of SWOK has ever done 300 in  a day.  When SWOK did their first distribution many years ago 50 were done in  a week!  But having watched the way all the members of this team checked their ego’s in Atlanta, I had no doubt we would all buckle down that the goal would be met.

We started the day as we always do with a brief Devotion and prayer.  On this day Reed Freeman did an excellent job tying the story of Joshua and how Joshua had to fill Moses’ role even though that was probably not the role he felt most comfortable doing.  Reed aligned that story to writings by C.S. Lewis and how God’s plans might be different than the ones we thought we might be suited for.  Reed challenged each of us to being willing to venture outside our comfort zone and be willing to let God mold us.

I did mention our venture was a 2 hour drive, but I don’t think I mentioned that half of the drive was on crater infested dirt road that shook you like crazy.  That didn’t really matter for those of us in Peter Bravo’s van because we were treated to the life story of one of our friends and Kenyan translators, Irene.  Her story is one of abuse, anger towards God, a recognition of God never leaving, reconciliation, empowerment, and mostly about hope.  Irene’s life started like in a manner I suspect most Kenyan women dreamed of; she got married after high school, soon got pregnant, and had a baby boy.  One might think all was well in Irene’s life, maybe not.  Immaturity and selfishness infected the marriage and  Irene became the victim of serious physical abuse to the point she left her husband and went and lived with her mother.  As often happens they had a brief reconciliation and another child was produced, but real issues were never addressed.

Irene at this time became angry with God and felt God had left her.  Her self-image was so bad that for 3 weeks she could not look at a mirror.   She stopped going to church and was lost.  After a while she decided to pick up the Bible and soon realized that she was a gift of God to be cherished.  Her personal life was a mess but her attitude was improving.   It wasn’t until she decided to stop praying for changes in her own life that changes started to occur.  It was when she began to lift up other women in similar conditions that she begin to notice that God had not abandoned her at all.  She started to notice her that she wasn’t alone and began to see the role God had for her in helping others survive.

With a new outlook on life came new opportunities.  Irene is a talented jewelry maker and she showed her wares to a business woman who bought everything in her portfolio. Soon Irene offered a job.  Irene had been dreaming of going to college and getting a degree in fashion design and she was afraid this new job might derail that dream.   Irene told her perspective employer her dream and the company said that was a good plan.  They offered to pay for her college if she would also work for them.

Irene graduated with a degree in fashion design, but her plan to be of service to other women never went away.  Her dream was to build a business that could empower women making them independent.  She eventually started her own jewelry design firm called Oasis Jewelry and Design Company.  Business was good right from the start forcing her to jump start the empowering bit.  She had more orders than she could do alone and she needed help.  Today, Oasis Jewelry and Design Company has 13 employees, an e-commerce business, and lives are being changed.

Each work day Irene and her team begin work in prayer followed by a brief time of sharing.   The women having challenges realize that they are not alone in their struggles.  What Irene has now realized some of the issues require professional help.  This is what happened with her husband.  He sought and got help for his issues and today is a new man and the family is back together.  This awareness that some problems were bigger than most of us are able to managed has led Irene to go back to school and gain degree as a certified counselor.

Each of us in the van was dumbstruck after listening to this profound testimony.  Irene is also writing a book about her life and another one with short stories of women in Africa that have overcome tremendous odds.

The community that we served consists of various tribes that lost their homes and all their possessions as result of being in the path of waring  in tribes.  Usually when we go to a village there is come commonality and it is usually their tribal roots; but in this case, the only common thread I could see was like Irene and her women, these people have tremendous faith that God is with them and God is good.  From a team member’s perspective after seeing the poverty, you wonder if put in the same position would or could you still maintain a positive outlook.

These loving, adorable, humble people showered us with traditional African faith songs complete with homemade drums and lots of dancing.  This kind of spirted praise to God would be good for any church.  While reflecting on the day one thing that still blows me away is the tremendous respect all Kenyan’s have for their elders.  It does not matter if it is a man or a woman is a person of prestige and power or the poorest person in the village.  If that person is an elder, they are treated with upmost respect and dignity.

Each evening we have a time of reflection while each of us share our “word” of the day.  Today Michael’s word was vison.  He described how in his occupation he consults with leaders of companies to help them decide for their company what does good looks like.  Michael said that he had no idea what the vision was for SWOK, but he was sure he was seeing what good was like.  All of us clapped in recognition of the fine job by Sam, Bill, and Chat.

Another day is done now it is time to lay my head to sleep.

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Tuesday, March 15

What is a motto?  I would define a motto is a statement which expresses your sense of purpose for something important to you. For the Gituamba Jeanette Keytone Conely Memorial Primary School in Kenya, their motto is “knowledge is power”.  After spending the day at the primary school, I walked away with knowledge about the spirit those children have, commitment from the school administrators & volunteers and how fortunate we have it within United States. I now feel a sense of power with this knowledge.

Our team of 25 set forth around 8:30 AM to spend the day with the children and administrators of the school. We had two key objectives 1) build some additional space and 2) spend the day with the students and bring some new supplies. As backstory, the school opened this past calendar year with capacity for 100 students. After registration, the number of students is roughly 540 students. This capacity issue has brought the need for a revamped infrastructure to support the escalating demand. The school was transformed from a building formerly used to be a barn which sheltered 20 families. There is no electricity in the building but there was so much sunlight coming through valley it didn’t really matter. There was so much joy and life once we saw the children.  You walk into the main room and head down a hall with classrooms on the left and right. The common areas have concrete but there are areas with dirt floors. Each classroom comes equipped with blackboards and desks for their diligent students.

1)    Build Additional Space – We arrived with a set of building supplies already provided. After constructing our “architecture plans” with chalk on concrete, we set out to build four offices. The goal is to give the headmaster (Michael) and other administers some space which could be free up more classrooms. Without electricity, we relied upon generator to saw the wood and frame out the rooms. The team closed the end of the day with the two rooms framed up. Additionally, we dug approximately 10 footers to pour concrete. The footers were approximately 2 foot deep so it took 3-man teams digging them out. This new area (about the size of football field) will form the basis for common area for eating. The next step will be to build out the roof.

2)    Spend the day with the Students – our team delivered the goods. A rainbow parachute was the first big hit as the kids on the playground ran in and out. Our team then set up glitter and face painting stations. Once we gave the kids two soccer balls – the intensity really picked as we play some makeshift games on the field. I had to play goalkeeper when multiple rounds of penalty kicks. The team did so much work with those kids – I really commend the women and men on the trip assigned to those kids. They created the bead bracelets which symbolized aspects for a relationship with God.

As I reflected on the time we spent there, I focused more on the similarities with the Western world as opposed to the differences. I was touched by how much similar we are: shy students, class clowns, committed teachers, playground noise, curiosity, questions, gravitation to technical devices such as ipads and cameras, laughs, and smiles. The smiles are my favorite because every time they smile, I get to smile too. To close, my new knowledge is empowering for my relationship with God.

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Wednesday, March 16

This morning was our earliest start in Kenya – we woke up about 5:30 to be at the Lake Nakuru National Park by around 7:00am.  Nakuru National Park is known as Birdwatchers Paradise, and is home of the the most concentrated collection of Black Rhinos, along with many other of the large mammals of the Region (giraffes, gazelles, lions) , all with the backdrop of the Nakuru City in the distance.  The park itself is ~180 square Kilometers (~70 square miles)

After being warned about the long wait time at the entrance, we were delightfully surprised it only took long enough for a stop at the restroom, and a group photo; then, we were on our way.  We were lucky enough to see water buffalo, black and white rhinos, baboons and giraffes.

The highlight of the day occurred at a beautiful overlook while we were taking pictures.  A large baboon came and joined the crowd, perching up on the fencing along the cliff.  After our own Jim Shelton joined the ranks of the brave souls having their picture made with him, the baboon caught sight of Happy J throwing away a bag.  He leaped from his perch, and bounded for Happy J.  Happy J threw the bag at him, and the baboon took it into the woods.  After loading up the vans, we started taking off.  The baboon was back, and he jumped on Happy J’s van, to try to get a more substantial meal.  Happy J sped off, and was able to leave the baboon in his dust.
In the evening, the safari group joined back up with the rest of the team to enjoy a wonderful evening as Bill & Chat hosted the entire team for a fantastic dinner.

While most of the team went on safari, 6 of us were tasked with visiting Lanet and gathering the necessary data that will enable the SWOK team to tract the effectiveness of the water filters over time.  Our hope is with some usage data, SWOK will be eventually able to prove to some potential organizations that issue large grants that is filter is worthy of their investment.

The 6 of us split into 3 teams and were assigned a cluster leader and a local official.  Each cluster leader is responsible for 25 to 150 households.  I was impressed with the level of detail that my cluster leader, Kunju, had in regards to his constituency.  This 80 year old man was charming, bright, articulate, and exuded hospitality.   His English was many times better than my Swahili!

The household ranged from nice middle class  homes with in-door plumbing, electricity, and concrete floors to temporary shacks with dirt floors, shared pit latrines, and no electricity.  I was taken back when I saw mom’s cooking on wood fired stoves that were inside the home with no ventilation except the cracks in the walls and ceiling.  The smoke was stifling and the children and adults seemed to be oblivious to it.  That could not be healthy.

Some key data points we were trying to gather is the source of the household’s water and if the household had experienced water borne disease in the last year. The collection process was tedious but the opportunity to engaged with the families was tremendous.   Every home treated us as though we were honored guests.   Probably the most common trait I have noticed with the Kenyan’s is their cultural commitment to hospitality.   One of our team members’ and I was talking about that trait and how different Kenya and the US are in this regard.  That team member said that if folks in the US started to treat their neighbor the way Kenyan’s do, we would be far better off.

After we had spent our allotted time gathering data, we met the safari go’ers at Bill and Chat’s for an evening of food and fellowship.  Bill treated the 25 of us to Kenyan bar-b-que chicken, the best macaroni and cheese, fresh salad, and ice cream for desert.   Bill and Chat have certainly assimilated to the Kenyan culture as they opened their home to the 25 of us completely!

A special treat for many us that was our friends, Irene and Grace, bringing their handmade jewelry for us to experience and purchase.  This artwork is amazing.  The jewelry is made from discarded paper and formed into unique and colorful shapes.  It is impossible for me to do this gift justice so if you want to see something really amazing please go to http://oasisjewelrydesigns.co.ke.

After dinner Sam did the devotion and challenged the group to experience the love and the issues that is all wrapped up in Kenya and to be willing to take the message of God’s Agape love (pass the baton) to other’s.

And thus another day was done!

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Thursday, March 17

Today the team traveled to the Gituamba school, where we were treated to a performance by the students featuring readings, songs, and dances (I encourage you to ask for reenactments when we return).  The parents also attended and were overwhelmed when Bill stood in front of the crowd and told them we were not only providing text books, but enough text books for EACH and EVERY student at the school to have a complete set to learn with. The books were brought out and stacked in front of the crowd to deafening applause.

While the guys worked to build foundations for new structures and build new walls inside the main building, the others helped stamp books with the school’s logo and pass out uniforms to the eager students. We were then treated to a wonderful lunch prepared for us by parent volunteers. All of the students (many of which do not get to eat lunch each day), were also fed along with their families who attended.

Before we left we passed out streamers attached to pencils to each student. The entire field was awash with color and sound as the kids waved these simple toys (which in future will be useful instruments in their education). The students were also given colorful bandannas, making the entire field a rainbow of pure joy.

When I see the amazing things happening at the school I am reminded of the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32). When sown it may seem small and insignificant, but with time and care it grows into a great tree. It is wonderful to see the children dressed in new uniforms and using new books, but we are simply beginning the planting of their education. With time and care they, and the school, will continue to grow and flourish beyond anything we can imagine. The immediate gratification of seeing their smiles and sharing their joy is greatly overshadowed by the knowledge that these acts are simply the  first steps, and the seeds we sow today will grow and proliferate for future generations.

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