Christmas Morning & the Church is Locked?

Having stayed awake past midnight to welcome Christmas, I did not appreciated waking this morning. It was my hope to sleep long and well, but the Christmas church service was to begin at 9 a.m. Getting the kids awake was just short of parental torture, but we made it out of the house by 9:30 a.m. Our orphan friends had either left for the service or were staying back to prepare lunch for the day. Walking without the kids to church felt a bit empty as they usually entertain us for the fifteen minute walk. Upon arriving, we found groups of kids scattered in circles in the field outside the church. A few adults were doing the same. It was 9:50 a.m., and the church building was still locked. We were to begin at 9 a.m., but this is Kenya. Time has a different meaning here. An elder arrived with a key just as we wondered about the service taking place. Most people arrived between 10 and 10:30 a.m., and the service began somewhere during that half hour. Life is different when time has a different sort of meaning. It is more about living in the moment and feeling less stressed about getting to the next thing. There are also shortcomings to this kind of life, but we certainly have much to learn about caring for those in our midst rather than moving to the next thing on our schedule. From Karai, Kenya – we wish friends and family back home a blessed Christmas!

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A Different Kind of Life

Slowing down for the holidays, breathing slowly enough that we consciously feel our breath enter and leave our lugs. It is often our hope that we get beyond the commercialism we’ve created and actually enjoy or families and friends in this Christmas season. Hopefully we succeed to some degree. Yet, our two weeks of holidays will pass. The kids will return to school. Adults will return to their jobs or whatever occupies their time. The speed of life will go back to 70 miles per hour with an occasional speed bump. Admittedly, when in Africa, sometimes I do miss our American ambition, desire for the next activity, and the conversations about what we accomplished on any given day. Yet, finding time for a long and deep conversation with a friend over lunch, coffee, or your preferred beverage, is most often the exception in our world. Life is different here in Africa. Stopping alongside the road when meeting a friend requires more than a quick hello. Ambitions and tasks subside to secondary positions in the life of a day when friends and family cause interruptions. Ironically, as my young son reminded me this morning, they still work harder than we do, but the work gets done when it gets done rather than pushing off relationships until what we generally refer to as ‘after work.’ The way Africans form the story and meaning of their lives is intriguing. Their neighbors, whether family or friend or stranger, matter to their life stories in a way we often fail to recognize in our American lives. The depth of the goodness of caring for both neighbor and stranger is embedded in our humanity, and too often we forget this reality. At this Christmas time, remember that Jesus calls us back to the best of our humanity – to find time and resources to love our neighbor and the strangers in our midst. Perhaps we can carry a bit of this reality into 2013 so we become a bit more human and a bit more like our Kenyan brothers and...

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One Ball Short

Eighty degrees on the sixteenth of December felt amazing against our skin on Sunday. A couple of us forgot sunscreen, but we won’t be doing that again. Kathy’s shoulders could compete with fresh Strawberries for the brightest of reds. Winter white Michigan skin doesn’t fare well under the Kenyan sun for more than a few minutes at a time. Late this afternoon we were invited to watch soccer practices of the local youth club. Arriving at the field, the junior team was practicing in what we in the States would call a pasture. It is made up of fifty percent dirt, forty percent grass and ten percent goat droppings. Fortunately the larger cow droppings were absent. As we watched the practice, the senior team arrived for their practice, but now there was a dilemma. There was one ball and two teams who wanted to practice. This was one of those moments when we realize so much is different here in Africa. Back in the States my kids go to their soccer practices with their own ball; then their coaches most often have a bag of team balls slung over their shoulder when arriving at practice. This is not to suggest judgment one way or the other; it is simply the reality that scarcity is the norm here and abundance is celebrated.

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Flight #2 – Detroit to Amsterdam

We’re now midway through our flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, and the plane is hushed. The cabin lights are off with the exception of a few reading lights and the glow of small screens showing movies. A college student sits a few seats away and is working on something that appears to be important to her. A few minutes ago I had gotten up to stretch. In the process I met two ladies likely in their sixties who are going to be spending ten days floating down the Rhine. A mother was feeding her infant while her husband attempted sleep. My kids, on the other hand, are more like their dad. I doubt there will be much sleep on this flight tonight. Its somewhat of a strange thing. We took off at 4 p.m., were served dinner two hours later, and nearly half the plane is trying to sleep at 8 p.m. It begs me to ask why so many people can sleep at this time of day? Are our lives so filled with busyness that we crave sleep even at 8 p.m.? Or perhaps there is a possibility that people can fall asleep much easier than me. I recall taking naps in the middle of the day on those trips from Michigan to Colorado when I was a kid, waking up in a different state without realizing the boredom, was pretty cool. Waking up was even better when we had changed time zones.  So perhaps sleep is a means to kill the boredom and wake up bouncing onto the runway in Amsterdam is the prize. Regardless though, flying distances is an odd thing. We walk onto a plane with hundreds of people whom we do not know by name, place, or nation. Yet, we are stuck together at 40,000 feet hanging in the atmosphere for eight hours with no way to leave these people. Some of us will strike up conversations or sell their wares to perspective clients while others simply speak only to the flight attendants between their studies, games, or movies. What to think of it all I do not know. To imagine Freud or Shakespeare reflecting on an oddity such as this would intrigue. Yet, one thing is certain; we are all up here, and we are all in this together. Perhaps this is the way of Kenya Matters too. For those who have traveled with us, and for those who have not, we are hanging together with the hope that the world will become a better place for our efforts.  Knowing these orphaned kids and the people of their community by name, infusing it with goodness, kindness, and financial capital will alter this community and these people for the better. Now for the slowest part of this flight – the last two hours and thirty-nine minutes. Perhaps I too should try...

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Mission: Unforgettable

Mission: Unforgettable

In July, I traveled to Kenya to the “safe house”, the orphanage Elijah and “Mama” run, where the children had lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. For me, this mission trip has been “life-changing.  Last year, Elijah came to Spring Valley to show a video of the kids playing in the water from the well that we helped donate money to have dug. I knew right then, I needed go.  I wanted to understand what it was like to live without some of the most basic needs and be happy, simply because of their faith in God. The very first day there, we were welcomed like family. Every greeting and goodbye was met with hugs all around. We laughed, cried, talked and played and I learned some great dance moves also.  I felt connected so deeply to the children. I learned something from every one of them.  Every night, during devotions, we would stand with our arms wrapped around each other.  It was so humbling to see the passion these children had for God and how they never questioned his love, no matter how difficult their lives have been.  Mary, an 18 year old girl I became close with taught me not to fear praying aloud (a phobia I´ve always had).  She prayed with such grace, intimacy and commitment for God.  I learned it doesn´t matter who is listening, if I loved God, prayed from my heart, the words would come. I prayed like I had never thought possible.  I prayed through fear, inferiority and tears and still the words came. I prayed aloud in Kenya and I pray aloud now. Despite living in cramped conditions, the children seem so happy and content. They were so gracious and humbled by the little gifts we brought. We gave an 18 year old boy some bright pink crocs and a new pair of oven mitts.  He makes bread in a large oven, and often burns himself. It didn´t matter the color of the Crocs, and the oven mitts, he was so proud of them, he wore them for three hours that night with a smile on his face! We visited villagers to bring them gifts such as sugar, flour, soap and tea. Their homes are much smaller than our homes – about the size of a large bedroom, and made of cow dung. Kitchens are simple: a roof with a hole for smoke, because they cook with fire. They collect water from the rain off of their roofs, or sometimes walk miles to carry fresh water home.  At night, chickens and small calves sleep inside the kitchen, so thieves can´t get to them. The villagers confirmed why I felt so compelled to come to Kenya in the first place.  They praise God for everything they have while living without many basic needs. Even with very little food and no running water, they graciously served us Chai tea and at times had prepared it hours earlier in anticipation of us coming. It was difficult to comprehend them praying for US so intensely and genuinely so that our cups may be full. They are so thankful for EVERYTHING in life.  There is no resentment.  They have been blessed with God´s love and everything else is extra.  My experience with them was so humbling and I am grateful to see Gods grace, through them. One of my most memorable moments of the trip was when our group decided to make pizza for all the kids and staff (of about 50).  I was simply amazed that they had never had pizza before.  We received a compliment that I will never forget.  They said they were overwhelmed and overjoyed that we (white American´s) would make and serve a meal for them (black Kenyans) and that they have never been served by people white people before.  In a way that comment made me sad but also taught me so much about Kenyan lifestyle, their perceptions of Americans, differences between Kenyan and American cultures and their appreciation for us.  Personally, I thought it was a privilege and was so excited to treat them to pizza.  I felt like I was making dinner for my family, albeit, a very large family and loved every minute of it. We all had a difficult time leaving.  Whether it was our first or seventh trip to the safe house, we all wanted to stay and not let go.  I felt like I was saying goodbye to my own children when I left. So, how has the mission changed me? I pray out loud from my heart now, without the fear of sounding like gibberish. I love differently.  I express my love for my family and friends better. I love the warmth of a good hug. I feel blessed to have a house that I love.  I am no longer embarrassed by all of the imperfections, the work that needs to be done and how inferior I used to think it was to my friends and families homes. I appreciate the little things so much more. Running water, good road infrastructure (Yes I did say that and will never complain about Michigan roads again) and enough food to nourish my body. I give more and need less.  I no longer buy anything without necessity and think hard about that need. “Elijah has a saying in Kenya: “Haraka Haraka Haina Baraka” – it means “Hurry Hurry has no blessings.” This IS the Kenyan way. I´ve slowed my life down, focusing on what´s important; family, friends and eliminating anything that causes me to be too busy or lose focus. My loved ones in Kenya are always on my mind and I pray for them everyday.  My heart often aches with such a desire to see everyone again.  I pray about when I will return to them and pray God has a plan for me to return soon. Most of all, I thank God for this trip to a little orphanage in Kenya, Africa that has changed my life in more ways than words or feelings could ever express. Cathy...

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