Monday, July 19, 2010

Jeshi La Wokovu (The Salvation Army)

It was July 1st that we went to the largest slum in Africa.
5 square kilometers (3 square miles).
At least 1 million Kenyans.

This is Kibera.

We started out down the same road that we traveled to visit DHQ in the beginning of our trip but took an earlier left turn, going from a road that was full of merchants and stores selling everything from wild plants to handmade furniture to a dirt road that was small, secluded, and seemed rich - on your right, you can see muzungus playing polo on horses. Nate mentioned that this was supposed to be the largest slum, and none of us found it easy to believe that this road could end in something like that. Suddenly, the area opened up and we found ourselves looking at a huge space, containing row after row of identical mud sided, tin roofed buildings. We drove over a small stream, the banks colorful with what we realized was piles of garbage, mostly plastic bags, and saw goats, dogs, and people picking through it. The slum itself was like the other villages we'd visited, except very condensed and packed- we didn't know what small was at this point, because then we took a right turn down a sidestreet that was so slim, we could have reached out and picked the fruit we wanted to buy right out of the huts, or shaken the hands of the great number of people that were trying to squeeze by the safari van.

Soon the familiar red, yellow, and blue colors appeared on a wall in front of us and we were in front of Kibera Primary School. (Disclaimer: I may have to check some of these facts and names later). For attention's sake, I'll have to greatly summarize this experience. Here are the facts:
There are 7 teachers and about 90 children.
I believe around 10 of them are orphans.
A few of the children are HIV positive.
The cost for a single child to go to school there for a month is about 450 shillings. The exchange rate might be about 80 shillings to a dollar on a given day. Therefore, the cost would be roughly $6.

The school there is like a bubble. You forget what kind of poverty and living conditions are right outside the doors. We visited a few classrooms while they were in session, and were often greeted by a zealous blast of nursery songs, both Kenyan and American. I remember specifically a song that spoke about swallowing a penny and having to have surgery at the doctors and feeling better, and another about the wise owl. We didn't spend as much time with the kids as we would have liked, but we did talk to the officers and the staff, and to representatives from organizations that worked with the Salvation Army in that area. They pointed out the housing that had been provided by the government, which did help, but was a very small drop in the ocean. We also stepped outside into the actual slum for a few minutes to do a home visit. There were people outside cooking and boney dogs looking for scraps. We noticed a dead rat next to the wall. The actual house was an unbelievabely cramped space, but the mother and her two daughters that were present were dressed better than we were. We thanked them for welcoming us into their house, and asked for prayer requests to bring them before God.

So those were the logistics. Here's what we learned.

When we rode in with our matching lime green team shirts and wide eyes, I felt a strange emotion that goes along these lines - What are we doing here, and who do we think we are? We don't fit in here, and we don't understand. We came into that place expecting to bless others. Instead, we were blessed. We thought it was unbelievable that the school was surrounded by such poverty and unclean living - we learned to see that it was a miracle that a God-centered school where the children could receive an education was in a place such as that. We thought that the people in this place (and the others in the future) were poor - we learned that we were judging by materialistic standards, and that while some may not have much, they can be so rich in spirit. We learned that while money can help provide clean water and clothing, it can only go so far, and that the real answer is love and compassion and teaching the people how to take initiative and solve the problem themselves, instead of quickly providing a temporary solution.

"The owl sits in the oak
The more he listens, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can't we all be more like the owl?"

God Bless


Friday, July 9, 2010

Guys, We are on a Safari!!

   From July 7th until July 12th our team will be spending our time in the city of Nakuru. The 4th largest city in Kenya, Nakuru is one of the major municipal centers of the Rift Valley. On Wednesday morning we left our home-base in Kabete, privelaged to be joined by Captain Tracy Hughes, our newly-appointed Territorial Missions Officer from back home in the Eastern Territory. Captain Tracy arrived during the late evening of the 4th and will be staying in Kenya until sometime on the 10th. With our enthusiastic leader in the fold, we embarked on the nearly two hours journey northwest past beautiful scenery and exotic African wildlife. Our team was greatly amazed when we spotted a herd of zebras grazing right next to the road, about 15 feet away from our transport van. This exciting experience was our first encounter with zebras since being in the country, and we were grateful for how our driver Martin kindly gave in to our pleas and slowed the van in order to allow for optimal photographing performance. As we continued on towards Nakuru we stopped at a scenic viewpoint overlooking the Great Rift Valley. The Valley provided incredible views of the mountains, vegetation, and even huts of the Maasi people far below. After pausing for photos we were immediately drawn into the gift shop, an experience that required us Americans to flex our negotiation power. The shop featured several interesting items fashioned by the Maasi people. Specific items included, wood and stone animal carvings, african drums, prints, jewelry, etc. From the moment we entered the room, we were each bombarded by individual workers who tried their best to convice us that we needed to spend huge amounts of money on just about anything and everything. The man that I dealt with presented me with a stone lion with an initial price of 6500 shillings (over 80 dollars), yet being individuals of wise repute, our team was able to gradually chip away at the prices and eventually agree upon a more "student friendly" transaction. The highlight of this encounter was when a man tried his best to convince me that 1500 shillings was only about 5 U.S. dollars when in reality it is closer to 20!

Upon reaching Nakuru we were greeted at DHQ by a host of officers and local soldiers. They presented each of our team members with necklaces as a sign of welcome. After enjoying lunch we were formally introduced and ushered into the chapel to facilitate a Bible Study. I was humbled to have the opportunity to present the study on Holiness, a topic that is fundamental to the early foundation of the Salvation Army. The study included great dialogue and discussion and I know that I myself was deeply challenged by the topic.

Day 2 included home visitation and evangelism in the village of Elburgon, about 45 minutes from downtown Nakuru. It was at this corps that our team was divided into 2 seperate brigades, one that would be praying within households and another that would be visiting 2 nearby corps, including one (Molo) that had been recently destroyed due to violent post-election rioting. Walking through the village of Elburgon, we learned from the local Envoy about the extreme problems created by alcoholism. Many individuals within the village make their own local brew of alcohol that is illegal due to high toxicity that often results in blindness or even death to unsuspecting consumers. After the visitations we took part in an Open Air Crusade in the market district of the village. Captain Kimeu spoke about how we as humans are given the free will to make decisions and that we are not expected to just go about life with complacency. He challenged those in attendence to make a concerted decision for Christ and overcome all of the obstacles that stood in the way of authentic freedom.

Day 3 began with a Holiness Meeting at the N'Gondu Corps. We were privelaged to take part in worship on a Friday morning with a crowd of about 50 energetic Salvationists. They shared Swahili songs and Gospel Dances with us while Rachel delivered her testimony, Sam preached, and our entire team took part in a ChoreoDrama. We have been greatly encouraged by the fact that the team as a whole has really stepped up to the plate and has shouldered the load of responsibilities. It is great to see how far we have come since our first official holiness in Thika just a few weeks ago. Everyone has adopted a greater sense of boldness and confidence, realizing that God truly does equip the called.

After lunch we were privelaged to yet again experience a Kenyan Open Air Crusade. Marching to the sound of the Army drum and brass instruments is an experience that makes me proud to be a Salvationist. William Booth sure knew what he was doing when he brought the church to the people.

I know that God will continue to bless the remaining days here in the Nakuru district, however I just wanted to provide brief insight into how this week has blessed our team. Continue to keep our team in your prayers as we look press on in our remaining 2 and a half weeks. Also remember to keep Captain Tracy Hughes in your prayers as she adjusts to her new change of appointment at Territorial Headquarters. She has blessed our team during her brief stint here and we know that she will continue to be a vital source of encouragement for us all!

Kwa-Heri ya kuonana
(Goodbye until we meet again!)


Thursday, July 1, 2010

24/6/10 Ademoi! (God bless [in the mother tongue Kamba])

This Thursday was another rest day for the team, but we spent the morning out observing the Wamunyu wood carvers and of course, buying some of their finely-crafted works. We started out around 10 and got to enjoy another drive in the country, which is personally one of the most relaxing and enjoyable things here. The landscape is gorgeous - I absolutely love the red dirt, which was caused by a volcano (as our knowledgeable driver tells us), and the greenery is a gorgeous compliment - take it from an art major. I never get enough of it. The compound where we arrived held several long huts, and under each one two rows of workers sat and carved. The first man we talked to had been carving for years, and though some go to schools specifically for that trade, he learned on his own. Like most of the other workers, he was carving a bowl that was shaped roughly like Africa and had an animal climbing into the top of it. As we moved on, we saw that they all used very effective, simple tools with amazing skill. Most of them could be best described as flatheaded ice picks of various sizes - one wrong move and you'd have a huge gash in your leg! I did notice that they had very small tools as well, for detail carving. It was difficult sometimes to imagine what their finished projects would look like, but after a short while we went into the store and were immediately blown away. There were wood projects of all sizes and shapes - from giant giraffes twice my size, to decorated wooden utensils for food, to jewelry bracelets and necklaces, to keychains, masks, sandals, bookends, and my favorite - every African animal you could imagine, carved with the utmost care and detail, sanded down to an unbelievable smoothness. It was tough not to spend all of our shillings in once place! After buying gifts and souvenirs for our families and friends, we headed back home, another free morning well spent.

peace and love, all!

"MUMO" - Grace :)

Hi Everyone!

We continue to be surrounded by people who love the Lord and have given their lives to serve Him - how inspiring it is...  I am grateful that we have been able to visit various towns and cities throughout Kenya- each place holding its own unique beauty.  The team continues to hold up well as we are experiencing all of these new places and faces :)

We have been grateful for the days of rest that have been dispersed throughout our time here.  The past two Mondays we have been able to walk the streets of Kenya to a place that sells American food- a little taste of home.  This past Monday, we also walked to the nearby market right down the street from the Kabete compound and were able to purchase mangos and bananas!  We purchased 12 bananas for 40 shillings (it is about 76 shillings to the American dollar).  The team has also enjoyed cooking dinners together and we have been able to try out original recipes (Sam and Nate have become masters at making homemade syrup and cheesy scallop potatoes!)  Needless to say, we are enjoying developing these skills and may even impress some of you upon our return.  Right now, we are anxiously awaiting the "chipate" cooking lesson that has been promised to us by the TYS (Territorial Youth Secretary) and ATYS (Assistant-TYS) that have been accompanying us throughout our stay here. Chipate is a traditional Kenyan food resembling what might look like a fajita to most of us. The children on the compound are also a joy to watch! They love to play futbol (soccer)- dressed in their school uniforms and all! Some of my team members have enjoyed playing this famous sport with them  :)

We are being challenged in new ways and are grateful for the opportunity to be here in Africa.  I ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers.  Today we visited the largest slum in all of Africa called Kibera- over 1 million people living in an area of 3 square miles (you will be hearing more about our time there from one of my team members soon).  The children's smiles were full of hope and beauty- what a lesson of childlike faith I am challenged by as I witness their joy despite the unfortunate circumstances that they are facing.  We are constantly witnessed to through the lives that the people of Kenya live... what selfless people... how humbling it is for us to beautiful.

Blessings to all!
We love you,

Pichas! Our visits to Thika, Kathiani and Kibera


Wednesday, June 30, 2010