Friday, January 19, 2018

Ura River School Medical Clinic

Today we visited the Ura River School to conduct a medical clinic for kids and adults. There were hundreds of children and adults who were there for the clinic. The clinic itself was a first step in cooperation with the Maua Methodist Hospital where the hospital and volunteers will conduct a clinic every six months so they can follow the progress of children to keep track of their health. The hope is that groups such as ours will return and visit the same school each time so the teams can develop a relationship with a specific school.

We were greeted with smiles, high fives, and excitement. We spent the first part of the day in an open field talking, high fiving, running, and simply sharing smiles with hundreds of kids. Even though we were different we were not met with fear but with curiosity and excitement. We even got the kids (and ourselves) to act a little bit goofy...

Then Eric and I went to four classrooms to give deworming medicine and helped with height and weight measurement for two of the classrooms. After getting the medicine the kids were given a sucker which they absolutely loved. The classrooms were not what we are used to. The classes were pretty big (around 50 per class) and met in rooms with open windows and dirt floors. It was a very eye opening experience. What I noticed that even with 100 kids in a room (there were two classes combined) that they were very well behaved. They were even asking for pictures and for us to play outside with them throughout the day.

After lunch, I helped with eye exams for adults and we were able to hand out reading glasses for those who needed them. Two instances in particular stood out. First, was a man who was not in need of glasses but was squinting because he needed sunglasses. We didn't have sunglasses, except as luck would have it we had one pair (in the right perscription) that we found about two minutes after the man left. I was able to find him and he came back and got the sunglasses that he needed. He was so grateful that he jogged with me back to the room to get them. And he had a look of pure joy on his face. Stanley got so excited when another man could see with his new glasses and excitedly jumped up and down saying it was "a miracle." Stanley does so much for the people of Kenya, he is the embodiment of that miracle for so many.

Between the eyeglass exams I was able to blow bubbles with the kids. It was great fun even though I was very quickly surrounded by 30-40 kids furiously trying to pop the bubbles. They really enjoyed and I enjoyed the excitement on their faces. It's amazing how something so simple that we sometimes take for granite can cause such excitement.

We were able to help people in need today and have a fun at the same time. It is a great program that has been well thought out by the Maua Methodist Hospital to go to six different schools every six months to track the health of the students and provide medical exams such as looking at blood pressure, testing for diabetes, and checking eyes for adults. The adults and children can follow up with the hospital and get the help that they need. I was glad that we could be a part of this medical clinic today and help so many people. I believe there were over 500 kids that were there and almost the same number of adults (but don't quote me on that). I just know that it was quite a few people.

My prayer for today is that we open our eyes and see the true spirit and nature of God. That God loves all children and all people no matter how different we are. And we are called to do the same. We have been given so much and we need to respond by giving of what we have. We can give hope to so many in the way we use all of our resources. I pray that we would do the best job that we can and use the gifts and resources we have been given to help others in need. Let us not forget that we are all God's children and we need to help one another despite any differences that we may have. Let us greet one another as children of God with excitement, wonder, and high fives.

I will have plenty of time to process what I have seen as we leave Kenya in a couple of days. Going back and looking at pictures, reading what others have posted and blogged about, and sharing what I have experienced will help me fully process the experiences of this pilgrimage. I truly have been blessed to be a blessing. Maybe that's what it's all about.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

A House of Blessings

This afternoon we went to dedicate the AIDS Orphan home that our team has been working on all week. It was an amazing "event" to be seen. Not only were the new home owners there but so was a lot of the community and other organizations that helped. It was truly amazing to see the number of groups represented such as the West District team, the house work team, the Maua Methodist Hospital Community Health Department, and women's group among many others. It was a celebration that brought out a lot of groups who helped in the process of making this a home for Alfred and Bessie. Alfred (15) and Bessie (18) are two AIDS orphans who have lost both their parents to the disease. They were overwhelmed by the celebration and dedication as many of us were. As far as we can tell, they had been living in a shed shack that was about five feet tall with corrugated metal sides. The home they will now live in which is pictured above is a 10X20 two room house which greatly improves their living conditions. As Corey said: "it's not often that you get to see a moment that truly changes someone's life." And he's right, it was very powerful. We have had a couple of those moments this week. They now have a home which we all hope and pray will be a house filled with blessings for years to come. We got to see two youth get a new home and we have got to know the work crews at both the AIDS Orphan Home and the Maua Methodist Hospital. Lisa had the idea to call the house a "House of Blessings" and those words are written on the house along with the date the house was dedicated. It truly has been a week filled with many blessings and the week isn't over yet as tomorrow we will go to serve a neighborhood school by conducting a medical clinic. 

The question in our devotional for this evening was: "what will you tell someone who wasn't with us at the dedication about today?" I believe it was Harrell who said he would tell them everything. And I think that is key. I have been writing this week each day with my thoughts from the day but that doesn't begin to describe the week. I want people to experience it for themselves. I want people to know they we can do more and we can't forget about others. We have been given so much and we should be expected to give back. As uncle Ben from Spider-Man puts it: "with great power comes great responsibility." Or the gospel of Luke puts it this way: 

"Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked."~Luke 12:48

We have been given so much and we should be expected to give back as much. We have so many material things and we don't need them all. We suffer from the burden of having too much while others, such as our Christian brothers and sisters in Kenya suffer from the burden of too little. As we were leaving the building of "The Great Wall" at the Maua Methodist Hospital today I was struck by what our fellow worker and new friend Patrick said to me, Eric, and Margie. He said: "Don't forget about us." 

I can't and I won't.

It's on me, it's on us to go back and share everything about our experience. To share all the blessings that we have given and also the blessings we have received. The blessings that we have received from our God.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Day of Blessings

"But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won't be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it."~1 Corinthians 12:25-26

Today was a great day filled with many blessings. Stanley Gitari began our day with a very powerful devotional at the Maua Methodist Hospital. He spoke about generosity and the generosity we must have as Christians. The devotional was for our mission team and the workers at the hospital. He stressed that our generosity is not just our money but also our gifts, talents, and time that we can give. I kept that idea in my mind throughout the day as a way to focus myself on the task at hand. What I have noticed this week is that many people have given of their time this week. All thirteen members of the team gave of their gifts, talents and their time to be here for the people of Kenya this week. And as Stanley put it, workers at the hospital are giving of their gifts as well. Each of us as Christians, or even broader as humans, need to give of our talents in whatever may we can to help others who are in need.

The rest of the morning and into the afternoon was filled with very hard work. I spent most of the day lifting heavy pieces of rock to the workers on the scaffolding while we were building the wall. It was probably the hardest physical work I have ever done. I am not sure how much each of these various rocks weighed but they were heavy and hard to pick up over and over.  I am impressed by how the team building the wall is able to do that work so efficiently and on a regular basis. It was very physically taxing for me.

I spent part of the afternoon, along with Hanna, delivering hats to the pediatric ward at the Maua Methodist Hospital.  It was tough to see the condition of a couple of the children, it really does break my heart. At the same time, the kids were so excited and peering around the corner when they saw us coming. The smiles on their faces was amazing as we were able to spend just a few minutes with them and place new knit caps on their heads. It truly was amazing. Despite the short amount of time we spent with them it truly is something I will never forget. There's just something about the smile on a child's face.

And then it was back to lifting rocks and working on as I call it: "The Great Wall" or "The Wailing Wall" depending on what kind of mood I'm in. As we broke for the day we got to visit a little with our new friends Samson, Patrick, and Pyus. We laughed together and took a selfie and then wished each other well and would look forward to working together tomorrow.

We all have talents and today I saw many of them on display in the blessings that were bestowed upon others. I saw hard work to get the wall built by those on our team. I saw the pure joy on the faces of the children in the pediatric ward as Hanna and I were able to visit with them and bring them knit caps. And our work day ended with great conversation and well wishes from our fellow workers. We have worked together throughout the week and for that I am thankful. I look forward to another hard day of work at Maua Methodist tomorrow. Everyone gave generously in their own way today: wether it was lifting rocks, mixing cement, fixing a swing set, or visiting children in the hospital. (And that doesn't even include the rest of our team who worked so hard on the AIDS Orphan Home today that it will easily be able to be finished before the dedication tomorrow.)

It's simply amazing what can be accomplished when we give generously and think about others instead of ourselves. That's what the body of Christ is all about, thinking of others rather than ourselves. A life that involves service to others. As we worked together as the body of Christ today, not only was a great deal accomplished but it was a really fun day filled with hard work, joy, smiles, laughter, friendships, and many other blessings. I was truly blessed with a great day today. The key is to take those blessings and what I have experienced and share those experiences with others. God has put the body together so that we can work together and alleviate suffering and help others in need. It works the best when we are able to work together. 
I look forward to sharing about my experience with others in the hope that they would come along on the journey to help others in need.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Be Still and Know...

"The Lord says, "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth." ~Psalm 46:10

This scripture was in our devotional for today and it was rather fitting. This verse used to frustrate me because I have a very hard time being still, just ask anyone who knows me. But that's because I made it about me and only focused on the "be still" part of the verse and not on what follows which is an exaltation of God while I am still.

Today, there were times while we were digging a trench for a wall that I could have gotten frustrated. We took a long break and a longer lunch simply because that is what the foreman told us to do. They take the time to take breaks. Myself, Margie, and Jennifer (who are part of our team) were digging a trench along the fence line and we began talking with Samson who is one of our drivers this week. Samson did not have to work with us but he chose to and I am so glad that he did. He began explaining the language in Kenya. He told us there were 42 tribal languages that were spoken in Kenya but Swahili is the language that everyone knows and that is the way people communicate. For instance, when Kenyan people trade in the marketplace they usually will speak in Swahili because it is the common language. He then began to teach us some Swahili words. I asked for the Swahili words for the primary tools we were using: an ax, a shovel, and a machete. In case you were wondering the Swahili word for ax is shoka, shovel is kijiko, and machete is ponga. We really enjoyed these conversations with Samson and learned a great deal from him.

Later in the afternoon a doctoral student named Raj came to help us dig the trench. He is here on a medical trip. He is originally from India and is currently a medical student in Galveston. Between digging, as we were taking breaks, we talked about how how we ended up where we were. We probably talked for about 30-45 minutes while we were working and taking breaks. We even found we had a commonality, he grew up in Beaumont and I met my wife in Beaumont. So the place is special to both of us for different reasons.

A reflection question in our devotion today was: did you have a still moment today when you exalted God? I did. As I took one short breather late this afternoon and Raj began to work, I was silent and simply thanked God for today. Neither Samson or Raj had to be there working-they chose to work and for that I am thankful. They gave of their time and came to work because they wanted to help out. My day would have not been as fruitful if not for the two of them. I am grateful that God put them in the same place as me today to fulfilling a greater purpose then digging a trench to build a wall. I hope that they are able to come back and help tomorrow.

Have you had a still moment today when you have exalted God? If not I encourage you to do so now. If you have had a still moment with God today, having another one can't hurt...


Monday, January 15, 2018

Building an AIDS Orphan Home

"What good is it, brothers and sisters, if you have faith, but do not have works?"~James 2:14

Today we began work on an AIDS orphan home here in Maua, Kenya. The home is for two young people living with AIDS named Alfred (who is 15) and his 18 year old sister. Alfred helped with the building of his home with us today by carrying lumber and working on the frames of the trusses for the house. We have a foreman named Charles, who is directing our Kenya mission team on the worksite. He's awesome and trimmed a board with a machete which initially caught me off guard but actually was a better cut than four pastors could manage. And yes, I'm being serious-toward the end of the day four of us pastors had a hand in cutting one board and it wasn't a straight cut. So the answer to the question: "how many pastors does it take to saw a board" the answer is four. Charles directed myself, Corey, Eric, Greg, and Harrell in the building of the two room 10X20 home. Our team from the West District will continue to rotate throughout the week and I believe all thirteen of us will have a hand in the building of the home. Charles had a crew with him to help including a young girl named Elizabeth (who we called Queen Elizabeth) working very hard today. I am quite certain that this crew could build the home much quicker without our help. We could have just donated the money for the home and left it at that, but that's not really the point.

Building the house together with the Kenyan people is so meaningful for everyone involved because it involves them and us working together despite the barriers between us. First, we are able to work together and build relationships. To start building those relationships we had to first work together. There was a language barrier but it didn't matter because we had a common goal that as Corey put it: "of simply doing what needed to be done. It's meaningful to me that Alfred wanted to help with the building of the house for him and his sister. He is investing in his own home, he didn't have to but he chose to. Second, I noticed today was that we (as Americans) followed the lead of the Kenyans (Charles and his crew). That's not something that we are accustomed to do often but I believe its a good practice. We followed and the Kenyans led because they had a better way that they are accustomed to within their culture. The Kenyan people build these homes (with our help) but the houses get built their way in a way that works for them. They take the lead and we follow. Erik said it reminded him that Christ came to serve and not to be served. We didn't do it our way, we did it the way the Kenyan people do it because we are here to be Christlike by serving others the way Christ served others.

I glanced over at the clothes on the table and noticed the shirt on top which reads: "I Am Second." I think that is fitting tonight. The statement means that Christ is first. Today that statement meant more because I was second to the Kenyan people because I needed to allow them to lead so I could follow. Their way in building this home is a better way of building a home for them, just like Christ's way is a better way for our lives which included service to others. I look forward to working throughout the rest of the week with Charles and his crew as we build the house together, serving together, and above all putting Christ first by serving. Today we worked on our faith by working with others. Our faith is not good enough when we choose to do it our way and not work with others.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Not Your Typical Sunday

Today was such an amazing, wonderful, and inspiring day. Our team began the day by going to Stanley Gitari's church in Maua (MCK Athiru Gaiti Methodist Church) and hearing a powerful message about love. The pastor there was preaching his last sermon at the church and still made a point to deliver a message that involved us as visitors. The message was spoken in English and Swahili. I couldn't understand some of the words of the message because of the language barrier but it didn't matter because it was obvious how passionate both men were about delivering the message and translating that message for everyone present, Kenyans and Americans alike. The Holy Spirit truly was present in that worship space this morning. 

After having tea with some of the church members we went to the New Hope ECDE School to present them with a gift for a water well to be dug on their campus on behalf of the West District of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. We were welcomed with open arms as they greeted us by walking towards us singing a song of welcome. We then all walked into the courtyard singing together. I was overwhelmed by their hospitality and the singing as we arrived. I have never seen such hospitality in my life. As I began to shoot a video of them walking towards us I got a little choked up because there was a child leading them. How fitting. I believe that I have heard that in the Bible somewhere...

"And a little child shall lead them." ~Isaiah 11:6

One of the smallest children at the school was leading other children and adults to welcome us. I loved how the child was leading the group to welcome us because it means that someone must have been showing her how to be welcoming. That gives me hope. The kids were so excited that they wanted to take pictures with the team. Some of them even knew what a selfie was and wanted to take selfies with our mission team to have on their own phones. It gave me hope because these children and all of these people did not see the color of our skin or where we were from. They simply saw that we came there to them and that we are all children of God. That gives me hope.

I hope that we can always strive to be as passionate about worship as the Kenyan people were today. I hope that we can be as welcoming each and every day as the Kenyan people were today. I hope that we can look past all of our differences and simply see every person as a beloved child of God.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

More Traveling Musings

Today was another day of travel within Kenya. It was a full day and I feel like most of us were tired after dinner and devotional but still some of us decided to go shopping for some souvenirs across the street from the hotel. We traveled inland from Nairobi to Maua where we will be for the rest of the week. A couple things really stuck out to me today as we traveled. First, everyone we came in contact with was very hospitable. We had three wonderful meals at three different places today and at each of them everyone was so nice and we tried new things at each meal. We even cleaned our hands before dinner with lemon and a hot towel which was a brand new experience for me. Second, everything from driving inland to Meru and Maua to our tour of an agricultural training center showed how resourceful the Kenyan people are. They make due with everything that they have so that they can make a living and provide for each other. It didn't seem like anything was wasted. We saw numerous donkeys, cows, and goats throughout our travels today assisting the people with agricultural needs. We then had lunch at the Meru Methodist Bio-Intensive Agriculture Training Center where they grow their own crops while training others.

I think we can learn a lesson from this, that lesson is simply that we can be more resourceful by not wasting what we have which includes the land that we are called to take care of by God. And we can be hospitable towards others. I feel like this blog post should be a bit longer but like I said, it's been a long day.