25 April 2007

May Prayer Letter - God is good all the time!

Let me share a praise report about my recent 11-day trip through 3 states, 4 cities and in 5 different homes:

The entire trip - by car, bus, and plane - was incredible! It was a journey of re-connecting with folks I've met in Kenya!

I started off by driving through the night with Naomi and her kids. They'd been in Omaha for a few days and were returning to their home in Cleveland, Ohio. It was great to hang out with them at their home for a couple of days. I even played with Tony in the recent 18-inch snow they'd gotten!

My next stop was Cincinnati, Ohio to see Edith and Peter. While there, I went to one of the city's parks and also a conservatory. The plant and flower displays were spectacular!

Peter and Edith had 6 others over that I've gotten to know in Kenya. Four of the eight are Kenyans, so it was wonderful to hear the Kenyan accent again! We had a wonderful time of catching up with one another! I also attended their Wednesday night church service. It was my 2nd time to be at their church. As I left Cincinnati, I was surprised when 4 different people handed me gifts of money. God is so good!

Next was Shelbyville, Kentucky to stay with Randy and his wife, Marti. Again, a gathering of about 8 folks came over one evening. Four of them had just been in Kenya in February, so it was great to hear the report of their trip while we ate some fun food! A friend of Randy's stopped over one day. He's was a complete stranger to me, but he felt compelled to give me a great big bear hug and pray for me. It was cool!

I got to watch "End of the Spear" (the movie about Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other missionaries that were killed in Ecuador). It was excellent!

Their daughter (who I also met in Kenya) was excited to get my book. Randy and his wife gave me money to buy a new bike for Matunda (since my other one was stolen). Again, I was pleasantly surprised! God is so good to me!

I next went to stay with Tom and Trish in Mt.Vernon, Illinois. They had a large gathering of folks over one evening (and more great food). Most of them I'd met in Kenya, but some were new to me. Actually... there was a continual parade of folks stopping by to see me the whole time I was at their house! It was pretty cool!

A good friend of theirs (who is now a new friend of mine) bought me a video camera! My goodness, the blessings seemed to never stop on this trip! It was amazing!

I watched "Pursuit of Happyness" with them. (It's an excellent true story, by the way, in case any of you haven't yet seen it.)

I spoke about my ministry at their church's Sunday morning service. I think it went well, especially judging by all the many comments I got afterwards. There was a potluck lunch afterwards. I really connected with a few of the folks, one of whom I gave my book to. Then, I did an hour Q/A session in the evening. The questions came non-stop. Often 5-6 hands would be up an one time! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The church blessed me by spontaneously taking up a special offering. Again, I was not expecting anything of the sort! Many people told me that they believe God will greatly use my presence there to spur others towards missions.

I also stayed at Scott and Tammy's house. It was great to spend time with them again and to get to know their newly adopted 14-year old daughter - Araceli. She's a sweetie!

One evening, Tammy, Araceli, Katie (Tom and Trish's daughter), and I went to an Origami class. It was fun! The teacher spontaneously bought one of my books! I also spent some time talking to a wood carving teacher. He spontaneously gave me a carving knife and a gouger, plus a piece of wood to carve.

Scott, Tammy, Araceli, and I went to the St.Louis zoo and had White Castle cheeseburgers before I caught my plane home.

I marvel at how many people I've come to know in Kenya since I first went there! We have a special connection because of our similar experiences in that foreign land. It's so wonderful to get to spend time with them and share our stories with each other.

This trip was an amazing example of how God will bless us if we walk in His will!

"God guides, then provides!"

I sort of topped off my trip by going to a "welcome home" dinner a mere 2 hours after I arrived back in Omaha yesterday. It was held for Chis and Erin - 2 more neat people I've met in Kenya - who had just returned from a 9-week missions trip to India, Cambodia, and Thailand. It was a fun evening!

This Sunday, I met with a small group of folks that I also met in Kenya. Before we knew it, 3 hours had passed by. We were so engrossed in conversation, that we had no idea of the time.

Tomorrow night, I'm meeting with yet some more folks that share an interest in Kenya.

Relationships are so important! I feel blessed to know so many neat people!

To be sure... God is good all the time!

My Four Grandkids

Aren't they great?!

Terran is 12
Aaliyah just turned 4
Tony is 3
Mia is 10 months

Flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to St.Croix

I was pleasantly surprised to see this little 8-seater plane for my 45-minute ride from one island to the next! There were only 2 passengers, plus the pilot.

I t-h-o-r-o-u-g-h-l-y enjoyed the flight!

It was an absolute blast!

Snorkeling at St.Croix

I went snorkeling for a solid hour. I also thoroughly enjoyed that experience! It was only my 2nd time to snorkel - the first was in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Kenya.

This time, of course, was in the Caribbean Sea. The fish, plant life, and even the ocean floor was amazing and spectacular to behold! God's creative imagination displayed all over the world is incredible!

Info on Kenya

I thought you might like to read some of what I shared at Victory Christian Center in Mt. Vernon, Illinois -

Kenya gained her independence from Britain in 1963

Beautiful country!

Size of Texas; 75% of the country is ASAL (Arid and semi-arid land) – less than 10% of land is arable (able to grow crops)

Tea, coffee, sugar cane, fruit, flowers, corn, wheat

Tourism – one of biggest industries

Currency – Shilling (current exchange rate is about 68/= to 1 USD)

Located in East Africa – Indian Ocean on the east; neighboring countries are Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia

Straddles the equator; majority of country (that isn't ASAL) enjoys a very temperate climate (70’s and 80’s year-round) – 2 rainy seasons - flooding is common during rainy seasons; recurring drought common during dry seasons

Mt. Kenya is tallest mountain (2nd tallest in all of Africa) – about 17,000 feet high – snow on peaks year round

Population – 35 million; 42 different tribes

Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Muslim 10%, indigenous beliefs 10%, other 2% - I often see taxi drivers reading their Bibles while waiting for the next customer – cyber cafes often play Christian music

Languages: English (official), Swahili (national), numerous indigenous (tribal) languages – I hear and speak a little Swahili, enough to get by – but most of the time, English works fine

75% of Kenyans live in rural areas / US is the exact opposite

50% unemployment

Nairobi – largest city and the capital – 3.5 million people – 50% live in dilapidated hovels in disgusting slums

Kibera – 2nd largest slum in all of Africa – home to one million people – I’ve visited there numerous times; have been in homes and schools

Kenyan people - friendly, hospitable, warm welcome (even when guests are unexpected and even if they’re total strangers), content, hard workers, patient, respect elders, giving and selfless (will share a meal even if it’s all they have to eat; they would give the shirt off their back)

Kenyans appreciate the joy of simple pleasures. They display true contentment in the midst of dire poverty and daily struggles.

Really, they’re just like you and me. They have dreams. They fall in love. They want what’s best for their kids.

COMPARISONS between the US and Kenya

Kenya – 85% (illiterate are typically older women)
US – 99%

Average life span:
Kenya – 49 (AIDS, tribal clashes, tropical diseases, infant mortality, etc)
US – 78

Infant mortality rate:
Kenya – 60
deaths per 1,000 live births
US – 6

Population growth:
Kenya – 2.6%
US - 0.9%

Median age:
Kenya – 18
US – 36

Age structure:
Kenya – 43% aged 14 and under
US – 20% aged 14 and under

Fertility rate:
Kenya – 5 children per woman
US – 2 children per woman

HIV/AIDS rates:
Kenya – almost 7%
US – less than 1%

These numbers aren’t just statistics. These numbers represent real faces, real people – they represent my friends. Hopefully these facts and figures will paint a “picture” of sorts for you.

The American and Kenyan lifestyles are so different – especially economically!

After having lived in a foreign country for most of the past five and a half years, I believe I can wholeheartedly agree with those who claim that Americans are rather self-absorbed. The average American only thinks of the good ol’ US of A – how wonderful it is, how mighty we are, and how booming our economy is. We conveniently ignore the fact that literally billions of people in the world don’t have the essentials of life: clean water, proper sanitation, and three meals a day.

Unlike Americans, Kenyans don’t have kitchens full of food. Rather they ask God for their daily bread! Many of my Kenyan friends only eat two meals a day – that is, if you count tea as a meal!

Unlike Americans who (relatively speaking) have huge homes, most urban Kenyan families live in one room that’s only 100 square feet (commonly called a 10x10). Your bedrooms are likely larger than that!

They share a community toilet and washroom with several other families.

Americans seem (to me) to be in hot pursuit of more and more leisure, more and more luxury items, more and more comfort, and more and more pleasure, amusement, and entertainment.

On the contrary, Kenyans struggle just to meet their most basic needs. They live with almost no luxury and virtually no time for leisure activities. Rather, their days are consumed with survival. To state it in terms maybe you can understand, to most Kenyans toilet paper is a luxury!

Coming next time -

"6 Questions I'm commonly asked about my ministry in Kenya"

By the way, I'd love to hear your comments on the above information!

04 April 2007

Jessica's Wedding

Mr. and Mrs. Jason Epting
March 31, 2007
Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands

Wedding Site: Seaduction

"I'm married!"

After the Wedding

Keenan and Jason

The delicious reception/brunch



and scrambled eggs!

Some Group Shots

Yoaman (Jessica's Dad), Deb, Jessica, Jason, Dot (Jason's Mom), Keenan (Jason's son)

The entire gang that was in attendance - 22 of us!

The Day Before the Wedding

The two sisters

Jeremy, Keenan, Deb, Jason, Dot, Jeffrey

Todd and Naomi

Three More Great Shots

The structure up on the hill is a "sugar mill". About 250 years ago, St.Croix was 75% covered in sugar cane fields. It was the largest producer of sugar in the Caribbean. Wind powered the machinery that squeezed out the cane juice. Molasses and rum are by-products. The island is still known for its "Cruzan Rum".

Typical Architecture in Christiansted, St.Croix

St.Croix has suffered extensive damage in the past 18 years from three hurricanes (including Hurricane Hugo in 1989). There are many severely damaged structures throughout the island (such as this one above).

Another sugar mill

Almost all the buildings were painted in pastel colors such as these three. The downtown area could easily be described as "quaint" or "charming".

The "government building" in downtown Christiansted.

A Few More Shots

The newlyweds

Jess with Jason's three sisters