31 July 2007

August Prayer Letter

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is not a path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Deb, you are a pioneer with a machete in your hand. Charge ahead.” Pastor Martin Williams (2001)
“I was born for this.” Joan of Arc (1429)
Whenever I arrive back in the States, I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve walked in on a conversation that’s already in progress. It takes me some time to sort of get into a groove, to catch up on what’s going on with everyone, and to find my place again. On the other hand, when I arrive back in Kenya, it seems I immediately get back into the flow. This particular time, as I’ve met all of my Kenyan friends one by one, I have this strong sensation that it’s as if I never left. God has called me to “exhale” beyond Omaha, Nebraska… all the way across the globe in East Africa!
Whether in Kenya or in the US of A, I do my level best to live in alignment with God’s unique calling on my life. I desire with all my heart, to be faithful to the personality, design, and spiritual gifting that He has bestowed upon me. I do this whether I’m in the confines of a church building or walking the dirt roads of a remote African village.
I minister to folks in their homes, as we break bread together or as we travel alongside one another, dodging muddy puddles or bouncing together in a matatu.
  • I am about my Father’s business.
  • I am impacting my generation.
  • I am living out the design God had on my life before the beginning of time.
  • With resolute courage, I live before an audience of One rather than seek the approval of many.
Often, I feel like I’m a pioneer. Such a position can be difficult and lonely at times. However, I’ve learned to accept (and, at times, to embrace) this burden of blazing a trail and going where no one has gone before.
I am truly walking in faith – with no salary and no paycheck! I marvel daily at how God meets my needs as I solely rely on Him. He is my Jehovah-Jireh! And He is ever faithful! Indeed, my cup overflows as God provides me with enough to bless others. It’s far beyond being all about me.
Paul said in Acts 20:24, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.” Acts 13:36 (Message) says, “David completed the work God set out for him.” At the end of my life, I want to hear these words from my loving, heavenly Father – “Well done, my good and faithful servant”!
Through the month of August, please pray for me in the following ways:
  • Since two weeks before I left the States, I haven’t been at 100%. Please pray for my complete healing. God is my Jehovah-Rapha!
  • I’ll be on the road much of the month visiting some of the high school students I’m in relationship with (especially Collins and Masudi). I will also travel to see Agnes (mother to Duane, the baby I helped deliver two and a half years ago.) She now has a newborn baby and isn’t living with her husband, Charles. Please pray for my safety and that I will follow the steps God has laid out for me as far as ministering to these folks.
  • I’m on my way to Matunda today (Tuesday). Please pray for my peace of mind, as I don’t know what to expect upon arrival at my mud hut. It was broken into a 2nd time while I was in the States.
  • Soon, I’ll begin looking for a place of my own to rent in Nairobi. Please pray that I’ll be sensitive to the Lord’s leading as He grants me the desires of my heart: reasonable price, quiet setting, large enough to comfortably host friends for meals or overnight.
  • Please continue to ask God to bless and prosper Jeremiah and Karo’s milk business.
I’m so grateful for those of you that faithfully uphold my friends and me in prayer! May God bless you!
“It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle.” Shane Claiborne

26 July 2007

Glimpses of Life in Kenya

The Toothless Man

“Excuse me, excuse me. I am Abraham. I’m hungry.”

Vera and I had sat down at the only available table in the hospital cafeteria at Kijabe. It happened to be next to a window. In spite of the chilly weather, the window was open.

We each had a pile of “chips” (fries), two big pieces of chicken, and a soda. When we were close to finishing our lunch, a man attempted to get my attention from outside the window.

“Excuse me, excuse me. I am Abraham. I’m hungry.”

Initially I ignored him, partly because it was difficult to understand him. Much of what he said sounded like mumbling.

Eventually, I turned and looked at him. Now, I could see why he was difficult to understand; it appeared that he didn’t have a single upper tooth. Once he had my attention, he repeated himself, “I am Abraham. I’m hungry.” Reaching his hand in through the window, he pointed at my plate of food.

I asked Vera if she thought it’d be okay if I gave him something. She hesitantly said to go ahead. We both knew that it was probably against hospital regulations. However, I decided it made more sense to help fill another soul’s stomach instead of overfilling mine!

I tore out two obituary pages from my newspaper and wrapped up a piece of chicken and my leftover chips. Vera contributed her remaining chips, as well. As I handed the package to him through the window, he mumbled that he wanted my soda, too. In spite of his bold request, I told him no. With his lunch package in his hand, he thanked me and disappeared, likely to a secluded spot to indulge.

The "Operation"
I had spent a couple of days with Karo and Jeremiah in Kayole. Now I was on my way to see my friend, Kim, at Langata. Karo walked me to the stage, where we squeezed in a few last minutes of chatting. As a mini-bus approached, the conductor (hanging out of the door) inquired with a gesture whether or not we were going. I told her I thought I’d take that one.

As I said good-bye to her, I tossed in my bag and climbed up into the cab next to the driver. I settled down in the window seat. We meandered through the crowded streets of Kayole, stopping at every stage to collect more passengers wherever we could. No one ever joined me at the seat next to me and I didn’t talk to the driver. I simply enjoyed watching all the activity from my vantage point; daily life in Kenya fascinates me.

We finally made it onto Jogoo Road and headed towards “town” (downtown Nairobi). Our driver turned into a petrol station, but bypassed the pumps. We pulled up alongside an empty matatu and parked. As the conductor got out, the driver hollered at two guys standing near the road. One turned to him and dramatically communicated something with hand motions. Another mini-bus pulled up alongside us and all the passengers got out.

Unknown to me, apparently all of the passengers on my vehicle (seated in another compartment) had also alighted.

“Excuse me,” said my driver a bit timidly. “There’s an operation. Can you get out?”

“What kind of an operation?”

“The police, they’re checking car registrations. You need to get out and find another vehicle.”

“But I haven’t paid yet. Where’s your conductor?” I still owed 20-bob (28 cents) for my ride to town.

“It’s okay. You don’t need to pay because of the operation.”

I jumped down out of the bus and bumped my way through the dozens of stranded passengers who were now looking for another vehicle to take them to town.

Deciding instead to walk, I happened past where the police were conducting the “operation”. They had pulled many vehicles over alongside the road. I followed the gaze of many by-standers into sort of a vacant field. Inside were dozens more police officers and about 30-40 vehicles they’d apparently seized. Many drivers (in blue uniforms) and conductors (in maroon uniforms) idled around.

To be sure, one can never know what the day may hold in Kenya!

Current News Headlines

July 23 –
Four die as speeding bus hits pothole
Another 14 were seriously injured when their bus hit a pothole and landed in a rice paddy. Those that died were thrown out of the bus after its roof was ripped open.

City Hall effects ban on public smoking
The General Nuisance By-Laws provide that any person who:

(1) smokes cigarettes in public places;

(2) spits on any footpath or blows his nose otherwise than into a suitable cloth or tissue;

(3) defecates or urinates on the street or any open space; shall be guilty of offense.

The by-laws also make it an offense to:

(1) tout for passengers;

(2) sound a motor horn or cycle bell except in the case of an emergency;

(3) wash or repair a motor vehicle on the street;

(4) shout, use a bell or gong or loudspeaker for the purpose of hawking;

(5) throw down orange peels, banana skin or other substance likely to cause a person to fall down.

3 million worldwide are killed annually by malaria

Kikwete’s HIV test boosts Tanzania’s war on Aids
Tanzania (Kenya's neighbor to the south) marked a significant milestone in the fight against HIV/Aids when President Jakaya Kikwete and his wife, Salma, took a voluntary test last week. It was the first time that a president had taken such a test in public. This is expected to demystify testing for HIV/Aids and encourage more people to take the test.

With only 13% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for 32% of world rice imports.

July 25 –
Minister’s maternity gift to new mothers
The government has abolished maternity fees in public dispensaries and health centers. Health Minister Charity Ngilu said the fees – which range from sh300 to sh500 ($5-7) per delivery – had been scrapped in all the gazette 3,000 dispensaries and 500 health centers. The move is expected to benefit 1.2 million women who give birth annually.

Yesterday, Mrs. Ngilu said, “Delivery under the care of a trained health worker is one of the key interventions for reducing maternal and newborn deaths. Unfortunately many of our pregnant women are unable to deliver at health facilities due to many factors such as distance, affordability, socio-cultural factors, lack of decision-making power and quality of care.”

Six out of every ten pregnant women deliver at home under the care of relatives, neighbors, or traditional birth attendants. According to experts, one in every 200 pregnant women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth related causes. Mrs. Ngilu said, “One in every 20 newborns die within the first 28 days of their lives from complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth. The loss of a mother easily translates into increased risk of death of her child.”

A total of 3,951 people have died of malaria (in Kenya) in the past six months
During the same period, 3.1 million cases of malaria were reported.

21 July 2007

Arrival of My First Bag!

Photos of the Wanjala Family

Angela and I have been good buddies ever since I first met her almost 6 years ago. We've spent literally HUNDREDS of hours coloring together. This was our first puzzle we've ever done. She kept wanting to quit; I don't think she's so familiar with the concept of puzzles. I kept telling her that quitting was not allowed. Eventually, we successfully completed it! She wanted to immediately do it again, but supper was ready just then. I know we will do it again, though.

Bishop cutting his birthday cake. In the background is Gladys, their oldest child. Below is Margaret giving him a birthday card. This family is truly wonderful! I love and admire them very much!


These "street boys" (commonly referred to as "chokora" here in Kenya) have hitched a ride on the top of this garbage truck. The driver may or may not know that they are there. I'm quite sure their plan is to ride all the way to the dump. Once there, they'll likely claim first dibs on whatever comes off of the truck. This is a common practice, and is one of the creative ways that homeless children have found to survive.

I'm sure you'll notice that the truck is losing trash all along its route. Please notice, too, that we drive on the left side of the street in Kenya.

I've also included this shot, so you can see an Acacia tree. To me, they are the quintessential African tree! I greatly admire them! There are many varieties of this species; this isn't the most attractive, in my opinion, but I still love viewing them.

20 July 2007

I Am In Kenya

Omaha, Monday July 16, Day of Departure – I was able to reach 3 of my 4 kids, by phone, for a last good-bye. My brother stopped over to see me just before I left. He, my Mom, and I prayed together before my Mom dropped me off at Eppley Airport at 11:30am. My apprehension about my bags being overweight (and possibly even too many) was unfounded. That was great news to me, as I wasn’t really sure what the current limits are! Teressa spent about an hour with me at the airport. We chatted over a quick lunch of pizza (my last American food for quite some time) before the flight left.

Chicago – The flight from Omaha to Chicago (on a very tiny plane) was uneventful. Once at O’Hare, I had to take the tram from one terminal to another. While onboard, I overheard some young people speaking Swahili. Ah! It sounded so wonderful! As I stood in line to check in, those same Kenyans were in line in front of me. As we got acquainted, I felt like I was almost “home” already! There were 4 guys and 4 gals – all medical students at Moi University in Eldoret. They’d been in the States for 5 weeks taking a course. It was great chatting with them. After using the bathroom, I inadvertently left my passport and boarding ticket behind. But, I noticed it almost immediately, and found it right where I’d left it. Whew!

Just as I was about to board the plane, I was told that my seat had been upgraded to Business Class. Cool; that’s a first! What a difference – I got to see how the other half lives! A mere eight people are comfortably seated in the same space in which 18 are squeezed in the regular seats! Besides the extra leg room and a fully reclining seat, I enjoyed the other little perks! What a wonderful and unexpected blessing! Interestingly, I sat next to a Catholic man from the UK who has been an English-teacher missionary to Taiwan for 12 years. I was able to get some shut-eye and arrived in London without the usual swollen ankles.

London, Tuesday morning, July 17 – I had a 4-hour layover at Heathrow before my next 8-hour flight. That’s always nice, as it gives me some down time after standing in all the lines at check-in and security. This arduous trip involves 3 planes, 4 airports, and 24 hours! Each plane basically requires 4 times to stand in line: check-in/boarding pass, security, boarding, and disembarking. I had to, once again, change terminals. As I approached security, I was told I couldn’t carry two handbags on board (even though I already had on the prior two planes. Instead, I would need to check one of them. This seemed to be a randomly enforced rule, as I saw others get through with the normal two carry-ons. Great! One had my laptop and other important items; the other had my printer, movie camera, and digital camera. I was not too excited about parting company with either of them. However, the sternness of the security man’s instructions indicated that I did not have an option. I complied.

I discovered a “Quiet Room” with some reclining chairs. It was nice to be away from all the airport announcements and to lie down and close my eyes. I also read the past two days of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. This excerpt really spoke to me and gave me encouragement regarding my concerns about my carry-on bag –

“God is my Father, He loves me, and I will never think of anything that He will forget, so why should I worry? Not even the smallest detail of life happens unless God’s will is behind it.”

This time, I didn’t get moved to Business Class, but I did get an aisle seat, which allows for some leg room and ease of getting up and down. We were late to board and also sat on the runway for quite some time, awaiting our turn to take off. We left 40 minutes behind schedule. Besides watching three movies and dozing now and then, I prayed often for my bag. I had three concerns – that it might get lost, damaged, or stolen. I was especially concerned about the glass on the 3-in-1 printer; I had not packed it well to endure the tossing around that it would undoubtedly suffer at the hands of the baggage handlers.

I also stood to take in the spectacular views now and then. We flew over miles and miles and miles of the Mediterranean Sea waters and, likewise, miles and miles and miles of the brown sand of the Sahara Desert. I identified the Nile River, as well. It’s so fascinating to see the world from the air.

Nairobi, Tuesday evening, July 17, Arrival – We arrived at 9:00pm (Kenya time); we’d made up 25 minutes in the air. I was so tired, but knew I had the typically long wait for bags at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. In fact, I waited and waited and waited. I left the baggage claim area to get some Kenya shillings and phone credit. I let Margaret Wanjala know I had arrived (via text message), so she wouldn’t worry. When I went back in to the baggage claim area (having to first go through security again), I was excited because I saw my small carry-on bag! Immediately I opened it and checked the glass. I was so relieved and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving for its safekeeping.

Alas, after over 90 minutes of waiting, I resigned myself to the painfully obvious fact that my other two bags (the two I had checked in Omaha) had not arrived with me! I joined about 25 other people, in a seemingly stalled line, to file a claim. The two bags that I did not pray for are the two that did not arrive!

Ah! I was so tired. Over the past 24+ hours, I’d stood in one line or another so many times. Finally finishing that task, I hired a taxi to take me to Justus and Margaret’s house. I arrived at 11:30pm (3:30pm Omaha time). I had been enroute for over 28 hours.

Wednesday, July 18 – Karo, Jeremiah, and Joy came over to spend the day with me. Ah, it was so wonderful to see them again! Joy was frightened by me (which I completely expected); it’s normal for Kenyan children her age to be scared by anyone with white skin. I gave her as much space and time as she needed. She spent several hours watching me, sometimes as discreetly as a one-year old can manage. Eventually, she was in my lap and playing games with me. I was pleased!

Bishop had numerous visitors, as well, many of which I also know. We all had a great relaxing day at the house, catching up with one another. Lunch was the typical Kenyan meal of ugali, greens, and stewed beef. Throughout the day, I had 4 cups of chai! I always tell Margaret that chai tastes the best when she serves it! Dinner was tilapia – it also tastes absolutely the BEST when fixed in this household!

For those of you that know the Wanjalas, you may be interested to know that JB (Jessica “Brown”, their very wonderful househelp) is currently attending school three hours a day, in order to learn how to read and write. I’m very happy for her. The family is temporarily in a different house, until their own house is finished. Some sad news (well, I guess that depends on your perspective) is that Shadow (their dog) died a few months ago. Margaret had just returned from a funeral the day before I arrived and will travel to another one on Sunday. Both of the deceased were murdered in very unfortunate instances. One was a relative and one was a relative of one of their church members.

It is so-called “winter” in Kenya. This lasts usually for the months of July and August. Although it certainly cannot be compared the winters we endure in the Midwest, it does get noticeably cooler (the high temperature this time of year is around 70 degrees). The sky is typically gray and overcast. I’m glad I carried a jacket with me on the plane! What a difference from the muggy 95 degree weather I left in Omaha!

Off and on, throughout the day, I made numerous calls to the lost baggage claim office. The line was either busy or there was no answer. I only got an answer once, and the man curtly told me my bags had not yet arrived. Later in the day, I received a text message saying “Warren’s” bags had arrived. They are obviously confused in that office!

I learned that one of the current hot news items of Kenya is the no-smoking ban in all public places in the entire city of Nairobi. As seems so common here, this new law has been put into place with seemingly no forethought. Just as they were when I left seven months ago, the politicians are still engaged in trying to outdo each other in showmanship as they continue posturing for position for the December presidential elections.

Overtaking both of those news items, and generating much hubbub, is the fact that the city has experienced eight tremors in the past week. The strongest registered as 6.0. Experts believe they are being caused by activity at Ol Doinyo Lengai (an active volcano in northern Tanzania) and not by tectonic plates along fault lines. O Doinyo Lengai (“mountain of God”, in the Maasai language) last erupted in 1966. Regardless of the cause, it has many Nairobians rather frightened! Thousands have spent the night out in the cold, afraid that their high-rise apartment buildings would collapse at any minute. Many multi-story downtown office buildings have evacuated their employees.

The government held a few press conferences in an attempt to allay fears and educate the public. They assured Kenyans that, no one can predict an earthquake and, secondly, that Kenya has adequate and sophisticated measuring devices. Later, the word got out that in actuality, four of the five machines are not even in working order. Ha – only in Kenya!

In the evening, after walking Karo and Joy to the stage so they could get a matatu home, I stopped by a fruit kiosk in the neighborhood. I bought 6 ripe (ready-to- eat!) avocadoes (45 cents total), 5 ripe (ready-to- eat!) mangos (70 cents total), a pineapple (90 cents), a watermelon ($3), and about a pound of freshly-picked carrots (28 cents). The grand total was far less than $6! The avocadoes alone would’ve likely cost that much in the States where they are often hard as a rock! Angela showed us in one of her school books that watermelon is called “tikiti” in Swahili. No one in the family had known that (they are just simply and typically called “melons”). Everyone had fun with that new, funny-sounding name!

Thursday, July 19 – I rode the bus to the airport, in hopes of being able to talk to someone about my bags. As we approached the airport, we all had to exit the bus and line up for an outdoor security check. Once past that, the bus picked us up again. That was a first for me. The man at the baggage claim office assured me that one of my bags was due to arrive tonight and the other one tomorrow morning. Because he seemed quite confident of this information, although disappointed to have to wait yet another day, I at least had hope! I currently have no shoes (I flew in my flip-flops), no extra underclothes, no hair gel, and only one extra t-shirt and pair of pants.

After getting this news, I boarded another bus. We were again stopped for a security check. A police officer boarded and talked with the conductor and one of the passengers. I wasn’t able to make out too much of what was said. But, after that particular passenger was asked to leave the bus, he was frisked and questioned. I heard him say, “Si mimi!” (It’s not me). Regardless of his claims of innocence, our bus driver pulled away without him. I walked to Nakumatt and bought a razor, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

Remembering that yesterday was Bishop’s birthday, I bought a cake mix for Angela and me to bake for him. When I reached the house, I discovered that the plug for the stove wasn’t in proper working order. Ah, Angela and I were disappointed and resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be a birthday celebration without a cake! However, Bishop came home early in the evening and did a “jua kali” repair job on it (“jerry-rigged” it) for us. We successfully got the cake baked! Cyrus, Davis, Edward, and Mama Lucy joined us for dinner and the simple celebration.

Friday, July 20 – When I awoke and turned on my phone, there was a text message from BA (British Airways):


Hallelujah! I caught the City Hoppa bus once again, now familiar with the security check routine. I had to hunt through a few hundred bags! My, my… they all began to look alike after a while. Finally, almost at the end of the haphazard rows upon rows of bags, I found one that looked familiar! And, to add to my joy, it was the one with my clothes and shoes!

They have assured me that the other one will arrive by Sunday evening, which the next opportunity I’ll have to get to the airport.

* * * * * * * * * *

All is as it was.

  • Traffic is utter chaos and the internet remains as slow as molasses. (Guess I was rather spoiled with the convenience of fairly fast and free Wi-Fi in my bedroom in the States!)
  • Mosquitoes disturb me at night and rob me of sleep.
  • Pollution and dust are rife in the air.
  • Odors, filth, and noise are still ever present.
  • The roads are in the same deplorable condition.

Besides all these “normal” annoyances, my jetlag, and my missing bags… it is absolutely wonderful to be home! Kenyans are wonderful people – humble, simple, warm, and friendly.
It always just feels right that I’m here.

Thanks to all of you for your prayers for me! I appreciate it!