It has been a while since my last post so I will begin by saying that I am feeling much better. After resting last weekend I recovered from my illness. A lot has happened since I last wrote so this post may be a little long so I have divided it into different parts so when you get tired it’s easy to find your place again. This week two of our team members, Zifus and Shelly James, returned to St. Lucia. It was such a blessing getting to know them and serving alongside them the past two weeks. They are now back at home with their children. Tomorrow Venice leaves for Jamaica, and I will head to South Africa with Courtney Richards. Today we have some time to rest, debrief, and prepare for what is to come. Please keep us in your prayers as we transition again to a new culture and location.
Part 1: Safari in Nairobi National Park
Last Saturday the team traveled to Nairobi National Park to go on a safari. When we first arrived at the park I was excited to get moving. As Edwin (our driver) and Courtney paid for our entrance I walked around and discovered some baboons roaming around the entrance. This brought me so much joy. I love animals and enjoy watching the BBC Earth series, but actually experiencing nature in person is so much greater. Once we were ready to go Edwin opened up the roof of the van so we could stand and see the wildlife better. As we drove through the gate my heart was pounding and I couldn’t wait to see what we would find just past the forest. After driving over a large hill the vast savannah was revealed. You could see for miles. Right away impala and buffalo greeted us. Not long after this we saw a number of birds and some hippos resting in the water. We drove all throughout the park and saw giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, deer, wild hogs, ostriches, baboons, and lions. When we came upon the lions my heart began to race. There was a male and a female and they were sharing a meal of a young impala. At one point they were extremely close to the van and I started to get a little nervous. It was a thrilling experience and I am so glad I could witness these creatures in the wild. The trip ended with me not feeling well again, but I had the rest of the day to recover and by Sunday I felt much better.
On Sunday night Zifus and Shelly left for New York, and the rest of us prepared for the unknown. None of us knew what was in store except our host for the week, superintendent of police, John Onditi. Courtney has known John for a long time and he is the man who first invited Courtney to come to Kenya. He wanted us to be surprised and I must say he did a great job. This past week was filled with the unknown but it provided some unforgettable experiences that have helped me to grow.
Part 2: Traveling up Mount Elgon
On Monday we headed to the airport to set out for Kisumu, which is in the western part of Kenya, near to the boarder of Uganda. As we were waiting in the airport I was anxious to see what was to come. Our flight was delayed, which gave more time to think and wonder what may happen during the week. It also gave me more time to continue on my epic adventure with Don Quixote. Once we finally took off I forgot my worries because of the view outside of my window. Mountains of clouds stretched high into the sky. These clouds were unlike any I have seen before, and they were so thick that I actually began to believe that you could walk on them. They looked like snow-covered islands standing still within the vast sea of blue. It was incredible and before I knew it we were descending into Kisumu.
The climate when we descended from the plane took me by surprise. It had been cool in Nairobi, to the point where I was wearing a jacket most of the day. In Kisumu it was hot and dry. I began to sweat as we went to claim our bags. Once we retrieved our luggage we headed for the exit where John greeted us and took us to our transport for the week. Our ride for the week was a police truck, a Ford Ranger, with the flashing lights on top and a place for men to ride in the back. The three of us crammed into the backseat and set out for the mountains.
When I was told we would be ministering in the mountains I didn’t actually think we would be up in the mountains. My guess was that we would be near them. As we drove we kept climbing up. Enormous rock formations resided on either side as we rode up the ridgeline. The excitement grew within me, as did the nervousness. After driving for a few hours we reached our first destination. The sun was beginning to set and some clouds were rolling in quickly. John took us to his apartment where he stays while he works in the mountains. It was small and furnished simply. The three of us sat waiting to find out what was next. Thunder began to crash and the rains fell, pounding on the red dirt outside. Then the power went out. We sat in darkness and silence, all of us wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. We ate dinner by the light of a kerosene lantern. The rain continued to pour down outside. We didn’t say much during our meal. At one point two dogs approached the door and begged for some food. They were scrawny, drenched with the mountain rains. John tossed them the bones from his chicken and they devoured them instantly. As I sat and observed all that was happening around me I was lost in my thoughts, thinking about what was to come.
While we ate dinner John informed us that we would be staying with a family in the mountains for the week. He wanted us to see how the people lived to enhance our experience. Again I was feeling a variety of emotions ranging from excitement to fear. Not long after this our escort arrived and we loaded up to head to our home for the week. As we drove in the darkness, lightning flashed, revealing the mountains and the vast valley below. People walked in the rain, lit by the headlights from the truck. A thick layer of fog glided across the road, hiding it from our view. I took it all in as we rode in silence. The experience was great but I wasn’t sure how prepared I was for the adventure to come.
Part 3: Living in the Mountains
We pulled up to a brick building that had a large metal gate near the back. It was opened for us and we drove into a small yard that had a house on the left and individual rooms on the right. We exited the truck and were introduced to three young people. There was a young man, 20 years old, named Lennox, and two girls. Samantha is older, in her late teens, and Naomi who is 12. They greeted us with smiles and tea. As we sat and got acquainted with our hosts we learned that their parents were out of town. Their mother was to return late that night from Nairobi and their father would be out of town the entire week. We spoke with Lennox as the girls served us with excellent hospitality. As we chatted the lights went out. This occurred nearly every day around 7-8pm. By the end of the week were all used to it. After this we were shown our rooms. I stayed with Venice and Courtney had his own room. We were shown the rest of the facilities as well. Our bathroom consisted of two separate rooms. One was for showering and the other had a hole in the ground that would be used for our waste. This meant bucket showers and squatting to do your business. We were going to be living the rustic life in the cool, fresh air of the mountains. I felt like I was on a camping trip and once this came to mind all fears and worries disappeared. Only excitement remained.
The children served us so well and I am extremely grateful for each of them. On the second day their mother returned with the youngest child, Precious, who is 11. It was such a great experience living with this family and I know I will miss them a lot. The girls were incredible servants, always making sure we had delicious food to eat and water for our “showers”. We enjoyed some authentic African cuisine, which consisted of rice, beans, ugali, mokimo, sucha, chapati, kuku, maize, fish, fresh fruit, and lots of tea. I enjoyed the company of Lennox as well. He is going to college to be a journalist so we talked a lot about writing and literature. He was full of questions and we had many great conversations in our time together. My mother for the week cared so much for me and looked out for my every need. It felt like home. The first night when everyone was around we watched Rio upon the request of Precious, and we had a joyous time laughing with one another. On our last night together Courtney blessed the family and we prayed together. The whole family even woke up early to see us off as we headed back to Nairobi on Friday. This family has given me a new definition of what it means to be hospitable and I thank them for taking care of me during this week in them mountains.
Part 4: Ministry in the Mountains
This week we ministered at an old school not far from our home. The first day when we arrived there were only about 20 people. We had no idea what to expect the rest of the week. Courtney did a majority of the teaching this week and based it on what the people were struggling with in their part of the country. The first day he had the people share issues they face as Christians living in western Kenya. We discovered many of the same issues we learned about from the other locations along with many more. It was troubling and overwhelming to hear. As the day went on more and more people came. The room we were in was packed to the point that people had to stand outside. We continued to discuss the hardships and at one point we sang a song that we learned in Uganda. It simply says “Ni wewe, ni wewe baba” (or bwana) meaning, it’s only you God, or you are the only God. As we sang I reflected on the many difficulties of the people, tears forming in my eyes.
The next few days we met outside, which brought new challenges as it rained nearly every day. There were over a hundred people by the last day. It was such a blessed time with the people but hard to learn how little they actually knew about what it means to be a Christ follower. On Thursday Courtney went through the Sermon on the Mount. This was an excellent time and a challenge for the people. As Courtney spoke about each of the beatitudes the people went from shouting “Amen!” to complete silence. We could tell they were wrestling with what Courtney had to say and it was so good.
Another topic that was brought up was about sex. This is a problem for many people and we discovered that it is not to be talked about. This results in young people learning about it from films and TV, which is an unhealthy way to learn. This only leads to many people sleeping around and a negative view of the word. Courtney had to renew the minds of the people on this subject and it was freeing for them. These things needed to be addressed as many people die in Africa because of a lack of knowledge in this area.
I was able to share with the children on Wednesday. I told them the story or Gideon and acted out parts of the story, which they found humorous. Then I went on to share some of my personal story. I talked to the kids about how Jesus calls us to have faith like a child. I asked them why they thought this was true and received some excellent answers. Childlike faith is fresh and exciting. If you spend time with young children you discover how amazed they are by the world around them and how everything is a new and exciting adventure. As we grow older we begin to lose this and start to worry more about ourselves, and this is so harmful. I encouraged the children to keep their childlike faith and to continue to grow in this way. This is good for anyone to reflect on. It challenged me greatly as I prepared the lesson.
On Friday Courtney taught the people how to bless people, and then he blessed all of them by anointing them with oil. It was such a great time. The people were all extremely grateful. It was wonderful to see the joy on their faces and I pray that they take what they have learned and share it with others. This week was a great success and it will be good to hear how the people move forward.
A few days this week we walked from our home to the school. It was not too far and it was nice seeing the town where we were living and serving. Every time when we would walk the neighborhood kids would run out to the street, bringing their friends in order to stare at the rare species walking by their homes. I smiled and waved at them, which they returned with giggles and smiles. Everyone stared at me as I passed, even adults. You could tell that very few white people came to this area. It was funny to receive so much attention. There were many times when kids would try to catch up with us in order to greet me. What an unusual experience! I’ve never really experienced this to such an extreme. Overall we had a great time ministering in the mountains and many people have new knowledge to share with their congregations, families, and friends.
Part 5: Higher up the Mountain
On Friday morning John wanted to drive us up into the mountains even more to search for elephants and to see the incredible landscape. We took off around 9 in the morning and began a long trek up the mountain. We drove past many farms and small villages on the way. The air grew cooler and fresher. The roads turned to thick mud that we could only drive through in our four-wheel-drive police truck. There is no way my little old Ford Tempo could ever make it up the mountain, let alone drive through a foot of mud. We were slipping and sliding all over the place. It was similar to driving in deep snow. At one point we reached a place where the bridge was out because of construction. We had to find another way around.
One man informed us of another way to go. This way was not by road. We backtracked a little and then turned off of the muddied road onto a large, hilly meadow. We drove slowly down the first hill, crossed the river, and then began to drive up the hillside. Goats, cows, donkeys, and sheep ran in all directions as we drove through their pasture. In the back we swayed violently back and forth, bouncing up and down as we hit bump after bump crossing the rough terrain. It was thrilling and I loved every second of it. Courtney on the other hand was more concerned for our safety and what he would have to say to our loved ones in something happened. We survived and soon returned to the road again. We traveled a while longer, passing though some tiny villages where all of the people came out to look at the white man. It was fascinating seeing these small mountain villages where the people spend their entire lives living off of the land. This would be an even more rustic adventure, but I will save that for another time.
Once we reached our final destination we were relieved to get out of the truck. The air was so refreshing and delightful. I just wanted to take off running through the open meadows, exploring the beautiful landscape. I stopped myself from this, however, knowing that their were wild animals much more extreme than those back home in Indiana. I didn’t want to encounter a buffalo or elephant face-to-face leaving me flattened. I was told that the elephants could be very aggressive. If you went too far into their territory they may squash you and bury your body under a pile of logs, never to be found. Recalling this fact I did not run so freely throughout the land. Unfortunately, maybe fortunately, we encounter any large animals as we explored but we did see some small creatures. I saw a few miniature deer that sprinted away every time we made eye contact. We also saw a couple of chameleons that eventually began to mate as we were watching them. We let them be and returned to the fresh air of the mountains. It was so refreshing and gave me new life. I wish I could have hiked to the peak but rain was moving in quickly and we had to trek back down the mountain for our final session with the people. More swaying and bouncing as we returned to town. It was an incredible experience, one that I will never forget.
As we traveled down the mountain it seemed that John spoke with every person we passed. We were beginning to run late but it was more important to him to greet everyone on the way. It was encouraging to see such an honest, compassionate, and genuine leader in the police force among such a corrupt society. May God bless him as he continues to lead the people the right way.
Part 6: John’s Home and Returning to Nairobi
Yesterday we came down from the mountain. We left around 6am to head back to the hot, dry air of Kisumu. John had one more surprise in store for us. We drove for over two hours and ended up at his home in the country. We met his family and rested outside in the shade. It was a good time. A little while later John said it was time to go to church. None of us knew what to expect yet again, and Courtney prepared a short message to share with the people. We walked to the church, which was nearby. Only about 15 people were there and a few children. The building was tiny, constructed out of thin wooden pieces and a metal roof. The church was in the midst of the country so we had many unexpected visitors. Sheep and goats ran by, a cow popped his head in at one point and gave a shout of praise, boda-bodas (motorbikes) drove by, and many children peaked in to see the strange white figure sitting inside. Courtney shared about the Great Commission and how all people are to go and make disciples. It was short but powerful. We were there less than an hour because we had a flight to catch. We walked back expecting to pack our things and leave. Instead lunch was waiting for us. It was delicious but we had to consume it rapidly so as not to miss our flight to Nairobi. We ate and left quickly. The driver pulled some excellent moves to get us to the airport exactly on time. We rushed in, checked our bags, with only enough time to sit for a few minutes before boarding the plane. Once again God proved his might and that we have no reason to worry. This has happened so often that it is beginning to feel like a comedy. I’m thankful that everything has worked out.
As I stated earlier, we have returned to Nairobi. It is nice to have my own bathroom again. It is especially nice to have a normal toilet again and a hot shower. The things we take for granted. Today I will be resting, reading, and writing. The team will also debrief one last time as we go our separate ways tomorrow. Courtney and I will be leaving very early in the morning for Cape Town, and Pastor Jackson will leave tomorrow afternoon for New York City. The trip is a forth of the way over and so many great things have already occurred. There is still a lot to do and to experience. Please continue to stay in touch. I greatly enjoy your encouragement and prayers. I look forward to hearing from you. Have a blessed Sunday and be sure to get some good rest today. I know I will.