Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exciting Ethiopia

We are currently in Nazareth, Ethiopia. We just finished two training sessions today. We trained 16 pastors as storyteller church planters, and also trained their wives in the storytelling ministry. It has been a very powerful three days for training and we are excited to see what God will do from here. We received very exciting feedback from all about how they will use this in their ministry settings.
Tomorrow we will travel back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Monday I will begin another training session. This one will have 26 women, which is a very large class to train at once. Please pray for me and for God to give wisdom, strength and understanding. I am having to use a translator for these courses, which has proved to be very challenging at times. We will travel back to Kenya on the 5th, or sooner if we are able.
The girls are doing well, and Rev. is also doing well. Please continue to pray for us, and when we return to Kenya, I will fill in the gaps of information. Grace and peace.
Love you!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Moving Forward

Dearest friends, I am so joyful to report to you that by God's grace, we have been protected from further distractions, though the truck is still in the shop, and probably will be until we return from Ethiopia. We had a very good day yesterday. The men were as effective as one could possibly be in Nairobi, and the girls and I had a very nice day here at the hotel.

Our flight leaves this evening for Addis Ababa, and we are very excited for the trip. This is my first time to Ethiopia, so it has that added excitement of the unknown. So, I'll write more when we get there and let you know how it is.

In the meantime, I wanted to leave you with this thought. I saw this story on the news links, and was shocked by it. There is a gay man who is suing two huge Bible publishers because of the verses in the Bible that refer to homosexuality. This is a $70million lawsuit! You can find a link to one of the stories here. Mark my words, friends, the day will come when it is illegal to carry a Bible, in its entirety, in the US. The problem is, for many Christians in the US, that day has already come by their own bondage and choice. They don't want to seem too radical or too far out there, so they water down what they know to be truth. Friends, it is time to take a stand in radical obedience. This does not mean hating, judging, or discriminating. The Bible that I carry endorses none of that, but it also does not teach of a Jesus who said, "Come as you are and stay as you are."

We teach the transforming power of Jesus Christ by first demonstrating it in our own lives, starting with the joy and love in our hearts, and by setting aside all that become hindrances to the advancement of the gospel of Christ. Just some thoughts. I'm going to pack as we get ready to leave for the airport. Love yall, and I cannot thank you enough for your prayers. We felt them as you were covering us over. Blessings to you all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Weapon Formed

Eh! Yesterday was a challenge to get through, but by God’s grace we are here, alive and persevering. I am not one who is quick to give undue credit to our Enemy, but yesterday, if it could go wrong, it did go wrong in a major way. I could not help but believe that there was some spiritual warfare going on over and around us all day today. But by the authority of God’s Word, though, we are more than conquerors, and we claimed that over and over again today.

The day started around 5:30 as we got the whole family up, dressed, packed and out the door to catch our flight from Kisumu to Nairobi. We made it out the door just fine, with sleepy and slightly grumpy girls. The flight was about an hour late, and I just sat there thinking, “The girls could have been sleeping this whole hour.” But instead they were up, and up and up.

When we arrived to Nairobi, the car that picked us up had a flat tire, so we waited for that to be changed and then dropped the tire off to be fixed. Then we waited for some time to be picked up by someone who would show us the way to the house of the family that was to host us (did you follow that?). After about half an hour, the person arrived, and we began the journey to the house. Unfortunately, the accommodations were not enough for the family, plus my brother-in-law, so Rev left the girls and I there to head into Nairobi to find other accommodations for us.

They were stuck in Nairobi traffic for a few hours, meanwhile I was trying to settle the girls to take naps, in a new, noisy, different environment, which wasn’t working in the least. After several tantrums, crying spells, etc. they both passed out for a short while on the couch before they were awakened by the various noises of the house. It seems that the short nap made them grouchier than before they slept.

Meanwhile, as Rev was on his way back to pick us up, the truck broke down on the side of the road. So they were waiting for a tow truck, and I was waiting for them. They picked us up in a different car, and we went back to the truck with a friend to see if it could be fixed. There were tools in the back of the car that we were in that they needed to work on the truck, but, for some reason, the trunk was then refusing to open. After several minutes of fighting with the trunk, they abandoned that idea and went back to look further at the truck. No fixing possible, so we headed off to find a tow truck. As we were driving along the highway, the trunk conveniently became unstuck, flew open as our bags flew out across the road.

It was at this moment that we started to vocalize that we were dealing with more than just a string of unfortunate events, but were actually in the midst of a battle. And so as thing were being up off the highway and we were regrouping ourselves in the car to continue on the journey, we back to use our sword.

“The Enemy is a coward and has no power over us. No weapon formed against us can prosper, by the Authority of the Word of God. Because he cannot touch us as children of the Most High King, our cowardly enemy goes after the things around us. But they are just things that God has provided for us, and if God ordains that they should be taken away, it is for our good and for His glory, and so we let them go. We praise you Jesus for the opportunity to walk away from things and cling to You. We thank you for the opportunity to persevere.”

As the words were leaving our mouths, spirits were lifted and laughter filled the car. Satan can take our things, but he cannot take our joy, and that is the powerful witness against him.

We were able to find a tow truck and get the truck to a garage where it is currently being worked on. We were able to find a Catholic guest house to rest for the night, though the quarters were quite tight. They are not accustomed to having families stay there, so the girls slept in a twin-sized bed, and Rev and I slept on a twin-sized mattress on the floor. As the room was being set up with the extra mattress, Rev and his brother stepped out to try to find something to eat (they had not eaten all day and the girls had not eaten since lunch; it was now 9pm). They came back to report that the car had sustained yet another flat tire, the second one for the day, and that this time it had in fact shredded the tire. Just to keep things interesting.

Somewhere between the cold that I have had for the past few days, the plane ride to Nairobi, and the hectic day, I developed a raging ear infection, which was hurting to even open my mouth. I was leaning over the bed to just cry out to Jesus about it all. I said, “Oh, Jesus!” Toria was listening and came over to me to ask “Mama, do you want Jesus?”

Me: “Yes, baby, I do want Jesus.”

Toria: “Ok, then, let’s go take a bath.”

Because taking a bath will get us closer to Jesus. I like her theology.

We were quite blessed to lay our heads down for the night and call the day finished. I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the heavenly realms, but I do know that Scripture says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. It seems that someone might feel a bit threatened, so we will praise the Name of Jesus for the day that we had and push ahead.

If you are a praying people at all, would you please raise up your shield of faith with us to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. We would greatly appreciate it. Today has been bathed in prayers, and God has been faithful and merciful. We were able to move to another guest house that has been a great blessing. It has a place where the girls can play and actually be kids again for a little while. They are currently resting quite hard for their afternoon naps, which blesses mama greatly! Rev and David are in town trying to get the truck fixed and get us ready to leave for Ethiopia tomorrow.
No weapon formed against us may prosper. This much I know. Grace and peace to you! Thank you for adventuring with us. It means more than I could ever verbalize to you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Easily Identified

The other day as we were driving through town, we came across several Maasai men who were walking together on the street. They come from the tribe that is primarily located in southwestern Kenya into Tanzania. I would have taken a picture to post for you to see them, but they require fresh meat in exchange for a picture, and I haven’t killed a cow, or goat, or anything for that matter, in quite some time (ever), so I had no meat to offer. So, said picture could not be taken.

They are a beautiful people though. I wish that you could see them. Maybe try googling them to check out a picture, without fresh kill to offer. They are identified by their characteristic Maasai clothing, which is typically a bright red and blue checkered cloth wrapped around them, with brightly colored bead around their necks. Their earlobes are typically pierced, with large, LARGE holes left in their lobes so that they hang low. (Do your ears hang low? do they wobble to and fro? Can you tie them in a knot? Can you tie them in a bow? Oh…sorry) They are typically shepherds or herdsmen, so I usually see them with a large wooden walking stick.

They are characterized with loyalty and honesty. Everyone that I have talked to about the Maasai, simply say, “Ah, good men. You can trust a Maasai.” They are indeed warriors of old, and one can see that they are proud of their heritage, but they are known by their integrity, among each other, and outside their tribe as well (Never-mind the whole blood-drinking habit that they have. That is better saved for another discussion). They stand out wherever they are(not just because they drink blood), as they cling to their identity as a tribe. It is easy to pick a Maasai out of a group; it is easy to know who they are. They cling to who they are, regardless of where they are, staying true to the nature and the legacy that has been created for them.

This has impressed me greatly, and every time I see one, I am left wondering, What would this world be like if we as Christ followers had such a reputation? What if we were that easy to pick out of a crowd, easily identified by how we clothe ourselves, and the aroma that we leave behind as we move from place to place.

Colossians 3:12-17 has powerful words that speaks to this:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it al in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
These words contain such exhortation and challenge at the same time. As pleasant as the words might sound coming off the page, it is a different thing to actually live them out. To bear with each other in all things, to forgive all grievances, these are challenging things. The Apostle Paul says it this way, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong and you do this to your brothers (1 Corinthians 6:7-8).”

How are you known? What characterizes you? What clothing are you putting on in the morning? Is it compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience? Only by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit may this be possible in all situations. Ask Him today to make it so in your life. Let us come together as one body, living in peace, that our Father would be glorified and known.

We leave in the morning for Nairobi and then on Friday evening we will be on a plane for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Please pray for our travels. Please pray also for my health, as I am feeling quite under the weather. It’s not fun to travel sick, but by God’s grace, He is sufficient for me. I am believing in Him for a quick healing.

Grace and peace to you all.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Awareness Report

We just spent the past two days out in the village, and while I have been there many times before, somehow this time was very different. I saw a devastating aspect of it that I have yet to see. We spent the afternoon yesterday passing out school uniforms and mosquito nets to just a small handful of the orphans who live in that community. Kandaria village has a total population of about 4000 people. Over three hundred of those are orphans being cared for by others in the community, to the best of their abilities. In my feeble mind, that is an alarming number, and to see even a small group of them all brought together absolutely broke my heart. We met with 45 orphans. 45. That means there are 90 mommies and daddies who are dead, just for this small group of children. That’s astounding! Many families don’t have enough to feed their own mouths, not to mention the mouths of other people’s children. This is a very serious reality, and it’s difficult to truly embrace the devastation of it all until you look into the eyes of the 3 year old who hasn’t eaten a meal in days, who is took weak and too malnourished to even walk, and who has to be carried everywhere she goes. This 3yr old was smaller in size than my 16-month-old daughter, and my heart absolutely broke to watch her.

As the children arrived, I saw eyes that spoke of dejection and hopelessness. They arrived one by one and took a seat on the grass to wait for the uniforms to be passed out. As their name was called, they stepped forward in clothing that was tattered and torn, some with no shoes, some with swollen bellies, and sores on their skin, claimed the new uniform, and stepped into the house to try it on. It was a new child that emerged from the house, with a crisp new uniform in tow. It was amazing and encouraging to see the children reappear with new clothes on their backs and a smile on their faces.

It certainly didn’t solve most of their problems, but it has provided them with a bit of hope. Now they can go to school without worrying about not having a uniform or being mocked endlessly for the holes and tears in their clothing. It’s a step in the direction of allowing them to actually concentrate on schooling for a little while rather than the burdens this world has dealt them.

Sometimes the issue of orphans in Africa can seem so large, so incomprehensible. Sometimes it’s a problem that we see as “over there,” too far away to actually be of any use, or too big for one person to make a difference. We saw several children that day who didn’t have any shoes, not even one pair. According to the people there, one simple pair of shoes for them to wear with their school uniform (they would end up wearing them everywhere, but meant for school) would cost about $10. Ten dollars. That’s it. That would mean skipping two trips to Starbucks, one meal at a restaurant, or bypassing a few unnecessary items on the next trip the store.

One might say, “Well, I can’t help everyone.” And while that is true, you can help one, or two. And it starts in places like this. How many shoes are in your closet? How many pairs of shoes does your child have? Imagine if your child had sores, scrapes, cuts and bruises on his/her feet from walking everywhere barefoot. Imagine walking through a forest like that. How much would you sacrifice to rectify that? Just trying to provide some perspective.

Many of the children that we saw yesterday (and keep in mind that we saw only 45 of the over 300 in this community alone) are seriously malnourished, eating only a few meals a week, two of which are provided for them through a feeding program at the school which provides lunch twice a week. Many of the children there come to school for the meals alone. At home, if there is any food at all, it is cassava, which can only provide so many nutrients at best. Have you ever tried to concentrate on something with a hungry belly? Have you ever tried learning while hungry? You have to feed the belly before you can feed the mind.

The government here boasts about the free education that they offer, yet the conditions under which that “education” is provided has not been altered in the least. Children in the villages have a rustic building for a schoolhouse, no windows, no doors, dirt floors, no desks. These are difficult conditions in which to learn. The children have no backpacks, pens, many are without shoes and socks.

I am not putting this out there to guilt anyone, but it is heavy on my heart to simply share it. I realize that the number of people who will actually come and see firsthand what life is like here is very small relatively. So we are here now so that we may give a report back to you, that we may truly be one.

James 2:15-17 says:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

You might be saying, “But I am only one person, what can I do?” Great question! A revolution starts with just one person. A revival starts with just one person. Let that person be you.

Proverbs 30:7-9 says this:
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Maybe it’s time to take inventory of what we have, and ask the Lord if we have too much. Maybe we spend too much in a day on senseless things, meanwhile, the children of our brothers and sisters across the ocean are doing without altogether. Maybe it’s time to seek contentedness with all that God has given us already, stop accumulating more, and start giving the blessings away.

Allow me to give you some specifics:

Lunchtime Feeding Program (2 days/week) - $1000.00/month
This includes maize, beans, salt, tomatoes, and onions, and also pays a small fee to the cook. This provides lunches currently for about 250 students, though the number of students is increasing because they hear that there is food at the school.

Shoes for orphans (part of school uniform) - $10

School Uniforms - $20 (This is a jumper and shirt for girls and shorts and shirt for boys)

Deworming - $200 every three months (This provides medication for about 60 kids and is extremely important in the villages)

Skin Ointment (for fungal infections, common in the village) - $150 treats about 40 kids

These are the starting points. We have been told by the people here that there are many NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) working in this region of Kenya, but the Kenyans fondly call them “brief-case” NGO’s, meaning they come to the country with their nice briefcases, do some office work in the cities, write a nice report to send back to supporters, and then go on their way. There is no visible effect on the ground, in the trenches, in the villages of the country. We are here to see a visible difference made, true transformation, working with the local leadership at the grass-roots level to be sure that help is getting to where it is needed the most. We start with one community at a time, and as one is empowered and transformation takes place, they will help to empower the next. That is how multiplication takes place.

If it is on your heart at all, please consider standing with us. You can visit the website for Unite 4 Africa, Inc. here. God bless you all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Walking in the Light

We have had some down time this week as we prepare for our trip to Ethiopia on the 18th. It has given me some time to reflect on our experiences here in Kenya thus far.

It can be quite difficult to move and work in a culture such as this with skin the color of mine, which is quite pale. It can be very challenging to get to understand the ways of the people here, how they interact with each other, how they resolve conflict, and how they communicate with one another. From what I have learned in the years of traveling here (know that I am not trying to generalize such a diverse people, or to think for a moment that I have Africa figured out, these are just my own observations and experiences), folks here are very indirect. They tend to beat around the bush in speech and thought, and if there is an issue to be resolved, they consult many people around the issue, rather than just going straight for the issue itself. While this can have benefits of some sort, it can also generate rumors, misunderstandings, assumptions and the like that are less than true.

As a ministry, and as men and women of Christ, we desire to work with men and women of integrity, those who fear God and walk in His light. Unfortunately, that is not what we always find. We have come across pastors who misuse funds provided (not necessarily from us, but I am speaking in general), some who are not completely honest about their motives or visions, some who feel threatened when a new ministry moves in, feeling that their territory is being encroached upon, those who seek to slander the names of other brothers for the sake of protecting themselves, some who have outright stolen from the church or from outside NGO’s in order to profit themselves. It is disappointing and heart-breaking, and I can only imagine what it does to the heart of our Father.

But before you shake your head and say “tsk, tsk,” you must know that these same things go on in the states where there does not exist such poverty and desperation as here. It is a matter of walking in the light, of being straightforward and honest, before God and before men. One of the ancient schemes of the enemy is called “divide and conquer.” When we are isolated, pulled apart from the fellowship of the brethren, the lies of the enemy go unchecked, and we begin to hide things, small at first, until we are corrupt to the core of our being, hiding every aspect of our lives so that we won’t be found out.

We, as followers of Christ, are meant to walk in the light, in all things. Now I’m not saying that we need to be telling everyone we see all the business that we have, but sometimes we need to take inventory of the secrets that we are keeping. Christ Himself showed discernment in the amount of information that He shared, but He had nothing to hide.

John 3:19 says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

This has challenged me greatly as I think about what it is to completely walk in the Light, with pure heart and pure motives. And not just on a “don’t steal from the church” sort of scale, but on an everyday living sort of scale. Like the purchase I made without consulting my husband first. Or the conversation a girlfriend has with me but doesn’t tell her man. The little habit that no one knows about, or the little splurge that is keeping you in bondage. These are things that I am thinking of as well.

What about you? Are you walking in the Light in all things? Are you being completely honest about the life you are living? Especially those of us who are in Christ. Is the tone that we take with our children the same we would want others to hear? Are there things during your day that you are exposed to that lead you to think, “if others knew about this, what would they think?” Is it time to come clean on something, step into a little sunshine? As we work here to shed light on things that might otherwise be breaking the heart of our Father, would you walk in the Light with us? Allow God to reveal something to you today, that we may all be refined, shining a little brighter for Him.

Blessings you all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Long Overdue Update

It has been too long now since I last updated. Time has flown by with busy days, and then we ran out of units for our wireless modem and we did not have a chance to get more until today. So, allow me to recount the past week for you, so that we can all get up to date, and then I’ll share with you our upcoming plans.

This past weekend, we received a team from the states who would lead the women’s course with me. We took them to the village to visit the family and orphans who are there, and they were received with a very warm welcome in traditional Luo fashion.

There were many people from all over the village and surrounding area who had come to greet us, there was a Word given, there was music, song and dance, and then there was food. Lots and lots of food. It was a great afternoon!

These are all the brothers, sisters, mother and father of the Okongo clan. Yes, that would be 13 siblings. There were 16, all from one mama. She is an amazing mama.

The Okongo brothers. Good men.
The Okongo women. In the kitchen.
On Monday we began the Bridges for Women course on Biblical storytelling. We had 10 women who are all key leaders, pastor’s wives, and influential women in their communities, and most were overseers of several other churches.

They were all very excited to be a part of the training, and were even more excited to put it into use in their communities. Each of the women could remember sitting in large groups as children listening to their grandmothers tell stories about their heritage and their tribes. They could recall to this day stories about jackals and hyenas, lions and tigers, each story containing a moral for life. They were excited to put these stories from Scripture into the mouths of women, equipping them to bring more than just good morals, but power and biblical authority to transform lives.
One woman so rightly stated that she was looking to replace the gossipy stories on the tongues of women with the truth of God’s Word. Women will always talk. They will always tell stories to each other. That’s just the way God wired us. The question becomes, which stories will we tell?

Are they not the most beautiful women you've ever seen?

The course ended on Wednesday with a beautifully simple time of commissioning and prayer. We are excited to hear the report of what will be done with this and how it will be used. We are also praying about pulling another group of women together to do another course in August after we return from Ethiopia. There has been such an amazing response to the first one, and several requests from other leaders to go through the training, so we are asking God for the direction and timing. I will keep you updated on that.

Thursday evening we said goodbye to the team who come, as the next day we were going separate directions. They headed off for a safari to take in God’s wonders in Africa before they headed back to the states, and we headed off to visit some folks in Nakuru, which was a hotspot during the post-election violence.

The drive to Nakuru was….exhausting. To begin with, there are only certain parts of the road which are good to drive on, and the rest is horrible, full of potholes, unpaved in portions, rough!! But then we also passed several camps for folks who had been displaced during the violence, whose homes had been destroyed and had no other place to go. They are now referred to as IDP’s (internally displaced people), as they have no where to go. They cannot return to their previous homes (most of them have been destroyed) and are unable to travel back to the tribal land for whatever reason. So there they stay in tents. We saw evidence of violence in every village and town that we passed through. Ashes that used to be home, buildings that were once shops or businesses that have been looted, torn down, or burned.

There is a lack of humanity here that is born out of desperation and hopelessness. One that would allow a human being to stab a child with a machete and dance victoriously around it. One that would say nothing as families are burned alive inside their own homes. One that says that there are no boundaries, no act too vile to commit, no line that cannot be crossed. That is why we are here now. The leaders and churches that we are working with have a vision for transformation, and we are working hard to empower and encouragement them in that. We have been told that some of the things we desire to address are not polite. Such things as prostitution and sexual immorality, polygamy and/or wife inheritance, rape and female circumcision. It seems that this is a culture that is slipping away from Christianity and moving back toward tribal ways, and that can be a challenge to go after without offending the culture. Please pray for our wisdom, that God would open ears and prepare hearts, and that He would provide the avenue to release the power of His Word.

The rest of this week, we will be meeting with community leaders, both men and women, to brainstorm ways to walk forward and mobilize resources for transformation, and then taking a bit of a rest as we prepare for what lies ahead.

Next week, we will be heading back to Nairobi and on the 18th we leave for Ethiopia. We will be in Ethiopia from July 18th until August 5th, and during that time, Rev will conduct 2 training sessions and I will do 2 women’s courses. Those are the future plans for now. Please be in prayer about that.

That’s the update for now. The girls are doing well. Juju is speaking more and more, though most of it is still her own conversational tongue with God. Toria has been wowing the people here by learning the various languages and being a great ambassador for Christ, even at her tender age.

OOOHHHHH….and I left y’all hanging for quite some time about Mary, but I do want to give you a quick update about her. She did come back to the Obongo land, within a few days of being taken back to the other home. She has now been given a room and a name among the Obongo family, which has restored a sense of dignity to her. She was told that she now has a home and a people to call family. You should have seen her beam. She has been given clothes and shoes, which she wears with great strength and pride. She has been given tasks and chores to do around the land, and works alongside the women in cooking, cleaning, and gathering water. She is slowly opening up, talking, smiling, and even laughing. Healing has begun, and we are praying for Jesus to be huge in her life. I cannot thank you enough for your prayers for her precious life, and challenge you to keep it up. God isn’t done with her yet. Redeeming days are ahead.

Blessings to you all, with the grace and peace of Christ.