27 11 2007

So far, I’ve been sharing a few stories from my trip to Kenya and have been focusing mostly on the things I have been processing as a result. I don’t think I am going to do that today. Today I simply want to tell you a part of the story of one woman we met who will forever remain in my memory. I want you to know her too.

A few days after arriving in Kipkaren, we met Dina during one of our home visits. We drove for about 45 minutes along very bumpy dirt roads, wet from recent rains, to get to her. We passed Olympic runners training on the way…and then they passed us as we stopped in front of Dina’s house.

A few years ago, when I was living in inner-city Fresno, I remember meeting poverty – true poverty – for the first time in a woman named Carmen. In her I discovered the struggle and the defeat that can come despite a strong work ethic and desire. I was deeply touched by seeing in the flesh what had only been statistics to me before. If Carmen was poverty in inner-city America, then Dina is her international equivalent. She is, no doubt, someone to think of when you hear “the poorest of the poor.”

At 25 years old, she is a single mother of three, due with her fourth at any moment now, and HIV positive. She’s the second from the right in the picture above. Dina is nearly blind. Until recently, she had no way of seeing, but a chance connection with ELI’s health center has given her glasses so she can be more independent. Dina is a bundle of joy, though you wouldn’t expect it from her circumstances. The 10×10 mud hut you see behind us is her home, divided into two rooms. The bedroom fits a bed and about three feet of walking space. The living area fits a small table the size of a coffee table and a few stools. She lives there with two of her children, and though she was seven months pregnant when we saw her, she slept on the floor so her children could sleep on the bed. Dina does not own any land so she gleans what she can from her neighbors and family, and because she is already a single mother, in her culture she will likely never remarry.

As we sat in her home, Julie, ELI’s nurse, counseled her about her upcoming birth. As she reviewed the list of Dina’s HIV medications, she quickly discovered that Dina was likely iron deficient, and told her she would need to add a supplement to correct the deficiency. We soon learned that Dina had been eating the soil for many months as a natural way to fix the problem – her body craved the iron in it. And, once she gives birth, she will not be able to breast feed in order to protect her child from HIV, but this is looked down upon in village culture. Instead, she will have to mix powder formula with water to feed the child. Except Dina does not have access to clean water; she will have to walk miles to get it, carry it back each day, and then boil it to make sure it’s clean.

The development theories in textbooks are a long way from Dina. She needs a job, a supportive community, healing and sustenance. Still, we sat in her hut and worshipped God. She requested we sing a particular song, one in Swahili. And then we prayed for her. She asked us to pray that God would provide her next meal – she did not know where it was coming from.

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; And they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers will stand and pasture your flocks, and foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers. But you will be called the priests of the LORD; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God, you will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs.”

When I think of Dina I remember her humble state, and I pray for her needs, but I mostly remember her quiet giggles and excited smiles. She is truly a treasure hidden in a hut in the hills of Kenya. Pray that one day soon her giggles turn to strong shouts of joy, that her feet will stand secure in the soil of God’s blessing, and that her feast will be a double portion beyond what she has ever known.


Remember the Orphans…

14 11 2007

I’m not really a kid person. I never have been. Even when I was a kid myself I wasn’t really good at the reckless joy stuff. I didn’t watch cartoons, I was always told I was a 40 year-old in a seven-year-old body, and as an only child, spent more time with adults than I did with my peers. As a Christian woman, admitting this gets me into trouble. Aren’t all female Christ followers supposed to dream of the days when kids will come popping out of our wombs in magical wonder and give us reason to FINALLY bake all those cookies and scrapbook?Lest you misunderstand, I don’t hate kids. In fact, I think they’re pretty cool. And as I grow older their cool factor only goes up. A good friend of mine is a nanny par-excellence. She spends her days putting on capes and princess dresses and running around the house in an imaginary world playing make-believe with the funnest four-year-old on the planet. And she loves every minute of it. It gives her life. Because there’s something about four-year-olds that force you to have fun, to dream, to trust…to feel. I don’t hate kids by any means. I just don’t think I ever was one at heart. But the older I get, the more I long to be one…to live in wonder and excitement at everything that is new.

The kids in Kenya amazed me. Most of our time was spent loving on these orphans…about 200 of them. Two hundred children with no parents because they had died of AIDS. Ages 3 – 13, they lived together in a new family in the village, with 23 brothers and sisters and two staff parents. And they had such joy. I remember being utterly overwhelmed the first day we arrived as we walked in on their devotion time. Every night at six o’clock they gathered together in a tiny gazebo to worship God. And we would walk in, expecting to teach them something about Christ, and they would be literally shouting at the top of their lungs, seven-year-olds banging on their drums, dancing up and down, leading each other in songs of praise. Their God was mighty and faithful…far from quiet and meek. He was powerful and worthy of their best worship. After singing, kids would stand up one by one and give testimony to their God. it would go something like this:

Kid: “Praise the Lord!”
Group: “Amen!”
Kid: “Praise the Lord again!”
Group: “Amen!”
Kid: “My name is ______ and I have a testimony. I came here and I didn’t have any parents and I had no food to eat and no clothes to wear. But GOD has given me good parents and shoes to wear and food to eat. I am so thankful.”

Child after child would rise and praise Him. Some would stand and rattle off memory verses like they were written on their souls. Soon I realized what an incredible privilege it was to just be among these little saints, to learn from their faith and love for each other. Sure, I held them in my arms and loved them as best I could. But if I am completely honest, I often felt like they were holding me.

Jesus had some pretty astounding things to say about kids, and James had this to say about orphans: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). It’s true, orphans and widows bear a burden of distress unlike any that most of us will ever know. But after spending time with these kids who had met their Father, I realized that orphans can bear a lot of joy too. I find it interesting that James pairs this description of Christianity with the warning against being stained by the world. It seems the more the worries and responsibilities of this life stain and tarnish my soul, the farther I am from the wonder and joy that children have.

“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” – Matthew 11:25

“And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3

Remember these orphans. Remember Jela and Kevin and Mercy. Pray for them. Send them clothes and support through Empowering Lives International. Remember their distress and their troubles. But let’s also remember their joy in the face of want, their gratitude, their worship, their trust, their giggles…and their love. It’s ones like these that Jesus draws unto himself and ushers into the Kingdom of the Father.

Who’s Really in Need of Development?

11 11 2007

I think my last blog entry left off with me sick and in bed and needing to be found by God. I wish I could say that soon thereafter I was miraculously healed and found my step in Africa. But, unfortunately that was not the case. Eventually, I did get out of bed, and after a change in my malaria medication, the dizziness slowly subsided. Still, God continued to humble me and refused to allow me to boast in my service.

One of the first things we did in Kipkaren was give a leadership seminar for the students in the year-long agricultural sustainability training program. The program is so cool. Students come from surrounding areas to learn how to produce as much as possible from as little as possible. These students are not only in the shamba (field) every day learning new techniques, they are also in the classroom pictured above, sharing meals together and worshipping God. Their praises were constantly ringing through the compound.

As someone with an undergraduate degree in communication and a passion to teach, I was extremely excited to lead a workshop for the leadership seminar. I called it “The Leader’s Responsibility for Justice,” and planned two hours of interactive discussion about key biblical passages on God’s concern for justice. Up my alley, right? 🙂

Yet after watching a few of the workshops before mine, I quickly noticed a clear cultural difference in learning style. Contrary to American classrooms, where student participation is encouraged and even required, these students remained respectfully silent after questions, and stayed silent even after prodding. Still, confident in my communication skills, I neglected to adjust my prepared lesson plan, and, quite honestly, paid the consequences.

My workshop was not horrid, by any means, but it was certainly the most challenging communication experience of my life, and didn’t do much to encourage me after the difficult few days I had experienced prior. Looking back now, I can laugh, but at the time, I was exhausted and discouraged. During my seminar there was a lot of silence and very little confirmation that what I was sharing was making any impact in their lives (in the end, a few students did express gratitude for what I taught and shared how God spoke to them through it; still, knowing this later didn’t make the process any easier for me!).

The experience brought to life so much of the theory I had been studying over the previous year in my international development classes. Development practitioners in the West are so quick to head to poorer countries with their God complexes and plans to replicate American culture as if it will solve all their problems. But being faced with 60 young, intelligent Kenyans who operated in a completely opposite way from what I was used to, caused me to question afresh the purpose and method of development. The West has surged economically ahead of the rest of the world, and has, in doing so, established the rules of the game. How then should we interact with our global neighbors in a way that allows them to maintain their cultural identity? Can they keep their culture and still play the world’s game?

These villagers didn’t want the spotlight. They didn’t jump out of their seats to sound brilliant or stand out among their peers. They were in it together. And being in their midst made me accutely aware of the great reversal that is coming. I felt like I should be learning to develop in the way they already are, according to their rules. They love each other deeply, work together, live simply, trust God. So many things that God requires of us, they do. And I look back in the shiny mirror of the developed world and I see malnourishment, hunger, sickness, poverty, lack of education, disease of a different kind with no cure in sight.

What should development look like in the Kingdom of God? What are His values and how can we share them with each other in a way where we lead each other toward the success God has in mind?

As I look back at the classroom in Kipkaren, I think my place is more fitting in the simple wooden chairs facing the blackboard rather than scribbling random thoughts on it. Oh to be a student of the village, sitting among those who do not have it backwards at all, but in so many ways, are light years ahead of us and are far more developed in what really matters and in what will matter most at the end of time.