Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Final Week - Alene's Perspective & Safely Back Home

We continue to rejoice and celebrate:
“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Psalm 121:8

Highlights February 17 – 25, 2008:
Alene’s Blog Update Sunday, February 17, to Sunday, February 24, 2008.
A unique Maasai patient care issue!
Safe travel to Nairobi with wonderful worship and fellowship there.
Safe travel through London and on to home in Loveland!

[Steve’s addenda:
Correction: Alene would like me to clarify that this past month was as if she’d had an intense year’s worth of seminary training jammed into one month and I’d had a year’s worth of residency training crammed into a month as well.

She suggested that I clarify the meaning of the medical term “palliative.” That word refers to a medical therapy, which does not cure a disease, but does provide relief and greater comfort and function. Thus, an esophageal stent tube that we place across an area of cancer does not remove the cancer, but does provide an opportunity for that patient to be able to swallow fluids and nutrition for several months.

Also, I forgot to mention a unique patient care issue from my final day of medical service on Friday. The Maasai tribesmen live relatively near to Tenwek and have a traditional ceremony during which the men jump very high from a standing position. We were able to see this at a ceremony for tourists last year. (Apparently this skill has very practical value in keeping track of their cattle, predators, and human threats on the flat terrain.) For young Maasai males to become “men,” one of the skills they must demonstrate is their jumping ability over up-pointed spears. Unfortunately, last year one Maasai boy did not jump quite high enough and came down with a spear wound in his lower abdomen. This injured his lower colon and he required a temporary colostomy (drainage bag from the large bowel through the abdominal wall) last year and on Friday we checked out with a colonoscope that all was healed now to permit removal of the colostomy and to “re-connect” his bowel….Now, that’s just not a patient care issue I’ll see back in Loveland!]

Alene’s Blog Update Sunday, February 17, to Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Alene: After hiking for one hour in the early morning to Pastor Wesley’s house (he had “collected” me in person, as has been his custom – I don’t dare complain about the miles covered, since he is walking every mile twice!) and after a pause there for chai, we went another mile and a half – I’m guessing - down to the river and up the steep sides of the next range of hills, a trek which included far too many fences to crawl through, especially if one is wearing a skirt and a backpack! I then had the privilege to preach at a church in Kapkesiego (near Mugango), again with Pastor Wesley’s excellent assistance in interpreting. The service went quite long, especially with the time for me to pray specifically with any individual who came forward at the end. This was one of the more modest churches I have experienced here, but the devotion and attentiveness of its members were an inspiration. Despite the see-through walls and dirt floor, great care had been taken to decorate with flowering branches hung from strings suspended below the rough boards supporting the metal roof. After the time of worship, there was an auction to support the local women’s ministry, selling garden produce, small seedling trees, and even a live chicken, all brought in to the service by the members. On our way to the pastor’s home for a meal (probably another mile) we stopped as a group (about 10 of us) at the homes of several members who needed some ministry. There was an elderly man recovering from a stroke, who didn’t want to let go of my hand after we had prayed and the group had sung some hymns. I was happy to sit there with him until he released me – he was obviously enjoying the fellowship which his paralysis has prevented; we also prayed over a very sick child and a woman who was in the midst of some deep emotional struggles.

The meal at the pastor’s home was very enjoyable, with a dozen of us at the “table” – more like benches in front of our sitting benches - packed into the small sitting room. The group included the pastor (who served us) and his wife (preparing the meal), a couple of assistant pastors, Pastor Wesley and Charity (who left the kids home for the day with Jeoffrey – the young man who lives and works at their farm), some elders from the church, and Wesley’s brother and his wife, who had come with us to this church today. I have continued to enjoy the beautiful Kipsigis ritual of hand-washing before meals (or even a chai break) – and the pastor blessed us by performing this task for us himself: pouring water over each of our hands, while holding the basin underneath and then presenting a towel for drying. Pastor Joseph then humbly served everyone present until all were well-fed, when he (and his wife) finally ate. The conversation was entertaining, with many comparisons of Kenyan and American culture, and lots of questions for the visitor. They were shocked at some things, like our 50+% divorce rate (even among pastors!) and simply cannot understand why anyone with some property around their home would not have a garden and grow their own food!

At the close of our time together (about 5pm) we had the usual formal expressions of prayer and appreciation to our hosts, as well as the privilege as guest of honor to pray over the homes and families of all those present. Our chatting had included the fact that avocadoes are expensive back in the states, and I was sent home with a bagful of gorgeous ones from the tree in Pastor Joseph’s yard. One last adventure before we departed the pastor’s home: I took a misstep in their outhouse, and nearly ended up at the bottom of their pit latrine! I truly don’t know how I avoided falling through, especially when I saw the hole that my foot had produced – definitely larger than my shoe! Deepest thanks to all of you whose prayers have kept my guardian angels on constant alert…

Fortunately, our direct route back to Tenwek avoided most of the hilly stretches and fence-crawling between the church and Pastor Wesley’s home. I will admit to being bone-tired but thoroughly blessed by the day. Pastor Wesley has scheduled many visits and outreach opportunities for me in this final coming week of our time here, and he left me at our apartment with the admonition to “prepare for the heavy work ahead” and “be ready early tomorrow!” All I know is that I don’t want to miss even one of these chances to see God working and have my faith be stretched and strengthened. The time for resting will have to come later….

Monday, February 18, 2008

Alene: I visited and evangelized with Pr. Wesley in the Mugango area. Our stops included time to encourage a young woman who has been a paraplegic since a tree fell on her a year ago, and who has been abandoned by her husband. We were blessed by the witness of a Kisii tribesman, whose house and carpentry business tools were destroyed by a fire started last month by Kipsigis tribesmen from the village. He has lived in this village for almost 20 years, and knows the men (neighbors) who were involved in this act. (This is an ancient tribal rivalry, which the latest unrest has incited.) As his house burned and he fled with his family at midnight, he prayed for forgiveness for the perpetrators and he continues to pray for them. He is rebuilding his life and some of the arsonists have come forward to ask forgiveness and help him in the process. He has been very vocal in his community about refusing to allow himself or others to seek revenge. He states that Jesus says he must forgive others who wrong him, and he doesn’t see that there is a choice in his response. When asked how he could be prayed for, he requested that God increase his joy and ability to see the Lord working through these events. It was a powerful encounter with a man who is living his faith in a way most of us could only hope to imitate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alene: I continued in ministry with Pr. Wesley today and returned to share with the Kisii man (seen yesterday) how his forgiving witness moved several of us at Tenwek to contribute to the re-building of his home and purchase of replacement carpentry equipment. He was also overjoyed to receive a replacement Kisii Bible from Dr. Bemm, delivered by Pr. Wesley and me.

God had prepared several more hearts to hear His message of love and forgiveness, and we found a couple of them out in their maize fields. Two wives of an elder tribesman (who is still living in the polygamist tradition) said that they were not surprised that I came to share with them today – which surprised ME, since I had been told that a mzungu had never been to this area before, and we had not made an appointment to come. I learned that both these women had been feeling that their lives were coming to a close and that they were sensing the urgency to repent of their mistakes and receive the gift of forgiveness from Jesus. They didn’t know too much about Jesus, except that He offers the chance to be forgiven, and we answered the questions they had about Him. The women felt that if God had sent a mzungu to them all the way from America, then this was their day, and that He had heard their quiet, unknowing prayers for a chance to be released from guilt before they died. They asked me to guide them through a declaration of faith right there and then, with their hoes tucked under their arms and their hands in mine while we prayed together. I was so blessed to be used by God to comfort them, and to be the mzungu that God had sent. I am always amazed how God will prepare a heart to receive Him and His Son and the saving work of the cross – and just when this cowardly mzungu starts to trek up the hill toward a couple of strangers in a strange place and ask herself “what am I doing here?” - a couple of beautiful black women who don’t know a word of English look up from their work and say that they were expecting me. I continue to be humbled by the open doors which the Lord has put before me, and I am tremendously strengthened each time I realize that He has been there ahead of me. He blesses me with these surprises. It is privilege to go where He sends me, and it is pure joy to “be His skin” to those He has prepared to receive Him - to be the one who has been expected. It also pains me to think that He has probably prepared many to whom I failed to go, or to whom I failed to speak. Lord, forgive me, and help me listen, help me go, help me speak. Now I must trust that He will provide the next encourager for those to whom He sent me. Pastor Wesley will be following up with each of our visits, enlisting others from his congregation to invite the newcomers to church, to sit with them, and to bring them their new Kipsigis Bibles. I hope to receive word through Pastor Wesley that God has continued His good work in each of them, just as Philippians 1:6 promises. Hallelujah!

We enjoyed another wonderful dinner out, this time at the Spriegel’s home, with a chance to get to know John, Linda, and their children a bit better. Linda has been coordinating a growing Kipsigis women’s Bible study program. The program has launched 60 area study groups, and has prompted many local pastors to continue their studies in an effort to keep up with the progress of the faith of these women. Linda invited me to attend her regular session with the study leaders tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Alene: I add this other comment about the 50th wedding celebration: “While in keeping with the simplicity and frugality of life at Tenwek, the food, decorations, and company were exceptional, and the event set a new mark for elegance at Tenwek.”

I worked hard today in getting a good start on packing up for our return trip – and I am hoping to spend the next couple of days with Pastor Wesley’s family. I also attended the women’s Bible study leadership group at Spriegels’, and encouraged them with handmade items from inmates from the Bible study group at the women’s prison where I worked in the U.S.: some crocheted angels and crosses and handwritten bookmarks. They were encouraged to hear of the faith of these prisoners, and appreciated my efforts to greet them in Kipsigis. It was amazing to hear how many miles these women walk each week to be part of this leadership group, and how quickly these groups are growing. Some of the women are just learning to read as they memorize Scripture verses and are motivated to “earn” their Kipsigis Bible by faithful attendance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Alene continued her ministry with Pastor Wesley today and she has us pretty well packed up now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alene corrected Steve’s spelling of “heartily”: Many ask us if we will return to Kenya and we heartily reply “Yes, Lord willing!”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

[Correction: Alene would like me to clarify that this past month was as if she’d had an intense year’s worth of seminary training jammed into one month and I’d had a year’s worth of residency training crammed into a month as well.]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Alene: I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Mennonite Guest House yesterday, and spent some time just strolling the gardens and praying in preparation for preaching. The colorful, exotic flowers and unusual birds (hornbills and weavers) helped keep my thoughts on God’s goodness and beauty. We are again impressed with those who stay at these “missionary” guesthouses: a man from Ghana who is the global director of emergency response for World Vision, and an American who is internationally known as a consultant for emerging democracies, helping young governments set up constitutions and parliaments – How amazing to think that God has called this Christian man to such a place of influence and witness! I didn’t even know that such a job existed! He had helped Kenya when she became independent from the British, and he was watching the current struggles with interest and much prayer. He had some insights about what he views as Kenya’s “growing pains,” and I wished for a whole day to talk to him about these things. He was also tired and discouraged from recent travels, and I was happy to encourage him about his work and how God must be using him in these times. He will be attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer, and we invited him to call us if he needs an evening or a place of retreat in the middle of that frenzy…

After packing up and putting things in storage at the guesthouse for the day, Steve and I were picked up at 8am by Josephine and the driver hired for the day. A typical Nairobi traffic jam blocked our route to Harvest Centre Fellowship Church, and even after the efforts of the volunteer traffic controllers who take it on themselves to get everyone straightened out, we ended up having to detour to arrive in reasonable time. We were so excited to see the improvements to the church since our last visit in 2006, and also to see the strong attendance – the church has remained an oasis of calm in this area of the slum, while many other churches have had to close. The pastors attribute the strength and presence of Harvest Centre to its emphasis on diversity, maintaining a multi-tribal membership at a time when tribal affiliations have become issues of survival. The church there has consistently refused to become identified with any single tribe, symbolized by their exclusive use of English and Kiswahili in the services rather than tribal languages – which is the practice of most of the slum churches. The slums are organized by tribe to a great degree, and usually each area has its local, tribal church. Unfortunately, when there are tribal clashes, these churches are easily identified and targeted as representative of the group under fire. We also agree with the pastors at Harvest Centre Fellowship that God has given them favor and protection because of their faithfulness and obedience to lift up the name of Jesus in that community. Steve and I were blessed to see the church thriving, and were in awe of the number of programs, studies, home groups, and outreach ministries which are part of their presence there.

Especially remarkable is the day school, which the church has established and runs in that area of the slum. Its existence is a miracle in itself, and is changing the community, child-by-child and family-by-family. They have continued to add one class level every year, and are currently up to level 6 (out of 8) and an enrollment of about 250 students. God keeps making a way for the school to keep the most senior class moving through the levels, with considerable grace and credit extended by the construction company who is building their new classrooms each year. The school also provides meals for the students each day, another huge blessing for those who attend - and their parents! The locals are so eager for the opportunity for their children to attend, that there is a waiting list of 200. The church has a vision for also opening a boarding school for levels 7 & 8, which would provide the greatest potential for advancement to a secondary school in Kenya – a key to future employment and success and the goal of almost every family here. To combine such quality educational opportunities combined with spiritual mentoring is a vision for which the church is seeking partnership and support. We hope to post more information about this venture on this blog when we receive it from Pastor Hudson.

Another ministry, which is on the horizon for Harvest Centre Fellowship, is for pregnant mothers – to provide health care, support, information, and education for this segment of the population in the slum, at a critical point in the cycle of poverty. The church has recognized God’s hand in the successes they have had – they are providing amazing support and resources in an area that appears to have nothing to offer. Glory to God! We are in awe of their faith and vision and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of ministry to their neighbors. Our churches could learn much. Harvest Centre has always maintained that the backbone of their existence is prayer, and they give credence to this commitment by keeping the church open for prayer, in spite of the needs for additional security. The leadership of the church operates on prayer, and lifts up the ministry of prayer in every area of operation and in all planning. It is a remarkable place of faith, and a place of real miracles because of that faith and dedication to prayer in all things.

Steve and I were invited to speak at both services, and Pastor Hudson and the others in leadership welcomed us warmly, treated us as long-time friends, and gave us great honor. Steve spoke about diversity in the Body of Christ, and the need to respect each others’ gifts, as well as our own calling. I shared about the man from Mugango and his faithful response to forgive as Jesus has forgiven us – I think many were encouraged by the story of one of their own fellow Kenyans, who was walking the same traumatic path many of them have experienced – and was standing up with grace and strength under pressure. We have new appreciation for ministers, who need to preach 2 (or more) sermons on a Sunday! The members of the congregation are accustomed to 2 ½ hour services and this was the case for each service today. (Steve: Alene wants it to be clear that the length of service was not due to the length of her sermon!)

After the two services and a tour of the church school, we had a group organized for lunch: Pastor Hudson, his wife Beatrice and their 3 children, Josephine, Emily, and her 3 daughters, Steve and myself. Our group of twelve went to the China Plate Restaurant (which we had visited on our arrival in Kenya) and were recognized by the waiter. He gave us great attention, and it was good time of fellowship and getting to know Pastor Hudson and Beatrice a bit more. They are working very hard in their roles as head pastor and director of women’s ministries in a church of 2500 members, as well as Pastor Hudson’s full time job as an accountant and Beatrice’s responsibilities as mom.

Steve: We again were touched by the Kenyan custom to see guests off on their departure. Pastor Hudson, his wife, and three children made an extra cross-town trip to be with us at the airport as our surrogate family. Fortunately, we were blessed with 45 minutes to enjoy some sodas and snacks and share more about their lives and ministry before we had to report to our security screening procedures. They even waited for a thumbs-up signal through the windows before waving a final goodbye. We were honored by their efforts on our behalf, knowing that Sundays are precious times of being together as a family. Afterward, as we strolled through the airport gift shops, we discussed the fact that we’d had a different African experience this time, and none of the usual souvenirs seemed appropriate – interactions with 2-legged Kenyans definitely outnumbered those of the 4-legged variety!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Steve: We enjoyed some good sleep as our plane flew from Nairobi to London. With an empty seat between us, we could spread out a bit more. Seeing one of the London airport gift shops particularly gave me “culture shock” - an entire shop dedicated to caviar! We will continue to reexamine our own priorities in light of our Kenyan experiences.

On our flight from London to Denver I was able to read more about the life of Dr. Ernie Steury, who was the first physician at Tenwek Hospital and the ONLY one for many years. His dedication and commitment were a witness to me. I was embarrassed to have complained about my relatively light and short-lived work demands at Tenwek Hospital.

The flight went smoothly and we again were grateful that all of our luggage arrived safely. (We’re down from 6 to 3 Action Packers for this return trip.) After some wonderful soup at Bill & Carole’s, Bill took us home to our own beds 32 hours after originally leaving Nairobi.

What a blessing to be back at home and recognize the Lord’s protective hand and
answers to many faithful prayers! We request prayers of thanksgiving from our partners, prayers for our “re-entry,” and continued prayers for peace and understanding in Kenya.

Peace to all!

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Psalm 121:8
--Steve & Alene

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