Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ministry to Ex-Prisoner - Peter's Story

Peter Kipngeno was a very dangerous guy, and the whole village knew it.

Even the radio station was warning everyone in Bomet, Kenya to watch out for him. The local police were so eager to catch him that they even jailed his mother for 2 months, insisting that she must have had some part in his criminal activity, and hoping to flush Peter out of hiding. As a strong Christian, she believed that God had a different plan for her son’s life, and committed herself to pray every day for his change of heart. When Peter was finally caught and sentenced, he survived inside the walls with more illegal activities – smuggling cigarettes and other contraband into the prison and then selling them to other inmates.

But committed prayer changes things, and one day Peter’s world was turned upside down.

We had come to Peter’s prison with a group of chaplains-in-training from Tenwek Hospital near Bomet, and we were sharing with the men and about God’s love shown through His son, Jesus. Suddenly, this tall inmate shot up from the plastic barrel on which he was sitting and declared loudly, “I NEED TO REPENT!” He proceeded to confess some of his crimes, including the theft of a significant sum of money from a church in Bomet. Our team prayed over him and others who had asked God to change their hearts that day, and we departed with hope that this man’s transformation was genuine and that he would be mentored in his new faith.

Four weeks later the chaplain from Peter’s prison called us to let us know that the man who had come forward so eagerly during our visit was being released the next day and asked if we could assist him in returning to his village home in Bomet. With the help of some local pastors who knew Peter’s family, we drove him to his home where his mother, siblings, and neighbors were waiting for him after almost 8 years. The homecoming proceeded under the shade of a tree near their mud-walled home, with formal greetings by elders from the community, as well as inebriated cheers from several of Peter’s old friends who had come to join the celebration.

Peter's emotional reunion with his mother

Sharing his story with family & friends

After sitting quietly through all the speeches and emotional welcomes, Peter stood and addressed us. “I have changed” he said in his quiet Kipsigis language, “and I am never going back. I have repented and given my life to Jesus Christ.” Peter shared that the day we had visited the prison, the barrel on which he had been sitting began to burn so hotly that he thought it was literally on fire, making him jump from his seat. He said that “in a flash” the Lord had shown him all the terrible mistakes of his past and his need for forgiveness, and he had been moved to respond. Peter now turned to his intoxicated buddies and spoke frankly: “And to my friends who are here today – when you are drunk, don’t come to my house. I am finished with that life.” Standing there with a brand new baseball cap in his hand, Peter closed his eyes and sang his thanks and praise to God, his once-broken-but-now-healed heart pouring itself out in the kind of grateful freedom that only a liberated prisoner could express.

Community support has continued for Peter and his family through visits, mentoring by local pastors, and more practical help for his new life from friends, neighbors, and church members. Prison training in carpentry has enabled him to build his own modest 2-room house, with help from others to get lumber for the walls and iron sheets for the roof. The first Sunday after his release, he returned to the Bomet church from which he had stolen money and asked their forgiveness, sharing the story of how God’s mercy had changed him and bringing many to tears. That church is now preparing him as a baptism candidate. Additional evidence of Peter’s conversion came through a visit to his father to confess a long-held bitterness and seek the father’s forgiveness, opening the door for their reconciliation.

Peter's house under construction

Peter with his Bible and a new suit

Peter also joined the same team of chaplains for a return visit to his astonished former prisonmates. He speaks their language as only an ex-prisoner can, and gives them real hope that another life is possible. He has stated that his goal is to become a pastor. “I just want to teach God’s Word,” he tells us, and he shares his firsthand experience of its power to change a life with anyone who will listen. He comes from a poor family and has no money of his own, but he is trusting God and working hard to save for Bible college and a future family.

The life-changing effect of Christ’s love and forgiveness in Peter’s life would be hard to believe without the witnesses who can verify his criminal history. We, too, have been changed and encouraged by knowing him and watching his story unfold. Whether our prisons have been literal or spiritual, Peter is walking proof of the Jesus who came “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

If you have already been set free by this Jesus, sing a song of freedom to someone still in chains. Reach out to someone who needs a welcome into your community or assistance for a fresh start. If you don’t know Jesus the chain-breaker yet, let Peter’s rescue encourage you. Peter would gladly tell you the Good News himself if he could.

Submitted by Alene Burgert, WGM Missionary to Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, November 2010.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Comings & Goings - Minnesota, Holy Land, Budget in the Millions, Post-prison ministry

October 11, 2010

Burgert's Coming & Going - We are excited to share much with you:

Steve had a safe journey to Minnesota with frequent flyer miles to share time with his parents. It was a great opportunity for him to see how they are doing and for them to see that all is well with Steve. Steve was able to share an update on our mission service at his parents retirement apartment complex as well as at the First Presbyterian Church in Rochester, which is the church of Steve's first 26 years. Thanks to a fellow missionary family, the Byers', who loaned Steve a car to use. We talked about the things we have - they are "God owned - personally operated!" Yes, Steve was able to switch back to driving on the "right" side of the road while in the USA!

We both leave for Israel on October 12, 2010. We are delighted to join ten others from our home church in Loveland, Colorado, First United Methodist Church, including our pastors, Rev. Jane and Rev. Brian Riecke, on this Holy Land Tour of Israel and Egypt. We are looking forward to this investment of personal funds to be an inspiration in our faith journeys and also an opportunity to reflect as we conclude our first full year of missionary service in Kenya and look toward the year to come. Thank you for your prayers for a safe and blessed journey.

Alene has been pleased to assist two men recently released from prison as they have been welcomed back into their communities and look forward to sharing the love of Christ with others. The photo shows Peter (the tallest one) as he literally is building his home. Alene will share more details about the Lord's miraculous design in the lives of these men.

Steve has proposed a budget in the millions....well, millions of Kenya Shillings! The Tenwek Endoscopy Unit budget has been previously included in the Surgery Department budget and this is the first time it is being submitted as a separate budget. Steve has new appreciation for all of those who have developed budgets in the past. We pray for wisdom in future planning and for available funds and for each area of service.

We rejoice as we look back on this first year and look toward the year to come!

Please note: The blog is updated with photos from our August safari.

We remember Psalm 121:8 - "The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Our House is SOLD! PRAISE GOD!

September 10, 2010


We give thanks to the Lord as expressed in Psalm 100: 4-5

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;

give thanks to Him and praise His name.

For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;

His faithfulness continues through all generations.

We are delighted to share the great news that our house sale was finalized with the closing today! It truly is an answer to the prayers of many and we thank all for their faithful prayers for the house sale. We also want to acknowledge and thank all who helped in other ways to make this possible. The service of many has helped to make our mission service in Kenya possible.

Specifically, we thank: our neighbors, Bob and Chris Sprague and their family, who have faithfully cared for our home during our time away and have already served as great ambassadors to the new homeowners; Steve's brother, Mark Burgert, who diligently attended to the closing transaction details long-distance; our neighbors, Chuck and Inge Bentz, who have been storing some of our remaining belongings; our real estate agent from Group, Kim Summitt, and others involved in the house-closing details; and the many members of our home church First United Methodist Church - Loveland, who helped us pack up, move, and prepare our home for sale.

Previously in our blog on October 25, 2009 we shared how we had many signs that our transition to being missionaries was "getting real." Today's home sale adds a new level of reality to our calling as missionaries. We again praise the Lord for His goodness and we thank all of you who have partnered with us. --Steve & Alene

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Peace in Kenya, House Sale, Trip to Minnesota, Safari

August 15, 2010

We are pleased to share some great news updates and answered prayers even since our recent newsletter:

1) There has been complete peace during Kenya's referendum vote approving a new constitution and now during the two weeks since the voting. We witnessed the turmoil ("the clashes" as they refer to it here) when we were here in early 2008 after the presidential elections in December 2007, so we do not take peace for granted and give thanks to God.

2) We also give huge thanks to God for providing a buyer for our home in Colorado! We signed a contract on August 13th and the closing is planned for September 17th. We will appreciate your continued prayers for all of the closing details to proceed smoothly.

3) Steve will be making a brief visit to Rochester, Minnesota to share time with his parents from September 29th to October 5th. (Alene will stay at Tenwek during Steve's visit.) Steve cashed in some United Airlines frequent flyer miles for the trip and will have new routes with plane changes in Johannesburg, South Africa going and in Istanbul, Turkey on the return trip!

4) We did enjoy a 2-day safari (only a 2-hour drive from Tenwek) last week and were delighted to see so many animals and be refreshed. We need some time to organize our photos before we share them online, but......stay tuned!

Thanks for your prayers and support!

July Newsletter

August 14, 2010

You can check out our July newsletter update at:

A lot has been going on!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

C-Arm X-ray Unit is Repaired; Chaplain Students in June 2010

June 27, 2010

We'll start with a teaser question:

Why would they sell bars of soap here in Kenya with the name "PANGA," which means "knife"?

[answer below]

Note: Related photos can be viewed on our photo link:

C-Arm Repaired and Back-up Unit on Its Way

We thank all of you for your prayers and support regarding the malfunctioning C-Arm (portable fluoroscopic machine used for real-time x-ray images) here at Tenwek Hospital. We are delighted to report that the machine is again functioning well after replacement of two motherboard circuits and the hard-drive. Within 20 minutes of repair completion on June 19th, the C-arm was promptly used by the orthopedic surgery team to care for a young girl, who had fallen out of a tree and had broken her wrists, elbow and femur (upper leg bone). We give praise to God for His perfect timing! We were also grateful to have the C-arm available for us on the endoscopy team to perform an ERCP on June 25th for a 53 year-old lady with bile duct obstruction. Thanks for all those who helped with advice, contacts, shipment of repaired and replacement parts, installation, financial support, and prayers.

We are also delighted to report that several generous donors have responded to the need here at Tenwek Hospital and have already provided funds for the purchase and shipment of a second back-up C-arm unit to use here. This is truly an answer to prayer for us to be able to consistently provide quality care to the patients here at Tenwek. Praise be to God for His wonderful provision!

Tenwek Chaplaincy School Students Thank FUMC-Loveland

We may not fully realize how the Lord has prepared us to serve until years later. Alene has said that she never would have imaged serving as a teacher in a chaplaincy school in Kenya 5 years ago! The Lord has prepared her and continues to equip her for her role as a teacher and encourager for the nine chaplaincy students. She devotes at least one half of each day to chaplaincy school related activities: teaching, devotions, meals with the students, fellowship times, etc.

We were both blessed to be able to drive to visit the villages and homes for 6 of the students over 3 days earlier in June. The shared time proved to be a blessing for the students and their families as well as for us. For most of the villages it was the first time that they remembered having a "Mzungu" visitor (white person). The students have indicated that they think of us as their "parents" and we are proud of the commitment of "our children."

Our home church, First United Methodist Church in Loveland, Colorado, has had a program to help provide study materials for needy participants in Bible studies offered at FUMC. In that spirit and through support provided by FUMC-Loveland, each of the nine chaplaincy students received a Life Application Study Bible. This wa a precious gift to these students, most of whom struggle just to pay their tuition, and several have been using borrowed Bibles. They were MOST APPRECIATIVE and we are certain that they will put this resource to excellent use in sharing Scripture messages with others. They say "Asante sana!" ("Thank you very much!") to FUMC-Loveland. (Please see their grateful faces in the photos on the blog link.)

Odds & Ends

There is a photo showing Steve, The Great White Hunter, with a wild animal captured right here on the Tenwek Hospital grounds.......a chameleon!

Most national Kenyans are very excited about the World Cup for soccer. (Of course, it is called "football" here.) Steve joined in the spirit and enjoyed watching each of the USA games on our neighbor's television and cheering for the USA. Kenya had no team in the final 32 teams playing in South Africa, but every African team became "their" team. Needless to say, they were delighted that Ghana was able to defeat USA....Steve will now join in cheers for Ghana, Africa's sole remaining team in the World Cup.

The answer re: "PANGA" soap: Here in Kenya soap can be sold in very long sticks equivalent to about 6 soap "bars." These long sticks are cut into regular-sized bars with a "panga" (knife)!

Thanks for your interest, prayers, and support that make our service to the Kenyans possible. We know that each of you has special ways to be of service to others wherever you are.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Alene's ministry takes shape; C-Arm malfunction; True faith in your spouse!

June 1, 2010

(Please also note the photos on the weblink)

Alene's Ministry Takes Shape!

Wow! After spending several months exploring potential opportunities for service and ministry here at Tenwek, Alene's ministry has very rapidly taken shape in May. She is now serving as one of the instructors for the Tenwek Chaplaincy School. This certainly fits in with her background of prior service as a prison chaplain in Colorado, but she admits that when she offered to teach 4 hours on "Criminology" she did not realize that she had actually volunteered to teach 4 hours on the subject EACH WEEK for 12 weeks! [She's excited about her new role, but is busy enough right now that she's letting me do this blog entry! - Steve] This past week was exciting for the chaplaincy students, Alene, and some pastors at Tenwek who are interested in prison ministry: Kelvin and Ben from Philemon Prison Ministries in Nairobi [] came and spent three full days teaching the chaplain students and coordinating a visit to the nearby Bomet Men's Prison. This very practical experience helped to encourage these students, who are preparing to minister to others as chaplains, whether at prisons, hospitals, school campuses, military bases, or wherever the Lord opens an opportunity.

Alene also spends time encouraging the nine chaplain students throughout the week and we have had the students over for chats and social time on three occasions. Today is a holiday in Kenya (celebrating when Kenya became a republic) and the students will come over to our home for a movie-showing using a borrowed projector. These students have become part of our "family" here and we look forward to visiting some of their homes in coming weeks.

Alene's message (with Pastor Wesley acting as an interpreter) to the Bomet prisoners and officers on "Stress and Stress Management" on May 14th was well-received. She is also helping to facilitate our Tenwek campus church's monthly visits to the Bomet Prison.

In addition, each Wednesday afternoon Alene has been leading a Bible study in the village of Mugango on the book of Colossians. We give thanks for answered prayers as the Lord directs Alene's ministry.

C-Arm Update

We shared an urgent request on May 23rd for prayers and assistance for repairs for our 20-year-old C-arm unit here at Tenwek Hospital. (A C-arm is a large, mobile device that allows "real-time" motion pictures of x-ray images, which is critical for orthopedic surgery and other procedures, including the bile and pancreas duct exams that I perform: ERCP's.) We here at Tenwek have been amazed by the prompt and very helpful response of so many and we know that prayers are being answered. A replacement hard-drive (formatted to match the 1991 specs) and a new power supply were quickly identified and were sent within a couple of days with a visitor coming to Tenwek and were delivered this past weekend. We give great thanks, but unfortunately installation of these parts did not eliminate the error message previously noted. The concern now is that the CPU that controls the hard-drive may be blown. Dr. Dan Galat, Orthopedic Surgeon, is returning to the USA this week and will take along the hard-drive and two circuit-motherboard CPU's that communicate with the hard-drive. This will permit further "diagnostic" efforts and "treatment" plans.

Please join us as we continue to pray that the current C-arm can be repaired promptly, for wisdom in providing care without C-arm services, (especially for the many orthopedic patients) and for provision of a second, back-up C-arm, which is clearly needed.

True Faith in Your Spouse!

I've always had faith in Alene, but I think it is an amazing sign of faith that Alene let me cut her hair recently! I admit that she closely supervised each cut, but I was most thankful for the late-night "hair-cutting clinic" led by Emily and others during our SPLICE training in Colorado in September!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Top Ten List on Becoming Kenyan, Easter, Retreat, Prison Visit, Endoscopy Work

Top ten ways we can tell that we are becoming Kenyan….

#10 - When watching an American movie on a DVD, we now think it looks weird for the driver and steering wheel to be on the left side of the car… (but when driving here, we still accidentally hit the windshield wipers when we are trying to use the turn signals!)

#9 - Steve and I shake hands when we greet each other in public, instead of a hug or a peck on the cheek. (When it rains, we have a legitimate excuse to share the umbrella and stand close enough to touch.)

#8 - We are starting to point at things with our chins. (Standard technique here, since it is considered extremely impolite to point at things with your finger.)

#7 - We are pleasantly surprised when a public restroom has TP in the stall or soap for washing hands. Actually, we should say that we are also pleasantly surprised if the stall has a stool (instead of just a hole), and a door (with a latch), if the toilet flushes (or if the bucket next to you has been provided for that purpose), and if the sink has a faucet that works. (Carrying our own TP and hand sanitizer has become standard protocol.)

#6 - I (Alene) have noticed that every backpack or shoulder bag I pull out now has a supply of mosquito-wipe packets.

#5 - We have stopped wearing white and/or light-colored clothes – except for Steve’s hospital coat. (The red clay dirt and the water stains have taken their toll.)

#4 - We have learned to use a closed fist to indicate the number 5, and to signal someone to “come” with our palms down.

#3 - We have learned that if we arrive 10 minutes after the scheduled start of a gathering means we will probably still be the first ones there.

#2 - We no longer feel the need to stop and take pictures of zebras, giraffes, and gazelle along the road to Nairobi. (But we did stop for a photo when we saw a funnel cloud over the Rift Valley! – see the blog photos)

#1 - Greeting others in Swahili now seems perfectly natural. (Until the other person continues in Swahili at full speed, assuming that we can keep up!)

Oops - #11 - We recognize that we have developed a little “toughness.” We have come to expect that almost every Kenyan who stops to say more than just the usual greetings will end up asking us for money (in a round-about way) or suggestively hinting at the difficulties of their lives. This is especially likely if they invite you to their home for chai or a meal. We have been struggling with the difficult balance of remaining open, interested, and caring, without taking on the responsibility to solve every crisis that crosses our path. Just as we are coming to grips with this reality and developing some protective and re-directive techniques, I (Alene) was invited to the home of a Kenyan woman who works at Tenwek Hospital, and I hiked to her place mentally prepared to “fend off” her anticipated requests to help with school fees for her 4 children. As I sat on a bench in this widow’s simple shack with a dirt floor and rain leaking through her roof on to my lap, watching her oldest daughter (13 years old?) fix us a pot of chai (tea) and a simple plate of bread, I listened with shame for my hard heart as she told me that she is so grateful to the Lord because He has provided miraculously for all her needs. Then this generous woman of faith blessed me with a large sack of potatoes and a huge scoop of beans from her small garden, and accompanied me back home through the pouring rain. Dear Lord help us, maybe we are not really as Kenyan as we would like to think…

Notes from Alene on Easter weekend teaching in Kalyet AGC (Africa Gospel Church) near Mugango -

First, please let me say that I am so grateful for those of you who partnered with me in prayer for those days – I felt a deep peace even though I had no idea from one moment to the next what (or how) I would be teaching. I did a lot of prayer, preparation and study ahead of time, and then felt free to wait on the Lord’s direction as each day unfolded in its own Kenyan way.

The three days of teaching plus Easter Sunday’s sermon at the Kalyet Africa Gospel Church (AGC) were a true blessing and huge, cultural learning experience. The schedule of sessions was extremely loose, and attendance fluctuated (understandably, for our walk-in attendees) with how heavy the rains were that day - from 30 to 300. My greatest challenge was to stay aware of the “spiritual atmosphere” and be able to shift gears if their concentration was wandering or past engagement completely. I would skip a verbal presentation and go to a little visual demonstration, or start asking them questions to try and re-engage. Working with a translator definitely gives one time to think between points, and time to gauge whether the listeners have understood your point, or if you should try again from another direction. But it can also break the flow of the message, and cuts your presentation time in half! (I told someone it was like watching a crowd who was watching a tennis match, as their eyes bounced between me and the translator.) It was a humbling, cross-cultural immersion, but I am trusting that the Holy Spirit was at work. (As it says in Isaiah 55:11, the Word will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, and will not go out and return empty.) I was very touched by their attentiveness and respect, and especially by their hunger for more teaching about the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which – according to area pastors - has not been presented in depth to the churches here for several years. With the help of a diesel generator, several viewings of The Jesus Film were offered between teaching sessions, in Swahili and English. This was a big hit, especially with the younger crowd.

Two special highlights of the weekend: On Good Friday, we invited attendees to come forward to the wooden cross and tie on a strip of red cloth to represent any burden which they wanted to offer to Jesus, and many then stayed at the altar for a time of personal prayer. Another beautiful piece came on Easter Sunday when they celebrated Holy Communion, which has not happened at that church for several years. It was clearly a holy moment for all of us, especially after the previous days of teaching on the Last Supper. Steve and I were also blessed by the wonderful hospitality of the church members as they donated, prepared, and served a chai break (tea and bread) and a large midday meal each of the session days as well as after the 3-hour service on Easter. The Kalyet AGC church council has invited me back to teach weekly Bible studies there starting in mid-May – we will do a trial of 10 weeks (through July) and then re-evaluate.

Again, I give thanks to the Lord for His faithful help and direction in all this, and I again thank my much-needed and graciously-heard prayer partners. (See some photos in the blog link.)

Notes on our retreat at Malindi

This wonderful retreat for all the Kenyan WGM missionaries (not just Tenwek) was full of excellent teaching, rich times of fellowship, and refreshing worship sessions. Several pairs of pastors had come from the U.S. to teach and counsel adults as well as the youth. Most afternoons we had to ourselves for relaxing or prolonged lunches with the pastors or missionary colleagues. The Turtle Bay Beach Club in Malindi (about 50 miles north of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean) is a beautiful Kenyan resort with lots of quiet spaces for reflection or in-depth conversations. The tropical setting was therapeutic, and we appreciated the opportunities to refresh ourselves and spend time with other missionary families, as well as see another beautiful part of Kenya. We enjoyed the VERY warm ocean water, and Steve took advantage of a group outing to snorkel in a nearby marine reserve. There were some incredible tide pools off the beach at low tide, and we marveled at 14” ruffled clam shells and families of eels who would come halfway out of the water to retrieve small bits of sausage which we squirreled away from our breakfast. We found many gorgeous shells we would have liked to bring back with us, but since most of them still had inhabitants, we left them on the beach. We did end up with enough small bits and pieces to remind us of our getaway, and they are collected in a dish on our kitchen windowsill.

We had no real rain until our last full day there, but even that was a little magical as it dripped off the grass roofs like a curtain of diamonds. (See blog photos.) In the evenings you could be entertained by the “crab wars” out on the sand under the floodlights, or watch the white African bats swoop down for insects above. One of our favorite diversions was the incredible flock of Golden Palm Weaver birds which nested around one of the resort ponds, next to one of the dining areas (I won’t use the word dining ROOMS, because they were all open-air) – again, we invite you to view the blog photos. These incredible birds, which are bright yellow with orange heads, would peel off thin strips of a palm branch and then weave them into an upside-down nest (the males, actually) and then they flutter and dangle at the entrance (upside-down again!) to attract a female to their ready-to-move-in special. We also watched as one of the local monkeys tried unsuccessfully to steal some eggs (or baby birds) from the nests, but instinct leads the birds to build their homes at the far ends of flimsy branches, deterring such predators. Our Creator is amazing!

We enjoyed our time immensely, but were ready to return to “home” at Tenwek, as it has become our very comfortable and familiar base of operations. We now have a better understanding of the importance of such breaks for all of us missionaries to get away together from the various stations, and especially to soak in some pastoral care before returning to our various areas of service and ministry. We also understand better why everyone was looking forward to it so much! Alene has volunteered to be on the organizing committee for next year’s return.

One more blessing from our retreat…We were thankful upon our return to Nairobi that we navigated around the city in our car by ourselves for a couple of days of supply-buying, and then safely made our “maiden voyage” alone home to Tenwek. Hallelujah, the Lord watches over our coming and going, both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:8

Bomet Prison visit on Good Friday

Alene worked as a prison chaplain in the USA and had recently renewed a long-neglected contact with the local (Bomet) prison near Tenwek with the pastor from our Tenwek/Bethesda church. Unfortunately, she was committed to teaching at the Mugango AGC Church on Good Friday and could not join the 20 of us from Tenwek who visited the Bomet prison on that day. With 98 inmates and many prison officers participating, we shared the Gospel message, answered questions, sang songs together and played volleyball. (Yes, the inmates won!) They appreciated the interaction and the gift of Twizzlers ("red licorice") and further visits are anticipated. The openness and opportunity to share the Gospel is dramatically different from what we would encounter in the prisons in the USA. (See blog photos.)

Steve's Endoscopy Work

It is great to share that we are now able to offer ERCP procedures here at Tenwek Hospital. This is a specialized endoscopy procedure that permits x-ray views and therapeutics for the pancreas and bile ducts. We have now performed 4 ERCP procedures and 3 of the patients required sphincterotomies (electrical cutting-open of the bile duct exit into the upper small bowel) and 2 patients with cancer blocking the bile duct had plastic stents placed. We give thanks to God that we can now care for many patients with bile duct or pancreas difficulties that would have previously required a surgical incision through the abdominal wall.

We give thanks for Barb & Jason in Colorado, who helped arrange for Libby, Amanda, and Peter to deliver endoscopy supplies (including new ERCP supplies!) for our use here at Tenwek.

I (Steve) have needed to learn patience in teaching young physicians techniques in performing endoscopic procedures, but Drs. Mike & Arega are learning very quickly. Having other African (not just Kenyan) physicians trained to provide endoscopic care and research is another goal of our service here. (See blog photos.)

As expected, we continue to see a high number of esophageal cancer patients. (There were 375 new esophageal cancer patients cared for in the Tenwek Endoscopy Unit in 2009.) We placed 10 esophageal stents in 9 patients last week. (Yes, one patient's tumor was so long that 2 stents were needed.) I have again been reminded about how many of the patients we see are young. I ask for your specific prayers for these four young men/boys we saw just in this past week:

Dennis, 30 years old, with esophageal cancer.

Jairo, 33 years old, with esophageal cancer.

Maxtone, 34 years old, with stomach cancer.

and Kipnegtich, 16 years old, with cancer in the pharynx (throat).

We also ask for prayers for our endoscopy team and hospital cancer chaplain to know how best to minister to these individuals and their families. May the Lord also guide our efforts to learn how to diagnose earlier or prevent these cancers.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Joshua's Great News & Our Transitions in February

February 28, 2010


We are delighted to report that prayers have been answered for 1 ½ year old Joshua. The tumor was removed from his wrist on January 28th and we have just learned this week that the tissue report is completely benign! [For you medical folks, it is described as "infantile fibromatosis."] We have heard that he is doing well. We found him to be a very delightful child and we know that the Lord has GREAT things in mind for Joshua. We give thanks and praise to the Lord for His healing touch. Please join us in prayer for healing for many others here at Tenwek Hospital.


...Language Study...Medical Conference...Vehicle ownership...Clinical/Ministry Work

....Language Study - We did complete our 3 months of intense Swahili language study on February 5th. We are so thankful for the opportunity we had to focus on this before "jumping into" clinical and ministry responsibilities. We are thankful for a great teacher and for the Tenwek Hospital physicians, who covered the clinical care duties before Steve started to work there. Our language learning does continue as we speak Swahili daily with coworkers and neighbors and Steve strives to use the language in patient care. Daniel, our language tutor, has graciously encouraged each of us to email him a few paragraphs in Swahili once a week summarizing our activities and we have done so to "keep in shape." This is a continuation of the daily journaling that we did for our Swahili class. Daniel will send us corrections and answers to our language questions.

...Medical Conference - It really was much more than a medical conference that we enjoyed at Brackenhurst, a Christian conference center about 1 hour northwest of Nairobi, near Limuru for any of you who have a map. We enjoyed 2 weeks of “deep breathing” in our transition from our Swahili studies into our ministry work. The grounds were beautiful, with lawns, gardens, walking trails, nice rooms, delicious food, little places tucked here and there for sitting and talking, or reading, or emailing or whatever. We had a lovely, newly-renovated private room with our own bathroom & shower – some had to share dorm-type rooms and use restrooms down the hall. So we truly had a little personal holiday. Each day began with hearty breakfasts at 7am, followed by worship and good spiritual teaching sessions – then the program launched into the medical sessions or spouse program sessions. There were some sessions which of interest to all, and everyone was welcome to attend any session. For example, Alene attended some sessions on Spirituality and Medicine, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Conflict Management, and Steve had a very timely opportunity to refresh himself on tropical medicine issues and general medical care between classes in his area of specialization. There were about 300 attendees, some with their spouses – mostly doctors and surgeons, but also other health professionals, mostly from African mission fields. We were inspired and humbled by so many who have served for many years in areas which are difficult (environmentally) and some which are under fire (literally). It was awesome to talk and share with so many over meals and between sessions. It also was a fabulous time for networking and receiving encouragement from some real veterans, some of whom are African, and some from the US, South America, Europe, or Asia.

Another large part of our interactions here has been sharing with many of the teaching staff, most of whom have some from the U.S. to be with us and bring us up to date. Many of the presenters are also currently from mission hospitals, or have been on the field in the past. They also have great experiences, wisdom, and histories to share.

Mid-mornings we enjoyed tea/coffee breaks out on the lawn between the meeting rooms, usually accompanied by one of the delicious homemade breads or doughnuts which the kitchen here bakes each day. Another round of sessions was followed by lunch – anything from sloppy joes to chicken curry, with soups and salads accompanying every meal. Classes ended around 4pm, and we did walk on some of the trails at that hour. Dinner at 6, was followed by worship and “field reports” which were eye-witness reports about God’s miracles happening in some part of the world – a great way to end each day!

Between the 2 weeks of sessions we were hosted on an outing to Lake Naivasha, (about another hour northwest from here) where we boated through an area of hippos, pelicans, and fish eagles to a peninsula where we enjoyed a walking safari among giraffes, zebras, and cape buffaloes, as well as birds and monkeys. There are no predators in this park, which provided a unique experience to walk so closely to the animals, as opposed to the land rover/vehicle safaris necessary in other parts of Kenya.

The Brackenhurst Conference was most timely in helping us be better prepared for our transition into medical and ministry work. (Please see the photo link for photos from Brackenhurst, the walking safari, and a nearby tea plantation)

...Vehicle Ownership - We did spend the day before the Brackenhurst Conference going in to Nairobi to look about a vehicle purchase. We were thankful to have been connected with Kamal, who is a local car expert and specializes in helping missionaries get good vehicles for their areas of service. Long story short, we were providentially led to a 2001 Toyota Prado (a type of Land Cruiser), which should serve us very well. We have been dealing with the necessary Kenyan paperwork, money transfers, mission field approvals, and repairs, etc. (Technically, this is a mission-owned, but individually-maintained vehicle.) We are returning to Nairobi on Friday, March 5th, to pick up the vehicle after completion of some repairs and installation of new tires (here they are "tyres") and a new car top roof rack. The car will seat seven and should be a huge help to our ability to serve the mission team here – thanks to all of you who have been praying for us about this! Please continue to pray that we will learn how to drive on the left side of the road and according to the somewhat loose Kenyan rules of the road.

...Clinical/Ministry Work - Steve was pleased this week to assume a new role at Tenwek Hospital as the Director of Endoscopy services. They have not previously had a fulltime Gastroenterologist here and have made him feel most welcome and appreciated. He got right back into doing upper and lower GI tract endoscopy procedures even though he'd only done three scope exams since June 30th! The five nurses and techs on the Endoscopy Unit team were pleased to have a chance to learn more about Steve's role and to share their own vision for the Endoscopy Unit at a team meeting and devotion on Friday morning. They have already started organizing and doing a needed inventory of the endoscopy equipment and accessories....They think that they have found an electrical cord, which was lost for three years and will now again permit them to do procedures requiring electrocautery. Steve will have several administrative duties, teaching duties and also will be on the general medicine on-call schedule. Thanks for your prayers in this major transition. (Please see the photo link for a picture of the endoscopy team, Steve's first esophageal cancer stent patient in 2010 - unfortunately the first of many, and a round worm in the colon - welcome to colonoscopies in Kenya!)

Alene has begun her investigation of the specific role for her ministry service. She has met with several individuals last week and has other appointments in this coming week. We cherish your prayers for guidance in her transition as well.

Just One Random Observation:

When we asked Kenyans around here most of them did not know the Swahili word for "stress." (We learned from our language tutor that the word is "msongo.") We're not saying that they do not have stress, but it says something that they don't dwell on it enough to have a word that easily comes to mind.....Perhaps we can learn something from that! May your stresses be minimal and may your transitions be smooth in all of the ways that you can be of ministry and service to others.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reflections on a Solar Eclipse and Prayers for Joshua

Reflections on a Solar Eclipse

Over one year ago when we first announced our intentions to serve in Kenya, my former partner, Dr. Jerry Chase, promptly advised us that there would be an annular solar eclipse in our area on January 15, 2010. We are glad that he gave us that “heads up” to fully appreciate it. On Jerry’s advice we had ordered 30 cardboard “Solar eclipse shades” a year ago and thankfully we were able to find them amongst the supplies we had shipped here. It was great to use and share the special shades with others on the day of the eclipse. Some of the Missionary Kids also used unexposed x-ray film to view the eclipse. I am not the “Eclipsologist” that Jerry is, but basically a solar eclipse is seen when the moon is exactly between a spot on the earth and the sun. During an annular solar eclipse the moon does not completely block out all of the light from the sun even though the moon is fully between the earth and the sun.

We were especially grateful that it was a SUNNY morning on January 15th, because that day was in the middle of 3 weeks straight with at least some significant rain every day and otherwise very cloudy skies. (There was rain the night before and also during the afternoon after the eclipse.) We never saw the moon at sunrise, because the sunrise was hidden behind hills, but slowly in mid-morning we experienced some eerie changes as the moon passed between the sun and us. The bright sunlight and warmth changed to a vague sense of dusk, “but the shadows were in the wrong places.” With the annular eclipse there still was a complete ring of light (like a donut) shining around the moon. We actually noticed a significant drop in temperature more than the change in sunlight. Crickets and birds changed their sounds. During the eclipse we could follow with our special shades as the shadow of the moon slowly proceeded across the sun from a crescent shape to a donut to a crescent shape again and then the full light of the sun returned. It was amazing to see the shadows through pinholes or the holes in Alene’s crocheted shawl cast similar changing shadows. Many of the folks around the hospital were completely unaware that the eclipse was occurring, but were delighted to have a chance to look through the special solar eclipse shades to see it for themselves. Rather promptly, heat returned as the full sunlight returned.

We couldn’t help reflecting on Jesus’ light to this world as we experienced the eclipse. Jesus came into the world and was “the true light that gives light to every man.” (John 1:9) As followers of Jesus Christ we are reminded: “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Even a little light can show the way. Even when the moon appeared to cover 90% of the sun’s surface there still was ample light to see our way, but it wasn’t totally clear to people why the lighting was a bit different. We (with our special shades) were very excited to share the experience and explanation for what was happening. We are thankful for those in our lives who have shared with us and enabled us to see the Good News of Christ’s coming more clearly. May we continually share our enthusiasm and tools, such as wisdom from the Bible, to help others clearly see what a gift there is in Jesus and what life His light can bring for all of us. We recognized that if there were no sunlight at all, this earth would be very cold and there would be no life whatsoever. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gives true life. With the annular eclipse we saw that even major obstacles may come into our lives and seem to get between God and us, but God’s power is not diminished and He will overcome any obstacle. May each of us see Jesus’ light and let our light shine brightly for others.

When is the next solar eclipse here in Kenya? We better ask Jerry, but as I checked the NASA website it appears that the next “Hybrid Solar Eclipse” will be here on November 3, 2013. (We’ll need to ask Jerry what a hybrid solar eclipse is!)

We have a few photos on the web link:

The Tenwek group photo and the solar eclipse sequence is kindly courtesy of Jeff Stanfield.

Random Observations …. as Questions:

*How many shops did it take for us to buy an axe in Bomet, Kenya?

The 1st shop - to buy the axe head, a 2nd shop - to buy wood for the axe handle, a 3rd shop – for a carpenter to assemble the axe, and finally a 4th shop – to sharpen the axe!

*Does time really move faster south of the equator?

We are not sure, but this past month has certainly zipped by quickly as we conclude our final month of Swahili language training. We appreciate your prayers as we transition into our ministry services in February.

Prayers for Joshua.

We are continually amazed at how the Lord works! While Alene and I were in Swahili class one day in November our language teacher’s sister, Jane, stopped by for a brief visit. She had been in a distant village and had taken a cellphone photo of a tumor on a toddler’s wrist. I looked at it and advised an orthopedic surgery evaluation, and then sent the photo by email to Dr. Dan Galat , an orthopedic surgeon, who agreed to see the patient at Tenwek Hospital. It took the family some weeks to gather up funds for the lengthy bus trip, but Mama and 1 ½ year old Joshua arrived on Wednesday, January 27th, and the sizeable tumor was removed on Thursday. Our language teacher (Daniel), Alene, Dr. Galat, and I were all able to pray with Joshua and his mother before the surgery and on the following day. Joshua was a happy and delightful child before and after his operation. (Check our photo link.) He and his mother returned to their village the day after the surgery.

Please share in our continued prayers for complete healing for Joshua and a good report on the tissue findings.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Family and Celebrations

January 9, 2010

Family - “Familia”

What does “family” mean to you? Certainly we first think of our blood relations and our relations by marriage. We were blessed to renew many of those family relationships with our travels and visits across the USA this summer. These are relationships that transcend time and distance. We have also come to appreciate a broader perspective of family to include dear friends and those from our church or workplaces. Such shared connections, including through our faith, have drawn us together.

Our definition of family has been stretched and expanded much further with our time here in Kenya. The missionary families here at Tenwek have invited us into their homes and have welcomed us into the community as “Aunt Alene” and “Uncle Steve” for their children. We truly feel a part of the Tenwek family in service and worship and especially during the retreat and planning time together at Turi. One of our “family activities” there involved a relay competition with Steve’s face getting smeared with Vaseline and enough cotton balls to make Santa Claus jealous! (See the photo link on our blog!)

We have also been welcomed into the homes of local Kenyan families, sharing chai (tea), meals, conversation, and fellowship. Pastor Wesley & Charity’s children call us and treat us as “grandpa” and “grandma.” (Considering that we have never had any children of our own this is a quick leap!) Our language tutor has included us in meals, play, worship and celebration with his wife and three children. We have been humbled to share meals and family time with these two Kenyan families after worship together on Christmas Day and also on New Year’s Eve. It was comforting to share this closeness of family here in Kenya even if our own blood relatives and American friends were many miles away. We have felt physical hugs from family here in Kenya and “virtual” hugs from across the miles. Our families and friends in the USA have done a wonderful job of maintaining our connections with email messages, letters, phone calls and Skype (internet) video chats.

We certainly have delighted in the expansion of our definition of family. Our most special sense of family is that which we share as a family of faith through our shared belief in Jesus Christ. We look forward to the ways in which we see our spiritual family relationships continue to grow in this coming year.

Meanwhile, our work as students continues. Our language studies are going very well and we anticipate having a strong foundation in Swahili after our final 4 weeks. It will help us as we continue to connect with our Kenyan “familia.”

More Random Observations:

*It was difficult to remember the word for dog in Swahili: “mbwa” – I think, because it had too many consonants in a row. Our Kenyan Field Director, Jim Vanderhoof, helped us to remember “mbwa” as we think of some “big dog bosses,” who Manage By Walking Around…MBWA!

*Some Swahili sentences can either be a statement or a question depending upon your intonation. We were also advised of one sentence whose meaning changes by whether or not you have a smile on your face: “I am totally satisfied with this job.” Or “I’m fed up with this job.” Such subtleties in language will keep us humble and on our toes.

*Learning Swahili has involved learning about culture as well as language per se. We from USA have been indoctrinated since childhood to always say “Please” and “Thank you.” We now must relearn that saying “please” in Swahili (“tafadhali”) often connotes that you are begging. Also, saying “thank you” usually is not expected here in Kenya.

*Before coming to Kenya we were asked what food we would miss the most and we consistently mentioned that we would miss lettuce salads. We have been delighted to find a safe, local source for leaf lettuce.

*It is nice when a sink in Kenya has both hot and cold water, but it seems that we can only be about 50% certain that the hot will be on the left as it is in USA.

*Our special Christmas gift to each other this year was a field guide for birds of East Africa. We have enjoyed a colorful array of birds literally outside our front door.

*Paper mail letters from USA have been getting to us in about 8 to 14 days with 98 cents postage, but packages sent a few weeks ago have yet to arrive. (Some of the delay could be due to the Christmas holidays.) …Thanks so so much for letters from many of you!

Amended Observations:

*We have experienced daily, heavy rains during the past ten days, which have made things very muddy and have damaged some major roadways at least temporarily. The water falling over the dam near our apartment is now roaring loudly.

*Avocadoes are now in season and a large one now costs only 7.5 cents! (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to eat them!)

Comments re: photos

We do have several new photos available for viewing via our weblink:

Photos include some from Thanksgiving at Tenwek, local rural homes, family sharing, Turi retreat - Steve’s cotton ball beard!, a Kenyan wedding, UNO in Swahli, Larzarus Funeral Home (rather an oxymoron - see John 11:38-44) and “Polish shoes” (in honor of Alene’s Polish heritage).

Parting words

Steve’s work permit was ready and the paperwork was completed while we were in Nairobi, but Alene’s is temporarily delayed. This is not anticipated to cause us any problems. We appreciate your interest and prayers as we conclude our language study in February and step into our next phase of medical and ministry service.