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.


Blake said...

Wow, what an informative, encouraging, touching, thought-provoking post, thank you for all the time you put into that! I particularly enjoyed the top-ten list as I can relate to some of those, and thanks Alene for sharing about your humbling experience visiting the woman with a prepared hard heart...I needed to hear that! prayers and blessings.

Dawn said...

Thank you for those encouraging words of #11 on your "Top Ten List". I have been surfing looking for pastors to link up with someone I met in Sibanga who needs some Godly men to speak into his life. One of my struggles when ministering in Kenya is that it truly seems everyone who approaches me sees me as an ATM instead as a servant of Christ. Your story encourages me not to lump everyone into the same category . . . there are ALWAYS exceptions!