Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Picture Highlights from the Trip

Pictures from my camera on this link. More from the rest of the team coming soon...
Click here to view photos

Monday, September 13, 2010


I've had a few folks ask, so thought I'd better clear up the controversy: Emily did not come home with full arm and foot tattoos.

What I did do on the morning of our last day in Nairobi was visit a salon where a young lady decorated my skin with henna. Henna art is an old Asian/East African tradition -- the coast of Kenya and Tanzania ("Swahili" culture), in particular, is where you will find many a hand and foot decorated in elaborate designs. Henna is a plant that is ground into a paste, mixed with tea or lemon juice and maybe some essential oils, and used as a dye to, among other things, draw tattoo-like designs on the skin. As the paste dries, it stains the skin, and the dye usually stays on the skin for up to 3 weeks. Swahili women will pay to have a henna artist decorate their hands, arms, feet, and lower legs, especially for occasions such as weddings. A good artist is exceptionally fast; the gal who did mine painted my arms and feet in only 45 minutes.

While I was pregnant with Lincoln, I also learned from an Indian friend that in some cultures the women decorate their bellies with henna when they are expecting (she decorated mine at the time, and it was beautiful!). I opted not to do that this time around, mostly because I would have had to sit in the salon and wait for the paste to dry - with my shirt up for all the world to see my white belly - for up to an hour.

For me, having my hands and feet dressed up with a gorgeous floral design was a way for me to bring a bit of Kenya home with me - a visible reminder that will last a couple weeks. Besides, how could I not take advantage of the opportunity: I paid a mere $20 for my henna (would have been half that had I been on the coast instead of Nairobi), while the same work would have easily cost me $100 or more here in the U.S.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Karen's Final Reflections

From Karen:
There are so many things that moved me, but if I have to pick a couple, I would have to say that one would be meeting Josephine's father, Ibrahim Gitonga. He works humbly as the hands and feet of Jesus in his rural community. It is not a surprise that Ibrahim (a name that means "father to many") is a father figure to many of our sponsored kids, and in a visit to his compound we saw many of our kids laughing and playing as well as some of the older ones he has taken to live in his home. His smile and the shine in his eyes are just a bit of evidence of the joy he shares being the servant leader that he is.

It was also extra special for me to meet Harriet, the young woman I have sponsored for several years. It was a treat to sit with her and talk and to feel a connection that I have treasured so long in our letters... To be able to visit her home, meet her mother, and give her a hug in person was a dream come true for me. She is an inspiration to me and it has been an honor to be able to have such a close relationship with her.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Last Day in Kenya

We spent our last day, Monday, tying up loose ends, packing bags, and then visiting an area of Nairobi called Kibera.

Kibera is one of the largest, and most infamous slums in Nairobi. My host mom from my days as a study abroad student, Lucy, lives on the outskirts of Kibera in a gated, secured neighborhood. She is a retired teacher and spends much of her time these days supporting and helping to manage a preschool and rescue center for children from Kibera. The ministry she works with, Sisters of St Vincent de Paul, focuses their efforts on orphans, especially those affected by HIV/AIDS. We visited the preschool, the rescue center, and Lucy's home on Monday afternoon -- a trip down memory lane for me, and a new experience for Karen and Bob.

During our visits, another friend, Irene -- the 15-yr-old girl who Jason and I have sponsored through Homeless Children International ( for several years -- joined us. The last time I met Irene, she was a very shy and quiet girl with only elementary English speaking skills. This time around, she was a confident, well-spoken young lady. We had just enough time to visit her home in the slum, a tiny shack the size of my bathroom. She lives with her Auntie Elizabeth, who sells ground nuts (peanuts) to support her own 4 children, as well as Irene and Irene's sister and brother. Without this kind auntie, Irene and her siblings would be on their own on the streets. Meeting Elizabeth was another highlight of this trip for me -- such a joyful and strong woman, doing the very best she can with what little she has, and praising God through it all. She gave me a necklace she had made before we left, a gesture which nearly moved me to tears.
With adventures in Kibera out of the way, we took one final trip to the Methodist Guest House to fetch our bags -- emptied of gifts for kids, and now refilled with purchases from curio shops and the Masai Market. We then headed out through Nairobi's rush hour traffic (the most insane circus of vehicles you will ever experience) to dinner, and the airport.
Josephine, Karen and I arrived back on US soil late Tuesday morning. Back home safe! Greg is enjoying a bit more time in Kenya with his daughter and son-in-law, and Bob stopped off in the Netherlands to spend one more week with his daughter's family (his wife, Janet, has also been staying there during our entire trip).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Safari and Other Adventures

First of all, let me confess that I spoke too soon about 100% health for the team. I spent most of Monday night tossing and turning with stomach issues, and got up Tuesday morning (the day we drove back to Nairobi) feeling horrible. Thank goodness for emergency antibiotics! On the advice of a Group Health nurse, I started the meds that morning, and was feeling back to normal again in just a couple days. Thank you, Lord!

With that news out of the way, let me back up to the wheelchair delivery in Meru. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for all of us. We drove into the village and found Dorothy's home, wheeled her new wheelchair up to the tiny hut/house where she and her mother live, and found them both home. Dorothy came out using crutches, and gave us the biggest smile we'd seen in a long time. It took her no time to hoist herself up into her new chair, and she was soon wanting to try it out for herself, wheeling around the bit of yard in front of her house. Something about the joy from Dorothy, and the knowledge that this wheelchair was given by another friend in the US who is wheelchair-bound, and the opportunity to help out the mother with medical bills, all made the experience a tearful and memorable one. Picture of this moment to follow when we have the ability to add more pics to the blog...

The next day, Tuesday, was a long drive back to Nairobi. We then took Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to take a break and travel to Nakuru National Park, and Masai Mara for some game drives and amazing food. We were able to use the down time to regroup, reflect on the work of the week prior, and make some plans for stuff we need to accomplish once we return home.

Saturday (today) was taken up with one last long drive back to Nairobi. We will be here for 2 more nights, and may try to see a couple more sponsored kids who are currently in the city. On Monday night we hop on airplanes back home - except for Greg, who will hop on a different plane to Zanzibar. Hard to believe the trip is almost complete...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 6 in Meru

Our weekend was full of opportunities to experience Meru life.

Friday night we ate dinner at Rev. Elijah Mwirigi's home. His wife, Pricilla, is an amazing gardener, and gracious hostess. She keeps a "shamba" (garden) full of all sorts of tropical fruits and vegetables, 2 goats, 1 cow, and 100 chickens. Getting to know them a bit that night was a joy. Our only challenge was the discovery of a flat tire on our van as we exited the house. Good thing our driver, Joshua, is quick at changing tires!

We were invited by Rev. Elijah to attend a wedding on Saturday. Cultural note here: when someone gets married in Kenya, the bride and groom invite their friends and family, and then friends and family invite their own friends and family as well - invite 100, expect 1000 to come! The son of the presiding bishop of the East African Methodist Church (Rev. Stephen Kanyaru, whose home we visited during our 2005 trip) was getting married at Kenya Methodist University (KEMU for short) right here in Meru. We were a bit of a spectacle to the children sitting around us at the reception - lots of giggles and staring - but we enjoyed the experience. Seeing the women singing and dancing, and the formalities of gift-giving, cake-cutting, and speeches from friends and family gave us a window into Kenyan celebrations. Because the groom was from such a well-known and well-off family, this particular wedding was attended by well over 1000 people. Amazing.

Saturday night we met once more with the Hope Board, and accomplished quite a bit. Unfortunately, Peter and Josephine were unable to join us, as they had visited Peter's mom in the village while we were at the wedding, and the car they were driving died on them just as they left his mom's home. They ended up having to wait until late in the evening for Peter's brother, Harun, to find them and fix the car.

For Sunday worship, we split into 2 groups: Karen, the Mburugus, and I joined Esther and her husband Joshua at their church, while Bob and Greg joined Rev. Elijah and Pricilla at their church. Esther and Joshua's church is a very small, young, somewhat charismatic congregation, while Elijah's is older and more traditional. The fun part for Greg and Bob was that this was Youth Sunday at that church, so the youth were in charge of the morning.

We all met up at Esther and Joshua's for lunch, and were joined by several friends of theirs. A great afternoon of fellowship and food.

Sunday night, the Board met one last time - this time without us Americans, so that they could sort out details on their own. Peter had to leave for Nairobi this morning, so we hope they got enough accomplished to feel peaceful about leaving.

This morning (Monday), we visited the HIV/AIDS clinic at Meru General Hospital. Our new friend, Lawrence, visits there every morning to provide counseling for the families affected by the disease. Mondays are especially for children - some with parents, some orphaned. We took the blankets from UPPC's VBS, and the notes the VBS children wrote and gave these out to the children we met at the clinic. The blankets will be such a blessing to those kids.

The rest of today is our chance to catch up with the few sponsored kids who did not attend the seminar, including Dorothy, to whom we will deliver a wheelchair! Almost done with our time in Meru - hard to believe.

Please continue to pray for health for all of us (so far, so good), for safe travels as we drive around the village today, and for a safe journey back to Nairobi tomorrow.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Greg's Reflections on Friday's Seminar

Greetings from (the new) Kenya--

I'm in a cybercafe in Meru right now with my colleagues from UPPC, specifically Bob Mohr, Emily Bosh, and Karen Lau. (Peter and Josephine Mburugu and their daughter Joy are also with us on the trip but off running errands right now.) It's my first chance to review email, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to check in.

It was especially touching to me that many of our sponsored children, who have never met us but received photos in our correspondence, asked after my wife, Peggy. This included three students from universities as far away as Eldoret, a full day's travel to the west of Meru, who had come simply to express directly their gratitude for the support we had been led by the grace of God to provide to them during their high school years. The Spirit-given poise and grace of these young people is simply amazing to behold! I can assure those of you who currently sponsor children in this program that you are doing a wonderful thing indeed!

I'll share more when I return. Meanwhile, may God's Peace be with each of you.

Karen's Reflections on Meeting Eric Gitonga

It was our great honor to have a chance to share a meal with our first sponsored child, Eric Gitonga, earlier this week. Eric is on break from the university and taking a course in Nairobi before he goes back to school in September. We met him at a restaurant in the YaYa shopping plaza. He was a quiet young man with a great smile. His concern kept coming back to Sharon Moffitt (his sponsor, who he calls "Mom") and her family. It was wonderful to see this young man as he explained his job with the communications company, and amazing to realize that at one point he was being let go from his school due to lack of fees. Awe inspiring.

Day 3 in Meru

The past few days have been so very busy, yet so very fruitful - we are all grateful for all that has been accomplished in such a short period of time.

We arrived safely in Meru on Wednesday night, and checked into Hotel Incredible in the heart of Meru Town. (Is that not the greatest name for an African hotel?) Our beds are comfortable, and the breakfast is great. We even have hot water (sometimes) for our showers, which is a bonus for Meru!

The weather is unusually cold, probably lower to mid-60s, and rainy. This kind of weather is normal for July here, but not late August - we expected 70s and 80s, and yet we are all wearing the one sweater or jacket we brought every single day!

Most of Thursday was spent with the Hope Board: Esther, Rev. Elijah, and Ibrahim (Josephine's father). The other 2 board members (Amalia, who is currently taking classes in Nairobi, and Harun, who works during the day) were unable to join us. We visited together, got to know each other a bit, and then launched into business: comparing logistics of how we send sponsor and donation information with logistics of how the Board receives and distributes the donations, family by family. We also checked out the computer at the Hope office to check for internet capability. We took a break for lunch (which did not actually get consumed until close to 4pm!), visited Esther's home-to-be, which is under construction, and met up with John Ikiugu - who has been living in Tacoma for the past year - and his new bride, Heldine. Our dinner meeting with the Board later in the evening was a brainstorming session on what kind of administrative support might be needed for the ministry to grow and continue; we will continue that discussion when we meet tonight.

The seminar for the sponsored kids and their families took up all of Friday. What a day! Some highlights:
  • We estimate about 250 attendees, including sponsored kids, siblings and friends, parents/guardians, and alumni.
  • All but about 10 of our sponsored kids came to the seminar - some from very far distances! Gifts from sponsors were given, pictures were taken, and each kid wrote a letter back to their sponsor.
  • The alumni who came had big smiles on their faces, and encouraging words for the younger kids who are currently sponsored. One gal came all the way from Nairobi, where she is in her 2nd year at a university.
  • The breakout sessions included sustainable farming for the adults, study skills for the high schoolers, "sex education" for the standard 4-8 (grades 4-8) kids, and playtime for the younger kids.
  • I was able to give a brief nutrition lesson to the entire crowd, which seemed to be received well.
All in all, we feel like the seminar was a huge success. It was a great way to see as many sponsored kids as possible in a short period of time, and an opportunity to witness how effective the program has been here in Meru since we last visited.

Today, Saturday, we are catching up on email, attending a wedding, and then meeting one last time with the Hope board. Our remaining days here will be spent trying to meet up with the sponsored kids who did not attend the seminar, and visiting dear friends here. God has been so very good to us! Everyone is feeling healthy and well - pray that we remain so.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Driving to Meru

Here's a fantastic example for you of the way things work in Africa:

Last night, as we were dropped off at the Methodist Guest House, we arranged with our driver, Joshua, to have our bags ready by 8am this morning so he could load the van while we ate breakfast; departure for Meru would be 8:30am.

Reality: Some of us slept a bit late, but still managed to get all our bags out by 8:30am. Breakfast ended at more like 9am. We left the Methodist at more like 9:30am (after deciding on arrangements for the wheelchair we're delivering to Meru... an item that does not fit in our van; and after purchasing more minutes for our cell phone). We then made a stop to visit one of the families who have sponsored kids here in Nairobi- the home of Stephen and Lucy. Now it is 11am, and we are waiting for Joy Mburugu to be delivered to us here at the YaYa Centre so we can finally depart.

The bonus for me: I get to drink a lovely cup of spiced chai while I update this blog.