Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And who is my neighbor? [Luke 10:29] by Jessica and Robin

One of the first things we are taught as children is the Golden Rule…Do Unto Others… At some point we graduate from that easy principle to one that tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. At that point, the debate arises about WHO that neighbor is. The literal one, the next-door neighbor, the school friend...certainly not the ones who don’t look or talk or eat like we do; or the ones who might be dirty or ill.

The first time I met Nancy was about a year and a half ago when she was working as a house help for a friend of mine. I didn’t really notice her, except that she had a one- year-old son who was really cute. I didn’t speak to her enough to even know if she could speak English very well. That friend got pregnant and let Nancy go, because Nancy was HIV positive and she didn’t want someone who was HIV positive around her baby.

In October of last year Grace, with whom I work here and who also knows Nancy, called me to let me know that Nancy was not doing well.  She did not have any work and was not able to buy enough food to stay on her ARVs.  I went to meet with Nancy to maybe do something small to help her and was immediately struck by the depth of her need. Over the next few months after we went to MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers) to get her back into their HIV program, we got to know one another better. I called her every week once she was back on ARVs to make sure she was adhering to the drug protocol, I found friends to donate their used clothes for her to sell to earn money to feed her family, and when she had emergencies, no gas to cook with, not enough money for food, or extensive dental work…I did what I thought Jesus would do and I gave from my own funds to make sure she had food to cook, gas to cook it with and teeth that didn’t pain her when she chewed.

I asked for support through a blog and one friend in the US gave $100. Blessings to you my friend, you know who you are! But to everyone else Nancy was simply a sad far away story.

Last week one day Jessica and I got off the mutate on Ngong Road and as usual, I followed a few feet behind her [always feeling safe in her presence]; this time into one of Kenya’s slums, past rows of squalid shacks with laundry hung out or little children playing in the dirt or people sitting and talking or selling whatever they had to sell. Once again the smells and sights tested my fortitude.  Suddenly a young woman, named Nancy, ran up and enfolded Jess in her skinny arms. She led us to her home, a room with two chairs and a table and curtains hung to hide the bed space. She had no money with which to pay the rent [$15/month] or buy food and certainly was unable to send Cecilia, her 14-year-old daughter to school. We had brought a friend who was on her way to a park for a picnic. She pulled out her sandwich [having to explain how to eat a sandwich], juice, chips, and chocolate and gave them to the family of 3. The three-year-old boy took a few chips at a time and went out the door to share them with his cousins who were delighted with the treat. I was moved that even in his hunger, this child shared with others.

I sat in Nancy's house and talked to Cecilia about going to school. At first I told them I would pay 5,000/= shillings of the 17,500/= shillings she needed for school fees to go to high school and pay for the items she would need for boarding school. By the time I got home, I had decided God needed more time to work and I would pay the balance of her first term fees so that we would have an entire semester to find a sponsor for her. I know you expect me to use the money you donate for myself and my living expenses. But it is impossible to sit back and watch a 14-year-old have to wait to go to high school because of lack of fees. God will put it on the heart of someone who reads this blog to see the potential of this family and support God’s plan for their lives. Nancy, Cecilia and Kimani are my neighbors…is God calling you to be their neighbor too?

When I voice concern about support for this work, I am reassured by Jessica that God always provides.  When I see the need, I am overwhelmed. But when I see on the Nomadic Chameleon Donor site that once again this month, a man has given $20 as he has for the last several years, and that a woman has sent $500 for a child’s education I am reminded of the power of God and the faith of His people...and I am humbled and grateful. Thank you, each and every one.

Robin and Jess:
Whether being a good neighbor is costly or time-consuming, whether it is indeed our neighbor or a stranger, someone who is struggling through a divorce or one who is living with HIV, we know we need to be walking alongside them in whatever capacity is needed.  A recent quote in an Upper Room devotion: Christ comes to us in every needy person. How can we possibly want to miss a single opportunity to meet our Savior in this way – through that particular person on that day with that need? Lord help us to be aware and available always.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jesus Loves the Little Children: Another Blog from Mama Jeska

The comfort of the words, “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight….” must be the same for children all over the world.  Despite how some may fret over the political incorrectness of the skin color descriptors, they really are all inclusive – and for very young children, they are primary colors; easy for children to define and something to which they can relate.
Today is the end of my second week in Kenya although it feels as if I have been here forever. I am accustomed to the jammed, noisy, dust-filled matatus. I enjoy the very basic foods of ugali, chipati, rice, potatoes, beans, and sukuma. Tea with milk and sugar is offered everywhere as is mango juice if one is fortunate. The sounds and smells are also becoming more comfortable to me, whether they are the crazy sounding birds, the chiseling of stone outside, the horns on matatus, or the street children across the way praising God upon their early rising.

But my greatest delight is in the children – and they are everywhere, and they are absolutely breathtaking, and they are simultaneously heartbreaking if they are homeless or begging or sitting placidly while flies cover their faces. But those are not all of the children; just the ones who pull most strongly on MY heartstrings. I would like to introduce you to a few:

School children
We have visited numerous schools and day cares and without exception, have found the children to be obedient, respectful, happy, and hard-working. The two photos below show primary school children at PCEA Emanyatta Primary school  inNgong Hills, sitting at their desks and the baby class napping on their communal mats.  The children are always happy to have visitors and will perform for us if asked. They each want to shake hands and know how to say “Hello” and respond with “Fine” when asked how they are. In the third photo, from the Kids for Christ Day Care Center, you will see a particularly precious child who was reticient to come too close but always had her eyes on us.

Street children
Since my previous blog introduced the street children, I will be brief here except to say that they have grown on me! You will note in the first photo below that we are enjoying each other’s company after lunch at the feeding program at Dagaretti Corners. The children love to muss up my hair and feel its texture and note its color. They also are not hesitant to rub their fingers over my wrinkles [which are a real oddity here because of the melanin in African skin]. [As an aside, while the street boys were eating lunch at the Wednesday feeding program., I was wearing my Obama T-shirt and told them that even THEY could be like Obama….and that night wrote to Obama and sent photos. I just can’t understand why I didn’t receive an immediate response from him!!!!!] 

Maasai children
It was particularly gratifying for me to accompany Jessica out into the Rift Valley to the small compound known as Ikiloret where she oversaw the building of a school room and helps to teach adults. The ride takes hours and for me was full of tension as we went over rutted and rock-strewn roads [or so-called roads] often waiting while Maasai herded their cattle or goats or donkeys out of the way. I couldn’t imagine Jess doing it on the back of a motorcycle. The scenery was spectacular but the heat was stifling, especially inside a manyatta or mud hut [but it was interesting….and somewhat difficult for me as a mother, to see the place where Jess stays when she is there]. The most unnerving aspect of being in Ikiloret, however was the flies. They are everywhere and one has to swat continuously. However, the Maasai do not swat….they live with the flies. The first photo is of one of the beautiful children with flies all over his face. They are just too adorable for description. The next photo is of Jessica as “the daughter” with the matriarch of the village. My heart is warmed by their acceptance of and love for her.

MY children
Most of you remember that Joel and I enjoyed 5 years as surrogate grandparents to “Buddha” [IbrannahOmwancha] who was born to a Kenyan mother in Minnesota and then sent to his father in Kenya at the age of 5. We were devastated yet knew that this was probably the best for Buddha. When we came to Kenya in 2008, we were able to spend several days with him but found it unbearably heartbreaking on both sides when we had to part again. Last Saturday we brought him home with us and then went to church together on Sunday before his Auntie, with whom he lives, came to pick him up. He is now 11 and like his “Nyanya Robin” adores little babies, as seen in the next photo. [The baby belongs to an 16 year old street child who is also across the lane from us]. We hope to spend more time together. The current plan is that Buddha and his auntie will come to MN for August, but plans are just that until they become realities. I no longer hold my breath or wish for the impossible.

The last photo is of me with Faith, one of my favorite street children. It was taken Wednesday night after church as we were having porridge before heading for a matatu trip home. In the evenings it gets chilly here and Faith had on a long-sleeved shirt which she gave to another orphan who wore only a tank top. I was deeply moved by her selfless tenderness and so cocooned her in my sweatshirt.  It exemplifies what I would like to do for all the precious children of the world – but it is what I KNOW Jesus has already done for all the children of the world, and for that I am eternally grateful and full of hope!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Mother's Perspective

Looking out of the front window of Jessica’s apartment, I see first a Jacaranda tree with beautiful fuchsia flowers and then a little further out, I see a group of elderly men sitting on a pile of concrete slabs and hammering on them in the heat and dust of the roadway, and then just beyond that a wall behind which I can see the silhouette of a young boy in a tree.  The distance between me and the boy is not physically far, but between our worlds, there is no measurement that could possibly quantify that distance.  I am a relatively well educated, well off, healthy white woman and he is a very young, never schooled, homeless and poverty-stricken street boy. His story, and that of several others, follows:

“My name is Double. I am 6 years old.”  In broken English and with the help of a translator, the beautiful little African boy stood in front of me to relay the story of his life. 

The scene was a small room in a house across the dirt road from Jessica’s apartment in Ngong, Kenya. There were 21 of us packed like sardines with no ventilation. Jessica and I had brought them bags of groceries – staples like rice, flour, sugar, milk along with some juice and biscuits [sweet crackers]. We also brought blankets made by women at Bethlehem Lutheran church in the Midway in St. Paul.  They had no blankets and only recently had acquired some mattresses from a generous donor.

They each received a cup of juice and a biscuit. I watched in awe as they each sat patiently while everyone was served. No one even tried to taste a cracker. Then all was silent as one of the little boys began to pray. It went something like this:

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for these biscuits and juice. We thank you for taking care of us.  Thanks for the visitors who have come. Bless those who have nothing. In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Amen.

As this was being prayed, a little girl was snuggling into my side and rubbing my leg. She was also 6 and also beautiful and also starved for affection. When the prayer was over it was difficult for me to look up because I was ashamed of my tears – and more so, ashamed of all the times I have felt needs or wants or felt sorry for myself or felt slighted etc etc.

Tracy, the 23-year-old Kenyan woman who took in these children [after Jessica found the house] is an amazing woman of faith who talks about how God provides for them. Every Sunday she hauls all 18 children to church and prays that God will send money for transportation costs for the whole group. And He does!  She was beyond delighted when Jessica presented her with a computer that Hal Spann donated and then the food and blankets were an extra bonus.  I asked if I could hear some of the children’s stories. Here are the first of many:

Double’s Story: Age 6
Double ended up on the street because his younger sister got cancer and was hospitalized. His mother was unable to pay the bill and so she has been detained by the hospital for 2 years!!! [We have since been told by some missionary doctors that hospitals are not allowed to do this, so not sure what the real story is here]. He was taken in by a drug peddler who uses young street children to beg for drugs. Double slept in some stalls in the marketplace and there he met Mikey and Peter and the three boys stuck together and heard about a project in Nairobi and that they could receive free food on Wednesdays. After going to the project, they met Tracy who took them in.

Mikey’s Story: Age 8
Mikey was a street boy because his mother had an accident and died, and his father was a drunk and an addict. He begged at Nakkumat Junction, a popular location for tourists. He also slept in market stalls. One day a man came to him and talked of a big house and told him many lies, such as the fact that he would buy him donuts. Mikey followed him to the house to find it was a vacant building. The man continued to hound Mikey and ended up molesting and raping him.  Then Mikey began hanging out with 5 other boys. One night the old man brought 5 other men to rape the 6 boys, but the boys had found a dog who they named Scooby, who barked enough to give them time to escape from the men.  Tracy found the boys and took them to the hospital. This is currently a police case.

Charles’ Story: Age 14
Charles’ mother beat him, and so to avoid that daily ordeal, he went to the streets. He lived by collecting and selling scrap metal. On the streets he met Martin and several other boys who worked and slept together. He and the other boys sometimes resorted to using drugs or sniffing glue to keep from being too hungry or cold. He also found out about the project and then met Tracy and came to live with her.

Martin’s Story: Age 14
Martin lived with his grandmother in Kapsebit [probably 6 hours from Nairobi] but at 14 decided to go to Nairobi and find his mother. He was able to get a ride from a police officer. When he got to Nairobi he was amazed at the size and number of buildings. He saw his mom on the street one day. She was a maid in Westlands but would not acknowledge him because she was ashamed of him. She finally took him home but would not tell him who his father was and brought different men home every night and beat Martin. He finally left to “struggle” on the streets. He collected metals and begged. Sometimes he was given shoes or bread by generous passers by. He met a group of boys who worked and slept together and eventually met Tracy. He says now, “I am thanking God. I have a new family and I call Tracy, “mom”.”

There were two boys who were not present to tell THEIR stories because prior to their being admitted to the “house” they were spending the night in a ditch when they overheard some men breaking in to a stall across the road. They rose up in the ditch and called out the men’s names. In response, the men came after them and murdered them on the spot. Who would know that they are gone? By whom are they missed? Without ever having met them, I will remember them forever…

Jess and I came back across the alley, climbed the stairs, unlocked the doors, and sat and wept.  And I thought back to the days when I graduated from college and chose to live in the little shack in eastern Kentucky and asked my mother where God was and why there was such inequality in the world. Now 40 years later, I am still asking that question…

Today we will go with Tracy to look for another house because she cannot afford to pay the rent here. Tomorrow I will go with some Swiss missionaries to a day care they help to sponsor and perhaps I can offer some very small witness of Christ’s love in my tenderness to the babies.

Today is the end of my first week in Kenya and even at my age, I have learned some valuable lessons. And I know why Jessica is here, and I am in awe of her in this setting, and although my motherly concerns will never cease, my sense of God’s call to her and His blessings on her are stronger than ever.