Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Once In A Lifetime

I spent the summer of my 16th year of life living with my aunt and uncle in New Hampshire; they introduced me to the band Talking Heads. They called it traveling music. Any time we would get in the car for a lengthy trip, they would pop a tape…yes I’m that old…into the tape deck and off we’d go. These are some lyrics from the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.”
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?
How did I get here, indeed! I’ll tell you one thing for sure, when I was 16, the idea that I would be here - in Kenya as a missionary - was not even a notion in my brain.
I won’t back up that far, as it would be confusing and boring. This chapter started when I walked up to Stephanie Black at Karen Vineyard Church and told her I wanted to join her Bible Study.
As it turns out Stephanie ended up giving me rides to Bible Study often. We became friends. She knew I had been a journalist and referred me to Bob & Hope Carter, missionary friends of hers, who were looking for a Christian journalist to write the stories of the youth in the Positive Teen Camp they facilitated twice a year.
As soon as I finished my first interview in December of 2012 I knew I wanted to get more involved with youth living with HIV. That week I interviewed 14 youth living with HIV. They all talked about how alone they felt. They all talked about how discrimination and stigma made them not disclose their status to anyone, further alienating them from the world around them. They all wanted to know why God allowed this virus to infect them, and kill their parents. I didn’t have answers. I wanted to have answers.
When the work with Wezesha By Grace ended I was devastated. Why had God brought me to Kenya if it wasn’t to work with Wezesha? I found myself in a very odd place. I wanted to remain a missionary. I couldn’t imagine going back to a 9-5 job or earning a wage. I wanted to depend on God to provide and I wanted to be doing His work. So why had He let it end. I prayed and prayed and prayed some more. And then God reminded me of the Positive Teen Camp, and an idea came into my head.
I went to the African Inland Church Headquarters website and looked over their Health Ministries program and especially the division that deals with HIV/AIDS. When I didn’t see any psychosocial support programs for youth living with HIV, I wrote a proposal to start one and took it to the head of the Health Ministries Department.
My missionary visa is facilitated by AIC church and I need the visa to stay in the country; what better way to be a missionary than to work directly with AIC. Joshua, the director asked me why I didn’t start a non-profit organization. “Because I don’t want to own anything,” I told him. I want Maarifa (what it was later to be named) to be wholy owned and embraced by Kenyans as a means by which they can assist youth living with HIV – a community coming together to empower a generation of youth infected with HIV.
Joshua was eager to accept my proposal but was very clear that AIC could only provide human resources for Maarifa, not financial ones. At the time I thought writing a few grants to get Maarifa off the ground would be easy. But it turned out that money for psychosocial support is not readily available.
After my proposal was approved I realized I needed more training in HIV to feel as if I could speak intelligently about it. I looked on the internet for trainings in Kenya. I found an organization called HIV Hope International that did sporadic trainings on HIV for church leaders and wrote to the director who was based in the US. He eventually wrote back and said there was a training the next month (August 2013) in Maralal. I had never heard of Maralal. It was a full day’s journey into the bush and the last bit was basically no roads at all.
The training itself I’ve blogged about before, but what came out of that training for me became the framework of the Maarifa program. It’s called the Armor of Positive Living and is loosely based on Ephesians 6:10, which calls us to put on the armor of God.
From that point on it has been meetings on top of meetings, finding partners, finding curriculum writers, doing strategic planning, making site visits and the list goes on.
And so it helps to write it all down to identify the people God placed in my life to make “here” a reality. Stephanie Black has since returned to the states, but the Bible Study she started remains strong and the friendships I’ve made there inspire and lift me up to this day. Last Monday they prayed for me and for Maarifa. I’ve felt like I’ve been under attack lately, life just being more frustrating and hectic than usual, kids (mine) being more moody and surly than necessary, things just generally not working out as I hoped. I told the ladies assembled in Beverly’s living room that even though I was feeling beaten down, I was not letting the devil win.
I know how I got here. God ordered my steps to this path (to Kenya, to Maarifa, to Judie, Milly and Tamara, to Karen Vineyard Church) and I simply followed his lead. He WILL provide a way out. He will provide, period.
Here I am God. Use me.

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