Friday, June 25, 2010

Where do we go from here?

June 20, 2010

That Saturday evening after the celebration was our last night with Paul and Christopher before we headed back to the States, so we decided to finally get serious about making plans for the future. One of the core principles of Huruma House is that we want to develop a model of orphan care that is self-sustaining and reproducible, so we have been trying to focus on income-generating projects that will enable the local community to support more orphans and widows with less external assistance. So, one of the ideas that we are definitely going to implement about February of next year is to purchase a pair of milk cows. Paul says that it will only take about one acre of napier grass to support them, and these two cows should provide enough milk every day to supply an excellent protein addition to the diets of all of the children we support.

We were also very excited about the possibility of building a Kenyan "strip mall" on the new land. Part of the new land for Blessed Family Center is on a corner lot, so we are thinking about building a series of little shops on that corner. One shop would probably house a posho mill; another would house a bakery. Part of the structure would be used as a storage building to hold grain so that we can stock up on food commodities during harvest time when prices are low and save quite a bit of money. This little series of shops would provide some employment opportunities for the community and decrease the cost of feeding the children and widows by allowing us to grind our own grains and bake our own bread.

One final idea for the future is to begin supporting a feeding program at the local primary schools. It only costs about $25 per year to feed one child lunch at school everyday, but there are a total of about 1600 children in the schools we may be serving. Basically, we would be emulating the work of Steve Peifer. He already has feeding programs at dozens of primary schools in Kenya in the Rift Valley area, so we have an excellent model to follow. The idea is that about every three months Chris and Paul would deliver enough maize and beans and rice to each school to provide each child with lunch every day for three months. The schools are responsible for cooking and serving the food, and if they run out of food before the end of the three months, everyone knows whose fault it is.

Steve Peifer has found that these school feeding programs reduce the dropout rate to almost 0%, greatly improve educational outcomes (since the kids don't have to learn on an empty stomach), and also increase the number of children wearing shoes (because our picking up the lunch tab allows the parents to divert their scarce resources to providing for other needs for their children).

Unfortunately, this new, ambitious, school feeding program looks like it is going to cost about $40,000 per year to implement which is far more money than Huruma House is currently capable of providing with our current funding sources. And if we want to try to make sure all the children have desks to sit at, it's going to be another $2,200 to build 220 additional desks.

Keith Gafner has suggested that we begin an agricultural training program at the primary schools in Bwaliro that enables the schoolchildren to learn more modern farming techniques as well as offset the cost of the school lunches and make the program more self-sustaining.

Stephen and I came away from Bwaliro with a new understanding of the incredible level of desperation here and with a new understanding of how much work remains to be done. Obviously, there are still a lot of widows and orphans in this corner of the world who are falling though the cracks and who are in dire need of someone to reach out to them in love and mercy and reveal to them the heart of a loving God.

And we also came away from Bwaliro convinced that God has already led just the right people to work in the heart of this crisis, Christopher Otsieno and Paul Bwire. They and their wives are faithful children of God upon whom He has laid an enormous burden of mercy as well as the divine strength to bear it. They are the ones who visit the lonely widows and hold the fatherless children on their laps. They are the ones who spring into action when a child needs an emergency trip to the hospital in the middle of the night. They are the ones who look into the faces of God's hurting children and touch them with His healing hands and show them that they are loved and valued. They are men and women of remarkable courage who, day after day, throw their own bodies between God's hurting children and the forces of darkness.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Because if there is one thing I learned from my few days on the other side of the world, it's that there is a race marked out for us and that I've just been taking it at a nice, easy jog. Huruma House is on the right track and we are moving the right direction, but it is way past time to stop idling and kick it into gear.

We just started a new Facebook cause for Huruma House. If you are interested in running this race with us, joining the cause is a good place to start. We have some huge fund-raising goals ahead of us, so we are going to get some hard numbers and start prioritizing the needs over the next few days. In order to meet the enormous needs before us, Huruma House is going to have to quickly grow beyond being a group of a few friends with a heart for Africa. We are going to need to reach out a bit farther and, by the power of God, harness more of the vast untapped power of His Kingdom.

O God, empower and strengthen us for the journey. Amen.

Opening celebration

June 19, 2010

Saturday in Bwaliro was the day of the long-anticipated opening celebration for the Blessed Family Center. We haven't actually built anything yet (except Paul's house) and we haven't even completed the purchase of the land on which the complex is to be built (land transfers can take years in Kenya), but Chris and Paul wanted to move forward with the opening celebration anyway. So, the Huruma House guys on the US side of things just trusted the judgment of our Kenyan partners and followed their lead.

The purpose of the cerebration was to let the community know who we are and what we are doing in their neighborhood and to let them feel some ownership of this project to support the widows and orphans of Bwaliro. So, long before we arrived in Kenya, Christopher had sent out invitations to everyone in the neighborhood. All the local politicians were present as well as a large assortment of church leaders from the surrounding area. The schools even let out early so that the children could attend the celebration and provide some entertainment for all the guests. And on top of all of that we were supposed to feed everyone, too.

When Christopher sent us the itemized list of everything he needed to purchase for the celebration, the total cost of the party came to about $1000. So, the Huruma House guys had to do some soul-searching to decide whether or not we really wanted to spend $1000 on a big party. But Chris and Paul seemed to think it was important for our relationship with the community, and they are the ones who know the culture, so we went ahead and funded it. And in retrospect, I'm so glad we did. It turned out to be a very valuable experience for the whole neighborhood.

One of the items on the list of things to purchase for the party was a cow. That really piqued my interest, so as soon as we arrived at Bwaliro I let Christopher know that I was very interested in seeing what became of the cow. And he didn't forget either, so the day before the celebration, Christopher put me and Stephen on the back of a piki-piki (motorcycle) and sent us off to see the cow. As soon as we arrived, the six Kenyan men who were serving as the butchers got right to work. They led the cow over to a tree and tied all its legs together with ropes and then cut its throat with a big machete. I'm not really sure why I thought I wanted to watch that. It upsets me to see a spider die, so I don't know why I thought I would be okay watching a cow get slaughtered. I cried. But I filmed about the first 20 minutes of it, so maybe I'll post it on YouTube sometime (and get lots of nasty emails from PETA). It made me feel a little bit better when I thought about all the hungry people in the community that this one cow was going to feed the next day.

Anyway, back to the celebration. The plan was for me to get up early that Saturday morning at head out to the future site of the Blessed Family Center orphanage complex to set up the sound system. I'm a complete techno-tard when it comes to audio equipment, but somehow that got to be my job on this trip, so I did my best. Keith Gafner has this old PA system and a big speaker that we brought with us to Bwaliro, so the first thing we had to do was climb up in a tree and tie the big speaker to a tree limb so that we could project our celebration to the entire community and beyond. I think one of the Kenyans ended up with that job. My job was to hook up the rest of the equipment so that I could play music from my iPod over the big speaker. In preparation for this trip I went to Best Buy and purchased an assortment of different audio connectors for my iPod in the hope that at least one of them would work for the PA system when we got there. I had been kind of questioning the wisdom of those purchases, so I was elated when we ended up using every single connector that I purchased.

The celebration was supposed to start at 10:00am, so Keith wanted me to get there before 9:00 so that I could go ahead and start the music and begin advertising our upcoming celebration to everyone within earshot. However, at 9:00am, much to Keith's dismay, Christopher was still pouring more chai. This "being on time" thing was kind of a running dispute he had with Christopher and Paul. I would have thought that after 21 years in Kenya Keith would have adjusted to the we'll-get-there-when-we-get-there culture, but he still fights it. So, we finally arrived at the site a few minutes after 10:00 and found no one there. We hurriedly put the sound system together in a attempt to get things moving before 10:30, and we did it! "The Voice" by Celtic Woman was the piece I had chosen to lead off the celebration playlist, and Lisa Kelly poured out into the Kenyan countryside just a few minutes before 10:30.

So, I was still patting everyone on the back for getting everything set up so quickly and I was wondering when we were going to get started, and then Paul Bwire walks up to me and says "My wife would like to invite you to our house for just half a cup of chai." I was so confused. I said "right now?" and he said "Yes, right now". So, I relinquished my hopes of getting started before noon, and walked over to Paul's house for a two-hour long "half a cup of chai". Around 12:30 my 36 song playlist (consisting of a carefully organized collection of Casting Crowns, BarlowGirl, Britt Nicole, Celtic Woman, and Enya) was just about to wind down. And about that time, the show finally got underway as a Kenyan praise team picked up the mic and started to sing some Kenyan worship songs.

As with any Kenyan celebration, there were lots of long speeches. I was supposed to make one of these speeches as well, and it was going to be my job to talk about the US organization, Huruma House, and the role it plays in funding the work of the Blessed Family Center. But something else I was supposed to do in my talk was to introduce the next speaker, Stephen Greek. Stephen and I thought that since Kenyans are really big on titles, I would make sure to introduce Stephen as "the president of Huruma House". So, I did. And that was met with tremendous excitement from the Kenyan audience. They were all so honored to have the "president of Huruma House" in their midst.

What is so funny is that right now Huruma House is very new non-profit organization, so it really isn't much more that a group of four friends that have a conference call occasionally and send money to Africa. We didn't actually draw straws for the officer positions, but it was pretty close to that. But in the mind of our Kenyan audience, the president of Huruma House probably flies around in a private jet and has his office in the penthouse of a New York skyscraper. Anyway, Stephen was kind of embarrassed that so many of the Kenyans went on and on about it at the mic. But if you weren't Stephen, it was pretty funny.

After the speeches, we got quite a bit of entertainment from the local schoolchildren. Several groups of students performed some of their traditional Luhya dances for us, and a recurring theme of these dances was that they would take the opportunity during the dance to invite us by name to come dance with them. Each of us wazungu complied in turn. Stephen pulled out some of his 70s dance moves, and it turns out that Claudia is a master of the Luhya shuffle. I don't have the first clue about dancing so I just put my arms up in the air and jumped around in circles like I was in a mosh pit. I probably looked pretty ridiculous, but the Kenyans got a good laugh anyway. Apparently, I stayed out dancing too long and wore out my welcome with their troop, so one of the schoolgirls had to ask me very politely "are you tired of dancing yet?"

The tradition, after you finish dancing, is to give some money to the kids. We had advance notice of this tradition, so Stephen made sure to bring a big ziploc baggie full of coins to the celebration so that we would be ready with our small change. Unfortunately, as soon as the kids noticed our huge bag of money, they resolved to just keep dancing until the whole bag had been transferred to their pockets. Eventually, after 96 verses of the song, the event coordinators had to shoo them away. But we all had a good time.

Keith was the last speaker at the celebration, and he was kind of disappointed that he had to keep his sermon under an hour. He said that was the shortest sermon he had ever preached in Kenya, but the thunder clouds had started rolling in and we still had to serve up the cow to 500 people, so he had to cut it short.

Right after Keith finished speaking, we just barely had time to get the sound equipment out of the tree and put away before the heavens opened for the third day in a row. And we still had lots of people standing in the food line when the torrential downpour came. Each person at the celebration did the best he could to huddle under the tarps and try to stay dry, but it was coming down hard and sideways so staying dry was pretty much a lost cause unless you were right in the middle of the covering. I finally got tired of just standing and waiting for the rain to stop, so I decided to make a dash for Paul's house about a quarter mile down the road. After all, I thought, it might be kind of fun to go for a walk in a Kenyan thunderstorm, and what's the point of wearing this high-tech quick-dry clothing if I'm not going to get wet.

Well, walking in the rain in Kenya isn't quite like walking the rain in the States. I was planning to just walk down the middle of the road, but I couldn't seem to find the road. It seems to have mysteriously vanished and suddenly there was this raging river where I thought the road used to be. So, I thought I might try walking on the side of the road instead. But the soil is so soft and sandy, that that the side of the road was just a long patch of quicksand. So, I just had to play frogger and jump from one small patch of vegetation to the next while trying not to get eaten by alligators. Paul Bwire's family was very surprised to see me show up at their house all by myself in the middle of the storm, soaked from head to toe.

O God, we don't have a clue what we are doing. We are just stepping out into the unknown trusting that You will somehow take our small actions offered in faith and magnify them for your purposes. There is such an amazing opportunity here to reveal Your love and Your power to the people of this community. Bless us with the courage and strength to not squander it. Amen.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Visiting with Christopher

June 18, 2010

Christopher took Stephen and me on a walk around the village of Bwaliro today to meet some of the widows and orphans that Huruma House has been supporting over the past few months. In case you are confused, Christopher Otsieno and Paul Bwire are creating a Kenyan organization called Blessed Family Center. Huruma House is a US public charity that Stephen Greek, Scott Darrow, Gordon Fry, and I created late last year. Huruma House is a US non-profit that raises funds to help widows, orphans, and needy persons in East Africa by supporting existing indigenous efforts to care for them, and the Blessed Family Center happens to be the first such project that Huruma House is supporting. So far, Huruma House has been providing monthly support for 53 orphans and 10 widows through Blessed Family Center, and we had been under the impression that this would be sufficient for the little village of Bwaliro.

This is incorrect. We aren't even close. The need here is so much greater than we had imagined that Stephen and I feel absolutely overwhelmed.

During the course of our walk through the village, we went to visit one little orphan boy we are supporting named Clinton. He lives in a little mud hut with his three siblings (who are also orphans) and his guardian. Or I guess I should say he used to live in a little mud hut. A few weeks ago, the man of the house decided he was tired of living and set fire to the house at night with all the children inside. Then he stood in the doorway so that none of the family could escape. Fortunately, the neighbors showed up in time to rescue the family from the fire, but the house was reduced to a shapeless pile of dirt and ashes. The same man had previously set fire to another mud hut the children had been sleeping in, and only one wall remained of that hut. So, the mother took the iron sheets from the roof of the first collapsed house and built a little lean-to against the side of the last standing wall. She will live here with Clinton and his siblings until another house can be built.

Because Clinton is in the Blessed Family Center program, Chris brings Clinton's guardian a supply of food for him at the beginning of each month. But since the family has nothing, barely even a place to live, Clinton's ration ends up being shared among all five of them. We saw this same story repeated time and time again. Food that was meant to feed one ends up feeding many. It would be nice if Clinton's brothers and sisters could be placed in the program as well, but the funds from Huruma house were limited, so Chris just had to pick one of the children to support.

We asked Chris how many orphan children there were in the area who were still in need of assistance, and he made an estimate of 600 just in the little village of Bwaliro.

Another stop we made on our walk around the neighborhood was a visit to Bwaliro Primary School. Paul had mentioned that we are going to need to do something to improve the children's education, so we thought we would have a look at the local schools and see how we might be able to help.

The first thing we noticed was that very few of the children had shoes. Almost all of them were running around barefoot. This might not be such a big problem if the area wasn't infested with a little bug called a jigger that burrows itself into the children's feet and can very painful. Some of the children we saw at the school were obviously having a hard time learning while they were trying to dig the little parasites out of their feet.

The second thing we noticed was that not all of the children had desks to sit at. Many of the older classes had enough desks to sit three students to a bench, but in the fourth grade classroom and younger there was not a desk to be found. When the children needed to write, they just placed their papers on the crumbling concrete floor.

The third thing we noticed was that when the school dismissed for lunch, many of the children did not go home. The school headmaster told us that there wouldn't be any food for them to eat at home anyway, so many of them didn't bother to make the journey and just stayed on the school grounds during lunchtime and dealt with the hunger.

In addition to visiting the orphans and the schools we also visited some of the widows Huruma House has been supporting. One of the women we visited, Zainabu, welcomed us into her round mud house with a thatch roof, and we got to sit and talk with her a while. Zainabu is a very old woman and has a little bit of land around her house that she farms by herself, and the entirety of her maize harvest for the year was sitting in a little chair by the door. Chris told us that might be enough food to last a month. After that, with no children to help support her, she was just relying on the monthly food distribution from Chris to stay alive.

After we talked with her a bit and prayed with her, Zainabu said she wanted to give us a gift. So she reached into a small metal pot that was hanging from the rafters of her mud hut and pulled out a rather large piece of dried beef. Stephen told her how much we love homemade beef jerky and thanked her profusely for the generous gift. To refuse the gift, in this culture, would have been appallingly rude. We took a picture with Zainabu and promised her we would send her a print of it, and then we continued on our walk. But Stephen and I were both pretty choked up by her amazing act of generosity and hospitality. Everything she owned in the world was visible to us in her small round hut, and it really wasn't much. Yet “out of the most severe trial, her overflowing joy and her extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity”.

As we continued our walk along the narrow paths winding through trees, we came upon a little hut sitting out all by itself. Chris said he knew that a widow lived here, but it wasn't one of the widows we are supporting, and he asked if we wanted to go inside and meet her. We said that we might as well, so we announced ourselves and walked into her house.

On the floor of the mud hut sat a very old woman. She was wearing no shirt, and her belly was distended. As she spoke in the Luhya language, Chris and Paul took turns translating for us. The woman was unable to walk, and just as her belly was swollen her eyes were swollen, too. So, it was difficult for her to see us. She was eating as we spoke to her. Apparently there is a kind woman down the path who brings food to her occasionally, however since she doesn't have any teeth she can only eat soft foods. She had some jugs of water sitting on the opposite side of the hut, and she told us that when the schoolchildren pass by her hut on the way to school, she cries out to them asks them to draw some water for her. Because it is so difficult for her to get around, she waits until she finishes eating and then crawls across the floor to get a drink of water. Of course, it is impossible for her to get to any choo, so when she needs to go to the bathroom, she crawls outside of her hut and digs a little hole in the ground. She hasn't been able to see a doctor in decades, she has no living children, and all of her grandchildren are living far away with their father's family, so she has no family to visit her or care for her. The last years of her life will just be spent sitting alone on the floor of a mud hut hoping that some kind neighbor will bring her a bit of food and some water.

It was Stephen's turn to pray at this house, and for that I was grateful, because I honestly don't know what I would have said. I wasn't really able to process any of this, and I think “Spirit of God, intercede!” may have been the only prayer I would have been able to get out.

And yet, I don't even know that I could have prayed that simple prayer in faith. How can a person pray when God seems so absent? Tell me. Where is God in this mud hut where this woman sits imprisoned, deprived of all hope and dignity? Where is God when people are naked and hurting and starving and forgotten by the world? Where is God in this dark place, and when we cry out for intercession why doesn't He hear us? Does He not hear the voices of the widows and orphans of this tiny village in Kenya? Surely they must cry out to Him. Why is He silent?

I scream my questions to God with implied accusations of injustice, and then I wait, like Habakkuk, for an answer that I know will not come. "I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me and what answer I am to give to this complaint."

But an answer does come. Not in the darkness of that mud hut, but several days later, after the questions and the accusations have had a chance to ferment inside of me. And the answer doesn't come as an incoherent whisper with the vague semblance of some hidden truth. The answer from God comes clearly and unmistakably:

Why do you think you crossed thousands of miles of land and sea to enter this mud hut, Jeff? Did you hear this woman's cry from the comfort of your home in Abilene, Texas and rush to her aid to rescue her from the hand of a heartless and unjust God? How long, exactly, have you been loving and caring for the children and widows of Bwaliro, Kenya? Do you know all their names and all of their stories? Do you know the last time they have eaten, and have you counted the jiggers in their feet?

When you pray for Me to intercede, what it is exactly that you are expecting Me to do? Are you wanting me to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, to heal the sick and show compassion to the forgotten? Are you asking Me to become personally involved in the lives of these children of Mine? When I walked the earth two thousand years ago, I did all of these things with my own hands, and now My Body, the Body of Christ, the Church, continues My divine ministry of love and compassion and healing.

Was it for personal gain that Christopher and Paul left their homes in the city to tirelessly serve the widows and orphans of Bwaliro, or was it because they listened to My voice and faithfully answered my call. And those hungry schoolchildren who go out of their way on their long walk to school to fetch water for this lonely widow woman, do they do this for their own benefit or is it My voice they hear prompting them to acts of compassion? And what about Huruma House? Did it spring from the pride of your heart, or did you really mean for it to be a tool in My hand to help work My will in this community and in East Africa?

When you pray for divine intercession, Jeff, sometimes I get the feeling that you think you are the one calling the shots, that your prayers are somehow meant to convince me to get my act together and do what you think I need to do. So, I just want to remind you that it really works the other way around. I love these children and these widows infinitely more than you do. You are here in Bwaliro for the same reason Chris and Paul are here, only because I have called you to come and minister to the bodies and souls of my children. So, please stop begging me to "intercede" as if I am sitting idly by and letting the devil take the world. I am continually interceding in this broken world by working powerfully through my faithful children who are obedient to the sound of My voice.

And after this, I hear a further response to my accusations, but I'm pretty sure this second response comes from my own heart and not from His. Maybe this second response represents what I might say to myself if I were in God's shoes and not nearly as gracious as He is:

But since we are asking each other questions, Jeff, I want to take this opportunity to ask *you* why this particular widow woman sits imprisoned in her home, "deprived of all hope and dignity." It looks like Christopher would be more than willing to minister to her if only he had the funds. So, why is it that Huruma House is only funding the support of ten widows right now? I'm just kind of curious about why you chose to stop at ten. Did Huruma House just not have enough in donations to cover this woman? Why was that? All it would have taken is another $25 dollars given to Huruma House last month. Chris would have been very happy to use the extra money to provide food and clothing and medical care for this desperate widow woman. So what happened, Jeff? Was there something else you needed to buy with that money? I'm sure you must have spent it on something very important; I'm just asking.

O God, I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more. Amen.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On to Bwaliro

June 15-17, 2010

Tuesday was a travel day. Our mission team of seven divided up into two groups and set out for different parts of Kenya. Vernon, Sharon, Carl, and Alice headed off to Nakuru to do some shopping and visit a game park, while Stephen, Claudia, and I headed straight to Eldoret to visit our missionaries, Keith and Grace Gafner. We certainly had a lot to do while in Eldoret, and we spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday visiting various friends, deaf people, and church leaders that Stephen knows, but a major purpose of this stop in Eldoret was to serve as a staging point for the next leg of our trip.

If you recall from last year's Kenya trip, Stephen and I and five others spent an evening in mud huts in a little village called Bwaliro in the district of Busia. There was a Kenyan man living there named Christopher Otsieno who had moved from the big city of Eldoret back to his home village during the post-election violence a couple of years ago.

The prevalence of AIDS in Busia is particularly high. The district commissioner told us that 14.8% of the population of Busia has AIDS. This, of course, means that the orphan population in this district is very high as well. So, Christopher noticed that there was a big job to be done in the area and he started taking orphan children into his own home and taking food to those that he couldn't house..

While we were visiting him last year, we asked Chris lots of questions about what we could do to help him in this very important work. So, Chris told us his big dream for a place called the Blessed Family Center. It was to be a home for the orphans and widows in the community where they could be fed, housed and cared for and where they could grow in faith and discipleship.

When we got back to the States, a few of us, Stephen Greek, Gordon Fry, Scott Darrow, and I, got together to see if we could find a way to offer some assistance to Christopher in his work. Fortunately, Christopher is a friend of Keith Gafner, our congregation's missionary in Eldoret, and Keith had already been helping Christopher financially out of his own pocket. So, the four of us decided to help Keith help Christopher help the orphans. For a while we tried giving money to Keith through our local church, but it was a bit too much money to pass through the church without any oversight, and our mission committee already had its hands full with Sam's Place and couldn't really afford to oversee another orphanage project.

So, we decided to go another route and create a new tax-exempt public charity so that we could continue to support this work tax-free and invite others from around the world to contribute to the work as well. The charity is called “Huruma House” (huruma is Swahili for mercy), and we just received our 501(c)(3) status this March, so we are really just getting started. But it is very exciting to have this new instrument which God can use to bless the widows, orphans, and needy persons of East Africa.

So, naturally, Stephen and Claudia Greek and I wanted to devote a significant portion of our trip to visiting the work in Bwaliro that we had been supporting. And since Keith Gafner is the missionary who is advising this project, it made sense for all of us to travel there together. So Thursday morning, bright and early, Keith kissed his wife and children goodbye and herded me, Stephen, Claudia, and Joyce (an old Kenyan friend of the Greeks) into his Pajero and we set out for the tiny village of Bwaliro just near the border with Uganda.

Something you need to know is that about the time we started supporting this project, Christopher's friend, Paul Bwire, also moved to Bwaliro help Chris with the work. Paul has done a phenomenal job, and one of the first expenses of Huruma House was to allocate funds for Paul to build a house for himself and his new bride. Now, buying someone a house may sound like exorbitant compensation, but he only asked for about $700 to do it, so we went ahead and gave him the money. And, at the time, the decision to give Paul money to build a house was nothing more to us than some transactions in a spreadsheet and a bank account.

But when we pulled up to the very homey, well-decorated mud and wood structure that Paul and Lillian call their home, suddenly it all became so much more real. This is a real house. People really live here. It has a kitchen and a living room and a bedroom and a covered porch for entertaining guests. There is a clothesline in the front with real people's clothes, and in the back there is a wooden rack for washing and drying dishes. There are doors and windows and there are pictures of real people on the walls. There is even a TV and electric lights. This is a real place where a man comes home and kicks up his feet. And it is almost miraculous that our $700 mixed with lots of love and sweat actually built this. In Kenya, for less than the price of a laptop a man can build a house for his family. That experience certainly encouraged us about the potential effectiveness of the funds that will be channeled to this project in the future.

Well, Lillian Bwire quickly ushered us into her home and served us a scrumptious meal of turkey and watermelon and mashed bananas and some other select choices from their shamba (garden). But before we ate, we first observed their tradition of introducing everyone present at the meal. One of the women being introduced stepped out of the house and onto the covered porch to greet us, and as she did she accidentally bumped against the doorway, and to our surprise a huge chuck of the mud doorway broke off the house and landed on the floor. The woman was very embarrassed, but Paul was very gracious about it and acted like it wasn't a big deal. Apparently, things like that just happen occasionally when you live in a mud house, and you just learn to mix up some more mud and fix it when it does happen.

After the meal we went to visit the elderly widow woman who is selling us her land for this project. Her name is Elizabeth Olo, and she is one of the widows who is currently being aided by this project. I got to impress Elizabeth by showing her a picture of herself that I had stored on my iPod, and she got to impress me with the huge pile of recently harvested millet that consumed a large part of her living room floor.

Later that evening, after we had thoroughly explored the 5.2 acres that had been purchased for helping the orphans and widows here, it started raining. It started raining hard. So, we all ran inside Paul's mud home with the metal roof to escape. But it was raining so hard, that the sound of the rain on the metal roof was deafening. So, we couldn't even talk to each other. We just sat in the midst of the rumbling and the eerie glow of the kerosene lamp and looked at each other. Fortunately, I had my laptop, so I got to get some writing done. And I let the two little Kenyan kids sitting next to me watch “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” on my iPod (each one sharing an ear bud).

After the rain let up, we headed down the dirt road to Christopher's place, and as we drove between the fields of sorghum and sugarcane along the winding, narrow path to his house we were met, like last year, by a chorus of singing and dancing Kenyan women and children excited to welcome us into their home. And even though we had just eaten at Paul's house, Christopher ushered us into his home for yet another Kenyan feast.

After dinner, Christopher led us two-at-a-time to his brand new pair of bathrooms just next to the new choo he had built, so that we could give ourselves sponge baths from basins of water. Then it was pretty late, so we all turned in. Keith Gafner and I slept in the same mud hut I got to sleep in last year, while Steve, Claudia, and Joyce bedded down in Christopher's house.

Christopher gave us each a new pair of slippers for our baths, and as we entered our mud hut to go to bed, I took my shoes off at the door. And then there was the following exchange:

Kenyan: Why are you taking your shoes off? Leave them on.
Jeff: Because my slippers are very muddy and I don't want to track mud inside.
Kenyan: But the floor is made of mud.
Jeff: Good point.

O God, may Huruma House be an instrument in Your hands to do Your work in the world. We offer it to You to use in Your service. Protect us, Lord, from developing any personal attachment to this human institution we have created. As long as Huruma House glorifies You may it continue to grow and prosper, and when it ceases to be effective in Your Kingdom, Lord, we ask that You give us the strength to let go of it gracefully. Amen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bibles and baptisms

June 13, 2010

Immediately after walking through the huge metal gate of Sam's Place it was time to get to work. Although we have no orphans yet at Sam's Place, the annual Kenyan Deaf Prayer and Learning (KDPL) seminar is hosted at Sam's Place this year, and we had record turnout, so the place was packed. Last year we had 72 deaf Kenyans register for the conference. This year we had 144. And everywhere I looked were little clusters of deaf Kenyans standing around the yard drinking chai and laughing and signing.

The seminar actually started on June 10, and the rest of our mission team had already been here for several days. But because of some scheduling conflicts at home, I had to arrive late this year, so by the time I arrived the seminar was already in full swing. And although we loved having so many attend, it was about twice as many as we planned for, so I arrived at Sam's Place to find my teammates tired and overwhelmed but holding up very well. Alice Caughfield, Claudia Greek, and Sharon Arnold are women of amazing strength of character. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of benefit to planning things in Kenya because nothing ends up going as planned anyway, so an essential survival skill here is being able to improvise and just wing it. And, of course, anybody can wing it when they have to, but to be able to wing it and still keep smiling requires rare and divine strength. I count myself enormously blessed to be able to work side by side with these strong women of God who can speak words of peace even in the midst of utter chaos.

After a long Saturday of hanging out with the deaf, working on our Kenyan Sign Language, playing with kids, and putting out various fires, it was finally time to say good night. Last year when I said goodnight, I walked off to my guest house down the road and the left the Kenyans to sleep on their mats on the floor. This year, however, I got permission to sleep at Sam's Place with the Kenyans. It kind of doubled as being a fun camping experience for me as well as being a way to show our deaf brothers and sisters that the wazungu aren't too good to sleep in the same places they sleep. It was also really fun to get to stay behind and watch what happens after the white people leave.

Lights out was supposed to be at 11:00. That's when the generator shut off and everyone was supposed to be in bed. However, apparently the Kenyans weren't quite ready for bed at 11:00, so they went and fired up the generator again to run for another couple of hours. And, I'm not sure why they decided to do this, but they ended up bringing the generator inside the dormitory. I'm still learning KSL, so it was kind of difficult for me to figure out how to tell a room full of deaf Kenyans that the carbon monoxide in the generator's exhaust was a poisonous gas and would kill us in our sleep. So I ended up just running around the room pointing at the generator and signing “All die! All die!” Apparently, I got the message across to enough people that they helped me move the generator outside of the building before anybody passed out.

The next morning, after a restful night on my air mattress, we all ate breakfast and then headed in to church. The room at Sam's Place where we were worshiping was completely packed, so I wiggled my way through the sea of chairs and sat down in an empty one in the middle of the room. Back at my church in the US we have been making an effort to fully plan each Sunday morning worship service several days or a week in advance, but it seems that in this culture it is quite acceptable to plan the worship service 5 minutes before it begins. So, while various deaf people got up to lead us in spirited sign-language hymns, the church leaders made up the order of worship on a big chalk board. I thought that was kind of interesting by itself, but it got even more interesting when they wrote my name up on the board.

You see, I preached this little sermon in sign language to the deaf last year at KDPL, so some of them erroneously think that I am actually capable of signing. And I don't really know how to explain it to them, but I can't really sign; I just fake it. Last year I made up a sermon that only required about 20 signs and a bunch of pantomime, and I had a whole day to think about it and check my signs with Steve and Jerry. But today was completely different. I was scheduled to make some comments just before the contribution, and I had very little time to decide what I wanted to say about giving, but the deaf here are very patient with me. So, they listened attentively as a hearing mzungu bumbled through a short sermonette in broken KSL on a topic that they already understand 1000 times better than I do.

There were 8 responses to Carl Moore's sermon that morning, so we all took a short walk to the little stream just outside of Sam's Place to watch the baptisms. Unfortunately, Steve and I had some technical problems to work through first, so we got there late and missed all the baptisms, but we did get there just in time to get some really good shots of Carl Moore falling in the river.

After the baptisms, we walked back to Sam's Place and wrapped up KDPL with the closing ceremony. One of the low points of last year's KDPL was that we were only able to bring 20 bibles for the deaf, but we had 72 register. And we had to listen to 52 very touching stories about how badly they needed a Bible. Although it isn't too hard to get Bibles in Kenya, there is a special Easy-to-Read version for the deaf that you just can't buy in Kenya. So, each year we carry over a few ERV Bibles in our luggage and give them to the local deaf church leaders to be distributed as they see fit. Unfortunately, we just don't have enough luggage space to take a Bible for everyone at KDPL, so this year we decided to step out on a limb and try to ship Bibles to Sam's Place through the infamously unreliable Kenyan postal system. If they got lost or stolen in the mail, we reasoned, it wouldn't be a huge tragedy because at least someone would end up with a Bible, even if it wasn't our deaf friends. So, we shipped 84 ERV Bibles to Sam's Place knowing that, if they arrived, that would be more than enough to give one to each of the 70-ish expected attendees.

But several days after the Bibles shipped, the USPS website still had not even confirmed delivery to Kenya, and certainly not all the way to Sam's Place. And as days turned into weeks and the Bibles still had not arrived, I wrote it off as a loss and we went to the backup plan of shoving Bibles in suitcases. So when I arrived at Sam's Place and saw that we had 144 KDPL attendees I was very bummed at the thought that we only had 60 Bibles to divide among them. But later that evening I was talking to Simeon (the Kenyan director of Sam's Place) and he said to me “Brother Jeff, I want to let you know that just a few days ago I received 7 boxes in the mail.” I was so excited to hear this that I almost cried to Simeon. Apparently, all seven boxes of Bibles had safely arrived at Sam's Place and he had just been saving it for a surprise. So the 84 Bibles we shipped plus the 60 Bibles we brought in our luggage made a total of 144 Bibles! So for the first time in the history of KDPL we were able to give a new Easy-to-Read Bible to every deaf person who attended the seminar.

O God, speak to Your children through the pages of Your Word. Speak to them words of peace and joy and life and hope. Open their eyes to Your life-giving Spirit smiling back at them from behind the pages. Amen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From the airport to the choo

June 12, 2010

Since last year's Kenya travel log begin with a bathroom story, I think I will stick with tradition and give you another one. In case you don't already know, construction of the Sam's Place dormitory is almost complete. It lacks only a few finishing touches. So, I asked Vernon if I could camp out at Sam's Place this year instead of staying at the guest house in town. Since there aren't any children here at the orphanage yet, I pretty much get the whole place to myself. Our two Kenyan matatu drivers are sleeping here as well, and we also have the night watchman (a big guy with a machete) out at the gate house, but other than them it's pretty empty.

Anyway, one of the finishing touches Sam's Place still lacks is indoor plumbing, so that means sponge baths instead of showers as well as an occasional trip to the choo when nature calls. A choo (pronounced cho) is just an outhouse, and Sam's Place has four of them on the edge of the property. The first time I used the choo in the middle of the night at Sam's Place, I happened to get a cell phone call from Katherine while I was out there. This was a bit awkward, but that wasn't the bathroom story I wanted to tell.

Tonight, June 14, my third evening at Sam's Place, the drivers (Joseph and Daniel) and I arrived at Sam's Place for our night stay just as the heavens opened in a torrential downpour. We ran through the rain and mud to get inside, but once I set my stuff down and started getting ready for bed, I realized that I really, really needed to use the choo. But it was pouring rain, and I wasn't really interested in driving to Eldoret tomorrow with wet shoes, and I really didn't want to get my clothes wet either because it's laundry time, and I'm down to my last change. Also, with no electricity for miles and with even the stars covered by the storm clouds, it's black as pitch outside.

So, I did what any sensible person would do. I stripped down to my underwear, grabbed my flashlight, and walked barefoot to the choo through the storm. Normally, I might be a bit grossed out by walking through a cow pasture barefoot (yes, they graze cattle on the Sam's Place land), but that was kind of overshadowed by the thought of using the choo in my bare feet. But after considering all of my other clever options for using the bathroom without going to the choo, going to the choo barefoot was by far the least gross option available. And, actually, it turned out to not be that bad. The walk through the mud and the rain was kind of refreshing, and it was really nice knowing that no matter how dirty I got in the choo, I was going to get to run back through the cleansing rain again and wash all the grime away. (Wow, that sounds like a sermon intro, but I'll spare you.)

Okay, so now that you've heard my bathroom story, let me back up a bit and bring you up to speed with everything else that has been going on since I landed in Kenya.

My Kenya Airlines flight landed in Nairobi at about 7:30 am on Saturday, June 12. I didn't get any real sleep on the flight, and since I didn't get any sleep on the previous night's flight either, by the time I landed in Kenya I had been awake for two and a half days.

Larry Conway was waiting for me at the airport for two reasons: 1) to help me get started on my land journey to Sam's Place, and 2) to pick up his luggage that I brought with me on the plane. Unfortunately, his luggage didn't land in Nairobi with me, and when one of his bags finally arrived yesterday, he found that everything inside it was covered in Picante Sauce. Oops.

But in spite of losing his luggage, Larry was still gracious enough to help me on my way. My travel plan to Sam's Place consisted of catching a public matatu to Kisii (a town near Sam's Place), and then having someone on our mission team come pick me up when I arrived in Kisii. A matatu is an eleven passenger van that seats 26 when you remove the bourgeois restrictions that 1) all bodies must be completely inside the vehicle at all times and 2) no passenger is sitting in another's lap. So, I got the opportunity to get very close to some Kenyans on the trip to Kisii. The trip itself, though, was rather uneventful. The only thing worth mentioning is that, midway on our journey, the driver rather suddenly pulled over to the side of the road and all of the Kenyans jumped out and scrambled off in different directions. It looked like an INS raid on a van full of illegal immigrants, and I just kind of stood by the matatu dumbfounded, wondering if I was going to be the only one left to answer the police when they showed up for the drug bust. After a bit more observation, though, I noticed that all of the men were just kind of staring off into space with their backs to the road, and then it hit me: this is a pee break. But by the time I figured it out, it was already time to get back on the matatu, so I just had to hold it the rest of the way.

Once the matatu arrived in Kisii, I decided to to just catch another matatu to Rongo instead of having someone drive to Kisii and pick me up. Sam's Place is located just outside of Rongo along the road to Kisii, and I was planning to ask the driver to just drop me off on the side of the road when we got to the turnoff to Sam's Place. One of the good buddies I had made on the first matatu ride was kind enough to help me make the transition to another matatu heading to Rongo, for which I was very grateful. Unfortunately, I had been a bit spoiled on my first matatu.

See, the way Larry Conway had helped me catch the first matatu out of Nairobi was by sending a trusted Kenyan friend of his, Kizito, to help me get a good matatu at a good price, and Kizito was able to put me on a matatu driven by a friend of his from church, so I kind of got special treatment. Unfortunately, there arose in Kisii a matatu driver who knew not Kizito, and as we approached the bright blue Sam's Place on the way to Rongo, and as I waved and signaled “This is where I get off. Can you let me off here please?” he just glared at me and kept on driving. So, as I watched the Sam's Place sign disappearing in the rear-view mirror, I sat (which is the only thing you can do in a matatu) and considered my options. Fortunately, Sam's Place is only 2 km from the drop-off point in Rongo, so I decided it wouldn't be bad to just walk, and it might even be kind of nice to get to move around a bit after the long cramped rides.

Well, when I “alighted” in Rongo, there was a man sitting on a motorbike (called a piki-piki) who looked like he would just love to give me a ride. So, I asked him how much it would cost to take me 2 km on the back of his motorbike, and he said 20 shillings. But the smallest bill I had was a 200, and they certainly don't make change, so I just let him keep it, and he was very happy. So, I and my backpack and all of my cash and all of my worldly possessions in Kenya, jumped on the back of this stranger's motorbike, and off we went to Sam's Place with my arms around his waist. He drove fairly slowly and he even took me all the way to the gate, so I didn't have to walk down the long dirt road to Sam's Place. Once there he made sure I knew his name and contact information in case I needed any more motorbike rides for 10 times the normal fare.

Then I banged on the big metal Sam's Place gate, and Stephen Greek came to let me in, and I was among wazungu once again. Stephen later told me that he had never ridden on a piki-piki in Kenya, and I thought that was really cool that I had gotten to do something that a long-time missionary to Kenya hadn't done yet. So, maybe that was kind of in the back of my mind as I was running to the choo tonight. Yeah, sure Stephen has used a choo thousands of times more than me, but has he ever used a choo barefoot in the rain in his underwear? I'll have to ask him tomorrow.

Lord, take from me the things I think I need to be happy and comfortable, and replace them with the One I need to be joyful and content. Amen.

Notre Dame

June 11, 2010

So, did I tell you I have a 13 hour layover in Paris before landing in Kenya? Yeah, the plan was that I would arrive in Paris at 7:35am and fly out of Paris at 8:25pm, giving me almost a whole 13 hours to explore the shining city on the Seine. I didn't actually request a
mini Paris vacation from my travel agent; it just kind of worked out this way.

Anyway, my 13 hour excursion has turned out to be significantly shorter than that. First of all, we sat at the terminal in Boston for almost an hour because one of the passengers checked his bags but never showed up for the flight. So, the crew had to unload all the luggage from the plane in order to search for and remove that guy's bags. Then just as they were finishing the long process, the missing passenger showed up for the flight. So, I can understand the
flight crew being a little upset about all of this, but they didn't have to publicly heckle the guy over the PA system. The whole plane actually booed him.

So, I ended up getting to Paris about 8:30am instead of 7:30am. And by the time got a locker for my big backpack and stood in a long line to buy a train ticket into downtown Paris, it was already close to 10:00am. And when I finally gazed up at Notre Dame Cathedral, my first stop, it was close to 10:30.

I'm not really sure what to think about about Notre Dame. First of all, there are a LOT of people milling around inside this huge cathedral. So, any kind of reverent atmosphere is just impossible to maintain. My first instinct was to be judgmental: "Didn't those bozos read the sign? NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY! And I hate to break it to you, but your wimpy little flash isn't to going illuminate the vaulted cathedral ceiling anyway, so just cut it out, okay?"

My second instinct was a lamentation: "I guess this is what it looks like when we put Jesus in a zoo. The mobs of people flock past with their cameras and take snapshots of Uncle Ralph next to the crucifix, while the kids say 'Ooo, ooo, only 2 euros for one of those little
candle thingys, can I light one, Mum?'"

My third instinct was to categorize: "Let's see...what types of people do we have here? There are the reverent ones who just want to sit quietly and try to enjoy the serenity of the place. There are the amateur photographers who want to snap a flash photo of every brick. There are the organizers, sitting around talking on their cell phones, using Notre Dame as a kind of central hub for coordinating their Paris vacation. There are the tourists who move along in little mobs past all the 'exhibits' one at a time and read all the writing..."

My fourth instinct was to analyze: "Well, okay, I guess it isn't really like putting Jesus in a zoo. This is just a church building after all. All of these people are really coming to see an ancient artifact of the institution of the church. It's more like a museum than a cathedral now, I guess. But shame on those wastrels so long ago who wasted God's money on this extravagant monstrosity when they should have been feeding the hungry!"

And then I wondered what God's reaction to Notre Dame would be. Surely he looks in love at every single visitor walking this floor. He knows all of their names and all of their stories, and He has a special fondness in His heart for each one. Wherever they have come from and wherever they are going, He knows that right now they have chosen, for whatever reason, to enter a house of worship. And He is going to cry out to them from the crucifix and whisper to them through the prayer candles. He is going to tug at their souls through the music and speak to their hearts through the artwork. And whatever motives may have lurked in the hearts of the builders of this house of worship long ago, whether prideful or sacred, He is going to redeem
their creation for His present purposes and sing to these visitors from its stones.

Because He is a God who shamelessly woos His children through every medium and at every moment. Hoping that with just the right combination of circumstances those walls around their hearts they have spent their lives building against Him might at last show some tiny fracture. And the instant that happens, He is always ready and waiting to rush into the brokenness with a Spirit of peace and healing.

Lord, speak in this place. And while You do that, I think I'm going to sit here a bit longer and work on learning to love these people like You do. Amen.

Back to Kenya

June 10, 2010

O God, what am I doing on this airplane? I honestly can't answer the question. What is it about me that I think is so special that my presence is required on the other side of the planet? I want so badly to serve You faithfully in Your Kingdom, to minister to Your hurting children and, in some small way, to help heal this broken world. But, I ask You again, what am I doing on this airplane? What is it that I, personally, am going to do in Kenya that is worth a $2000 plane ticket, running the risk of leaving my children fatherless, missing two weeks of their childhood, and leaving my wife crying in the airport.

Will I employ my unparalleled medical acumen to heal the lame or give sight to the blind or bind up the wounds of victims of inter-tribal violence? Well, no. In fact, I'll probably have to beg the Kenyans to take me to the hospital when I come down with some nasty stomach bug and start spewing from both ends.

Am I going to share with the locals my vast knowledge of agriculture and construction as well as my proven techniques for caring for orphans in a developing country? Well, not really. I don't actually know anything about those things. And I'm just going to eat their food and drink their expensive sodas and sleep in their own beds that they so graciously surrender to me in truly miraculous displays of hospitality.

Am I going to speak to them words of peace and healing, and comfort their hurting hearts? I can't even speak the children's language. And even if I could, I know so little about their lives and their pain and their hunger and what it's like to live in their shoes, that I would be a miserable minister of peace.

And as I have already observed first-hand, Kenya is not lacking good people who are willing to give of themselves much more sacrificially than I am in order that Your hurting children may find life and hope. They already know what to do; they don't need me to show them. And I am blessed beyond measure to be given the opportunity to participate with You and with my Kenyan brothers in this Spirit-led ministry.

They know their roles in Your Kingdom, and I am supposed to know my role, too. They cook the chickens and grind the grain and build the buildings and care for the widows and make clothes for the orphans. They teach the Bible lessons and deliver the babies and bury the dead and speak Your words of peace and healing. And ALL I have to do is to pray hard and to not be such a greedy, selfish jerk by wasting so much of Your money on myself that they all starve to death.

At home, my role in Your Kingdom is much more complex, but my role in this ministry to the widows and orphans of Kenya is exceedingly clear and simple: to be faithful in my stewardship of the resources You have blessed me with. And jumping on a plane to Kenya seems to violate the simplicity of my charge, because the truth of the matter is that the orphans and widows of Kenya would be none the worse if I stayed in Abilene, Texas and continued to support them from abroad.

So, look into my heart, Maker, and reveal to me its mysteries. Why am I really on this airplane? If we can rule out the fiction that I'm going to Kenya to help other people, then what does that leave? Am I just going for me? And why would my heart permit me such a luxury at such a cost? What is it that I really want from this trip? And is my will in harmony with Yours, or do I just deceive myself.

O God, gently peal back the many layers of self-deception that hide my motives from my own prideful eyes, and tell me what you see. Speak the truth to me that I am blind to.

Could it be that I am on this airplane to Kenya because I want to understand? I don't want to simply see or hear or know. I want to truly understand this country and its people and their struggles. I want to walk in the children's shoes for a few days and somehow experience and understand their world. I want to visit the orphans in their homes with their guardians. I want to walk to school with the children and cook and sew with the widows. I want to sleep in the places they sleep and eat the food they eat. There is another culture here that is strange and foreign to me and that doesn't fit neatly into my philosophical framework, and I want to begin to truly understand this culture so that I can find my place in it and engage it on its own terms.

I am very aware that I see the world through lenses that are tinted by my own culture and my own assumptions. I see the world as I expect to see it, and I interpret its hurts and its joys in the light of my own cultural expectations.

But I don't want these lenses; I want You to break them. I want to understand the world as it really is. I want to see the world as You see it, and I want to see people as You see them. I want to love people the way You love them, selflessly and unconditionally. I want to rejoice at the things you find joy in, and I want my heart to break with Yours. I want to learn to see joy in the midst of poverty and to see pain and despair even when it lies behind a veneer of affluence. I want to learn to find strength in weakness, and to find healing in brokenness.

But it's so hard. Kenya is just so different from Texas. The languages are different, the cultures are different, and on top of all that there is this staggering wealth gap, this enormous disparity in the standard of living. And all these things blind me from seeing the
truth that You see so clearly. You see into the hearts of the people; You see their grief and their joy and their desires and their heartaches. But my eyes aren't as keen as Your's and I have a very hard time seeing past the poverty and finding the heart of the person on the other side.

So, I think I am sitting on this plane to Kenya because deep inside of me I am expecting You to use this trip to mold me and teach me, and to begin to change my eyes to see the world as You see it and to love people as You do. Anyway, if that isn't actually Your plan, I'm several miles above the Atlantic Ocean right now, and it's a little late to tell me otherwise. So, I am going to need You to come through for me once again and redeem my foolhardy decisions for Your glory. But I have found that You are so, so good at that.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Kenya Packing List

In June of 2009 I participated in a two and a half week mission trip to Kenya. While there, I was very pleased with some of my packing decisions, so I wanted to share my packing list with anyone else who might be taking a similar trip in the future. The items listed below were chosen based upon my desire to travel light, to provide convenient access to the things I needed when I needed them, and to reserve as much luggage space as possible for goods and materials to be left in Kenya.

In order to meet these goals, I had to purchase a few pricey clothing items, but luggage space to Kenya is worth it's weight in gold. By choosing to pack light, you may be able to fill an entire extra suitcase with Bibles, gifts, and goodies for people in Kenya. Also, you can save a tremendous amount of money by shopping online and buying seconds and closeouts at Sierra Trading Post.

Following is a comprehensive list of every single item I took to Kenya with me. You will certainly want to make additions or substitutions as you see fit. This packing list assumes that you are okay with doing your own laundry in a sink at night. It also assumes that you are male. I don't have any idea what modifications should be made to this list for a female traveler, but I suspect that it is quite a bit more complicated.


2 backpacks
Although all of the items mentioned below will probably fit in a single backpack, I found that it was very convenient to have a night bag and a day bag. The night bag contains all of your clothes and toiletries. The day bag contains your sunblock, snacks, water, and other things you will want with you during the course of a day's activity. Because of airline luggage restrictions, you are not going to want to get on the airplane with your day and night bags packed the way you will have them packed in Kenya. You may even want to pack your backpacks in a checked suitcase and reserve your carry-on space for valuable items you might be taking to people living in Kenya. Once you arrive at your destination, you will need to sort through all of your luggage, separate out the things you brought for yourself and the things you brought for others, and then pack your day and night backpacks the way you want them. NOTE: Do not pack valuable items in your checked luggage when flying to or from Kenya. They will almost certainly be stolen at the airport.

For your day backpack, you will probably want a smaller backpack that has lots of pockets and that is comfortable for you to carry for long periods of time. For your night backpack, you may want a larger backpack, and it doesn't need as many pockets.

Gallon-size and quart-size ziplock baggies
All of the clothing items I have listed here are very light-weight and are meant to be packed tightly into gallon-size ziplock baggies. If you roll each item into a tight roll about 6 inches wide, you can fit quite a few clothing items into one baggie. I would suggest, though, that you split things up into more baggies rather than pack as much as you can into one baggie, i.e. put only your pants in one baggie and only your shirts in another. Once you get a baggie packed, place it on the floor and put your knee on it to squeeze all the air out, then close it up. Also, take some extra baggies with you. You will always need some to hold your dirty clothes and for other purposes.

Insect Shield clothing treatment
There is an amazing clothing technology called Insect Shield that is very effective at keeping the mosquitoes and other bugs away. You will not need to wear any smelly, dangerous, and environmentally-hazardous insect repellent if your clothes are treated with Insect Shield. All of the clothes I took on my trip (even the clothes I slept in) were treated with Insect Shield. You can buy clothing products that have already been treated with Insect Shield or you can mail your own clothes off to be treated. The process takes about a week, and the treatment is still effective after 70 washings. It is colorless, odorless, and effective even at a distance. For instance, wearing an Insect Shield shirt is sufficient to keep the mosquitoes away from your face.

3 Trip'r shirts from ExOfficio
Because you will be washing your clothes in the sink at night and letting them dry overnight it is very important to have quick-drying clothing, and these shirts work very well for that. I did lots of research on light-weight, quick-drying clothes, and I decided that these shirts were best suited for my purposes. Although Kenya doesn't get very hot, the sun is oppressive there (equator and high-altitude), and the only way for a fair-skinned person to keep from getting sunburned is to stay covered up very well. This is a long-sleeved shirt, but the sleeves roll up and button, so you can easily convert it to a short sleeved shirt when you need to. It is also vented under the arms to help keep you cool. Three shirts are really all you need. That allows you to go a few days without washing. These shirts are very light-weight yet rugged; all my shirts and pants fit easily into one gallon-sized baggie.

2 Cloudveil Cool Caribe pants
Light-weight, quick-drying pants that are perfect for this packing strategy.

Adidas lightweight workout shirt and pants
To sleep in and run around in at the guest house. You shouldn't have to wash these often.

4 pair of quick-drying socks
Quick-drying socks are hard to find, and my socks were the only things that sometimes didn't quite get dry overnight. So, make sure you wash your socks before you wear your last pair so that you can give your socks an extra day to dry. Please let me know if you find some socks you like; I'm very interested in trying something different next time.

3 ExOfficio Men's Give–N–Go Boxer Briefs
These are incredible. Yes, you can go to Kenya with only three pair of underwear as long as it's these. Not only are they quick drying, but they will keep your upper thighs from rubbing together and getting chaffed during a long day of walking and sweating.

Ex Officio Insect Shield Adventure Hat
You really need a hat of some sort, and if you have very fair skin like I do, you will probably want a hat whose brim will cover your neck. My hat was already Insect Shield treated when I bought it. Incidentally, a hat is probably the most important piece of clothing to have treated with Insect Shield. If someone else is having problems with mosquitoes, you can just toss them your hat and it will keep them protected.

2 handkerchiefs
Tissues are hard to come by, as are trash cans, and there is already enough litter in the country without us adding to it. It's also nice to be able to wash your face occasionally.

Waterproof hiking boots
For walking through sewage in the slums of Nairobi or walking through mud in the Kenyan bush.

Lightweight shoes
Wearing hiking boots all the time can get old really quick. It's nice to have a lighter pair of shoes around to wear at the guest house or downtown. Nike Free is a very good choice for this. These shoes only weigh 5 oz each. You will want to get on the airplane wearing your heavy hiking boots and pack your light shoes in your luggage.


Lightweight, Water-resistant jacket
For the frequent rains at certain times of the year, and it can get a bit chilly at night. Your jacket should be light enough to roll up into a ziplock baggie.

Charlie soap
This is an environmentally-friendly soap in powder form that you can use to wash your clothes in. You can carry it in a small plastic container with a lid. You might also consider Dr. Bronner's soap instead. Apparently, you can even brush your teeth with it.

I found that clothespins weren't absolutely necessary. I could usually just drape my laundry over the clothesline. Also, some guest houses will offer to wash your clothes for you, but sometimes they come back a bit smelly.

Prescription Medicines
Count out the number of pills you will need into small plastic baggies to save space.

Malaria medicine
Ask your doctor to prescribe Malarone. You have to take it every day, but it doesn't turn you into a crazed psychotic killer as a possible side effect.

Z pack
It's nice if someone on your team has this powerful anti-biotic available just in case someone catches something. You will need to get a prescription from your doctor to get one of these.

Travel size soap

Travel size shampoo


Extra razor blades



Hand sanitizer
You won't get the opportunity to wash your hands as often as you might like.

Contact solution
This is very expensive in Kenya. When you leave, you might want to offer the rest of your bottle to someone in Kenya who needs it.

Contact lens case

Extra contact lenses
Hint: Don't try to put on your contacts in a bumpy matatu.



Deodorant stick


Neutrogena SPF 70 sunblock
If you are balding, remember to sunblock your head before going to church. You may be meeting outside and you will remove your hat to pray, often for long periods of time.

Aloe Vera Gel
For when you get sunburned in spite of all your protective measures.

Toilet paper (not on a roll)
Just pull a good length of toilet paper from the roll and create a smaller roll without the bulky cardboard tube. Keep the TP in your day backpack. The choos in Kenya are BYOTP, so don't enter one unprepared. (But if you forget, remember it's polite to only wipe with your left hand and only eat with your right.)

Granola bars
Take as many granola bars as you can. These are valuable for tiding yourself over during long matatu rides, but they are even more valuable for giving away. Everyone from hungry team members to street kids to the guy who pumps your petrol will be very happy to receive a yummy, unexpected act of kindness. Make it your goal to not bring any back home.

Squeezable water bottle
You definitely need a water bottle of some sort, but squeezable water bottles are more useful for sharing with others and for squirting water on your toothbrush.

Netbook computer
If you need to take a computer with you, take a very light, very inexpensive netbook. (I chose the Asus EeePC 901 running Linux.) A netbook is excellent for keeping in touch with friends and family back home, for getting the pictures off your camera, for sending pictures back home, for blogging, and for journaling. And make sure you tell yourself in advance that you are NOT going to let it ruin your trip if it happens to get stolen, which is a good possibility. However, make sure you don't pack your computer in your checked luggage on the airplane, or it will almost certainly get stolen at the airport. Keep it with you in your carry-on.

Safaricom USB modem
If you are bringing a computer you will absolutely want to buy one of these little modems in the Nairobi airport right after you land. With a Safaricom USB modem, you can get Internet access on your computer almost anywhere in Kenya. It's about $50, and it comes with 300MB worth of data transfer, but you can buy more MBs at any little shop in Kenya if you run out. This will allow you to post blog entries and upload photos of your experiences as they happen. It will also allow you to check email. This will make you a very popular team member. Be sure to share.

Hints about internet usage:
Get a picasaweb account before you leave home. It's an excellent way to easily upload your photos to the web, and its upload process gracefully handles slow or unreliable Internet connections.

Your Internet connection in Kenya will be very slow, so, if you have one, use your gmail account for emailing. Gmail has a "basic HTML" feature that is designed for slow connections. You will see the "Load Basic HTML" link when you first get log in to gmail.

If you are going to be blogging, take advantage of the blog feature that allows you to post an entry automatically by emailing it to a secret email address.

Compose your lengthy emails or blog entries in an offline text editor. Only connect to the Internet when you are ready to post or send them. The Internet connection cuts on and off, so don't compose in your browser. It can be frustrating to lose your composition.

And remember to share your modem with other computer users.

Camera with good zoom & SD card
You might think that it would be best to take an ultra-compact camera that you can carry around very discreetly, but it really isn't. If there is any place where you think you need to be discreet about taking a picture, you probably shouldn't be taking a picture at all. And never, ever take pictures of the kids who live on the streets. A larger camera with a good optical zoom lens makes all the difference in the world for getting good pictures of animals and closeups of faces. I wouldn't skimp here. The pictures are what brings the trip to life for everyone you are leaving at home.

Also, try to take pictures that tell stories and document your experiences. You should think of your photography as building a journal of your trip rather than as a pursuit of aesthetically pleasing shots. When people ask you about your trip when you return home, you are never going to remember all the amazing things that happened. However, if you sit down and show someone your photo journal, your photos will serve as peg hooks to hang your stories on. In fact, you may even get annoyed with your yourself when you have to flip through 30 shots of roadside scenery to get to the next interesting part of the trip. Make sure you get pictures of things that people will ask questions about. What is the traffic like? Where did you stay? How did you use the bathroom?

It was convenient for me to have a camera with an SD card because my netbook has an SD slot, so I didn't have to bring (and keep up with) a connector cable for transferring pictures.

Extra camera battery

Camera battery charger

iPod touch
This can save a LOT of luggage room. It can serve as your Bible, family photos, notepad, calculator, books, watch, alarm clock, and entertainment. Just make sure to resolve ahead of time that your trip (and your life) will not be ruined if it gets lost or stolen in Kenya.

iPod headphones

iPod USB cable

Cell phone with removable SIM card
I didn't take one of these, but I wish I had. Team members with cell phones were able to buy a Safaricom SIM card ($2) for their phones that allowed them to call anywhere in Kenya and internationally. This was very helpful for those times when our team had to split up. Of course, your phone will only work in Kenya if its SIM card can be replaced.

2 UK/USA plug adapters
You will want to check and see if all of your electronics function on duel voltage (120 and 240). Most of them do. If so, there is no need to bring a transformer to convert the voltage. Kenya uses the UK style plugs, so all you need is a couple of UK/USA plug adapters.

It's a very convenient instrument to travel with if you can play one.

Small flashlight
Very helpful for late night trips to the choo.

Extra flashlight batteries
Even if you end up not using them, take some to give away. They are very valuable in Kenya.


Immunization record

Extra passport photos

Photocopy of passport

Keep the extra passport photos and the passport photocopy stored in one of your bags. If you lose your passport, it will make it much easier to get a new one in Kenya if you have these things with you.

Insurance card

Credit card

Debit card
The cheapest way to get Kenyan shillings is from an ATM. You get a better exchange rate than you get from the bank or money changers. However, they will usually charge a $1.50 foreign exchange fee, so make large transactions. Remember to tell your bank when you will be traveling to Kenya. Otherwise, they will assume your credit or debit card has been stolen and deactivate it. There are ATMs in the Nairobi airport, so be sure to get some shillings right after you land.

Money pouch
You will want one that straps around your waist like a belt and that you wear inside your pants. Keep your cash, bank cards, and passport in here at all times, and sleep with it close to you at night.