Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Last Thoughts Before We Board the Airplane

It has been so nice having Katherine blogging on this trip as well.  I have been so busy running around all day that I haven't had a whole lot of time to blog, so it is such a relief to know that Katherine has been keeping our friends and family informed about what is going on.  If you haven't been following her blog, I encourage you to take a look at it.


She is a much better blogger than I am anyway, and I'm glad that you have gotten to see her perspective of the trip.

I want to make sure you know that even though I haven't been writing a lot, I have been trying to tell the story of our trip with pictures and captions.  I have been posting the pictures to facebook, but I just now made the album public.  So, when you get the chance, go take a look at our Kenya pictures at:


We are in Nairobi right now, staying with Larry and Hollye Conway, our missionary friends here.  Katherine and Hollye ran off to shop for gifts at the Masai market, and then we are going to be leaving for the airport in a couple of hours.  So, I don't have a lot of time to write just now, but I will try to briefly recap some recent highlights of the past couple of weeks.

* We finished rebuilding the Home of Kenneth Oala and his wife Nancy and we had chai with them in their home.  They are the couple who lost their house and their daughter in the fire last Sunday.  I have lots of pictures of building a house in rural Kenya, and it's really pretty interesting.  Go take a look.  The house will not really be finished until they plaster the walls with a mixture of mud and manure, but we have to let the mud walls dry for two weeks before that work can begin.

* We distributed another 112 Luo bibles at church on Sunday.  It is hard to describe how grateful this community has been to receive the Bibles.  After we started our Bible distribution a couple of weeks ago, I started noticing as I walked around the community and prayed with people in their homes that they would often have their new Luo bible proudly displayed on the coffee table.  Many of the older widows in this community speak nothing but Luo, and they are so happy to finally have access to the scriptures.  Many others in the community speak some English, but they say that it is so much more effective to be able to read the scriptures in their "heart language."  It cost about $3000 to purchase these 316 bibles in bulk through the Kenya Bible Society.  We went ahead and funded this out of our own pocket, but if you are interested in helping out with this work, Katherine and I would be very grateful for some assistance.  We have received about $200 for this purpose already from people who have been following us.

You can contribute to Huruma House through PayPal at:

You can also mail a check to Huruma House, 4010 Cougar Way, Abilene, TX, 79606
Or if you worship at Willis you can give a check to Scott Darrow when you see him.

* Sunday was my last day to preach at Marera Church of Christ before we left.  The place was packed and a lot of people had to sit outside.  One of the church leaders here asked at the beginning of the service if anyone was interested in being baptized today, and four people came forward.  I haven't been preaching any sermons about baptism (my primary focus here has been to help the existing Christians in this community to grow deeper in their faith), so I was a little bit surprised at the response.  After they came forward, I spoke for a few minutes about what baptism was all about and about its significance in our journey of faith.  Then another 6 people came forward to make their confessions as well.  So we all walked down to the river, and Daniel Owino (a local church leader) and I waded out to a deep place, and we baptized 13 people.  It turns out that 3 additional people also decided to be baptized once we got started.  Kenneth Oala, the man whose house we rebuilt after the fire, was among those who were baptized.

* Over the past week, I started having some meetings with some people that I have identified as leaders in the community of Marera.  We put together a group of 18 people, most of them widow ladies, and we created a new community-based organization called "Hope for Marera."  I am really excited about the opportunity to work with this group in the future, and I am so glad that I know and trust the members and the officers of the group.  We decided to spend a couple of years just implementing some income-generating projects to earn income for the CBO.  Then once the CBO has some significant income, we plan to start a nursery school for some of the neediest orphan children in the community where they can be fed and educated.  The 18 members of the CBO are going to do some cost-benefit analyses of various income-generating project ideas, and then Huruma House is going to fund the best of these projects as money for Marera becomes available through donations.  Katherine and I are going to start funding the projects ourselves until we are confident that the CBO members will work well together.  Then once we are satisfied with their performance, I hope to be able to open these projects up to other interested donors as well.

I have so much more I want to tell you, but if Katherine gets home and finds the kids still dirty and the suitcases unpacked, I don't think "but I just HAD to blog" is going to get me off the hook for making us miss our flight.

We land at DFW airport at 9:45am on Wednesday, and Marty and Marilyn Turentine have offered to come pick us up at the airport in Vernon Williams' suburban.  We love you and miss you, and we will see you very soon on the other side of the ocean.

Lord, You are the good shepherd.  I surrender to You my fears about the church and the community I am leaving behind, and I trust that they are safe under Your watchful guidance.  Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2012


This morning I was scheduled to preach at Mogesa Church of Christ in Kisii.  Mogesa is not the church we have been working with here (in fact, it is in a completely different city), but it is the home congregation of Simeon Ongiri, the director of Sam's Place.  It was important to Simeon that my family pay a visit to Mogesa, so I told him that we would spend one of our Sundays there.

We arrived at Sam's Place early this morning so that we would have time to worship with the deaf orphans at Sam's Place before Simeon drove our family to Kisii in his car.  However, as soon as our taxi pulled up to the gate of Sam's Place, we learned that all was not well in the community.  

Our friends Kennedy and Eric, two brothers we have been spending a lot of time with, quickly informed us that there had been a tragedy in the community just this morning.  In fact, Eric was still muddy and dirty, having just arrived from the scene of the accident.

As I have been visiting different homes in Marera and praying with the people in their homes, I have found a disturbing trend.  Well over half of the houses in this community are the homes of elderly widow women raising their orphaned grandchildren.  Very rarely do I find a home with young mother and young father who are raising their children together.  But it was one of these rare two-parent homes that was grieving today.

This young man and young woman were raising three young girls.  The oldest daughter was a bit younger than Kerith, maybe 4 years old.  The second daughter was a bit younger than Anna, about 2 or 3.  And they also had a newborn baby girl, only one month old.

Sunday is market day in Rongo, so it is typical for the parents to get up early and take their goods to the open-air market to sell.  They leave the children (even very young children) home alone to fend for themselves until the parents return.  We have told our Kenyan friends that if a parent did this in America they would go to jail, but in Kenya this very common and it is actually the mark of a loving parent who is trying to keep the children clothed and fed.

So, this particular young couple were both out of the house this morning when a kerosene lamp caught the house on fire.  The roof of the home was made of thatch and the fire spread very rapidly.  The neighbors (including Eric) tried their best to put out the fire, but in the end they were unable to save the house from total loss. 

As Kennedy and Eric were telling us this news, we could still see the smoke rising up out of the forest only about a mile beyond the wall of Sam's Place.  It was coming from the direction of a group of homes I had just visited a few days before.  I left Katherine and the girls to worship at Sam's Place and I set out on foot with my friends to see if there was anything I could still do for this young family.

We walked quickly toward the rising smoke, and we were joined by a few more of Kennedy and Eric's brothers as we walked.  I was happy to see Bernard join us.  Bernard is the young Kenyan man that I am training to be a photographer, and I was relieved to be able to pass my camera off to him.  I have found that photography and ministry don't mix.  You can approach a situation as either a minister or a journalist, but attempting both at the same time is just awkward and disrespectful.  And I am so grateful to be able to hand off my camera to Bernard each day so that I can fully focus on the people in front of me.

After fording a small stream and scrambling through some brush, we finally approached the scene of the fire.  The little thatch house was still smoldering and the area was thick with smoke.  A group of about twenty neighbors and relatives was standing around the remains of the house when we approached.  I scanned the crowd to see if I could figure out which were the parents, but this was pointless.  The mother was the one who was on the ground wailing at the top of her lungs.  

Loud wailing is a very common way to grieve here.  I have been told that the entire community knows if someone dies during the night because the wailing of the family fills the forest for miles.  At first it seems like a shocking response to loss, but maybe it's more shocking that our culture expects grieving mothers to show so much restraint and self-control. 

After finding the mother the I glanced around for the children.  The two older children had escaped the fire uninjured, and they were clinging to their wailing mother.  The young father also stood near them, shocked and stoic.

Apart from the family, on the ground close to the smoldering house, there were a pair of blankets with a lump between them. Upon seeing the missionary arrive a couple of the people in the crowd carefully pulled back the top blanket that was serving as a shroud.  Several others ushered me toward the body of the little baby girl who did not escape the fire.

Kennedy had told me on the way that the baby did not survive, but I was completely unprepared for what I saw.  I think I had expected to see a beautiful baby girl who had perhaps died of asphyxiation from the smoke.  Instead I found a completely charred and blackened body.  Her limbs were frozen in a position of agony.  Her mouth was open in a loud cry, but it was only filled with ashes.

I'm not sure what they were expecting me to do as they directed me toward the body.  Catholic priests are trained in administering the rite of extreme unction, but that is something that Church of Christ boys are not really prepared for.  I guess they figured that the white missionary would know what to do in such a situation, but I didn't.  I just knelt down beside the body of little girl and placed my hand on her torso of charcoal, and I cried on the baby.  Rest in peace, and rise in glory little girl.  Rest in peace, and rise in glory.

By this time quite a crowd had gathered around to watch the mzungu missionary crying on the dead child and praying in English, so I figured I should probably stand up and address them properly.  I tapped Kennedy to interpret into Luo for me, but he had to punt to one of his brothers.  I don't remember now exactly what I said to them, but I do remember that I reminded them that God is always good all the time, that in times of loss the Father of Lies points an accusing finger at the Creator of Life and says "Look what your God has done!", that our response is to turn our faces from the liar and to bury our faces in our loving God because He is good and beautiful.

After this I felt like I needed to pray over the grieving mother and father.  If I had been expected to formulate a beautifully worded prayer, I don't think I would have been able to anyway.  So, I just prayed what I would pray if no one was listening, repeating a prayer for peace and healing and comfort over and over again.

As we headed back to Sam's Place, Kennedy told me that in the Luo culture a person whose house burns down is considered to be cursed, and no one will take the cursed family into their home for fear that they will lose their own home as well.  So, when a family loses a home they just have to build a lean-to next to a nearby tree until they get their home rebuilt.

These are good, hospitable Christian people we are working with, and it just baffles me that this old superstition would so powerfully trump the very plain teachings of Jesus about hospitality.  I don't know what kind of long-term effect my family can have on ditching the old Luo superstitions, but we are going to do what we can to take care of this grieving family right now.  There is a little house we paid to have built near Sam's Place last year, so we have invited the family to come and live in that house for a few days until they can get their original house rebuilt.  

We are meeting with some of the church leaders tomorrow to make long-term plans for the future, and one of the things we will talk about is making sure that this grieving family has a place to live before our family leaves Kenya.  Fortunately, in Kenya it only takes about $500 and a couple of days to build a house if the labor is provided for free, so we might be spending a good part of this week working alongside our Kenyan brothers and sisters to rebuild a home for this family.

I have found that I am grateful for my little Bethany quite a bit more today than I was yesterday.  Her body is about the same size as that hard little charred body I touched today, and I am so thankful to see her little legs kicking and her eyes smiling.  Maybe we should all stop what we are doing right now and go hug our kids.

Lord, we confess that we are totally incompetent to minster to this community by our own power, so use us as instruments of Your peace.  Amen.

P.S.  I want you to know that the $500 to build the house isn't going to break us, but if any of you would like to pitch in for this expense we would be very grateful for any help we can get.  You can donate to Huruma House using PayPal at the link below.