First off, let me start by saying this trip brought me to my knees like nothing before. Sending a 4, almost 5 year old to Africa will do that! Not because I was necessarily fearful for his safety, but more so that his Four-ness and Five-ness would make him miss what God was trying to show him. You take any 4/5 year old overseas, 30 hour journey to get there, 8 hours ahead of our time zone, hot, different foods, different people, slums and diseases and it seems like a recipe for whiney, tired, complaining, shyness, and shutting down. I had some major talks with God. After reading the Circle Maker by Mark Batterson (shameless plug, go buy the book, read it now) I stepped up my game in the prayer department.
I begged God expectantly that Wheeler would not whine, that his sleep would be quickly adjusted, that the barriers of skin color/disease/being the minority would be gone, that he would be filled with compassion to give and share and bring joy, that his child-ness would not hinder what God could show him there, that God would spark in him a desire to serve and love those people, that he would play and have fun, that food would not be an issue, that diahrea would not hold him down, that him and John would have a special time together. Not only these seemingly impossible prayers, but I also prayed selfishly, while I was home for 11 days with 3 kids that God would give me patience and strength, that we would actually have fun and not just "survive", that miraculously, some how Levi would sleep through the night each night so that I could be full in the morning to face the day. If you know our lives, you would know how giant these prayers were. Talk about a mountain, I was shouting at God to move about 20 of them.
The boys left on my husband's birthday and journeyed 3 flights, 29 hours to Nairobi. John would text or email me at each stop, amazed at how he had done on each 9 hour leg to the next spot. How he was making friends, sleeping well, playing games, and having such a good attitude. Each time, I felt a huge wave of gratitude as yet another prayer was answered. One of my favorite updates I got was that Wheeler had made friends with a Kenyan girl on the last leg before arriving. He asked her so excitedly and assuredly, "Do you know my sister Maran? She is from your land!" As the wheels touched down in Nairobi, John says he shouted "Dad where are all the black people? I can't wait to see them!"
The boys were visiting with a ministry called Care For Aids. (Www.careforaids.org) This is a ministry that at its core is amazing. The face of this ministry in Kenya is the local church, not some "white american" with the answers or resources. They employ Kenyans to run centers that target the lepers of the kenyan society, HIV and AIDS infected people. These people are on their way to death. With no medicine they are frail and dying and their families reject them and don't want to be associated with the stigma of promiscuity that accompanies the disease. Wives leave husbands, husbands abandon wives, and if they make it in their marriage they are on their way to creating more orphans when they die of the disease. This program takes in the whole family, give access to medicines, has health and spiritual counseling, shares the gospel, spends 9 months recovering the health of the infected and their marriage. It is at its core orphan prevention, gospel with hands and feet, and saving families. They teach them skills so they can have a business or trade. They get them on their feet and give them a reason for living and the hope we have in Jesus. I cannot say enough about this ministry. They have 14+ centers all over Kenya, most in the slums near Nairobi and Kisumu.
The days were full, waking up at 7-8 am (12-1am our time) and not returning for bed until 9-10 pm that night. They were jammed pack with walking miles to different places in the slums, doing leadership conferences for the Care For Aids centers there, visiting with graduates of the program in their homes, hearing stories of transformation, etc. At night Wheeler was so energized by his day. As John would speak to the adults or be listening to them talk, Wheeler would be off playing with the 10-20 kids that gathered around him (having never seen a white child that young most likely, he was a fast celebrity). He gave out lollipops, put his hat on everyones head, shared his sunglasses, let the kids lead him around where they lived and played, played soccer for hours at a time, and was a champ at trudging through the mud sewage filled streets. Every time John would update me I would listen in disbelief. I would tell him not to sugar coat it for me, to tell me how whiney he was. Every time he would tell me how amazed he was, how he could hardly believe it himself. How he wished I could see our son and how giving and compassionate he was to the kids.
I suddenly realized too how our adoption had broadened his horizons as well. It had taken away the idea that different is scary. He was used to hugging and kissing black children at home every day, it was not new or uncomfortable for him. So it was his natural response there as well.
John told me one story that solidified it all for me. John said Wheeler was surrounded like usual by several kids, checking out how his shoes would light up when he stomped, when about 40 feet away in the distance a little boy fell down in the dirt. Wheeler made his way through the crowd and went over and helped him up, patted his back and dusted him off.
Now let me tell you, this is not my son at all times. I mean, don't get me wrong, Wheeler has a huge heart, he is so compassionate and caring and generous. But that is at his best. It is not his default mode. He is a little more on the whiney side than others and he can be shy as well in groups. But not in Kenya. John said he was like a politician, kissing, hugging and shaking hands and high fiving every kid he met. No way God! These were the circles I had drawn in my prayers, expectantly praying that God would do this. God would shine through him. I was encouraged and sustained each day with God's faithfulness to answer my prayers.
Then not only at home, Levi slept the first 7 nights without a peep. Not one wake up. Before this trip, his longest stretch in our 6 months together was 2 nights of not waking up. 7 nights in a row! Every night I would wake up in the middle of the night shocked I hadn't heard him cry. I would try and force myself to go back to sleep with a smile on my face thinking No way God! You did it! The 8th night he woke up and as I walked in there he had put himself back to sleep. FIRST TIME EVER since we have known Levi to do that! Not only this but each day, I had such joy and excitement and I was by far a more fun mom than usual! We made pizzas, painted nails, went out for ice cream, went to parks, jumped on the trampoline, went swimming. We had fun! I kept being so surprised at the energy and sustenance the Lord had given me, because this was far beyond my normal! Much less for being a single mom for 10 days!
Now don't get me wrong. There were imperfect moments, wheeler whined to be held after walking a few miles in the hot slums, I lost my patience several times, Wheeler didn't want to try the potato and stew mash prepared for him and settled for a granola bar for dinner. But these were the exception.
I never thought I would be so impacted by a trip they went on. But God blew me away with his faithfulness and goodness. Now don't get me wrong, God would have still been good even if Wheeler whined the entire trip, but instead he took it as a chance to show me that he heard my prayers and answered them fiercely. And I am beyond grateful.