Tuesday, June 30, 2015

God is moving across Kenya

I cannot explain to you the feeling that swept over me as I looked around the church in the Sinai slum as 80 men and women sang and danced and raised their hands in gratitude for all God has done in their lives over the 9 months they were in the Care for Aids program.  Kids were running in and out of the aisles, playing outside, and sleeping on chairs next to their parents. My mind went in so many directions. To my daughter who lived in an orphanage and now with her second family, not her first. To these kids who their path would have been the painfully similar, the hurt and pain of losing their parents. To these parents who's lives are changed and empowered to keep living. To communities who are changing the stigma that still exists with the disease. To lives eternally impacted by the completion of a wholistic healing program. I talked with the spiritual counselor of our center before graduation and he told me snippets of stories of clients impacted, 9 people who put their trust in Christ, women and men now earning income and sending their children to school and educating infected children and others in their community on how to manage life with AIDS.

Then I returned home. I got back to carpool, taking kids to sports, paying bills, cleaning the house. But my thoughts lingered to that graduation. Thinking about the next 80 families that just started the program in our center. That is another group of potentially 300+ children whose parents are fighting for life and to be the ones to raise them. When I look at our budget, I cannot help but be led to sacrifice more. God is asking more, asking bigger, and leading tenderly. The impact of a dollar there versus a dollar here is jaw dropping.
When John and I graduated college we worked with an amazing organization called Cafe 1040. It trains college students inside countries hostile to the gospel on how to live long term there and have kingdom impact. It was on a trip to North Africa my eyes were opened to Islam and how God's heart beats for Muslims. God planted something deep in my heart on that trip for Muslim communities. I wanted them to desperately know the good news, that they no longer have to weigh their good deeds against their bad deeds in hopes of making it into heaven. I wanted them to know there is a Savior who paid their price and all they have to do is trust and believe. However their costs are much more costly than mine to accept Jesus' gift. They often lose their family, community, and even some their lives. 
As I heard about Care for Aids moving into Mombasa, I felt God intersect several passions for me. Orphan prevention, Muslims, the outcast, marriages. I started to pray if we could do a second center. My flesh told me it was too big of a financial commitment, that we were already giving and just to rest in that, that someone else would step up and get engaged in the mission. Yet as I looked around that graduation room and saw families raising their hands waving their certificates of completion in the air with hearts of gratitude for their very lives and legacy, I felt like there was no reason not to move. God was asking something big and he wanted my trust.
So we are stepping out in faith and opening a second center. Our Mombasa center will open in September and run until June when I will again return and again see all God has done. Our family is all in and excited what God can do with our simple yes as we follow him. We rallied our community, and so many of YOU, around launching Sinai and it is off the ground and running amazingly. Now we are excited to do it again! As I think about so many friends, friends of friends, Facebook friends, blog readers, and family who rallied the Sinai center over a year ago and made this happen, I think not of dollars raised but families impacted. Read this post if you heart is pulled to get involved for more details and backstory on how we got the Sinai center going. God doesn't need our money but he invites us to be a part of the ways he is moving across Kenya. Prayerfully consider joining us and going next year to see what you got to be a part of! Here is an awesome video about Mombasa.
You can give online at our Mombasa fundraising page at this LINK! Feel free to share this post and rally your community to be a part as well!
Because life is not about what we amassed in our homes, the to do list on our phones, the bills we pay, the stuff we have. It is about how we leveraged what we have for others, the legacy we are building and leaving on earth. Because as someone so clearly said, No one takes a U-haul to heaven! Join us in this amazing adventure. Live a good story. Be a part of something bigger.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stories of Death to Life, Magdalene, Grace and Jen

There was a day in the trip where we did a few home visits of clients from other centers. We got to see a client in the first phase of the program, the middle phase, and a graduate who had finished the program over a year ago... please read their stories below. I pray you find in them, strength, encouragement, conviction, and hope. Please pray for these amazing women and the journey God has them on!

We walked in the small 8x10 corrugated metal home that was big enough to house a bed, couch, TV and small table. It was the first time in the trip I smelled the stench of death and sickness so intensely. I prayed God would give me the strength to engage fully. On the side of the bed sat Magdalene, a frail soft woman under 100 pounds who struggled to swallow and breathe.  At first she would not make eye contact and just sat slumped with her head down. We started to talk and ask questions and she began to share, with each passing story her gaze was more frequent in our eyes, her tone strengthened and even her words became stronger with each passing sentence. Magdalene had to be between 24-30 years old, it was hard to tell in her condition. She had been working in a factory, pregnant, and realized she was becoming more and more ill. 
One day she passed out at work and was taken to the hospital. At the hospital she was given a test and diagnosed as HIV+. She was so ashamed of her status and feared the shunning that would come from her community. She withdrew until she birthed her child and became bedridden thereafter. Her neighbor, Grace came to visit her and told her about the Care for Aids program. The 9 months was already underway, but Grace knew Magdalene wouldn't make it to see the start of another program. She got her enrolled. A neighbor was caring for Magdalene's new baby as she couldn't get herself out of bed. Once she started the program and started on her medicine with food supplements, she could walk again with help. The spiritual counselor, Matthew, who was with us, said he would walk with Magdalene as she leaned on him. He said she couldn't even carry a 1 kilogram bag of rice, when wind blew she would stumble down. Now over a month into the program, she was getting treatment for tuberculosis and getting stronger. We asked Magdalene how we could pray for her and she said first- strength in her body so she can care for her son again. Her next request floored me as she said it through difficulty talking, she asked us to pray for strength in her body and soul because she needs to minister to others with AIDS. She continued on how there are so many like her that just need to hear, they need a helping hand to make it to this program. She said, "I knew of God before I found Care for AIDS, but I did not meet Jesus so closely until now." Magdalene's story shook me. I have never seen a person so close to death from HIV. Magdalene truly would not have lived much longer. Also such a powerful display of community, without Grace who was already started in CFA, coming into her home and physically taking her, she would not be here. She would not be able to raise her baby. She would not know Jesus as the source of her healing and strength. I know God will answer Magdalene's selfless prayers, she will be healed and be a blessing to others and her son will grow up with his mother by his side. Magdalene's story is one of life, healing, help and hope.

Grace's story
Grace came to the van to meet us, next to her was a sweet and shining face she introduced as Josephine. They walked us to Grace's front door and Josephine went back to braiding her client's hair who was sitting outside the home. 
Grace had a strong smile, a tight hug, and a joy in her face.  But as she told us her story, Grace had had an impossible year. Her only son had recently died after being struck by a car. Her sickness was getting worse, so she spent a year, isolating herself, fearing it would be HIV and she did not want to be outcasted so she kept quiet and didn't get tested. She didn't even tell her best friend Josephine, who lived next door. Finally, she got so weak she feared she was dying. She asked Josephine to take her to the hospital. She knew she needed to get tested but feared she would lose her best friend Josephine's acceptance. Josephine said "well then I will get tested with you." Grace's fears were true, she was positive. After she heard Josephine tested negative she knew their friendship would be over, but she told this part of the story with such joy "You know, Josephine embraced me even more now knowing my status!" She heard about the Care for Aids program through their local church and got started right away. As she was talking to us, she grabbed her pill bottle of ARV medication and shook it and said to us "I am not afraid anymore, these are mine. My name is on this bottle. I don't care who knows." What a powerful display of overcoming her own self-stigma. When we met Grace she was only in month 4 of the 9 month program, but she had already learned to accept and love herself despite her status. A few months earlier she had been isolated for a year, too afraid to even get tested because of fear, now here she is full of joy shaking her pill bottle proudly. This is also the Grace who introduced Magdalene to the program. She is radically changing the face of AIDS in her community. She chatted on about learning to make a cake in the program in one of the skills training. She told us how they would heat firewood to heat sand in a bowl and put all the ingredients in a different bowl and cook it on the heated sand. She couldn't wait to sell her cakes. Grace is a story of the power of community, breaking the chains of self stigma, and physically and spiritually loving your neighbors as yourself. As I looked at Grace, I realized I was the one in poverty. I lacked this beautiful picture of community that she has. In America, we don't need to depend on others for our very lives sometimes, we also rarely reach out to our neighbors, draw them in, tell them they are loved, and walk with them side by side through trials and joys. Grace moved me. 

The story of Jen
I was curious of what meeting Jen would be like. She had graduated the Care for Aids program almost a year and a half previous. Her house was a modest wooden shed type in the hills near Limuru. As we hiked up the terrain to get to her home we passed a wood slatted outhouse and six chickens and a young cow. Jen arrived a few minutes later, her smile beaming from the back of a motorcycle taxi. She quickly ran up the hill to us and greeted us each with a huge hug and high fives. She unlocked the padlock on her home and invited us in. Inside she awoke her two 1 year old twins and sent them out to us. Chickens roamed in the house as she settled herself and us around the couches in the main room of the home. She talked of being on her deathbed a few months before the program. She had found out her HIV diagnosis and her husband left her with 3 children because of it. Now her source of income was gone. Time passed as her condition worsened and times grew desperate and then she heard from her husband again. He explained how he wanted to get back together and rebuild, however she was used for his advantage for a night and she became pregnant with twins.Through the 9 month program she learned skills of how to take her medicine, how to raise chickens, how to be a part of a community again, how to find strength in the most hopeless of situations and how to find strength in Jesus. In her words, Jen explained that through all she learned through CFA "God has taken me from Dust to a palace" as she talked of being bedridden before and now raising chickens, selling potatoes and providing for her family as a single mom of 5 children aged 1-15. We asked her connection with CFA currently and she said "I am now courageous to tell people my status because If they don't know from me how will they know how to heal?" 
She goes back frequently to empowerment sessions in the program and teaches other clients how to raise chickens for eggs and income. She also invites others to embrace their status instead of fearing stigma. She shows them her strength and the success and life hat still remains after an AIDS diagnosis. As we sat around the small living quarters, she beamed as any mother would as she told us about how one of her sons has been ranked 1st in his class for 6 years. Potentially beating the odds of coming from a single AIDS infected mother in poverty. You could see the hope she had in her son. A cycle of poverty that would stop in her children. Her smile and positivity was so inspiring. Her spouting of scripture and the source of where she draws her strength was encouraging. She sent us away, having filled our cups with her joy and strength. It was a privilege to have met Jen, to see how she has risen above a statistic. She has become a beacon of hope in her community. It is such a privilege for our family to see people like Jen, that Jesus brought from literal death to life through the program of Care for AIDS.
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Kenya downloading

It is hard to take a 12 day trip and boil it down into a one concise page description. So many people ask, 'how was your trip?' as if i could shorten it down into a 30 second sound byte of our experience. And as I process "how was my trip" I realize it is more about the people I met and the stories they shared rather than my "experience" in
Kenya...these precious Kenyan people that asked me to return to America and share their story. So I will. As weeks go on I want to share with you the stories of death to life, strength in turmoil, and beauty from ashes. The temptation is to overlook someone's story because it is such a foreign comparison to our own, but then we all miss out on the experience of Kenya and the way God is moving there. And in my own way, I did find my own story wrapped somehow inside of theirs, a single mom of 5 in the slums, a woman who is an overcomer of her HIV status, a man who went against his family history in Islam and found Jesus as a boy on the streets. Somewhere tucked deep inside I saw myself in each person, or someone I want to be. Africa has a way of resetting my heart on what is important. I have truly experienced the joy of the verse in Matthew 6:21, For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also. It is hard to explain how my heart came alive as I looked around a room of 90 graduates, raising their Bibles and journals in the air and waving them with accomplishment, pride, and triumph. I run the risk of you thinking it is because of our family or community, which it is not. God would have brought this center to life with or without our involvement, but I wouldn't have gotten to see it play out. God didn't need me to do this, I got to be a part. For those of you who faithfully gave to our center in Sinai, thank you, and please read on in the coming weeks and hear about the lives transformed and community impacted. As I looked around that room on graduation day and I saw so many children running in and out of their parents legs, sleeping on chairs next to their mothers, or babies wrapped around their mama's backs, I thought of what their future would have been if their parents would have continued down the dark path of death that AIDS usually brings in their community.
These kids now have moms and parents strengthened in the word of God, strengthened in their health, and empowered with a skill that will bring income to their family.  We sat in the homes of these graduates and heard about their excitement to be selling soap, peanut butter, beaded items, eggs, charcoal, etc. All skills they never had before, now they are sending their kids to school with their income. My words do not do this transformation justice.
When we go to Kenya, it is not a "short term mission trip". We have no project, no building to build, no well to dig. We go to be present, to show someone they have value, to hold a hand, to be a friend.

"Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody. 
I think that is a much greater hunger, 
a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."   Mother Theresa

Our schedule while we were there revolved around being. Being with people in their homes, people who previously have been shunned from their families and communities. Homes that have been marked with an invisible red X to their neighbors not to enter because of fear of AIDS. We go and hold hands and pray for people, people that their spouses no longer want to touch because it has become a blame game of who gave it to who. These were the favorite moments of my trip, which I will expand in more detail in days to come. Jesus meets you face to face when you enter in to someones pain, when you hold the hand of a diseased woman He has brought to life. These are the most beautiful moments.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to Kenya...

In less than 2 months we will be setting foot on the red dirt of Kenya. I cannot explain how that lights me up inside.  Our kids have cried and begged to go back and now our sweet Maran will have her turn to come along.  This trip is especially meaningful to me to take her along with us, back to her birth continent. She will go back to a very similar culture from which she came, she will walk through the slums of Nairobi and visit houses very similar to the one she describes growing up in.  The pain and the beauty that comes along with returning to Africa for her is amazing.  She has begged to go visit. She asks frequently after dinner if we can put our leftovers in a backpack and send it to the people in Africa because she acutely remembers being hungry. I am already praying for her heart for this trip. She will get to serve the very culture she came out of. She will get to play a part in orphan prevention. A previous orphan serving those who would have become orphaned. The magnitude of that is not lost on me. I am praying God prepares her heart in a mighty way to be touched and healed through going back, through seeing the poverty and pain, through serving the least of these. I pray he uses this trip to unearth hidden places in her heart, there will be memories surfaced and pain brought back to mind, but what I told my husband is I would rather walk through more grieving together than leave those dark places covered. Full healing probably won't come until heaven but this just may be another step in the journey toward wholeness for her. I will not glorify it, I am sure she will be tired, confused, whiney, and maybe even selfish. But my prayer for her is that she radiates the joy and love God has given her and allows him to show her more of who He is through this trip.

In addition, our 7 and 8 year olds will be going with us too. They have prayed this center into being and are excited to see what God has done when we stepped out as a family and said yes to God. 90 families will be forever changed as they have received health education, empowerment on how to make an income and how to use it wisely, trained in a skill to earn a living and break the cycle of poverty. I am elated to go watch these 90 clients walk across and receive their certificate of completion of this 9 month journey of healing, and another 90 to begin shortly thereafter. We are taking some friends and family with us as well and I am so excited to watch them experience the work Care for Aids does so well in Kenya. Please join us in praying for our trip. If you want to join in on a part of the trip, please consider writing a letter of encouragement and congratulations to a  graduate. You can get more info of how to do that here.
I am so grateful to venture overseas again. This is a gift I don't take lightly. This is a sacrifice we will continue to make as a family. I pray our kids see the joy that comes from serving. I pray their eyes are opened to a Big God and a big world. People so often ask where is God when people are struck with AIDS, dying, war, orphaning millions of children. I wonder instead, why did I sit by in my air conditioned house and focus on my to do list instead of getting involved. I am so grateful to center our family on this mission. Loving Jesus means our lives might not make sense, the way we spend our money might not be logical in the world's eyes. Thank you Jesus for rescuing me from myself, from a boring and predictable life. Every day I have to push against this tension for a comfortable, easy life versus the stretching and exciting life he has for me. I am so thankful God is writing a story I could have never imagined in our family. It is not perfect and I screw it up most every day, but he fills in the gaps where I fall short. I am so grateful for the excitement he has put in our hearts.  I cannot wait to get back to a place that holds such a piece of my heart!