"Final Thoughts" Written on the way home from Africa, by Michelle

I feel so conflicted because there is a part of me that can’t wait to see my family and enjoy the comforts of home.  And then a part of me wonders after what I’ve experienced, if I ever again can be comfortable with my “comforts.” 

Will I ever be able to get the image out of my mind, of the orphans waving good-bye as we drove away?  Will the pain I feel in my heart dull over time when I am once again distracted by life?  When it rains will I think of the rain barrels being filled?  When I do wash will I always picture those sweet girls at the orphanage bent over washing their clothes, singing nonetheless?

Will days begin to go by that I don’t think about the beautiful girl with the shy smile that didn’t even know “how” to hug? 

My worst fear is that my “comforts” will dull what I saw in Africa.  Just as I never want to forget the life Jesus   rescued me from, I never want to forget having my heart broken by so many desperate needs.  Needs I know nothing about. 

I hope someday soon I can take my family to Kenya.  I pray that God will somehow allow this financially.  I don’t want my children to be 40 before they realize just how blessed we are.  How every day we need to have a heart full of gratefulness.  Not just for the sake of being thankful, but to search out why God would choose to bless me to live in America.  How am I supposed to use this blessing?  I will never be the same, nor do I want to be.                         

Give Thanks in All Things

Thankfulness: why is the key to our contentment so elusive?  Why is it easier to complain than to be grateful?  Why do we embrace negativity, the poverty of our souls, with such a firm grasp?  Many of us walk through life with our eyes shut tight against the multitude blessings we experience and choose, instead, to focus on the circumstances we deem negative.  Our souls cry out, there must be more!  And there is.  There’s so much more.

I just finished reading a provocative book by Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  In this memoir, the author describes her journey to discovering the contentment that thankfulness brought to her life.  She discovered that the secret of contentment isn’t found in the ease of our circumstances or in acquiring more but in recognizing the blessings all around us.

We always want more, don’t we?  We’re driven by the consumerism of American culture and clever marketers do a fine job of playing on our insatiable appetites for excess.  I’ve learned that the nagging desire for more isn’t limited to opulent Americans—this disagreeable side of human nature can be found just as readily in the rural Kenyan bush.  It’s harder to identify at first, but it’s the same self-entitled quest for more and better, the same ignorance of the ordinary gifts of everyday life.

The challenge we face is how to embrace a spirit of thanksgiving when our circumstances are less than agreeable and we don’t have as many toys as our neighbors.  Voskamp was challenged to keep a list: to count and record one thousand gifts.  Does that number stagger you?  Do you wonder if you could record 1,000 things for which you are thankful?  Voskamp wasn’t sure she could complete the challenge; what she discovered changed her life.  The more she opened her eyes to the simple gifts around her, the more gifts she discovered.  My human experience is the sum of what the soul sees and I see precisely what I attend to and what the eyes focus on is what the life is (P. 133).  We need only learn to redirect our focus, to look at the positive instead of the negative.

Is your habit to dwell on the things that haven’t turned out the way you wanted?  Perhaps it’s time for a shift in perspective.  Why not start a list?  What harm could it do?  As we open our eyes to the gifts God gives us, our sense of pride and entitlement begin to be swallowed by gratitude.  For what type of things can we be thankful?  Here are a few entries from Voskamp’s list:

Laughter at twilight
Salvation of sinners, me, chief
Glow of the front porch light
The last cry of geese
Steam rising off barn

Do these items seem mundane, ordinary?  That’s precisely the point.  As we learn to marvel in the small things a shift occurs—it’s gradual but not  subtle.  We become grateful.  Stress slips away.  We recognize our blessings.  Our difficulties are less obtrusive.  Our step is lighter.  Our negativity silenced.

Freedom or bondage?  Joy or stress?  Complaint or thanksgiving?  The choice is ours.  I’m  learning to choose the path of gratitude.

Christmas in July

The kids enjoyed a meal of fish,
chicken, greens, tomato salad,
chapati (flat bread) and soda.
Christmas in July is always a big hit with the kids.  In this part of Kenya, people don’t celebrate Christmas with big celebrations or gifts opting just for a big meal, but here, the kids get a big dinner, the message of why we celebrate Christmas, and presents.  The children’s sponsors sent extra money last month so they could each receive a gift and go on a field trip.

Opening presents
Posing with cool new sunglasses and knitted hats
Having fun on the playground at the arcade

Bumper cars!

Spinning tea cups
Fun at the pool

This monkey is one of about 30 that were
surrounding the picnic area at the hotel where
we had lunch; the bolder ones tried to steal
our lunches--they were unsuccessful.

Reflections by Jimmy Marr, Living Hope board member

July 4, 2013: I thought this day would never  arrive.  I was so excited about going to Kenya to see first-hand how God was working through Living Hope.  When we finally arrived at the airport, Sherwood and Bethany picked us up to take us to the orphanage.  On our drive to the orphanage, I about wet my pants twice because of the way everyone drives.  Let me say, riding on the roads in Kenya solved my fears of riding with my 15 year-old daughter. 

I know God’s command for his people is to care for widows and orphans and I am excited to actually do this ministry.  The kids were amazing; I loved playing soccer with them and doing night time devotions.  This all confirmed to me that God has called me to serve orphans and widows. 

One thing God showed me during my stay at The Hope Center is, this place is very nice and God has blessed it through many people.  However, the work there is far from being done.  There is much more work to be done still.

Although the Hope Center is great and God is blessing, the village is suffering.  I met many widows whose homes were falling apart.  Also, as we played soccer at the Hope Center, twenty or so kids lined up at the fence wanting to play.  People are having to walk miles to get water to drink.  The church is so packed that no one else can come   inside.  Many people do not have Bibles so they can understand what Christ has called them to do and become.  I sense God wanting us to help the      Kenyans reach and help other Kenyans.  

I think we should build a community well on the Church property.  The Church can give both living waters and real water.  They are both needed in this community.  We also need to help the Kenyans to enlarge the church and build homes for widows. 

I really enjoyed seeing the work God has done, and I know he is not finished there.  We need to pray and be willing to sell whatever we have to help our brothers and sisters in Christ just as they did in the book of Acts.  It is when we become one and full of love for each other that people will see God is real.

"Evone" by CMPC Team Co-leader Bethany Batusic

After mission trips many people will describe their experience as “challenging,” “eye-opening,” or maybe you have heard the classic: “life changing.”  After spending two-and-a-half weeks in Kenya and being blessed enough to be invited to The Hope Center, I would describe my experience in one small word, “Evone.”

Evone is the name of one of the orphans who challenged me, opened my eyes, and changed my life.  Only about four feet tall, eight years old, and a shy disposition, Evone made this trip to Kenya something I can never forget.

You see, Evone’s entire English vocabulary consists of yes, we are fine, hairbrush, school, and football.  My Swahili vocabulary consists of football and rafiki, meaning friend, which I know thanks to Disney’s The Lion King.

Although we could not use our mouths to communicate, we could use pictures, hand motions, facial expressions, and laughter.  Most evenings you would find Evone sitting next to me on my bed either brushing my hair or drawing pictures.  In what I would consider a terrible interpretation of my family through hand-drawn pictures, she could understand.  We would sit next to each other swapping pictures and that is how we communicated.  As all of the other girls were around singing, dancing, doing homework, or mopping—as they often do, Evone and I were busy ourselves.

I have loved watching her little quirks and inexplicable need to straighten her bed every time she walks by.  This little Kenyan girl who has seen so much loss and has already experienced heartache in her short life will have forever impacted mine.  Evone taught me that a simple smile or a few stick figures on a piece of paper can say more than words will ever have to.

Reflections by Intern and CMPC Team Member John Freeman

In 2010, I went to Kenya with a small mission team from my church. I got to learn a lot, and I became really attached to some of the kids there, specifically one of the kids named Gilbert. He and I would sit up late after finishing his school and talk about anything under the sun, whether it was school, family, country, or Jesus. We became good friends; he was my best friend from Africa, and I his best friend from America. One of the things that  astonished me was the willingness to serve that he and all of the kids at the Hope Center have. One morning on that trip, I found him scrubbing my shoes back to their original white color. I learned two things from that moment: 1) Never bring white shoes to Africa.  2) These kids have the humility that parallels Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. My time in Africa during 2010 ended, and it was hard to say goodbye to a friend such as Gilbert, but he and I became pen pals soon after, a relationship we continued for the next three years.

Through this connection, I sought an opportunity to return to Kenya once more. Therefore, this summer, I had that privilege to return to the Hope Center again as an intern. I got to see Gilbert and many of the other kids. Gilbert was now taller than me, but still the same friend I had known. Throughout my five-week stay at the orphanage, he would always refer to me as “My Brother in Christ.” This trip was even more than I could have imagined from my previous visit, but again my time had to end. However, I am holding on to those words, “My Brother in Christ,” as the great hope that I would someday see him and those other kids again in heaven. I believe that Gilbert is a testament to the great work being done in those kids at the Hope Center, and I hope that others get to share in the same privilege that I did by taking the time to personally invest in a trip to Kenya. 

Rural Witchcraft

We’re told in the sixth chapter of Ephesians that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Believer, we are engaged in a battle but not one we can fight with physical weapons of war.  This battle can only be fought through prayer, because it’s a spiritual battle.

Wherever you live, there’s a spiritual battle raging.  In Africa, perhaps because there’s such a long history and engagement with witchcraft, I believe the battle is more intense.  Simply put, more ground has been voluntarily offered to the enemy.

Each of our children has been touched in some way by witchcraft.  Whether being taken to witch doctors to be treated for bad dreams—the treatment includes being cut on various parts of the body to allow the evil spirit haunting the dreams to escape—or being taken to a traditional pray-er who prays to the spirits for the student to do well in school and gives the student a talisman to carry, which ensures academic success, the    families of our children have involved them at some level in dark spiritualism.

There’s great misunderstanding about a believer’s identity in Christ and the power to overcome the forces of evil that comes along with that identity.  Causing even greater confusion is the mixing of traditional beliefs with scriptural teachings, which takes place in many rural churches.

The result is communities bound to the satanic traditions of their ancestors living in fear.  People fear cats, because they believe demons might be using the cat’s body as a host.  People refuse to carry food in clear containers, because they believe that a witch might see the food, put a curse on it and they’ll die of poisoning.  Doctors, when unable to identify the cause or treatment for an illness, refer patients to “traditional doctors” to seek alternative healing. 

The elderly with dementia are thought to have been put under a curse.  Those suffering from HIV/AIDS are thought to be cursed—there’s little buy-in to the scientific explanation of how the disease is contracted and transmitted.  Young people who die of walking pneumonia, cancer, and other common illnesses are thought to have been marked by a witch.  Sufferers of autism and downs syndrome are thought to be cursed.  On and on the list goes.

And so a community, spiritually violated over thousands of years, continues to invite the enemy to be its bedfellow.  It’s hard to change traditions, harder still to change beliefs.  The door remains open to the spiritual forces of darkness.

The hope?  These children.  This generation.  They are the hope for the future.  Does it sound cliché?  It’s true.  It’s always been true.  If these children commit to renewing their minds, if they commit to transformed lives through seeking the face of God, this community will begin to change.  But it will take time.  Change always does.