January 31, 2013

A New Year, A Life Changed Pt. 2

Oh Kenya...my first time back to my home country where I spent the first 10 years of my life. 
Our journey to Kenya started off with a bang. 
The entrance of Fiwagoh Children's Home
We waited in Jinja for another Visiting Orphans team to arrive. They would continue in Uganda with our transportation and we would go on to Kenya with their transportation. 
What we thought would be a 1 pm departure ended up being a 7pm departure. 
What we thought would be a 6 hour drive ended up being a 16 hour drive. 
Our dinner consisted of snacks: goldfish, fruit snacks, and granola bars. Lots of miss communication and paperwork wars, long visa lines, hot stuffy bus, made the visa process over the border long and daunting.
No one really slept, it was dark and quite frankly scary. There were lots of police stops, speed bumps and pot holes. 
But despite this 'adventure' we didn't anticipate it was incredible to watch the team come together. Some people experienced anxiety, some needed a shoulder to sleep on, some of the men sat near the door for safety, some needed food, and others needed a good laugh. We supported each other through a very long night.
We rolled into Nakuru headed to Fiwagoh Children's Home. It was Saturday, their sabbath. We were gearing up for a 3 hour service, with no energy, totally exhausted. But we prayed that it would not be our strength but God's. That our emptiness would be a perfect vessel for God to make us full. It had to be God because we had nothing to offer. It was a great place for the team to be. And it was an incredible day.

Fiwagoh is a home for about 220 children. Children who love God, know scripture and have so much hope. We saw grade school kids giving testimonies. 5 year olds singing hymns, a 14 year old preaching with power. It was energizing and inspiring. We then grabbed some sugar cane and a child's hand and walked 3 miles by Lake Elementatia. It was beautiful and relational - an afternoon stroll with our new friends. The team did not get tired until 5 pm, supernatural strength! I was so proud of them.
We are pros, no big deal.
Photo credit: Teryll Sacks
Faith and Lucy gave a few of us a tour of their garden. They are working towards being totally self-sustaining. It was a massive garden - mangos, pineapple, avocado, passion fruit, sugar cane, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, corn, and beans - to name a few. Any leftover food they had they would share with the neighbors. Lucy proudly showed me her plot of land. She is currently growing beans and corn. The seniors get a little strip of land so they can learn to garden as well. It was so beautiful.
On our tour.
Photo credit: Carla Geiser
My sweet Lucy!
Bread making.
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
 Look at those baby rabbits!
Photo credit: Carol Durate
More fuzzy animals!
Sugar cane!
Photo credit: Taeilorae Levell
One of my highlights was spending time with Teresah, an 18 year old nurse-in-training. Chelsea, Taeilorae and I loved setting in the clinic learning all about her natural remedies. 
For example: A common cold
Cut up red onion and garlic. Add to honey. Let it sit for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and garlic. Take 1 tablespoon of the honey like a syrup every hour until symptoms are gone. 
She was such a great teacher and took the time to really make sure we understood what she was saying. We were taking notes and learning so many natural tricks. She is also studying to be a midwife. When I told her that I was interested in the childbirth field she got so happy. It was a really special time. 
Teresah in her clinic
Teresah and Abby
Photo credit: Abby Kraft
The team also experienced a holy moment. 
We witnessed 3 new boys being welcomed into the family.
Here is what Carol wrote, their new sponsor mom:
"Meet Ian, Peter & John 2. They came to the orphanage the day before we left. They are 8, 8 & 6 and have been living alone in the streets for 6 years!! YES you read that right! Since they were 2 and an infant!!!! Their skin is like a reptile from lack of water and they have worms from scavenging pig scraps. The pastor that runs this place "Dad" & Michael bathed them with love. I cannot thank them enough for their loving kindness! Please pray for their health! PS this is an all too common story!"
Many times we hear these type of stories but we never see it. And then we travel to Africa and we see the children but at Fiwagoh they are doing so well. When we actually saw and heard where these children come from first hand, it really impacted us. The team was very emotional. It was heart-wrenching to hear how these children were left as infants to fend for themselves. And yet it was so beautiful and sacred to see how they were welcomed into their family, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Weren't we all spiritually orphaned once? What a beautiful experience. 
Sweet Ian, Peter and John
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
We slept and ate at Fiwagoh. It became our home while we were in Kenya. I loved the routine. 
Every morning and every night we would worship with the children. They were a family that cared for each other. The seniors took care of the younger ones and they were all so respectful. We loved sharing a meal with them.
Sharing meals
So much joy!
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
Friendship bracelets.
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
Michael and I with his buddy Jonathan
Michael and Jonathan
Pastor Benson and his wife Florence
Nahashun - the amazing 15 year old preacher! 
Some of the senior boys. Incredible men!
*We also spent the day at Haven of Hope and Amazing Grace. We had some great memories there and learned about two different types of ministries in Kenya. But for sake of not writing a book, I am only going to talk about the place that stole my heart :)

On the last day, we left Nakuru and made our way to Nairobi to catch our night flight. 
We stopped at an overlook of the Rift Valley. I could see the town where I was born. It was really special to share that with Michael. 
We saw giraffes, baboons, and zebras. I hugged and kissed a giraffe :) Just had to keep up with my fuzzy animal theme. 
Sweet Lynn
Photo credit: Sarah Crawford 
One of the most moving moments of the whole trip for me, was when the team spent 5 hours going through each team member and sharing our love for them. We uplifted and exhorted each person. It was the most beautiful way to end the trip. My family just got 23 people bigger and my heart got 220+ children bigger. 
Tender moment with the team...lots of tears.
Michael and I were reflecting on the trip and recognized how impacting these trips are. They are a catalyst for change in someone's life. They move you to do greater things. They push you to love each other better, to think beyond yourself and your 'issues'. Experiencing the third world, the joy of children, poverty, hope, lack of western conveniences, no agenda... it will change you forever. 

So to my team - May God use this trips as a moment in your life that radically changes your heart for greater things. In the weeks to come, may you encounter a taste for your role in the change this world needs. You all are so dear to me. Thank you for making these 2 weeks a momentous occasion in my life. You will always have a friend in Nashville. Can't wait to see what is next....
Best team in the world!
Photo credit: Carol Duarte

January 21, 2013

A New Year, A Life Changed Pt 1.

A simpler way of life.
Photo credit: Ernest Armendariz
It's been a little over a week since Michael and I returned from leading a Visiting Orphans team of 25 to Uganda and Kenya. I am finding it incredibly difficult to reconcile the emotions and the moments that I experienced. I can't seem to find the words to really relay what this team went through.
I go on lots of short-term trips, it's part of my job title. But this trip was unlike any I have been on. It has been the hardest one for me to adjust back to normalcy...when really I don't want things to go back to normal. God is doing a lot in my heart right now and it will be a little while before I really work through that process. 

I believe many hearts were awakened, identities in Christ revealed, the tangible love of God renewed, and there was a bond created with the team that was orchestrated by God. I was singing this song in church today and it really spoke to what I experienced:

"Spirit of the living God 
Come fall afresh on me,
Come awaken me from my sleep.
Blow through the caverns of my soul,
Pour in me to overflow, to overflow."

We experienced the reality of poverty and the tension between culture and Christ. We felt darkness and were physically stretched in major ways. And yet we encountered the joy of the Lord, the hope of Jesus, and love that never fails. We met Jesus in a new way and God used this team to demonstrate what a community of Christ looks like. 

The team started on a high note at the Atlanta airport. One team member said it best: 

"It was the craziest feeling as soon as we arrived! Everyone was hugging, laughing, shaking hands, and swapping stories. "Fellowship" is what came to mind instantly. This is the body of Christ in action. We knew of each other from a distance and had heard of the things each person was involved with and/or doing, but we didn't officially know them until that moment. Still there was a kindred Spirit whom I call the Holy Spirit. What else could bring together so many strangers so quickly?" (Conrad Meier)

 We were family from moment one. Seriously, it was like meeting long lost friends. I truly love each of them. Every person had a significant purpose on this team.  
God took strangers and unified us.
The Holy Spirit broke us of our entitlements and control.
We laid this trip at the feet of Jesus and said, "Your will be done...this is Your trip, not ours."
So that is how our trip began. This is the atmosphere that continued with us everywhere we went.
Now I'll share about Uganda :)....
Day 1
Photo credit: Linda McKinney
Ekubo Ministries: 
So this trip started off, after 24 hours of travel and a short night of sleep, by driving a few hours north of Kampala to the small village of Bugabo. We were working with George and Christie and their ministry, Ekubo ("The Way" in Lugandan). These 3 days broke me of control. I threw the itinerary and 'agenda' out the window. Any expectations we had, we let them go. We experienced what it means to simply 'be'. 

Part of living in the bush was the amazing opportunity to sleep in the village. The team stayed in an almost finished baby home. We packed some sheets and we slept on mattresses on the floor. We strung jump ropes everywhere so we could hang mosquito nets. It was the ultimate slumber party, snoring and all ;)
The walk to our house
But seriously...it was magical
photo credit: Carol Duarte
Our bathroom was an outhouse (hole in the ground) near the baby home. But you had to be escorted at night because the path to the bathroom was next to the start of a septic tank, i.e. a hole so big you would get seriously hurt if you fell into it. We even had guards in the bush with bow and arrows guarding us at night. What an adventure! And we loved it!!
The team listened as George and Christie shared about the work they are doing in the village - and they are doing big things. We got a glimpse of the hardship of ministry. Working for Visiting Orphans, I am aware of the reality of ministry, but it was good for the facade and glamour of missions to be removed. Ministry is hard. People disappoint. We need God. Our hope is found in Christ alone.  This is where we receive rest and strength. 
-We had the opportunity to minister 1-on-1 with the youth in the village.
-Provide and serve a feast to 200+ kids
-Walk through the village and meet with the community. Hear their stories and pray with them.
Ernest praying with 2 youth.
Photo credit: Christie Magera
Michael singing and dancing with the children.
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
Abby, Sarah and Katie hanging out with the little ones.
Photo credit: Abby Kraft
Teryll and Chelsea learning the art of Chapatis
Photo credit: Teryll Sacks

Peeling potatoes.
Photo credit: Carol Duarte
The team had a day of doing whatever we felt called to do. I sat on the front steps of Christie's home and watched as the team: sanded bed frames, hauled water, served in the baby cottage, went on walks through the village, made chapatis, peeled potatoes, played soccer and simply talked to people in the village. 
It was a day of being. We had a small taste of what life in the village would be like: the good, the hard and the beautiful!
George and Christie from Ekubo Ministries
Return Ministries:
After our 3 days at Ekubo, the next two days were spent at Return Ministries. Return is a community-based ministry working with over 300 children in Kampala. It is run by the amazing Samuel and Sarah. We were the first team to stay at their guest house. It was luxury compared to the bush and we had a little whiplash at first.
The team served alongside the ministry by providing and serving meals and loving on the precious kids.
Samuel and Sarah
My highlight of this ministry was our 'holy ghost' moment. The team got up on stage and started our VBS program. We were singing a song with an average amount of enthusiasm. When all of a sudden two of the team members jumped on the drums and something happened. Conrad, our team Christian rapper, started rapping, drums were going, Michael does the worm, and a dance off ensues. We spend the next 3 hours dancing and singing with the kids. They taught us a song and we sung it on repeat: "Whatcha gonna do when you get to heaven? I'm gonna have some fun! Fun, spiritual fun!" Joy, dancing, laughter - a glimpse of heaven. It was unbelievable. I have never experienced such pure joy. A really special moment.
Right before the party broke out!
I could have danced all day!
Photo credit: Sarah Crawford
We adore these children!
Photo credit: Carla Geiser

Michael made new friends. 
Cleaning dishes after lunch.
Photo credit: Carla Geiser

The Haven:
The last bit of Uganda was spent at The Haven. A day of rest. It is so important to take time to process and recharge when in ministry or you will burn out.
This place was breathtaking. It was on the Nile. Absolutely gorgeous. We had some quality team time here.
Photo credit: Conrad Meier

These guys got engaged!!!
Chelsea and Aaron officially "official" :)
And this special girl shared her testimony and got baptized in the Nile. One of my highlights!

Praying for Abby right before being baptized.
Photo credit: Ernest Armendariz

This trip was an ebeneezer for so many people. It was a moment in their life that signified a change. This trip was covered in restoration and redemption. God brought a bunch of sinners and people with pasts and revealed His love for us. Lives were transformed forever. Our time at The Haven was a time to reflect on that change and the way God is working in our lives.
We spent time around a bonfire worshiping, basking in God's presence and praying off entitlements. It was a mid-trip prayer to lay this trip back at God's feet. This trip is God's for His glory, not ours. We continued to experience fresh revelations of God as we prepared to drive to Kenya.
Our trip was only half way done and we were full (or so we thought). 
And there was a baby bush back named Milo...be still my heart :)

Part 2...to be continued....