Thursday, December 13, 2018

Night of Hope - December 11, 2018

Redeemer Austin has been blessed so that we can be a blessing.  In October, our ministry staff was busy planning all of the Christmas events that take place on our campus every year and they were very hopeful that our Christmas concerts could take place in our new Commons auditorium, which was still under construction at that point.  In the midst of focusing on all of these details, someone asked what was being planned to show the love of Christ to our neighborhood in addition to all of our traditional activities.  The answer was nothing.  And it convicted everyone involved.

We have a wonderful relationship with Wooten Elementary School next door to our property.  We have been teaching ESL classes there for years and are mentoring 4th and 5th graders through programs called Academy4 and Leaders5.  Each child has one on one mentoring and activities each month on a Friday afternoon.  So, it was natural that we would approach the principal and his staff to see if there was any way we could bless the school children this Christmas.  The answer was a quick yes.  We are in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and over 90% of the students qualify for breakfast and lunch programs, meaning that most families would have a difficult time with Christmas presents this year.  He asked for our help in that regard.  We were just as quick in saying yes, we have a very big God and He will make it happen somehow.  As more thought was given to addressing this need, we realized that most of the children we hoped to help had siblings and that we would need to take care of them also.

Plans came together very rapidly.  We enlisted nearly 300 volunteers from the church and the surrounding neighborhood and all were background checked, since we would be dealing with children and wanted to treat them with the same level of security as we do our school children at Redeemer and as the Austin Independent School District also expects.  We also decided to make the program one in which the participating families would opt in, removing any possible objections some might have to a blurring of the lines between church and state.  Another choice was made to use the public park adjacent to the school and make it a huge outdoor event, which meant we would need to get all of the necessary permits and meet all of the requirements that this would entail.  One key component of our plan was to shop for the gifts that each family requested rather than a one size fits all approach.  This required large teams of volunteer shoppers to complete this task.  The best part of our approach was that we were going to let the parents be the heroes on Christmas morning.  During the festivities at the park, we would arrange for one of the parents to sneak off and pick up the gifts for their family so they could get them to the trunks of their cars unbeknownst to the children.  None of the children would be any wiser.

Many miracles happened over the next two months.  We figured about 1,000 heavy duty garbage bags would be required for the gifts.  When the big box store found out what they were for, they donated 1200 of them.   When a professional event planner heard what we were doing, she volunteered to oversee the whole project, using her talents and many connections with the city and the vendors we would need for everything from a hot cocoa booth to inflatable games to large tents to lighting to you name it.  Wrapping paper was donated and so were hundreds of teddy bears.  T-shirts for every member of each family appeared from Thrivent Financial, which also helped with matching grants for our donations.  It was just amazing to see the way people's hearts were moved when they realized what we were doing.

Even after all the preparations had been made, it took two days to get things ready for show time.  On Monday, a 6 foot fence was put in place around the perimeter of the park so that only participants and volunteers would be admitted.  We hired a security firm to help with keeping an eye on things overnight after much of the lighting, tents and electrical had been installed.  I was one of three photographers that volunteered to not only document the event, but also the setup, with the idea that we could show our donors what went into conducting an event this large and to show them that their trust in us was well placed.  In the process of getting my pictures, I was able to explain to vendor after vendor what the big picture of the event was.  Many times, their eyes would get big when they heard that this was all being done in a Secret Santa sort of way and they realized that this would strengthen each family we touched.  It also had a big impact on all of the volunteers involved as they discovered a lesson I had learned during my mission work in Africa.  It's called God's economy.  When you get out of the boat to help somebody in His name, He wants to bless BOTH the giver and the receiver abundantly.  It never fails.  Those who never get out of their comfort zone to serve others seem to think that somehow it is going to cost them something.  Just the opposite occurs, the blessings to all involved are beyond putting a value on.

At the end of the day on Monday, as the sun set, I was hanging around to see how much light we would have for the Night of Hope event Tuesday night.  I wanted to know if we would need flash units or if the large number of LED lights would be enough.  Unfortunately, the power never did get turned on and I let the other photographers know that we had to be prepared for either way.

Tuesday morning, volunteers began to arrive to begin setting up tables, small Christmas trees, etc. in the park and in our church parking lot across the street.  We had four large PODS, like movers use, full of the gifts, ready to go.  Each would be lit up with a different color in the evening.  A family member would come to retrieve their gifts with a ticket that might say Purple-85-3, which meant their gifts were in the purple POD, they were family number 85 and they had 3 children that there were bags for.  The attention to detail and planning that this all took was phenomenal and it all worked out very well.

Around  5 o'clock, the volunteers began to come to check in and get wrist bands showing that they had been vetted.  They then each went to their assigned areas to finish any last minutes details.  Besides inflatable games, there was a Nativity scene where people could hear the story of Christmas, a large tent with entertainment focusing on the Christmas story, we had professional face painters for the children (and some adults!) and Santa made an appearance and each child got to have their picture taken with him by a pro photographer.  Each child will have their photo mailed to them.  Cool!

The whole evening was a blessing.  We had not only gotten volunteers from Redeemer, but also from the neighborhood.  My friend Lupe, the owner of Casa Chapala Mexican Cantina supplied great food for the volunteers and a Mariachi band for some local cultural flavor.  We had many translators there as well, to help where needed and quite a few teachers and staff from Wooten were on hand as well.  A local TV station even came to report on Night of Hope.  I'm expecting that our ties to our local community will continue to be strengthened as a result of this event.  In my mind, I see a pebble being thrown into a still pond and the ripples emanating out for along time.  Thank you, Jesus!

To see pictures of the event, here are a couple of links to online albums.

Night of Hope pictures by Dave DeVore

Here are a collection of photos from all three photographers at Redeemer's Facebook page:

Redeemer Austin Night of Hope photos

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Spring 2018 Kenya Mission Trip

Dr. Lilian serving neighborhood school children
After each mission trip, and after I've edited all of my photos, I write a review of what the trip meant to me and what the Lord did through us.  It's that time again.  We were blessed to have 20 team members for this trip to Kenya to do vision clinics in the slums of Nairobi, helping people with both their physical vision issues and helping them to see the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.  Of the 20 missionaries on the team, 15 were with us for the first time.  Pastor Kevin and I were very excited about that many people willing to get out of their comfort zones to serve the Lord.  This high percentage of new team members gave us great energy and enthusiasm.  Experiencing a foreign mission trip is a real life changer. I know I thought about my first trip to Mexico and my first one to Africa for months afterwards, pondering what more I could have done and what I might have done better.  And praying for an opportunity to go again.

Here is a link to a photo album of our mission and the extra days of safaris we were blessed to partake in:

Because we had such a large team, we were able to do two clinics simultaneously, one in Waithaka and one with a church on the other side of town commonly known as Pipeline.  Pastor Kevin led the Pipeline team and I handled Waithaka.  We had several team members serve at both locations during the week, they got the blessing of seeing the differences and the similarities in each neighborhood.  Both clinics saw approximately 2500 patients during the week and 100 people received cataract surgeries on one eye.  Many others received read glasses, eye drops or distance glasses that we made for them on location.

Each evening, we share the "God things" that happened in the clinics with the rest of the team over dinner.  In the past, I was happy if there was one big thing for me per trip that really stuck out.  Maybe I'm more attuned now, but they seemed to come almost daily for me this time.  I'll briefly share several things that were special this time that I was involved with.

First, we were blessed that cataract surgeries were being performed about a mile away from my clinic this time.  In the past, we have given patients vouchers for a local hospital and we often didn't see results until our next trip.  This time, patients came in for referrals to the clinic one day and came back the next day to have the bandages removed from the eye that had been operated on.  In every case there were smiles and praising God!  One really cool thing that happened was Alison and I had the privilege of being allowed to see a couple of cataract surgeries performed by our friend Dr. Francis.  He explained what he was doing each step of the way and was actually teaching other doctors as the operations unfolded.  He wanted me to take pictures over his shoulder and I got many closeups of the patients eyes during each stage of the procedures.  When I showed him the pictures the next day, he remarked that they were more detailed than what he sees through his microscope during surgery.  Wow!  The first surgery was done for an elderly woman, already being operated on when we got there.  They have a cloth over the patients faces, with only the eye being worked on visible.  Alison noticed the woman was breathing shallowly and rapidly and asked if she could hold her hand and pray for her.  When she did, the woman immediately calmed down. Thank you, Jesus!

Alison prays over our patient

The second operation I filmed was on a man in his 30's that had been poked in the eye a year ago.  A cataract formed of fibrous material as a scar.  The doctor removed all of the obstruction and placed a new lens in his eye for him.  I have a much greater appreciation now for the life changing benefits our clinics bring to those who really need this help.  It keeps me going strong!

During the surgery

Afterwards with our patient

Another cataract surgery that stood out for me was because of the humorous results when the bandages were removed.  My friend Will, who is a big guy, asked if he could be there as the bandages were being removed.  Dr. Francis gave us permission and we were standing in front of an elderly woman as the bandage was taken from her eye.  The first thing she saw was this huge white guy and she screamed "It didn't work!".  She looked like she had seen Sasquatch, so that became Will's nickname for the rest of the trip.  Dr. Francis calmed her down and she saw the humor in it too.

My final cataract surgery story started when my friend Patrick from previous clinics emailed me and asked if he could bring his grandfather to the next vision clinic.  Of course I replied "Yes, by all means!"  As it turned out, his grandfather had not seen him since he was a young boy because of his cataracts.  When the bandages were removed and he saw Patrick, he jumped up on his walking stick and was dancing around.  Praise God!  He was so happy he asked Dr. Francis to do the other eye also.  This isn't usually done, just in case there is infection, but Dr. Francis was so pleased with how the first eye was already healing that he took grandfather back to the clinic that day and fixed him up.  Wow!

Patrick, Grandfather and me after the second surgery.  He has plain glasses on that we gave him to protect his eyes while they healed.

One of the benefits of short term mission trips with long term commitments to the same churches and locations is that we make lifelong friends and this strengthens the faith of all involved.  It is always joyful with lots of hugs when we first arrive and we feel right at home, while it is also joyful with lots of hugs, and a few tears, when we part company because we know that we will see each other again.

In addition to the wonderful things that happened each and every day at our clinics, including many people coming to the faith or renewing their belief, we were blessed to have an extended trip arranged by my dear friend Catherine Wangari and her company Mission Opportunities.  She arranges for all of our lodging, transportation, drivers and activities while we are on a mission.  Afterwards, she has incredible contacts for photo safaris and travel within Kenya and east Africa for anyone that can stay a few extra days.  It's very affordable, since our airfare has already been covered and we're there anyway.  Before the trip, I let it be known that I would be happy to take people with me for 4 extra days on photo safaris and would instruct serious photographers in wildlife techniques.  Out of 20 of us, I expected maybe 4 or 5 to say yes.  16 team members plus myself stayed over, what a blessing.  The group ranged in age from 16 to 80 something (I'm being kind here!).  We went to the Masai Mara National Game Park along the Tanzanian border, the park is about half the size of the King Ranch for you Texans, measuring about 589 square miles.  We spent about 2 days there, staying in a 4 star hotel with wonderful food, our rooms were permanent tents with hardwood floors and western style bathrooms.  Breakfast and dinner were buffet style, but each item was entree quality.  I never made it to the dessert bar, I was always full from the main courses, but others tell me the desserts were out of this world.  We traveled from there to spend a day at Lake Nakuru National Game Park.  Our hotel was within the park with real buildings and wonderful food as well.  It is famous for pink flamingos, which we only saw from the distance.  But we saw a wealth of other wildlife and birds.  Our final stop on the way back to Nairobi was Lake Naivasha.  We took three boats and got photos of hippos in the water, African fish eagles swooping down from trees for fish that our guides enticed them with and many, many shore birds including kingfishers, herons, egrets, cormorants, weavers and others.

Again, the photo album for the entire mission and after trip can be seen at this link:

This was my 18th trip to Kenya since 2009 and I'm still pinching myself that I have been blessed in this way to be a blessing to my friends in Kenya.  I have certainly received far more blessings than I have given.  I used to feel a little guilty about this, but a pastor friend told me not to let it trouble me, I had discovered "God's economy."  By this he meant that when you get out of the boat and serve others for Him, the Lord will bless both the giver and the receiver abundantly.  The only way to prove this is to try it.  He has never failed me in this regard!

Our next mission trip will be from May 30th to June 10th for the main team and we hope to have enough team members to be able to conduct two vision clinics once again.  I will be leading another 4 day after trip out into the Kenyan countryside for more photo safaris.  Details are still being worked out, so check back here or at as things come together.  There will be an online application at the church's web site in the near future with much more information about the trip than I can disclose here.  So, if you hear the small still voice of the Lord calling you to get out of your comfort zone to serve Him by serving others, please contact me, Dave DeVore at 512-815-5045 or Pastor Kevin Westergren at 512-459-1500 at work.   Blessings everybody!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Home again, home again!

Our flight back from Heathrow to Bush International Airport in Houston was uneventful and was almost an hour early, due to an unusual tail wind.  We are usually fighting the jet stream.  After clearing immigration and collecting our luggage, we boarded our chartered bus and were back at Redeemer by 5:30pm.  We said our goodbyes and headed to our respective homes.

Adrienne dropped me off at home and I did my two week's worth of laundry before going to bed around 9pm.  The charter bus ride home from Houston plus sleeping on the proper flights has made my recovery from 8 hours of jet lag relatively easy this trip.  I've slept at least 7 hours each night since returning Wednesday evening and have only hit a brick wall of exhaustion a couple of times when it would be the middle of the night in Kenya.

I am hard at work on editing pictures from the trip and am already done with images of our compound where we stay, worship on Sunday and the clinic.  Stay tuned for a link to the photo album when it's done and more in depth stories from our time in Kenya.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

At Heathrow

Made it into Heathrow on time a little after 6am local time.  The team made it through security with not too much trouble. We're now taking turns watching each other's bags, getting coffee and food, etc until our flight back to Houston at 10am. Much more to come after we get back home. Blessings everyone!

Final day in Kenya

We got up early and had breakfast at the wonderful lodge inside of the Nakuru game park that Catherine had booked for us. We checked out and were driving the three vehicles through the trails in search of the pink flamingos. About half of the team rested the previous afternoon following our arduous nine hour journey from Masai Mara,  so they now got to see the beauty of this place and its wildlife. We never did encounter the flamingos but saw a wide variety of bird and animal species including zebras, giraffes, hyenas, water buffalo, storms, pelicans, plovers and many more. Our abbreviated two and a half hour safari was capped by a stop at the Baboon Cliff high above Lake Nakuru. It is a great vantage point for surveying the entire lake and wildlife refuge below. I got some great pictures of a Cliff Chat, a really cool looking bird that lives in the rocks and trees poking out of the sheer cliff. Stay tuned for pictures of this little guy.

We made our way out of the park and headed for Lake Naivasha, our original destination we had planned on for our last morning before travel difficulties changed things up. We arrived at the lake around noon, donned life jackets and boarded three small skiffs for our final photo safari.  We were right among a pod of hippos for a few minutes,  always an eye opener for newcomers and veterans alike. I got many shots of the wide variety of shore birds this place is known for. African fish eagles were in abundance and our guides were able to coax 4 of them to fly down and snag fish they had thrown their way. I've been there on 3 hour tours when none responded,  so this was very special.  Some great photo sequences will be published as soon as I can get my feet on the ground back home. Due to finishing up our boat ride as 1:30 pm approached,  we skipped lunch and headed for Nairobi, since you never know quite how long it will take to get back.  Many in the team were very hungry after a full morning of fresh air, but when the lake lodge restaurant let us know it would take an hour and a half to prepare and eat lunch, we had to move on. I gave a bag full of Payday candy bars to Yancy to distribute to everyone for the ride and we headed for the Little Daughters of St. Joseph convent  for pizza and much appreciated showers. Catherine came and joined us and I went over vision clinic details and told her tall tales about our safari experiences before we left for the airport.  More to follow about the trip home. Blessings everone!

Travel to London

After saying our farewells to Catherine, we got on a bus for the airport. Ever since the Westgate Mall attack,  security has been at a high level. As we approached the airport,  there was a checkpoint at which we all had to get out and pass through a metal detector.  Some vehicles were also searched.  Next, just to enter the airport, our bags were screened and we traversed yet another metal detector.  I don't mind, whatever it takes to keep us safe. I went through last and checked in last to make sure the whole team made it through. We spent a couple of hours at Java House in the next terminal, eating and making conversation.  We had to go through another security check to get to the restaurant,  however.  Finally, when it was time to board our aging 747, we needed to go through two identical security checks.  When we arrive at Heathrow, we will also face very good security. I am writing this from the plane before touchdown in about 45 minutes and will continue with my next post from Heathrow if time allows for it.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The trip to Lake Nakuru was a disaster in many ways

And a blessing in others.  We were on the road a little after 7am for what should have been a 4-6 hour trip depending on traffic.  The plan was to get to our lodge inside the Lake Nakuru National Game Park, have lunch and spend the rest of the daylight hours on photo safari.  God had a different plan.  We started out driving down very bad dirt and rock roads with lots of ups, downs and scraping the bottoms of our vehicles.  We saw many Zebras, Thompson Gazelles, Wildebeests and other game outside of the park and it was a beautiful morning.  Then, we noticed the left rear tire of the van in front of us wobbling badly.  After stopping, we looked and 4 out of the 6 lug nuts were missing and the remaining two were loose.  We robbed lug nuts from the other wheels and tightened them down, but they kept coming loose.  We had to slowly crawl the nearest town for repairs.  The same van was also having problems with a leaky brake line, so that was repaired as well.  We piled everybody into the remaining two vehicles, a Toyota van that I was in and a Toyota Land Cruiser.  We didn't get to Lake Nakuru until after 4pm.  Several of us took two vehicles out for late afternoon animal and bird photography and saw some cool things, but our nine hour commute pretty well ruined the day.  Thankfully, no one blamed me.  Our planning was good, but reality happened.  I thank God that the wheel had not come off of the van or the brakes had failed at an inopportune time.  Things could have been much worse.

That's it for now.  Stay tuned.  I'll continue to write on the trip home and will add a link to a photo album once it's done.  Blessings!