Monday, December 5, 2011

Reflections on the Fall 2011 Kenya Mission Trip



Please click on the picture above to see the latest slides that have been added from the November trip.  Come back often as we are still adding pictures almost daily.

Now that we've been back for about two weeks and I've had time to cogitate on what this trip meant to me and have talked to the rest of the team about their high points, it's time to get some stories told and some final thoughts recorded.

As I said before we embarked on this latest mission to Kawangware, it was a real blessing to have so many new team members with us.  Half of our team of twelve were on their first African mission.  It was a joy to see all of them on the early morning Nairobi National Park safari, that first Saturday we were there, suddenly come to the realization that they really were in Africa.  Spotting your first zebra or giraffe will do that to you!  You pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming.  It's also always my great pleasure to sort through the 5,000 plus pictures that we always bring back with us and try to pick the "best of the best" to tie into this blog.  I love the different perspectives that each of us has; some are great at pictures of people, some of places, others favor wildlife or extreme closeups of the stunning flowers that are everywhere.  Yesterday I hand delivered DVDs of all the pictures I've collected so far to the rest of the team between church services, this way they can also get dizzy and goofy like me from photo overload!  I am already working on a nice DVD project to give to everybody prior to the Christmas holiday, so that they'll have a remembrance that can be shown on their TV DVD players or computers for family and friends.

From an evangelism standpoint, I think this trip was our most successful to date for several reasons.  First of all, after the usual first day startup glitches were overcome, the vision clinic ran very smoothly all week.  We saw more and more patients every day, but it felt like we were not working nearly as hard.  The traffic control through the clinic was outstanding, the pace was very rarely hurried and this steady flow resulted in 2,452 people getting some sort of treatment for their vision needs and more importantly, all who came heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Whenever there was a lull in the action, Howard (along with Dan, Josh, Dr. John, others from our team and local volunteers) led the charge into the street right in front of the church, encouraging people to come in for free eye and dental care, stressing that there was no waiting at the moment.  This is a huge selling point, since Kenyans are in the habit of waiting for most everything.  We always learn greater patience from being with them.   Secondly, more of our team participated in the triage function than ever before.  A large part of this was due to the changes that Dan and Mark made in the dental clinic setup.  The previous November, Pastor Kevin, John Zoch and I had made many futile attempts to share Jesus with those waiting for care.  Unfortunately, due to the physical layout of the tents and waiting areas, most everybody who was waiting could see patients being given numbing shots of Novocaine or our local dentists performing extractions and minor surgeries.  The furthest thing from their minds was getting into a discussion about the spirtual realm!  On Monday morning, I met with Dan and Mark, both from Lutheran Social Services of the South, about designing a better registration/waiting area layout.  They are both involved in a lot of fundraisers, like golf tournaments, that require them to be very aware of traffic flow and crowd control.  We enlisted several local volunteers and turned the registration tent 180 degrees, so that it was not facing the business end of the clinic.  A banner was also hung to block any view of the clinic area until patients were allowed in for treatment.  The registration tent was limited to 1) a blood pressure check, to make sure readings were in range for extractions or surgeries and 2) the actual filling in of registration cards.  After these steps were done, patients would wait for Dan or Mark to share the Gospel with them.  During the week, many of our triage team from inside the vision clinic also joined in with Dan and Mark.  We all learned from each other the best ways to start conversations about what was going on in each person's life and ways to effectively pray over each and every one of them.  By week's end, upwards of 1200 patients had received possibly life saving treatment and medications from our dental team and even more importantly, each and every one of them had gotten the eternal life saving message of Jesus' love for them.    It gives me chills to think of what a difference a year can make and how such basic changes to the setup of the clinic could have such dramatic results.  Thank you, Jesus!

We had many heart warming encounters during the week.  For me, seeing the Mother Teresa of Kawangware once again, bringing in her current orphans for a checkup, was wonderful.  She brought the same baby with her as last November, the one we suspected of having a cleft palate.  This time, Dr. Terry was able to determine that there was no cleft palate at all, but an abnormal airway was the source of the little guy's problems with food and drink.  To me, it is a miracle that he has survived, since he started life with club feet, this airway defect and appears to be autistic.  When Dan would hold his little hand and talk to him soothingly, he would stop his spasms for awhile and focus on Dan's loving face. 
Our hearts and prayers are with Mother Teresa and the little ones that no one else wants, but that she so lovingly cares for.  What a ministry she has.

As mentioned before, the number of team members that tried their hand at the triage function was more than ever before.  In the vision clinic, the triage station follows after patients have had their eyes examined using an eye chart from 20 feet away.  In terms of the practical side of the clinic, this position is responsible for routing the patient to the next step in their treatment.  Some need to see a doctor for itchy eyes or cataracts, some only need distance glasses and will go for an autorefractor exam, while others may only need reading glasses.  A few need nothing at all or we can't provide the services they require.  In all cases, the spiritual side of the clinic centers on triage.  Pastor Dave and Pastor Zedekiah began the week in triage, and were soon joined by Mary, Josh, Risa and local interpreters.  The women did particularly well working with women, since it is a universal truth that women will share with each other things they might not tell a man.  Each person's registration card is examined for what faith tradition they come from.  If they are Christian, we bless them and pray for any needs they may have before routing them to the next step.  If they list no church, or they are Muslim, Hindu or of another non-Christian faith, our triage staff talks to them about Jesus and His saving grace.  And we always, without fail, pray over them one on one.  There are many approaches to starting the spiritual conversation, all loving, that are used.  One is a variation on the old Kennedy evangelism explosion question asking about one's final destination, were they to die tonight.  It is shocking to hear the number of people that in all seriousness will announce that they are going to hell, because they have not done enough good to balance out the sin in their lives.  Another good opener is just to ask people what is going on in their lives.  After the normal pleasantries, Kenyans are much more willing to share their day to day joys and trials than we are in the American culture, where no matter how we are doing, we always say we are fine, everything is OK.  The triage station is far and away where more people come to Christ, ask about joining the church or want further conversation with the local pastor.  While every station in the clinic has its opportunities for giving our patients a "second touch" with the Gospel (the "first touch" is from local evangelists working with small groups before registration for the vision or dental clinics) the fact is that the strongest push is made in triage.  Examples of this "second touch" in other places includes the patient being asked to read a Gospel tract while trying out reading glasses or the first thing a person with new distance glasses sees is a sign across the room that says "Jesus loves you!" in both English and Swahili.  These experiences have each led to deeper conversations.

One blessing that we started last spring at our clinic in Kibera (because Salem had success with it in their clinics) was the awarding of certificates of appreciation to each of our volunteers on the last day.  There were more than 40 volunteers this time and Risa did a beautiful job tracking the volunteers and of printing their individual names on each certificate.  It's amazing how a little recognition can go so far.  On a bittersweet note, one of  our volunteers, Elvis, who had been handling traffic flow coming from the triage unit to the back end of the clinic, took his certificate home right after the clinic to show his family.  We were saddened to learn later that he had been killed that evening in a police shooting.  He was one of the first street boys to go through the Fikisha program, which is designed to get boys out of the bad environment and onto a better path.  Elvis wanted to be a social worker and his favorite verse was John 3:16.   During one of our morning devotions during the week, Pastor Dave read us the story of Moses and his calling by the Lord at the burning bush and he then prayed a "use me" prayer for each of us.  Dan and Mark were used in a mighty way after the clinic was over, when they stayed on in Nairobi for a couple of extra days.  They went to the church in Kawangare on Sunday to worship and were greeted with the sad news about Elvis.  They spent Sunday afternoon visiting the family and also consoling congregation members.  Dan wrote us a beautiful email, saying he never expected to be used in this way.  It's a huge blessing when you realize that's what's happening and you are right where God wants you to be.  During this time of grieving, I was also in contact with the youth leaders of Fikisha and Pastor Zedekiah via Facebook and email, encouraging them to honor Elvis' memory by redoubling their efforts in reaching out to the boys of the community.  We all have the comfort of the Easter victory, assured that we will see Elvis again one day.

One of the many blessings that we receive when we serve others in a place so different from our home is that of having our comfort zones vastly enlarged.  This always happens in many small ways, even for us old hands at these trips and it is always fun to watch the new team members blossom and do more than they ever thought possible.  Beth expanded her horizons in many ways with her work in the dental clinic, Allison always had a look of wonderment on her face in every situation and it was incredible to see Mary, Josh, Risa, Mark and Pastor Dave as they ministered to the people while all of them did triage duty in both the vision and the dental clinic.  We all took our turns doing different jobs during the week in the clinic.  There isn't a job that can't be learned in half an hour.  Some involve lots of standing, some lots of sitting, some are more people oriented while others, like eyeglass assembly, require focus on the task at hand.   Franky, once our local volunteers are trained early in the week, our tasks become more oriented towards supervising and keeping things moving smoothly.

Finally, I would be remiss as one of the leaders of our Africa mission effort if I didn't put out my usual call to service.  Please seriously consider this advice if you are one who has never done work in the mission field. It comes from one who was a prodigal son for over 25 years before returning to the Good Shepherd’s flock. I was broken beyond repair and He put me back together in a way that gave me a heart for Him and others. There is nothing more worthwhile than seeking and discovering God’s purpose for your unique personality and talents and then finding a way to fulfill His will in some way that serves others and glorifies Him in the process. He will bless you beyond your wildest dreams. I’m living proof. It doesn’t have to be a mission halfway around the world, although getting out of your everyday context is a great way to cut through all the clutter and “busyness” that make His call nearly impossible to hear over the din of our culture. It can be as simple as serving in a soup kitchen for the homeless, taking special needs kids bowling, building a ramp with the Texas Ramp Project for one of your neighbors who is imprisoned by his front steps, taking meals to those who need them with Meals on Wheels or maybe volunteering at the hospital. We have opportunities to do these kinds of things and many, many more at Redeemer or there are plenty more out in the community at large, if you are uncomfortable at first at the thought of being branded as some kind of do-gooder Christian. It’s all the same however you decide to serve and is valued highly in His sight. Trust me. The rewards outweigh the effort you will expend by at least a hundredfold. Again, if you are not already involved in some sort of service to others, just do it! What do you have to lose? A little time you might spend watching TV? Just try it! I’m not saying to go looking for ways to serve others because of the rewards that I know you will receive, just that if you serve others with the right motives, God's blessings will certainly follow. What are you waiting for?

To learn more about this trip or our upcoming mission to the Nairobi slum of Kibera from April 26-May 6, 2012, please contact me, Dave DeVore at 512-323-5343 or at dave@mrpcaustin.com or get in touch with Pastor Kevin Westergren at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas at 512-459-1500 or by email at kwestergren@redeemer.net.

To God be the Glory!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Risa's pictures added today

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Click on the picture above to access the pictures of the trip that have been posted so far.

I added in about 75 pictures from Risa and sprinkled them throughout the slideshow.  I hope you enjoy them.  Keep coming back for the next several weeks as we gather up more pictures from the rest of the team.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pictures have been added

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Click on the picture above to access the pictures of the trip that have been posted so far.

Pictures from my camera have been added rather quickly today.  I will add captions to them as I get time so that it's easier to tell what's going on.  Over the next week or two, I will be gathering what usually turns out to be about 8,000 pictures from the rest of the team and adding the best of the best to the Picasweb album that this blog is linked to.  Also, I will be adding stories and reflections on this trip for a while to come.  Technical glitches, extreme business and just plain exhaustion all played a part in the blog for this trip being pretty terse and factual, with almost no mention of the incredible spiritual things going on around us.  Stay tuned and enjoy the pictures for now!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday and Sunday travel, we're home!

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Please click on the picture above to see pictures from the November 2011 mission.  More pictures will be added soon.

Saturday November 19 and Sunday November 20, activities and travel home
Everyone was able to sleep in relatively late, since the safari to Lake Naivasha was not scheduled to leave Scripture Mission until 8am.  Howard, Martha and I stayed behind to complete the inventory of our unused lenses, frames and supplies.  While the group was waiting for the bus, a bunch of velvet monkees that stays at the compound came out and mugged for us.  Terry went back inside a brought out a few slices of watermelon and bananas and we flung them around the lawn.  Guess what?  They scrambled to get the food.  Imagine that!  Once we got a good start on the inventory, I went to the LCMS offices and finished putting the stats together for the mission, got our expenses in order in preparation for changing our money from Kenyan shillings to dollars and waited to get into Catherine's office so I could cleanup /tuneup her computers.  She got delayed and so I went back to my room, got a shower and packed up my souvenirs and the rest of my stuff.  Other groups began returning from the mission field throughout the day.  Prior to a scheduled debriefing meeting between our U.S. team leaders and Bishop Bakari and others from the ELCK, our local LCMS missionary and his staff and John Maina of LHM, I got my chance to take care of Catherine's laptops.  I also lightened my load for the trip home by leaving unused snacks, pens, etc.  The Payday candy bars and Nature Valley granola bars were particularly appreciated by Shauen for his family, since many foods and treats we take for granted are not available worldwide.

We left on 2 buses for the airport at 6:30pm, after loading a large truck up with our footlockers.  Our route took us through downtown Nairobi, a way we had not used on previous trips.  Traffic was horrendous, so it was a good thing we got an early start.  The bus I was on got to make one extra stop.  As we pulled into a gas station while still at least a half hour from the airport, those of us in the back of the bus heard our leader ask the driver "Are you telling me we are stopping for gas?", to which the bus driver replied "Yes."  We got 17 liters of petrol (about 4 gallons because this was what 2000 shillings would buy) and proceeded the rest of the way to the airport without  further incident.  It took a while to get enough carts for our footlockers, but once we were all loaded, we had a pretty smooth time getting checked in and through the first security screening.  I exchanged Redeemer's remaining petty cash back from shillings to dollars.  Our group met in the terminal cafe for one last meal and the traditional Tuskers, a very good Kenyan beer.  It was a nice reward for a job well done, although I had an iced tea, since I don't drink.  Like many foreign missions, our time in Kenya had been absolutely alcohol free, so as not to offend any of our hosts, pastors or the different tribes and ethnic groups we dealt with.  In our case, drugs and alcohol are a big problem in the slums, one reason Islam looks like a better way of life on the surface.  Since our purpose is evangelism, this tee totaling is a small price to pay and sets a good example.  We went as a group to Gate 10, checked in and went through two more security scans.  After about another 45 minutes spent in the terminal, we boarded British Airways Flight BA65 and said goodbye to Nairobi around midnight.  The plane was warm, but the area around my seat was especially so.  I complained to flight crew, but to no avail. It was a completely full flight, so I wasn't able to get my preferred aisle seat.  I've found that I do much better if I get up every hour and a half to stretch and keep the circulation going in my legs. Also, taking my shoes off is more comfortable, but it can be hard to get them back on at the end of the flight due to the natural swelling of the feet and ankles that occurs during flight.  I can now empathize more fully with pregnant friends! 

Even though we took off from Nairobi about half an hour late, we got to London's Heathrow Airport nearly on time at about 5am local time.  I took Josh to the Giraffe Restaurant for a light breakfast.  Eying the menu, one of the first choices was Huevo Rancheros, which was not going to happen out of deference to our good friend Lupe.  I couldn't see anything good coming out of ordering an English attempt at this dish!  During the 5 hour layover, some of the team shopped and we all mingled and shared stories of the past week, some funny, some moving and more than a few heartbreaking.  The flight from London to Houston boarded on time, but we were delayed by fog from taking off for about 30 minutes.  As I write this, we are about 40 minutes out from Houston and did not make up any time, so we'll probably be a little later than usual getting back to Austin for several reasons. In the past, we were sometimes the lone flight arriving at 2:45 and the lines for the initial border entry screening would not be too bad.  Much later than this and the crowd can triple, adding considerably to the rest of the process that also includes gathering our footlockers and luggage, getting personal items from the lockers and then going through one last screening.

Yes! Things went well in Houston, we had a good trip home from Houston including the traditional stop for Blue Bell.  Pastor Dave drove the whole way and dropped me off around 7:30pm.  All is well.  Time for a hot shower and then sleeping in my OWN bed!  Thank you Jesus!




Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday preparing to come home

I'm sitting in our LCMS International Mission offices in Nairobi down the road from where we stay. Howard, Martha and I saw the rest of the team off on their safari around 8am and then worked on taking inventory of our remaining supplies.  I am waiting for Catherine to come and unlock her office so I can tuneup her computers.  After that, I'll get some lunch and a shower, a little nap and a I may be be able to add to the blog before we head for the airport around 6:30pm.  We totaled up the vision clinic stats this morning and we saw 2,452 people.  I don't have a total for dental yet, but I suspect they had 12-1300 patients, all of whom were evangelized and prayed over by our triage team. Thank you Jesus!

Over the next week, as the jet lag subsides, I will have some profound and some funny stories about this mission.  We have had lots of technical Internet glitches this time, so several hundred pictures that should be available to you by now will be posted soon after our return.

We fly out around midnight Nairobi time and arrive back in Houston around 3pm Sunday.  Please pray that we have a safe, uneventful and restful trip home.  After customs and the drive back to Austin, I should be in my own shower and then my own bed around 8:30pm if past history is any guide.

Thursday and Friday clinics

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Click on the picture above to see the preparation during the past months and new pictures that will be added as access to the Internet permits throughout the mission trip.

Friday November 18
The last 2 days have been so hectic that they have gone by in a blur.   The Lutheran Hour representative, Peter, showed a King David movie Wednesday night and the Jesus Film on Thursday. Both Thursday and Friday we had more than 550 in the vision clinic while we had 303 for dental on Thursday and upwards of 225 today. We took our LCMS missionary, Shauen Trump and his family, along with Catherine to the Carnivore, a Brazilian style steakhouse with every kind of meat known to man in unlimited quantities. It was a great break from the slum. I'll try to fill in more details of our week tomorrow, since I'll be staying here in Nairobi while the others go on a safari at Lake Naivasha. I will be meeting with other team leaders and the leadership of the ELCK Saturday afternoon. More to follow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday and Wednesday clinics

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Click on the picture above to see the preparation during the past months and new pictures that will be added as access to the Internet permits throughout the mission trip.

Tuesday, November 15
Pastor Dave started our day with Moses and the burning bush, talked about God's purpose for each of us and concluded with a powerful "use me" prayer. We boarded our bus at 7am, which is the pattern for the rest of the week, now that the clinic is up and running. Dr. Terry was able to break away for our morning devotion with the volunteers and announced that we were not lined up in a zebra. We all laughed and alternated between each team member and our hosts. Pastor Dave did a devotion based on Psalm 145, teaching us that God is good, God is great and we are here to glorify him. This, along with some praise music in Swahili got us ready to man the clinic on a high note. We never seemed as busy nor as chaotic as Monday, but we saw more people in each clinic. The Lutheran Hour team was unsuccessful Monday night in showing the Jesus film due to speaker problems. Even so, we saw about 440 patients in the eye clinic and around 170 came for dental work, both topping the previous day's totals. We had dinner at 6:30 and shared experiences around the table, before either playing games or just hanging out checking emails, phoning home or visiting with each other. It was the end of a good day.

Wednesday, November 16
Everybody got a good night's sleep after the hard work of Tuesday. In my experience, it is usually finally Tuesday night before one gets acclimated to the 9 hour time difference with Austin. We breakfasted and I led a devotion based on 1 Corinthians 12 which discusses the necessity within the body of Christ for different skills and talents, all of which are used and inspired by the same Holy Spirit. The clinics began on time and without a hitch. Traffic to each clinic was fairly steady all day long and we had almost 500 vision patients and 252 dental patients by the end of the day. At this pace, and if the weather cooperates, we will end up with about the same or more patients for each clinic than we had last November. The Lutheran Hour team was able to show a portion of the Jesus Film Tuesday night and planned on showing a movie about David tonight, then one about Jeremiah Thursday and yet another film Friday. Even though the clinic ends Friday afternoon, the LHM staff will encourage church attendance the following Sunday with the Friday screening. After dinner tonight, we met to discuss recreation options for Saturday while other teams are returning from their sites. We had several power outages, and since the Internet is iffy at this point, I am going to post these abbreviated descriptions of our comings and goings for now and fill in more details later.

After the power failures
We had many laughes in the dark as I got into a competition with Josh.   We had a shootout between the apps on my Android phone and his iPad.  My phone had a flashlight app, his had goofy screensavers.  My phone had Angry Birds, of course he matched me since this game was born on the iPad.  It went on and on, back and forth, until we were all laughing to the point of tears.  It was a combination of exhaustion and silliness that was sublime.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday Kenya mission news

Monday November 14
This post was all written and ready to go last night and was lost during an Android tablet glitch.  We had a wonderful first day's clinic, everyone was in bed and I had put in an extra hour telling the story of our day.  This is my second attempt and I am now using a different method which has frequent automatic saves to prevent a recurrence of last night's disaster. I couldn't even use a phone right last night, my Skype calls to Adrienne and even cell phone calls all had problems, so I finally gave up and went to bed, comforted that at least Adrienne knew I had tried.

Back to Monday.  Because it was the first day of the clinic, we needed to be breakfasted, have our daily devotion done and be on the bus by 6:30am.  I did one of my favorite devotions from Oswald Chambers called "What is a Missionary" which has a main point of keeping the primary focus on the One who sent us, rather than the overwhelming needs and suffering of the people.  This lesson is always valuable, particularly for new team members.  I use this devotion at the start of every mission I am involved with.  Upon arrival, our goal was to have the vision clinic setup, devotions done and up and running by 8:30.  We hoped for a 9am start at the dental clinic and came close.  As usual, it seemed like mass chaos for the first couple of hours of both clinics, which would have been true to the untrained eye.  At all of our previous clinics, it took nearly a full day to get things tweaked out, especially with many new team members.  Well before noon, things were starting to go very smoothly.  On the dental side, I asked Dan and Mark to help figure out a better physical layout that would be more conducive to "second touches".  They really came through.  They turned the tent backwards and they had a banner hung that would shield waiting patients from seeing the clinic's outside aspects.  The sight of patients getting numbed up and of surgeries and extractions being performed on the open porch had made it difficult for Pastor Kevin and I the previous year to keep clinic goer's minds on the Gospel message we were sharing.  Dan and Mark have continued tweaking traffic control and the process and have been praying over each and every patient, along with occasional help from Josh, Risa and Pastor Dave.  This is a first for any dental clinic I have been involved with and I am sure it will have eternal consequences for some who came today.  We ended the day with 409 vision clinic patients treated and around 160 dental procedures performed

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A wonderful weekend in Nairobi

We had a very full Saturday, beginning with leaving our compound for a wild game photo safari. I really enjoyed watching all of the reactions of our team members to the incredible scenery that God had created just for us and the amazing variety of animals from giraffes to zebras to baboons to water buffalo and the list just goes on and on. After the safari, we took a short ride to the elephant orpanage featured on 60 Minutes recently. You can learn about it on YouTube. Next on our agenda was lunch at the Veranda, where we sat outdoors and had some very good entrees for less than $10 including tip. I had deep fried prawns and fries and it was excellent. While we were in the middle of shopping for some souvenirs, Pastor Dave and I were called back to the LCMS offices for a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour and a half later. We were to meet with Bishop Obare, the head of the Kenyan Church, his staff and other interested parties but he and others in the highest level of the national church were forced to leave Nairobi for an installation of a regional bishop the next day. The scheduling for the installation had changed at the last minute and they were facing at least an 8 hour drive late into the night. We worshipped at the Scripture Mission with the other mission teams around 6pm and were nicely surprised that two choirs from Springs of Life Lutheran Church, where we serve each spring, were there to help in the worship. We had dinner and I then participated in a brief meeting with other team leaders. I got to bed and was so exhausted that I slept through the night. Normally, I don't get a really good night's sleep until Tuesday night or so. What a blessing.

Early Sunday morning was spent having breakfast and sending the other teams off. We helped load footlockers and said goodbye to our friends, even if just for a little while.  We made our way to the church in Kawangware for worship. Our driver, Boniface, has driven us on day trips before and is wonderful.  There is new road construction in the slum, so we had to take some back streets there none of us believed a bus could navigate, but he is a master.  He has been the driver for Ralph and Louise during their Meru clinics and everyone highly respects him, both as a driver and as a person.  We were greeted by many old friends and it was a joy to introduce our new team members to Pastor Zedekiah and his congregation, both before and during their wonderful services.  Although church here regularly runs over 3 hours, it goes by too quickly.  There was wonderful music from several choirs and music ranged from liturgical to African to praise songs.  After church, we unloaded our footlockers from the bus and placed them so we could get a jump on things Monday morning.  We went out for a quick lunch and then traveled to Kibera, where we again met with old friends and showed those who had not been there the church.  Our day ended with buying supplies at Nakumatt, a store similar to a Walmart, before returning to our lodgings for dinner.  We will be getting up early in order to be on our bus at 6:30am to begin our first day of the vision and dental clinics.
Please stay tuned and come back often, as I will be editing and adding to these posts both during the trip and afterwards.  I try to get something posted as soon as possible, but the constraints of time, my energy and the tug of details that the leading of the team entails means my first reports may be a little terse.  Their purpose is to give you, dear reader, a blow by blow account as the mission progresses.  Also, pictures will continue to be added during and after the trip. I always reflect on each trip a short time after it is over and will let you know when I consider things to be complete with the blog for this trip.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

We are in Nairobi safe and sound!

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Click on the picture above to see the preparation during the past months and new pictures that will be added as access to the Internet permits throughout the mission trip.

Thursday, November 10th
We saddled up again at 8:00 this morning as Pastor Dave and Risa picked up Josh and I at my house. We drove to Manor, where we met Howard, Martha, Ralph and Louise at the 290 Cafe. We had an uneventful drive through Elgin and Giddings, arriving in Brenham for our traditional Blue Bell and rest stop at Scoops. While there, we encountered some parents with an adorable little girl that had an ice cream cone as big as she was and more of it on her face than anywhere else! I took her picture and both she and her Mom got a laugh out of it. We proceeded on 290 to what had been The Kettle on the periphery of Bush International Airport but now had a sign announcing it as the Hot Biscuit. We each ordered items ranging from a late breakfast to burgers to my chicken fried steak special. We knew that this would be one of the only meals for the next 10 days that we would have much choice over. From now on, it would be as my Dad used to say "You will eat that AND you WILL like it!" That last part was always the hardest. Our waitress confirmed that only the name had been changed by the chain, allowing that she had been there for 9 years. We left for the long term parking around 12:30, and the Fast Park shuttle got us to our terminal at 1pm. We old hands renewed acquaintances and introduced our new team members to our friends from the other congregations. Check in and going through security were pretty smooth with the exception of my being treated to yet another full body scan. I guess I passed because we spent the next couple of hours in the terminal and I am writing this from British Airways Flight 194 near Newfoundland at 37,000 feet doing 678mph. Dinner was pretty good for airline food, I had curry chicken with a salad, roll and cheesecake while others got a pasta dish. I got a little sleep afterwards, but it's only 9pm at home and sleep will come easier in a while. We gain 6 hours when we get to Heathrow Airport in London and will add another 3 hours to that by the time we land in Nairobi at 9pm or so Friday night local time. We veterans of these mission trips have stressed drinking plenty of water to our teams and making sure to get up every hour or so during these long flights to avoid health issues like phlebitis or deep vein thrombosis in our legs and to get a jump on altitude sickness in Nairobi by getting well hydrated in advance.

We're about an hour out from London now and the cabin crew is beginning to distribute box breakfasts. I got a bit more sleep during the flight, it's approaching midnight in Austin and 6am in England. Once on the ground, we will probably climb down some portable steps and board buses for the ride to the terminal. Heathrow has been undergoing renovations for the past year or two and it's invariably 50 degrees and raining when we arrive. It would be nice to pull up to a terminal just once! I am currently munching on a mysterious muffin from the breakfast that seems to be made from some form of cardboard, judging by the lack of taste. At least the black coffee they served me is hot, strong and quite good. British Airways takes pride in their Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, I guess Juan Valdez is out of work and his children and burro are now going hungry. I always liked that burro!

Friday, November 11th
It's now Friday both at home and Shannon, Ireland, which we are nearly over. Less than an hour to touchdown now. Once we clear security, we will be getting a leg up on our Saturday lunch in Nairobi at a nice restaurant called the Veranda. Gus was able to obtain a copy of the menu and we're going to try to get a sense of what people might want for lunch a day in advance to allow the restaurant to be better prepared for our large group. Since Pastor Dave and I are scheduled to meet with Bishop Obare and others from the ELCK Saturday afternoon, it would be nice if lunch were a little bit more efficient than usual. The Kenyan culture moves at a graceful, slower pace than our hectic world and it can be maddening to us when things seem to take forever. I, for one, think we can learn from our hosts when it comes to being more relaxed and enjoying the moment. After all, we live in the present, but the western way is to try to rush into the future. We don't savor the present when we get there, because we're already scurrying to the next future. It will be interesting to see if this grand menu experiment pans out.

We're at Heathrow now and we got a very pleasant surprise. The remodeling is done and we pulled right up to a real terminal instead of being bused from the tarmac in the ever present morning mist and drizzle that is London. Not only that, but we went through a much smaller and vastly more efficient security checkpoint in record time. Our layover is a little more than 2 hours, then it's on to Nairobi.

Well, we are finally airborne on British Airways Flight 65 after about a half hour delay waiting to take off. The plane is completely full, so it also took a bit more time for passengers to jostle all of the carry-on luggage to make it fit the always limited space allotted for it. I'm writing this on my Toshiba Thrive Android tablet that I've gotten since the spring Kenya tip. It is much easier than dealing with my small laptop in the very cramped quarters of today's economy class air travel. I'm pretty confident I'll be able to crank out blog postings complete with pictures fairly readily using it as long as we have good Internet access. It will feel very good after this long flight to get some exercise helping to shepherd the approximately 60 footlockers from the baggage area late tonight to the waiting truck that will transport them to our compound. It will feel even better to get a hot shower before bed after a day and a half of travel. With any luck, We'll get some sleep before a very busy Saturday. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kenya Team Commissioning

KenyaFall2011

Please click on the picture above to view pictures related to the November 2011 mission. Come back often, especially between November 10th and 20th while we are in the field. We'll be posting new stories and pictures on a daily basis when possible.

Pastor Kevin commissioned us at all three services this morning. He told the congregation of our expectation of seeing upwards of 5,000 people this trip at the vision and dental clinics at the Lutheran church in Kawangware. Particularly touching to me was his explanation of the witnessing we do to Muslims merely by our presence. While it is clearly expected of Muslims to take care of the needs of the poor, the widow, the orphan and others within their own faith, it comes as quite a culture shock when they encounter Christians that have come halfway around the world at their own expense to take care of anybody and everybody that shows up at one of our clinics. When they ask why are we caring for non-Christians, it opens the door wide for us to explain the grace that Jesus brought into the world for all. In a quote that has been attributed over time to St. Francis of Assisi, the writer tells us to "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Of course, it is riduclous to think that the Gospel can actually be preached without using words, but the point being made here is that selfless service to others, a smile, a hug, a loving gesture on our parts can go a long way towards making the recipient wonder what in the world we are up to and why we seem to have found a joy that they would like to share in. In other cultures I have come in contact with, it would be considered rude to force the Gospel or any religious or political point of view on someone. But when sincerely asked about your beliefs, it is completely proper to respond with a truthful, heartfelt answer. This is why serious Christians need to be ready at all times, as Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15-16 where he says to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." I pray that we all get a chance to give an answer many times on this trip. Praise God!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mission work at home - ramp build this morning

RampBuild10-29-2011

To see pictures of the ramp build, click the picture above.

Sometimes, when we are explaining the incredible international mission trips that Redeemer has sponsored, the question comes up "Why don't you serve others right here in Austin? We have plenty of homeless people, hungry people, spiritually lost or seeking people, etc." You get the idea. My stock answer to these objections is usually to thank the person for having a heart for these areas of ministry and then challenging them to organize an effort to address whatever need they have brought up. This is the way ministry works at Redeemer. Somebody identifies a need, runs it by our Pastors and then is empowered to lead the project. Some absolutely amazing ministries have resulted from this bottom-up approach, including some of our members being involved in a breakfast for the homeless each month, others doing regular blood drives, a disaster relief team working on everything from Hurricanes Ike and Katrina relief to working with families that lost their homes in the recent central Texas wildfires. The list goes on and on. I am going to amend my stock answer to this question to include the following observation. While some of us have been called to get out of our comfort zones, saddle up and do the Lord's work in faraway places, it is not possible to obey God's call to the mission field and not be deeply effected by it. Every one of us that has participated in these trips (in my case, first helping to build two churches in Mexico and now preparing to go on my sixth trip in the past two years to Kenya) has come back with what Pastor Dave calls "Jesus eyes." We are more sensitive to the needs around us in our day to day surroundings and are more involved than ever in our local communities. This morning, I had the pleasure of helping build a wheelchair ramp for a woman in her 90's. Her daughter, who is in her 70's, explained that the ramp would make it much easier to get her mother out and about, since she had fallen recently and was afraid of falling again going from the house to the car. The work amounted to five of us having some fun with power tools, telling tall tales and sharing a few laughs on a Saturday morning. We were done in less than three hours. It was huge, however, to the lady who had been trapped, for all practical purposes, in her home. A group of men from Redeemer is involved in this caring ministry along with the Texas Ramp Project, about once a month. No special skills are required, but the good you can do and the rewards it brings to both us and those we serve are abundant. I guess my point is that the fact that some of us are called to work on foreign missions in no way limits us when we get back to Austin, but in fact spurs us on to being even more involved locally than we ever were before. You don't need to go halfway around the world to serve the Lord and others, your mission field might be as close as your neighborhood, your school or your workplace. If you aren't already active in some sort of serving, helping ministry, I would encourage you to check with Redeemer or your church and see what the needs are. If nothing interests you, perhaps you already feel tugged by the Holy Spirit to address someone's need in a different area. Pick up the ball and run with it! If you do, you will never be the same and I can promise you that the change will be for the better for you and for all those you touch. Thank you, Jesus!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A word about security concerns for the upcoming trip

KenyaFall2011

Please click on the picture above to view pictures related to the November 2011 mission. Come back often, especially between November 10th and 20th while we are in the field. We'll be posting new stories and pictures on a daily basis when possible.

There have been a number of news stories lately about the unrest in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu and along the Kenya/Somalia border. Pastor Dave and myself, as well as the leaders of the other teams that are part of the upcoming mission have been staying on top of things and want to put all of our supporter's minds at ease. Paul Althoff and Kevin Pieper have just returned from their advance trip to Kenya and are convinced that everything will be just fine. Our LCMS missionary rules stress our personal safety above all else. All of the groups stay in secure locations and are at their lodgings by dark every day. The church locations where we do the Lord's work are also secure. We never travel alone, but only in large groups and we don't go to venues such as sporting events where large crowds might become a problem. The best advice I've heard so far is from our wonderful liaison with LCMS International Missions in Nairobi, Catherine Wangari. She suggests that anyone that is concerned about us do a Google search and get a map of East Africa. They will see that Nairobi and Mogadishu are 752 miles apart by road and that all of our teams will be 300-400 miles away from the border, regardless of where they are serving. I am personally on a State Department email list for security alerts about Kenya and appreciate the fact that there is now heightened security in place to take care of any threat. After all, tourism is one of Kenya's biggest economic engines, the authorities certainly don't want that jeopardized. Please continue to pray for an effective mission for all involved. May we bless those we come to serve. I know we will be blessed abundantly in return. To God be the Glory!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dental Clinic Preparation

KenyaFall2011

Please click on the picture above to view pictures related to the November 2011 mission. Come back often, especially between November 10th and 20th while we are in the field. We'll be posting new stories and pictures on a daily basis when possible.

We had a pill counting party at Adrienne's house Tuesday night. Ralph and Louise Genz and Martha Faske joined us for BBQ from Mann's (we needed to get our strength up first!). We counted approximately 28,000 pills into little zip lock bags and labeled them, finally gathering them up into one gallon storage bags for each type of drug. We started at 6:30pm and were done with the bulk of it by 11pm. There was just a little left to do that Adrienne and I finished up Friday evening. The medications for the dental clinic range from simple aspirin to a mixture of Tylenol and Hydrocodone to antibiotics such as Amoxicillin or CIPRO. The dental clinic will focus mostly on extractions and minor surgeries with an eye on doing the most good for the largest number of people. Like the vision clinic, the dental clinic is being used as a caring vehicle for sharing the Gospel. Last November, we treated over 1,100 patients, some of whom may have died from tooth infections or other conditions we would take for granted in the U.S., had we not been able to give them dental care and life saving antibiotics. What a blessing this ministry is! The team will be led by Dr. Terry Councill, who is associated with the Salem Lutheran Church team in Tomball. He was with us last November as well. We are eager to work together with him and the local Kenyan dentists again. He will jump in to take care of the toughest cases and will instruct the local dentists in new or different techniques, something they are always hungry for.

We're into the home stretch leading up to the November mission!

It's that time again, about a month before our next mission trip to Nairobi's slum of Kawangware and the incredible Lutheran church there. We will soon be back among our friends, worshiping with Pastor Zedekiah and then serving the community during the work week with both a vision and a dental clinic. It seems like we just got back in May from Springs of Life Lutheran Church in Nairobi's largest slum of Kibera. The work on the next mission trip always begins behind the scenes almost immediately after returning from the previous one.

This past Sunday, October 9th, was a very full day. Pastor Kevin and I were at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Giddings, along with Gus Jacob from Salem to present what we are doing on our African missions as part of their Missions Sunday. Pastor Kevin preached at both services and I showed a slide show during their fellowship time between worship. The pastors and the congregation all showed a great deal of interest in how the clinics are used as a vehicle for spreading the Gospel. They took a door offering to help support the mission and that money will be set aside to help enable one or more of them to join us on a future mission.  After the presentation, a 2nd grade teacher wanted to know if her class could help us by making our beaded cross necklaces as a crafts progress for her class. We use these necklaces in explaining the Gospel by the meaning of each of the colored beads and accompanying Scripture. Each team gets about four dozen of them and we will probably have seven teams next April, so they'll need to make about 350 of them for us. What a great way to get the kids involved!

Gus and I headed back to Austin, while Pastor Kevin preached at the late service. Of course, we couldn't make it through Elgin without stopping for BBQ for lunch and this time it was Southside Market. The brisket and sausage were great, afficianados of Meyer's liek Pastor Kevin prefer the sauce there. I just keep trying BBQ at new places in small Texas towns every chance I get and I have many favorites.

Back in Austin, we arrived at Redeemer around 12:30pm and loaded up a cart with all of the materials Gus had brought with him to help us conduct our very first orientation. We were expecting about 25 team members from both Redeemer and Good Shepherd in Cedar Park. Our team will be returning to Kawangware, while the Good Shepherd team, led by Pastor Goodwill, is slated to serve in the rural church in Chesenende. I had already been planning on taking any team members that couldn't make it for one reason or another to Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball for their orientation on October 29th. Against all odds of perfect attendance for a group of this size, everybody was present and accounted for when we started the training at 1:30pm, including one extra missionary from St. Paul Lutheran in Vernon, Mark Kieschnick. He attended our orientation because October 29th wouldn't work for him and Austin is a little closer. Gus did a great job of going over the numerous travel and mission rules and pointers during the first hour. The next two hours were filled with each team member being trained in two or more of the vision clinic's six stations. This is important for several reasons. Some of the jobs involve lots of standing, others mostly sitting, so it's good to be able to change tasks occasionally. Some of the stations, particularly triage, involve hearing intimate stories and praying with the people over their most private or painful thoughts and situations, so being able to decompress a bit occasionally by doing a more mundane job is welcome. Everything went very well and we were able to dismiss everybody by 4:30pm. Many thanks to Gus for his help in making this a great afternoon.

I am most impressed by the number of people coming on the November trip for the first time. I'm guessing that about 60 percent of our two teams are new. This is wonderful, since their enthusiasm, joy and energy are great for recharging the batteries of those of us that have been on multiple trips. In turn, we veterans can help channel that energy and hopefully keep some of the same mistakes we've made in the past from being repeated. This mix of old and new will be a blessing for all involved.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some musings on the meaning of the spring Kibera trip and the last of the pictures are now posted

Kenya Spring 2011
Now that the jet lag is finally over and I am getting back into my daily routine, I've been able to ponder the recent mission to Kibera and it's time to put together some final thoughts on the things that made this mission trip so special. There were several overarching themes that really cropped up over and over again, both while we were there and in my reflections since our return home. They are:

1.) The teamwork between all interested parties was nothing short of amazing. We got help from our experienced volunteers from Kawangware including Pastor Zedekiah for most of the week. This was very important because our team from Redeemer only consisted of 6 members. There are 6 stations in a vision clinic and a minimal team is usually one team member for each station plus the team leader. This allows the leader to roam the clinic and pitch in wherever there is a bottleneck or to take care of inevitable issues as they arise. The local evangelists were fantastic. Last year, we had several evangelists that had come from other locations to help. This year, all of our evangelists were from Springs of Life. I know when visitors ask me about Redeemer, they understand by the time I'm done with them that it's the only church for me! I'm sure our evangelists are just as enthusiastic about their home congregation. We had wonderful help from Lutheran Hour workers, some of whom also belong to Springs of Life. They were spreading the Gospel to our patients as they waited for registration. They have a new program of Bible Correspondence Courses they were stressing. Since mail and even cell phones are iffy ways to connect with people in Kibera, the program requires that Bible students bring their lessons to the church every Sunday to be handed in. The LHM workers then give the students new lessons and take the previous lessons to be graded during the next week. This commitment to the hard work of hands on evangelism deserves our utmost admiration. The program has the added benefit that people just MIGHT step foot inside the church on Sunday, since they are there with their lessons anyway. Also, the Lutheran Hour team members showed 2 movies during the week in the neighborhood (not on the church grounds). Monday night at 9pm, after we were exhausted and already heading for bed, they showed the Jesus Film, dubbed in the local flavor of Swahili called Luo that is spoken in the neighborhood, to about 600 people and of course made mention of the vision clinic. On Wednesday night, they showed a film about Mary Magdalene to about 1,000 people in the neighborhood. Attendance at the clinic was great all week and a large number of the patients who came to see us were there as a result of the Lutheran Hour missionaries. Well done, good and faithful servants! The commitment and cooperation we got from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya and their local Diocese was very helpful as well, with Sylvester, from the staff of Bishop Obare, actually showing up Monday morning to encourage us on our first day. What a blessing! The Springs of Life volunteers were very dedicated and worked long hours side by side with us cheerfully. Our morning and evening devotions with them were particularly special and by the time we had our last devotion and parting ceremony on Friday, there wasn't a dry eye in the place. There were tears of joy at having made new friends and tears of sadness at having to say goodbye until next time. Finally, it was very special to serve with Rev. Bakari and his wife Sophia, both of whom are converts from Islam. They have an all consuming fire for the Lord that is infectious to all whom they meet. I feel that this vision clinic was only the beginning of really building up the Springs of Life Church as a light on a hill in their local community. By week's end, the Pastor had confided in me that he could not have met as many community members in a year as he had during the past week and that everywhere he goes now people yell out "Pastor!" and know who he is and the good that his church does in the neighborhood. No mention of teamwork would be complete without mentioning the support that the LCMS World Missions local missionary, Pastor Shauen Trump and our dear friend Catherine Wangari gave us. There wasn't a problem too big or a detail so small that they weren't able to joyfully help us with. Again, well done, good and faithful servants to all who contributed their time and talents to this evangelism mission.

2.) I am very happy to take note of the extra energy and joy that first time members always bring to the table, which in turn energizes all of us. Starting with seeing some of the sights of Nairobi to actually working in the slum, they brought us a lot of laughs. Both Lupe and Leslie were on their feet for long hours every day, barely taking a break, but continuously smiling and shining for all to see in their service to the Lord. It's contagious! We also had veterans of 4 or more of these missions under their belts on our team, all of whom have a deep, heart-felt commitment for the sharing of the Gospel and the love of Christ. We have maybe a little different joy, peace and overall demeanor about us than the new team members, not any better or worse, just different. I think the mix of new and veteran team members was part of what made this misison so special this time. The wonderment, sense of awe and wide-eyed joy of the new missionaries helped to keep us old-timers from getting too detached or jaded, and I'm sure that in turn we provided a necessary rudder for the newbies who were far outside of their pre-concieved comfort zones. It's amazing how much bigger your comfort zone gets when you get out of the boat!

3.) Communication issues abounded, both involving phone and Internet service. While these problems made it harder in some ways, they ultimately didn't really matter much. I was still able to post almost daily reports about what we were doing, but had to walk about a quarter mile to the LCMS World Missions offices each evening and really only had the time and energy to do minimal reports and I was not in much of a position to post any pictures. Also, because we gladly gave our Kenyan cell phone to another team that was going out into a rural area to replace their damaged device, we were not able to call and let our families know we were OK until Monday, more than 4 days after we left Austin. This was actually kind of funny. On Saturday, Catherine bought us a SIM card and cell minutes for an old Nokia phone that she had, but we couldn't figure out how to activate it or use it until our driver, Joseph, got it going in about 10 seconds on Monday morning. Due to the eight hour time difference, we couldn't actually call home until after work that evening. I'm sure Adrienne would not have appreciated a 2am phone call from me no matter how much she might have been worried about us!

4.) Even though we worked at an existing church that was dedicated in 2003 by Bishop Obare, and though this was our second clinic there, we really got a sense of being involved in ground floor church building. Pastor Bakari was filled with the Holy Spirit the whole time, the congregation had a unified sense of purpose, the Lutheran Hour staff were incredibly dedicated to their work and, of course, it all rubbed off on us as well. Each and every one of us can't wait to get back to Kibera next May to see how much the church has grown in terms of numbers and also in their faith and the many ministries they are doing.

5.) Also on the subject of church building, Ralph Genz was privileged to be a part of the team led by Paul Althoff of Salem at Chesenende, a brand new clinic site that we at Redeemer hope to return to in November in partnership with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Cedar Park. It was a wonderful first time clinic and some of Ralph's photos are now included with those from Kibera on the blog.

6.) Finally, these reflections would not be complete if I didn't once again issue a call others to join us in spreading the Gospel to the world. I highly recommend a book by David Platt called Radical that was on the NY Times Bestseller List last year. Pastor Platt shepherds a large church about the size of Redeemer in Birmingham, AL. I read his book during the long flights on this trip and it's a life changer. His basic premise is that we have come to worship the American Dream in our culture and it even extends to the way we do church. Bigger is better. After teaching in home churches in India, China and other places where people were risking their lives, jobs and everything they own to learn more about the faith, he just didn't feel right in his own church, with millions of dollars worth of vehicles outside of a multimillion dollar sanctuary. Entertainment, programs for the kids, and other facets of large American church culture had pushed aside the hunger for the Word and giving glory to God through true worship. He went back to his Bible and discovered that Jesus had a mini-church of totally devoted followers who had given up everything in order to follow him and fulfill the mission he sent them on when he gave them The Great Commission. They didn't need a mega-church to turn the world upside-down. Just committed followers doing the hard work of one on one discipleship training. Since we are called to spread the Good News to the world, and two thirds of the world isn't Christian, and most of that two thirds lives outside of the United States, Pastor Platt has been empowering people from all walks of life in his congregation to participate in one way or another in foreign missions. He has noticed what we have also seen at Redeemer. Those who get outside of their comfort zone and help in making disciples of all nations come back to their local community and are even more involved in doing the same at home. The enthusiasm they bring back is contagious and their congregations are alive. Again, I can't say enough about this book except that I wish that I had written it! I may even base a study in my Sunday School class on it in the coming year.

As always, if you would like to join us on a future trip or have any questions about what we do and why we do it, please contact Pastor Kevin Westergren at 512-459-1500 or kwestergren@redeemer.net or me, Dave DeVore at 512-323-5343 or dave@mrpcaustin.com.

To God be the Glory!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Pictures are being added daily

Kenya Spring 2011
I intend to have about 300 representative pictures up after the long Memorial Day holiday weekend here in the States. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have reviewing them. More posts to follow after I've had a little more time to reflect on the mountain top experiences we had during this mission.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saturday events and travel home to Texas

Leslie, Lupe and Tom got an early start with our driver Joseph on some in town sightseeing, but not before we had Joseph assemble one last pair of glasses. As mentioned previously, the whole team worked on inventorying our remaining supplies, completing statistics for the clinic and finishing up 2 last pairs of glasses for staff at the Scripture House after dinner Friday night until after 9pm. Howard, Lupe and I had incredibly bad luck and just could not get any frames to work with for the last pair of glasses with the required lenses. Joseph had the job completed in about 45 seconds. In our defense, we were at the end of about a 14 hour day the night before, nothing was making any sense after about 7:30pm and the light was better in the morning. I had breakfast with them before they left to see Nairobi and then made my way with Howard and Martha over to the LCMS World Missions offices to work my magic on several computers. The Faskes checked their email on my laptop before leaving with friends from Kawangware while I started on an older desktop system that was short on memory. When I was unpacking my computer bag earlier in the week, a stick of memory had fallen out and I had thought it was funny that it had made it to Nairobi completely unbeknownst to me, obviously stuck in my bag after a repair at one of my clients. In fact it was a rather rare type and speed of memory. Lo and behold, it was exactly the part that was needed for the office computer. I have had too many experiences like this over the last several years to believe in coincidences or accidents anymore. It was plain to me that God had provided for his missionaries in Kenya. Pretty cool, huh? I completed my work on the computers a little after noon just as Catherine arrived at the office. I helped her with a few questions and then we took an empty footlocker over to the Scripture House and loaded it up with real Cokes made with cane sugar. That’s a real treat compared to the corn syrup variety that we have in the States these days. I was able to get in one last hot shower before the other teams began to arrive back from their various mission posts and then a little 20 minute nap before a 3pm team leader meeting. I had just enough time before the meeting to buy a couple of souvenirs from the mission ladies who were just beginning to setup shop in anticipation of the returning teams. The leader’s meeting was a good time of sharing some tremendous stories of God using all of us to build His church during the past week and some strategizing on what worked and where we could improve next time around. The usual pizzas and Cokes were served to the team members as they returned from the other 5 locations, but there was also a treat that Lupe had whipped up with the help of our cooks for everybody. It was a full meal with rice, vegetables and meat. Everyone was very appreciative of Lupe’s efforts and the other teams continued in their efforts to try to steal him from us! The answer was “Still no deal!”.

We left for the airport around 6:30pm Nairobi time and it was a good thing, since we ran into heavy traffic caused by a 2 car wreck. As we were stalled in traffic, children of various ages descended on our buses and other vehicles trying to sell their varied wares of trinkets, snacks and assorted junk. We passed through security without incident once we reached the airport and then we changed our Kenyan shillings back into dollars, bought more souvenirs in the many shops and fellowshipped in the coffee bar over sandwiches and drinks until it was time to go to our gate. Our flight took off nearly 45 minutes late when it was thought there was extra baggage on board that didn’t match any of the passengers. Better safe than sorry. This had been the day that the world was supposed to come to an end and, since I’m still here on the plane from London to Houston writing this, I guess it didn’t happen. Our layover was a little shorter, but adequate for everyone to clear security in a very crowded Heathrow Airport. There were no signs of a bad economy there, the place was packed with travelers. While I’m on the subject of travel, we gave out travel time estimates during our commissioning at Redeemer at different services that ranged from 18 to 35 hours and I want to clear up any confusion. Yes, it is true that our two flights total from 18 to 20 hours depending on delays waiting to take off, security issues, etc. The bigger number comes from when I count from the time I leave my home in Austin until I am at the Scripture House in Nairobi or from when we leave for the airport in Nairobi until I am on my front porch. Typically, we leave around 8am for Houston, with stops for Blue Bell in Brenham and then lunch outside of Bush International. We get to the airport and begin to go through security around 1:15pm and usually fly out around 4pm. After the flight to London and a layover, then the flight to Nairobi, the clearing of customs and the bus ride to the Scripture house, we are usually there at midnight local time. This time of year, Nairobi is 8 hours ahead of Austin, so that would be 8am Austin time Thursday until 4pm Austin time Friday. That adds up to 32 hours from end to end for a good trip. Our worst one was several hours longer coming back last May during the volcano in Iceland. We had to wait in London on the tarmac for over 2 hours for a flight slot back to the States, then our normal 9 hour flight was 11 hours because we had to fly into the Arctic Circle before heading south to Houston to avoid the volcanic ash cloud. To top it off, we were missing a footlocker with some of our team’s personal items and that meant a late getaway from Houston. My recollection was it was 38 hours total, with 13 hours spent on the London to Houston plane, my longest stint on a plane including trips to Israel, England, Germany and Hawaii over the years. I hope this clears up any confusion, the travel is definitely long, but we get to meet complete strangers on the plane rides whom we are able to befriend and witness to since it seems everyone is interested in why we have name tags, cross necklaces and are part of a large group. This "salting" of the plane with team members is intentional and has led many great discussions about faith over the years.

We arrived at my house precisely at 8pm, making the return trip 33 1/2 hours accounting for the 8 hour time difference, about average. Leslie unloaded her things into her SUV, Lupe's family came to pick him up and we all shared one last hug. The end of a most blessed adventure! Praise be to God!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday - an amazing end to the week

We came prepared to work hard the last day of the week and were greeted at the clinic by Paul, one of the Conquerors singing group from the church in Kawangware. He had a guitar and was awaiting the arrival of his 4 or 5 other band members. They either had traffic problems or something else came up. While he couldn't do the multiple part intricate vocal harmonies they are known for, it wasn't long before the we raised the roof of the sanctuary with a joyful noise. Our Kenyan hosts and the local volunteers have an outstanding ability to learn a simple song and then improvise around the basic theme until you can't stand still and it's all to the glory of God. The music has always been and will always be one of my favorite parts of these mission trips. The quiet dignity, profound faith and deep joy of our friends here just can't help coming out in their music. We ended our morning devotion time with words of encouragement and a prayer from Pastor Bakary. Since it was threatening to rain for the first time all week, our evangelists were working with 15 people at a time rather than the ideal of 8 to a group in order to move our patients up to the large 100 person registration area tent for protection from the elements. Once it was apparent that the thick cloud cover was going to burn off, we got back to our ideal sized group in which people are more comfortable sharing intimate questions about faith. About mid-morning, I was making my rounds when, coming up the hill walking directly towards me, were 2 policemen with machine guns. A few thoughts went through my mind, such as hoping we weren't doing anything illegal and whether we had all necessary permits to run the clinic. As it turned out, one of them is a member of the church and needed an eye exam. Since they were on duty, I fast-tracked them through the registration. When it came to the eye chart exam, Leslie put her hands up and mock surrendered before pointing at the various lines of the eyechart. We had a lot of fun at each clinic station and then we got our new friend in front of the local eye doctors. When he sat down, his gun was lying across his lap and was pointed directly at our friend Dr. John, who was going to do the exam. Dr. John scooted to the side rather quickly! Meanwhile, the other policeman, Augustine, motioned for me to come outside with him. He was very appreciative of what the church and our team were doing in the slum. He is a Christian and said that while sometimes his job involves going after bad guys, for the most part he tries to do his work with the attitude of a servant and gets his greatest satisfaction out of helping people. We had a great conversation and he intends to bring others to our clinic in Kawangware in November. When his partner was done in the clinic, I got a picture of the two of them and then they had me stand with Augustine holding a machine gun for another photo. I showed the picture to the rest of the team and told them they needed to follow my orders or I would go and get my weapon! We all had a good laugh out of that one. By 11:30 we already had nearly 350 people on the church grounds in various stages of going through the clinic and were well on our way to our best day of the week. Right after lunch, which we didn't stop for but snacked on the run instead, about 120 uniformed children from a nearby school arrived wanting eye exams. I could see mass chaos beginning to ensue. Our registration volunteers wanted to send 10 children in at a time and then 10 of our regular neighborhood patients, 10 children, etc. There is no way that would have worked and our orderly clinic would have gone up in flames. Dr. John came to the rescue and we put an eyechart outside on the wall of the parsonage. He trained Allen, one of our local volunteers, to look for 20-20 vision and we began rapidly separating the sheep from the goats. Out of the 120 or so kids, only about 20 were candidates for further examination. But, to my surprise, it didn't end there. The doctor told me some of the children had been told by their friends what letters to call out on the eyechart while others were less than truthful because they wanted glasses whether they were needed or not. The doctor ran a second quick screening and weeded out 5 more children. Everybody won, the clinic was kept from bogging down, every child got an eyechart exam and those that needed help were routed through the clinic. We closed the gate at 3:00pm because there were about the number already inside that we could serve without making anybody wait for an hour or more, only to be turned away later. We finished the day exhausted, having seen 727 patients, our best day of the week. For the week, our grand total ws 2822, with about half being Muslims. We packed up our footlockers so some of Catherine's people could get them back to the Scripture House. We then had a very special service to close the clinic. There were several songs, and then Pastor Bakary delivered a rousing sermon that he had prepared for the occasion. After that, Isaac, a congregation member and worker with the Lutheran Hour and I handed out certificates of appreciation to our volunteers. Their faces were beaming as each came forward to receive a certificate and have their picture taken with me. I'm not sure if a picture with me is any big deal, but they seemed to like it. Pastor had me say a few words to the team. I thanked them on behalf of Redeemer for their service and told them what a blessing they all had been to each of us. Halfway through my impromptu remarks, Pastor cut in and said that all week long they had all been listening to me and that I talked funny, like an American, then he made some unintelligle noises to demonstrate how I sound to them. It was a huge laugh at my expense and I loved every minute of it, feigning hurt feelings in an overly dramatic way. You know that we have a very special relationship with the Springs of Life Lutheran Church when we are this comfortable with each other. I finished our thanking of the volunteers and praised God. The congregation then had all of our team come forward and sang a blessing over us with each of them having both of their arms raised up towards us. Martha had us do the same, to reflect the blessing back onto them. What a moving moment. We were then given a gift by the congregation, a large thank you card signed by everyone with their wishes for us, and none of us had a dry eye. Finally, we sang a benediction together and each congregation member lined up and everyone in the church hugged each other and us individually. There were many smiles, laughs and tears as we parted company until next May's mission to Kibera. We barely made it out of the slum before dark, as required by our mission rules, but we did. We had dinner and then all worked on counting the day's totals, inventorying our remaining supplies and making one last set of glasses for one of the compound's security guards, finishing after 9pm. A long, hard day's work of serving others to wrap up the mission had come to an end. Thank you, Jesus!

Please keep an eye on this space for then next few weeks as I get pictures, more stories and reflections on this mission trip posted to the blog. The spotty communications this time around has precluded me from being more immediate, particularly with pictures and movie clips. We have thousands of pictures to choose from among the group, so that work will begin once we are back to our daily lives in the States.

Thursday - Our largest clinic yet

We did our usual routine of 6am breakfast, got in the van at 7am and rode into Kibera. There were some people already waiting for the clinic to open when we arrived. We had a daily devotion and prayer along with some wonderful acapella music that the entire group of volunteers participated in, with our friend Rosemary leading the song. It was a solo and response number, first in Swahili and then in English which basically said Jesus is the winner for one verse, Satan is the loser for another and wrapping up with trusting in what the blood of Jesus has done. A great way to kick off the clinic. 641 patients were seen during the day, we barely stopped for anything. Several people visited during the day, including a Finnish Lutheran pastor and the owner of the transportation company we use, John. We had dinner at a newer Italian restaurant in town called Osteria with our LCMS missionaries Shauen and Crystal Trump, their young son Josiah who was remarkably well-behaved even though he was in the throes of teething and Catherine, our superhero mission coordinator, without whom these missions would be much less successful, if possible at all. All of the behind the scenes work she does in preparation for fielding multiple teams several times a year is nothing short of astonishing. It may be something as mundane as making sure our customs process goes smoothly by standing in line for hours getting permits of one sort or another or it might entail working out budgets for each location based on their unique needs. I know her cell phone bill must be astronomical, since she is never more than a minute away from being called or needing to contact someone to avoid or put out a potential fire. It was a joy for the team to break bread with them. We got back to our lodgings around 9pm and everyone hit the sack in preparation for the hard work of the last day of the clinic.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An inspiring Wednesday in Kibera

Our day began with Lupe arising at 4:30am to work on a special surprise for us with Esther, one of our cooks. We were greeted by egg and cheese omelets with all of the fixings when we made our way down to 6am breakfast. I hate see how much weight each of us is gaining on this trip, but it sure tastes good. We stopped at the LCMS World Missions office to pick up a couple of cases of water for our volunteers. We ran very steadily all day again today with very few breaks for anyone, so plenty of water is essential, especially for our evangelists out in the hot tents and any of the positions that require a lot of talking and/or walking. We saw another 519 people today and many more of them were Muslims, especially in the afternoon. There was one Muslim woman and her uncle who came and after talking with the Pastor, Tom and others, decided they wanted to know more about our faith. We gave them Bibles and Tom marked the Gospel of John for them after I told them that was where I would have any new believer start, since it gives you everything you need to know and is aimed straight at the heart. What a blessing it was to see how happy they were. I got a picture of Tom with them that will appear on the blog as soon as I can make it happen along with all of the other notable pictures that are still waiting to be posted. There were some heartbreakers also, such as a woman who was blind in one eye and had good vision in the other. Our doctors decided we needed to protect both eyes, so we gave her a brand new frame with blanks in it. One man approached me outside and really wanted me to help him with his acute hearing loss. All I could do was talk with him and empathize for a while, but he seemed a little better off for the attention. A teacher also came to me asking if she could bring her 30 girls to the clinic, since we had seen several of them during their lunch hours. I let her know we don't do reading glasses for anyone under 40, so any help we could give would be distance glasses or medications for various conditions. We were already ordering more medications to complete the week, so I checked with our doctors and they gave the go ahead for the class to come on Friday morning. What a blessing that will be for any of the girls, ranging in age from 8-15, who can benefit from this care. At the end of the day, the Pastor asked me if I would like to lead our afternoon closing devotion. I had about 15 minutes to find a Bible and I landed on the Great Commission to talk about. Pastor Bakari introduced me as Pastor Dave from Texas, so I guess we now have two Pastor Daves at Redeemer! After reading it, I spoke of how the Great Commission was the real reason behind the clinic, the motivation for our team to come from far away and it is the motivation and the means by which the local church in Kibera will continue to grow. It is why we mission minded people get out of bed everyday looking for someone else to share the Good News with. After my "sermon", we sang the Doxology and a musical benediction. What a great way to end the clinic. And don't worry, the real Pastor Dave has nothing to be afraid of! After our ride home, we arrived at dinner with Catherine to find that Lupe, with Leslie's help, had cooked up a breaded chicken creation that was beyond belief, along with rice, tortillas, beans and pico capped by watermelon for dessert. I know I'll sleep well tonight!

This is the first time I have been able to use the Internet from my room, since it was finally fixed today. It makes my life a great deal easier. This has been the trip where communicating was like pulling teeth. We got the news that Pastor Kevin and Tammy's baby Benjamin had arrived and we are all very excited for them.

As we left the clinic today, our evangelists let us know that they were going to show a film about Mary Magdaline. We got a good bump in traffic Tuesday after a showing of the Jesus film Monday night, so we hope to continue the trend and are well on the way to a week where we might see as many as 2,500 patients. That's it for now, I need a good night's sleep to be able to get up and do it again. Praise God!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday's clinic

Our day began with a 6am breakfast and a devotion based on the separating the sheep and the goats section of Matthew by Tom in which he focused on how we needed to treat even the least of our brothers as if they were Jesus himself. We had a good discussion mentioning others who had done so, such as Mother Teresa. We were on the road at 7am in plenty of time to arrive at the church and get the clinic opened by 8am. The evangelists started the day seeing only 8 people at a time in 3 tents and really spent a good amount of time with eah group. This is important, because on the first day, they were seeing far more people at a time and anyone with questions would have been hesitant to speak up, especially Muslims. It is also important because it meant we had a full 100 person waiting tent full at all times on Monday, disrupting the flow that we would have liked to have had. Tuesday was much different and people we waiting to be evangelized rather than for the clinic. It seemed as if the clinic was very quiet all day long,but with the more sane beginning mentioned above, there was a steady drip, drip, drip of activity and we wound the day up with nearly 500 patients having been seen. The steady, more orderly approach is much better and less tiring. While we worked hard on Monday, we were flailing and wasted a lot of time and energy. The second day is always much better than the first and we have high hopes of seeing between 2,500 and 3,000 people at the clinic before we close Friday. That could change if we get any appreciable rain. We have been praying for rain in central Texas for so long that it seems odd to ask the Lord for dry weather until the clinic is over. When it rains, people stat home due to muddy streets everywhere and the need to make sure their shanties and possessions don't wash away. There were many wonderful spiritual stories throughout the day, which we will share with each other after dinner and during breakfast tomorrow. More to follow as the clinic continues. God bless everyone who has been praying for our safety and an effective witness in an area that needs the hope that only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can bring.