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 or get in touch with Pastor Kevin Westergren at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas at 512-459-1500 or by email at

To God be the Glory!