Friday, December 7, 2012

Kitengela pictures have now been added

There are now pictures from the Redeemer's other team that went to Kitengela.  Their pictures include their travel to and from their lodging and the clinic, their hotel and, of course, their work during the week at the clinic.  Their team pictures that were taken during activities with the rest of our group during the first weekend and other common experiences like safaris have been added to the Kenya Fall 2012 section of Picasaweb.

To see the Kitengela pictures, follow this link:

To see the complete set of Kiambu team pictures with the additional photos from the Kitengela team, follow this link:

Friday, November 23, 2012

First of the mission trip pictures are ready

Less than 1 week after our return, I now have almost 400 of the best of my own pictures from my two cameras ready for viewing, each with captions so you can get some idea of what we were doing at the time.  They are in chronological order beginning with our orientation at Redeemer, then showing our commissioning services and finally the trip itself, including travel, safaris, our lodging, Sunday worship, our daily devotions and, of course, the vision clinic at Kiambu.  Over the next 10 days or so I will be gathering up possibly as many as 5,000-6,000 more pictures from the rest of my Kiambu team and from the other Redeemer team that served at the church in Kitengela.  I will replace my pictures with any that are better from the other team members and will add in what happened at Kitengela as soon as possible.  For now, I hope you enjoy what is here, realizing that it is Dave-centric at this point and will become more balanced over time.  I love it when I get to see the different perspectives that the others had on the trip through what interested them as evidenced by their photos.  Some people are drawn to nature pictures, such as landscapes, flowers, animals and such, while others capture moments with people in their own unique way while yet others are more into buildings, architecture and man-made places.  The finished album will likely have from 500-600 pictures, meaning it will be watchable as a slide show in less than an hour. 

This is just the first step in memorializing this mission trip.  Once I have this online album in place, I will go to work on a nice Hollywood style DVD, divided into 5 or 6 chapters, so that it can be viewed in bite-sized 10 minute segments or in its entirety.  The purpose behind these DVD projects is two-fold.  First, they make a nice remembrance for the team members and it gives them something they can show their families.  In the case of this trip, my goal is to have the project done in time for everyone to have a copy in time for the Christmas-New Year's holiday, when families gather.  The second set of reasons I feel these DVDs are important involve visibility of the project and recruiting of new team members for future missions.  I usually give away around 100 disks of each trip, some to prospective team members, others to sister churches showing an interest joining us on an upcoming trip and finally to people who have donated to the Vision Kenya Project in the past or who might be considering helping us make these clinics possible.   

I remember when I first joined a group of men from Redeemer in building churches in Mexico in 2005.  I hadn't even seen one picture of where we would be going or what we would be doing.  I felt like I was taking a tremendous leap of faith into the great unknown. I just wish I would have had access to something like one of my DVD slideshows back then.  The anxiety level might have been lower and it would have made it easier to say yes to the mission trip if I'd had some idea of what I was getting into.  I'm hoping to pay it forward to our future team members and their families by what I do with these picture shows.

With all of that said, follow the link below to get to the online pictures.  Enjoy!  Praise God!

Monday, November 19, 2012

More on our final day at Kiambu

I made a sad discovery Thursday afternoon. Among the myriad details involved in putting on a clinic, I had overlooked one that I have come to realize is very important. I had forgotten to design, print and pack the Certificates of Appreciation for our local workers and volunteers. For the past 3 clinics, we had followed Salem's example of handing out diploma-like fancy certificates to express our heartfelt thanks. It has become a tradition during the final devotion of the week to award these certificates individually, calling each one up to the front to receive thanks from the pastor and team leader and to get their very own picture with us. It's a real blessing to see the deep satisfaction that even our evangelists, veteran volunteers from other churches, the young people of the congregation and also the pastor and his wife get from being recognized in this manner. I had stayed up after a late dinner Thursday night until almost midnight to design a quick certificate on my computer back in Austin via remote control from my Android tablet. I then emailed it to Catherine and myself and put it on a thumb drive. My Plan B was to get something printed near the church by having our Kawangware volunteer and good friend Barrack take it to a copy shop. My worrying proved to be unnecessary, since Catherine managed to modify a Vision Kenya Project certificate that Trinity-Klein uses, got it printed and delivered to me at the last possible minute via our driver Allan. Barrack had collected the correct spellings of all 30 or so workers or volunteer's names during the day and I got the info filled in just before closing the doors for the week and packing up the clinic.
We had the final devotion, with myself and then Pastor Michael thanking everyone and praising God for the way He had used each of us during an incredible week together. Larry led us in one last singing of Bless the Lord before the awards ceremony finale of the service. I had put the certificates in an intentional order, calling our evangelists Geoffery and Calistus forward first. They were the first glimpse of Jesus that clinic goers encountered in the evangelism tent and they were as enthusiastic in the late afternoon heat each day as they had been in the cool of the morning. They stayed on long after we were back at our quarters, had showered, eaten and gone to bed each day, showing Christian movies on the outside wall of the church, using a generator, projector and speakers. This is the same setup they use all over Kenya regardless of the availability of power. They were among the first there each day. These two young men and their branch of the Lutheran Hour called Nuru (which means light in Swahili) are some of the most committed Christians I have ever had the pleasure of calling friends. It strengthens my faith, knowing these disciples are running the race the Lord has laid out for them with a passion that is a joy to behold.
Their colleague Nancy was next, she had done free HIV testing every hour the clinic was open, providing an invaluable extra service to any who sought her help. She had done her job with a gentle joy and a professionalism that is a gift of God. She was followed by each of our local and Kawangware volunteers. I saved 3 very special people until last. Allan, our driver for the week had taken care of our every need, which is what he was paid to do. He went far above and beyond that, helping with translation in the clinic, helping the Pastor with crowd control, which at times was a challenge and could have turned into a chaotic situation without his steady, loving way. He served with good humor all week and became a friend to all who worked with him, including myself and the entire team. He went from dawn until well after dark every day and always was of good cheer. Next was Florah, Pastor Michael's wife. She was at the clinic as her job permitted and was always a quiet, strong encourager to all of us. I admire the commitment she and Michael have shown to their church over a very long period of time without wavering. We could all see that they strengthen each other in their mutual service for the Lord. The last Certificate of Appreciation went to Pastor Michael, the driving force, other than God Himself, behind keeping this small congregation intact and an agent for much good in the community. His ministry for much of the week consisted of greetings to all who walked, biked or drove in and out of the neighborhood. Many of his neighbors didn't know that the incomplete building on this fairly large piece of property is a church. Thanks to the vision clinic he had been praying would come to Kiambu, the neighborhood knows there is a strong, growing church with a Pastor who is a powerful witness for a loving Savior. I hope this past week contributes a great deal of momentum towards getting the remainder of the sanctuary constructed. Much more importantly, my prayer is that living stones, new church members, would be added daily until even the expanded building is not sufficiently large without having to hold multiple services. Michael and I smiled broadly for the final picture and then we all spent the next 20 minutes or so laughing and crying over our goodbyes with all of our new friends, at least until we meet again.
After dropping us off at Africa Heart, Allan drove Larry, Howard and Martha to their hotel, in preparation for their extended time in Kenya. I finished our team statistics, arranged for breakfast and the safari for the team to the Nairobi National Park for early Saturday morning. At that point, I barely remembered my own name, but it was happy kind of tired to be. I called Pastor Kevin to let him know how the week ended and to arrange the details of picking up the footlockers for the 2 Redeemer teams with his and my trucks upon arrival in Houston. I went to bed and slept very well indeed!  Thanks be to God for a week that started slowly enough to prepare for larger numbers and for Him enabling us in every way to minister to the needs of all He sent us.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Vision Clinic ends with a bang

Larry, Howard and Martha were all packed up as we headed to Kiambu for our last day, since they would be staying near the Wilson Airport and flying out Saturday for a safari. When we arrived, there were already quite a number of people waiting in the tents. We set the clinic up one last time and then headed outside for a devotion. First, Pastor Michael read from the end of the 2nd chapter of Acts in Swahili, which was the text I had selected for the closing morning. Here it is from the NIV translation:

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Then, I read this passage to our volunteers and the crowd that had gathered in English. I remarked on how we had been in an early church experience all week, sharing with each other, performing miracles (some blind people would see via cataract surgeries), breaking bread together, praying in "the temple" each day and helping to grow the church. It was the perfect text and amazingly enough, 15 minutes beforehand, I had no clue what my Scripture or remarks would be. Yet another miracle. Thank you Jesus! Larry and Elizabeth started a hymn, with a hand written song sheet in English and the congregation had their Swahili hymnals. Something got lost in translation and they turned out to be two different hymns. Larry picked up on what had happened right away and masterfully transitioned into a whole new set of chords on the guitar. What a blessing it is to sing together, even when we're not always on the same page!
The clinic stayed busy all day long and I thought I had made it clear to close the gates at 1:15 when it looked like we could serve about 425 patients.  I knew we needed to start shutting down and packing up by around 4pm.  God had a different plan. On my next rounds, about 45 minutes later, I discovered another 75 people were there. We worked later than planned and ended up with 496 patients for the day! Much more to follow as time permits. I will be writing during our travel home and will post updates as soon as we return. Thank you Jesus for a wonderful mission!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday was a big day

After another good breakfast at Africa Heart, we rode to Kiambu, got everything setup and then had our morning devotion outside once again in the evangelism tent. It was a gorgeous morning. I did a devotion based on John 20:21, Matthew 28:18 to the end of the chapter and 1Peter 3:15. I talked about why we come as missionaries and then how we are to spread the Word through our own testimonies with humility and gentleness. Larry led us in some more music with great gusto.
The clinic went smoothly from the start and we bad a pretty full waiting area, that tent alone holds about 100 people, for most of the day. When we had finished at around 5:30, the steady drip, drip, drip had added up to over 400 patients. There were many stories to tell and I will recount some of them as time permits before we return home and after we get back. As usual, we are taking lots of pictures and they will be added to the mission trip photo album soon.
We had dinner at a fancy hotel called Safari Park, which was similar to the Carnivore that we had frequented in the past. You eat some salad and bread, after which they bring a red hot cast iron plate and then continue to pile meat on until you surrender. There was chicken,  pork ribs, pork sausage, beef, lamb, crocodile, ostrich, camel, turkey, etc. You get the idea.
Time to get ready for our last day. Stay tuned... Praise God!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday clinic continues the momentum

After yet another fine breakfast at Africa Heart, we rode the 20 minutes to Kiambu and got the clinic ready to roll immediately before a nice devotion led by Larry with a good Scripture lesson based on Jeremiah and some more music. It was a gorgeous morning, so we worshipped outside.  Nuru had shown a film about Mary Magdalene last night and our attendance was certainly boosted by it. The Jesus Film will be shown tonight. We stayed steadily busy all day long and at the end of the day had served over 300 patients. There were a few times that some areas such as triage got overrun, and it was a real luxury to be able to throw every available team member at various bottlenecks until things smoothed out again.
There has been a fair amount of excitement and some changes in plan from the very beginning of this mission trip. The most recent one was our friend Gus Jacob from Salem having a kidney stone attack out in the field, 8 hours from Nairobi. He was driven to Mombasa and then flown to Nairobi last night. He is in the Karen Hospital near the LCMS offices. He was given fluids and xrays to determine the best treatment. As of this morning, more scans were in the offing. We ask that everyone please keep him in your prayers. We had hoped to go out for one nice dinner as a group, but we haven't been able to arrange it. Instead, we will drive out about 20 kilometers from Kiambu to see the tea and coffee plantations before dark. There are some fabulous scenic overlooks. Since we will be back too late for the 6:30 supper at Africa Heart, we are looking for our driver Allan or Catherine to suggest a good dining establishment. Each of us has many stories to tell from the clinic so far. Pastor Michael and I were helping in triage this afternoon and saw a young man in his early twenties. He had been raised Baptist and still is a believer but kept falling in with the wrong crowd and he knew it was separating him more and more from God's plan for him. Pastor Michael gave him some sound advice about seeking out a good church home and a new set of friends that would encourage him in the faith and also hold him accountable. I gave a testimony about the 25 lost years in my life from ages 20-45 and begged him not to make the same mistake. We prayed over him and I hope that prayer for bringing him back into the fold bears fruit. Well, it's time for bed, if the trend continues, we'll all need plenty of rest. More to follow as the week progresses.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A blessed Tuesday in Kiambu

We were joined both Monday and Tuesday by several of our veteran volunteers from the church in Kawangware, Barrack, Tobias and James. It really helped us to get up and running quickly. We have become good friends with all three of them over the years and it reminds us of how much we treasure our relationship with the Kawangware congregation. We started out a little slow, just like Monday, but by noon we had seen about 85 patients.  Barrack went out around 10:30 with a bullhorn, driven in a pop up van by our wonderful driver Allan. The results were evident by the end of the day. We finished with 221 patients, another woman  pledging to join the church and several more cataract referrals.
The Nuru team is going to show the Jesus Film tonight, which I think will add greatly to the clinics success the rest of the week. Also, today was a market day, which may have held our numbers down a bit. So, I wouldn't be surprised if we see pretty large numbers of people, even on the order of 500 or more. While statistics are a good thing, the ones that really matter relate to how many lost and broken people meet Jesus for the first time and come to a saving relationship with Him. We are planting seeds here and may never see how far the ripples reach from our actions this week.
We have a situation with a seven year old boy name Alex that we would like for you to keep in your prayers. He was brought to us by a woman that said he had been abandoned by his parents. The local church doesn't have the resources to handle this and we are exploring options with the diocese and other churches. She will be back for an answer today. Pray that the Lord's will be done in His grace and mercy and that he use us to help find a solution.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A new clinic in Kiambu is born!

Breakfast was at 6:30am and we arrived at Kiambu around 7:30 after a 15 minute van ride.  We had secured the clinic footlockers and supplies on the 3rd floor of a building next door to the church. All of that needed to be moved into the sanctuary and sorted out. Tents were being erected and tables were arriving via truck. Another vision clinic was being born.
The congregation's president, Michael, opened our morning devotion with a prayer, then Geoffery, our evangelist from Nuru ( the Lutheran Hour), showed the evangelism cube to us and explained how he worked with the people sharing the Gospel with it. I said a few words of first day encouragement and then Larry led us all in a praise song. What a great way to start the day! I talked with Michael several times throughout the day and he was incredibly appreciative that we had brought a clinic to his church. As we stood outside, everyone who passed by called out to him "Hello Pastor Michael!" He confided to me that he was not really a pastor, but had been serving the church in Kiambu since 1989. His parents had raised him in the Lutheran Church and were distressed when their old church was failing. A wealthy friend gave some of the money as part of his inheritance to help Michael buy the land the church now stands on. Our friend Pastor Carlos Winterle was involved with the diocese in constructing the church in its present condition. They have a foundation already in place that will allow them to double the size of the building when it becomes necessary.
For a first day, the clinic went well and we shook some bugs out of the process and the physical layout that we were trying. It is a real blessing to have a mix of veteran and new team members, The new ones give us energy and enthusiasm while the old hands can train and look for glitches that need addressing. We ended up seeing 147 patients, got referrals for 2 cataract surgeries and 1 person is coming to church next Sunday. All in all a good first day. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday and worship in Kiambu

We breakfasted, got our stuff together and staged to load up the vans and trucks that would take our two teams to Kiambu and Kitengela. We had a brief team meeting and prayed over each other before getting a group picture of the two Redeemer teams.  We departed Rosa Mystica and headed for the church in Kiambu. We arrived to the beautiful sound of a responsive Swahili praise song with superb African harmonies. Although I had my sermon prepared, I didn't get to use it since one of the ELCK evangelists that we had worked with in Kibera last spring named Francis was there. The worship was very lively and included all tbe liturgical elements as.well as traditional Lutheran hymns from a hymnal and a capella Swahili songs.  Catherine gave a brief history of the Vision Kenya Project and I introduced the members of our team to the congregation.
We had lunch after church at a nice restaurant called Java Cafe and then checked in at Africa Heart, our lodging for the rest of the trip. It is a very nice facility with spacious rooms, in room shower and commode and pretty good wifi access.  There was a power failure in the neighborhood, so we all took a much needed nap while waiting for dinner. The food was scrumptious and we met members of Bayside Church there. It's a 20,000 member mega church in the San Francisco area and these men are on a month long mission doing mostly construction projects. A very cool bunch of people. Some of the crew played 42 while others of us conversed with our new found friends. We then retired to our rooms to prepare for the first day of the clinic.

Saturday happenings

Our lodging at Rosa Mystica has turned out to be very nice.  It's priced a bit cheaper than our regular abode of Scripture House, and each team member has their own room with a shower and commode. Breakfast was good after a short night's sleep. We headed out to Lake Naivasha for a safari with 3 vans, stopping at a Great Rift Valley scenic overlook for pictures and souvenirs. We had a very adventurous boat ride as it took many attempts to fight our way through thick weeds in the river as we made our way out to Crescent Island.  We tried to help an injured bald eagle sitting on the surface of the weeds, saw hippos and many interesting birds including pelicans along the way.
On the island we saw zebras, water bucks, wildebeests and other animals.  We got off the water in time to avoid a rain shower. A nice lunch followed with chicken sandwiches and real Cokes made with sugar cane as the featured drinks.
Upon our return to town, we stopped at the Nakumatt for some shopping, got freshened up and then had an evening service led by Pastor Goodwill. Our friends, The Conquerors came over from Kawangware and supplied incredible music. Also, Double Dave, from past missions in Kawangware, was there with his group called Acoustic Zeze (which means guitar in Swahili). It was great to see all of them.
Catherine informed me after dinner that we would not have a pastor in Kiambu Sunday morning and that I needed to prepare a sermon, so I spent the rest of the night working on that. More to follow as time and Internet access permit.  I hope to post some pictures soon. As always, this blog gets cleaned up once I am back home and several hundred of the best pictures will be available not long after that, so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Arrival in Nairobi

When we landed at Heathrow we were told that there were no open terminals and so we had to disembark via a portable stairway into two buses at a time.  They didn't have enough buses ready so it took about 7 buses and way too much time to clear our fully loaded 777.  We didn't have a lot of extra time to make it through immigration and the security check before we had to board our flight to Nairobi. Some of us were pretty well torn apart, but we all made it onto the plane in time. We are looking forward to meeting up with our last team member, Elizabeth, at the Nairobi airport.
We are about 25 minutes from landing in Nairobi and this trip has been pretty smooth for the most part.  I am hopeful that we get through immigration and security in a timely manner and have a quick drive across town to our lodgings.
Nairobi touch down was right on time at 9:20pm.  Getting our visa took a little while longer than usual and by the time I came down to change the team's money, most of the footlockers were already on the ground, ready to be arranged and counted. We ended up several short due to circumstances we discovered later. They are en route to the correct destinations as of this writing. Arrival at Rosa Mystica, our lodging for the weekend for the group of 60, was at midnight and I was showered and in bed by 1:15am after calling Adrienne to let her know we made it OK.  She passed the word on to Pastor Kevin. Thanks be to God for another safe journey.

Travel notes

November 8, 2012
The morning started out with a phone call a little before 7:30 from Pastor Kevin letting me know that he had been ill all night and would see if he felt well enough to join us in Houston in time for our flight to London.  I immediately headed for his place, where Tammy was waiting with the leader's packets for both Redeemer teams.  I went to the church a block away and retrieved the autorefractors for my team and the petty cash we would need for our on the ground expenses at Kitengela and Kiambu.  Allison from Wichita Falls arrived first, followed by Kay, Beth, Chris and finally Cecilia. We drove my truck and Beth's car to Brenham where we met the rest of our group for our traditional Blue Bell ice cream.
We caravanned to Bush International Airport in Houston and broke bread together, having one last American meal at the Hot Biscuit. After parking at Fast Park, we made our way to Terminal D and waited for the Vision Kenya Project's 60 footlockers to arrive by truck from Tomball. Check-in and our journey through airport security went very smoothly, with the only problem I was aware of being Beth and Chris needing to be reticketed because their full names were not on their boarding passes, thus not matching their passports.  We had just gotten done with security when Pastor Dave called saying that Kevin was definitely not going to make it.  A little later, even though he was still not feeling too well, Kevin graciously called and wished us many blessings on the mission. I feel bad for him, knowing how much behind the scenes planning and work goes into fielding a mission team halfway around the world twice a year.  From just about the time we return from one trip, we are already taking inventory of the remaining supplies, guestimating what to order to replenish our kits, recruiting new as well as experienced missionaries for our next adventure and the list goes on and on. We are very blessed at Redeemer to have a core group of committed people who are constantly volunteering to help with every detail and are always looking for ways to improve our processes to make us more effective witnesses for Christ. Everyone on both of our teams and all who know him from the other churches are praying for a speedy recovery and are hopeful Pastor Kevin might still find a way to get to Africa.
As I write this, we are at 37,000 feet and traveling at about 550mph. We are approaching Boston and will be over the Atlantic Ocean soon. There is some turbulence due to the northeaster that is hitting the East coast and the Fasten Seat Belt lights are on. Veterans of these missions know that it works for the best if you get some good sleep on the flight to London and then try to remain awake for much of the London to Nairobi leg of the trip. This usually results in a little less serious jet lag. It's almost 8pm at home, so I'll be off to Never Neverland fairly soon now.
It's now about midnight back in Texas and 6am London time as we've just been served a light breakfast and are about an hour from Heathrow. I did get some sleep as planned and am getting ready to stow my electronics, including this Android tablet I'm writing this post with. After the choppy air off the eastern U. S., the rest of the flight was very smooth.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Commissioning Sunday brought many blessings

We were sent off by the congregation at all three services Sunday morning.  Each service was led by the high school youth of the church and it was very well done.  Not your grandfather's church service, but full of praise, worship and energy.  During the past week, we lost one team member to a medical issue and put out a call at each service for anyone that would like to go on the trip for a reduced price that would cover their on the ground expenses, since the airfare was non-refundable.  I had texted several members of previous teams the day before, knowing that whoever might be able to go at this late date would not only need to make arrangements with work, school, etc. very quickly, but would also need to already have all of the necessary inoculations for travel to Africa. Dan Zieschang was one of these folks.  He had really wanted to come this time, but just couldn't swing it for a number of reasons.  Our mutual friend Cecilia, a nurse working here in Austin, came to church and Dan immediately began working on her.  He had been with her at his son's high school football game Friday night with Cecilia.  She had him text me to ask where we would be serving when she heard that it was no longer going to be Kawangware.  When I replied that it was Kiambu, she couldn't believe it, that's where she's from!  In fact, she had been in Nairobi for a month recently and just got back about three weeks ago.  He asked her to come to Redeemer on Sunday to tell the group about what to expect there.  When she arrived, he told her she had to go, it was meant to be and that we would find a way to make it happen, both financially and in helping to handle the last minute details quickly.  She worshipped at 8am services, saw our commissioning and plea for a volunteer there and then went to an adult Sunday School with Dan during the second service.  By the time Pastor Kevin was praying a blessing over the team during the third service, she was with us as part of the team, holding hands during prayer.  The Sunday School class had helped raise the money needed to send her.  What a blessing!  She's already a good friend, she knows the area and the dialect where we will be holding our clinic and is a nurse with a big heart for the Lord and for people's needs.

Before every mission trip, I always pray that the Lord will once again surprise us with some totally unexpected experience or will bring a special person or circumstance into our path. This time, it happened before we ever left Austin!

Click on the link below to see pictures of our orientation last month and the commissioning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Preparations almost complete for November trip

Our three days of cross-cultural training in late September were most welcome and allowed all of the Vision Kenya Project partner churches to develop closer relationships with our LCMS International Missions leadership team and their staff.  It was a real blessing to be able to learn from each other to further our common goal of spreading the Gospel through human care ministry.  We really appreciate the commitment that the LCMS showed by putting together such a large volume of quality materials and traveling to Tomball for this time together.  We are also thankful that all of the PowerPoint presentations and other documents that were compiled by Dr. Mike Rodewald and his people were shared with us for future use in our cross-cultural training.  We have been given a lot of valuable materials that we can now build upon as we train future teams for these missions.

Since the late September training, we have been very busy at Redeemer.  For one thing, we completed the inventorying and restocking of our footlockers.  Our frames, lenses and reading glasses orders arrived and we were blessed to have Pastor Kevin's "twenty-something" Bible study class around to help Martha, Louise and myself in the packing and weighing of the footlockers one recent Tuesday evening.  The energy and enthusiasm of these young people was infectious and I hope to have some of them join us soon on upcoming trips.  All of this was done early so that Pastor Kevin can transport the kit of 9 footlockers for one of our teams to Tomball before our November 8th departure.  They already have a kit ready for our Kitengela team at Salem.

Paul Althoff and Kevin Pieper of Salem have recently been to Kenya on the advance trip for the overall mission, which will have 60 participants working in many locations.  As has been the case for the last several missions, the LCMS and their private intelligence service have some security concerns about the usual locations we serve in the slums of Nairobi.  Redeemer will be taking two teams to Kenya for the first time, and each will be serving on the outskirts of Nairobi.  It has been our great joy to see the Vision Kenya Project grow as it has to this point and we are happy to serve wherever God places us.  What a blessing! 

Our whole team of 60 people from various churches will be staying the first Friday and Saturday night at a lodge called Rosa Mystica.  You can see what it is like at

Pastor Kevin will be leading our efforts, as previously planned, in Kitengela, a rapidly growing suburban church near the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.  It is about 10 miles south of Nairobi.  Other teams have been there on past trips to get things started.  Redeemer has committed to continue work at this site from now on, since our heart is to do urban ministry, while other groups are called to work in the rural areas of Kenya.  His team will be staying at a very nice lodge nearby called the Kaputiei Safariland Hotel.  Their website is This place looks so nice that I want to sign up to lead the team to Kitengela next time!  All joking aside, we are usually so tired at the end of each day, after seeing from 500-1000 people, that it doesn't really matter where we stay, since most any place looks the same when you're fast asleep right after dinner and evening devotions.  It's a good kind of tired that you get when working for the Lord and the sleep is always refreshing indeed.

My team will be going to Kiambu, rather than to our original planned clinic in the slum of Kawangware.  Kawangware is where there is a wonderful church that we have strong ties to through multiple missions over the past 5 years, through our working on the water well project to strengthen their ministry to the neighborhood and through our support of their ministry to the street boys and girls.  Kiambu is a daughter church, that was planted by the church in Kawangware and the ELCK, so we hope that some of our experienced volunteers from Kawangware will be able to join us.  The ELCK is the national Lutheran church body that we work in partnership with, and they have wanted us to work in Kiambu for some time now, so I'm viewing these changes as a God thing.  It is just north of Nairobi, in an area that is at about 4,000 feet elevation, surrounded by tea and coffee plantations.  Many affluent people, including the President of Kenya, live in this area.  Our dear friend and liaison for the LCMS in Nairobi, Catherine, said she would arrange for me to have tea with the President.  I'm not sure if she was joking, if anybody has the connections to make this happen, she does!  Our patients may include some affluent people, those who work for the wealthy and also we expect that some of our patients will come from a nearby slum, so we should be witnessing to the most diverse set of people we have encountered to date.  People have asked me if I'm concerned about going to such a different location this time.  I tell them that I had my doubts about helping to open up a clinic for the first time in the slum of Kibera in the spring of 2010, knowing that we would be serving a community with about a 40% Muslim population.  That site has turned into such a blessing that it feels like home to me now in Kibera, after 3 missions there.  I really don't have much of a comfort zone anymore, it's gotten pretty huge by being stretched out more and more with each mission trip.  So no, I don't have the concerns that a "normal" person might have, and of course we always pay attention to every detail that will make for a safe and effective mission, but in place of worries the Lord has given each of us an incredible sense of peace, knowing we are smack dab in the middle of his plan for each of us.  What an adventure each trip is, I always feel like a kid on Christmas morning, wondering what the Lord has in store for us this time.  How will we be a blessing this time and how will we also be abundantly blessed, as we have been every time we have served?  I can't wait to find out.  Thank you, Jesus!

We will be staying in a compound run by Africa Heart, an American non-profit that works with AIDS orphans.  Their lodgings can handle up to 25 missionaries at a time and just by our staying there, we will be helping to support their ministry.   You can see a little more about them and pictures of our lodgings at  Our lodge is in walking distance of a Nakumatt, a Walmart type of store where we can restock on essentials for the clinic as we need to.  There is a coffee shop with Internet access, so  I may be posting some of my stories from there, especially if our Internet at Africa Heart has any problems.

That's about it for now.  More to follow as we continue to handle the myriad of details that goes into putting on a successful clinic (times 2 now!).  Stay tuned to this blog and please remember to keep us in your prayers for safe travels and an effective mission from November 8-18, 2012.

To God be the Glory!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cross-Cultural Training in Tomball is underway!

Monday September 24

I arrived in Tomball at Salem Lutheran Church yesterday in time for a noon lunch and then an afternoon filled with cross cultural training by missionaries and staff from LCMS International Missions.  What a blessing it is to have lifelong, called church workers sharing their insights with short-term mission teams such as ourselves. Over the last 25 years or so, the short-term mission movement has gained steam and done much good around the world.  Of course, there have been problems, especially ones caused by groups that go on a mission to a particualr locale and never return again, leaving the host congregation wondering if they are not worthy of a second visit and the career missionaries in a position to mop up after any cultural faux pauxs.  Our Vision for Kenya Project is very different from this.  It began in 2007 as a five year commitment to spread the Gospel via vision and dental clinics.  It has grown geometrically from being a program of Salem Lutheran Church in partnership with the LCMS through the Congregation Connect initiative to a major effort with three churches making up a mentoring group and many other congregations having a stake in locations throughout Kenya.  About 60 team members will depart in November for our biggest effort yet, serving two locations in Nairobi and many more sites in other parts of the country.  One of our guiding principles is that we do short-term missions with a long-term commitment, returning to the same areas, building relationships with the pastors and congregations we serve.  The churches grow and the blessings are abundant, both for the areas that get human care ministry and for those of us that go into this mission field.  While this was to be a five year project, all involved have signed on for another five years, since we can see that we are still gaining momentum and there is much work left to be done in our obedience to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20.
Our LCMS International Missions staff on hand includes Dave Birner, head of the program, Mike Rodewald, who oversees all of our missionaries in Africa,  Jennifer Prophete, short-term missions coordinator from the St. Louis office and Shara Cunningham from our Nairobi office.  Also particiapting with us are Ivan and Jennifer Rasch, missionaries serving in Ghana. We have participants from Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Concordia San Antonio, Trinity-Klein, Peace Hewitt and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin, my home congregation.

After lunch, our sessions began with everyone introducing themselves.  We range in experience from some team members who will be going on their first mission with us to old-times saddling up for the eleventh time.  I love the mix of experience and wide-eyed enthusiasm that has been a hallmark of each and every mission I've been on.  And yes, I'm somewhere in between, going on my eighth trip to Kenya this time since November of 2009.

Mike led a devotion based on Psalm 56 and then he went into the Gospel of Matthew geneology, stressing that relationships are highly prized in Africa and the Middle East (it's who you are, not what you do that counts).  As an excercise, he then asked us to write down what our reasons were for going on this next mission trip.  He proceeded to give an historical overview of the LCMS' role in world missions, followed by a look at the size and history of the Lutheran church across the African continent.  It was an eye opener, seeing that most of our denominations work has been from near the equator and to the south, with the northern part of the continent largely untouched, since it's a Muslim stronghold.  He did stress that while all of us have studied the formal teachings of Islam in order to be better evangelists, Islam in Africa is largely cultural rather than orthodox in many places.  More is to follow on this over the next two days. 

In response to the exercise previously noted, Mike reviewed the many reasons people have gone into the mission field over the years and explained Missio Dei or God's mission to us, which is why we are sent and why we go as Lutherans. We are privileged to be called by God to his mission field, He doesn't need us to accomplish His purpose but in His grace and mercy He has chosen to work through us.  What a blessing!
After a short break, Mike explained the spiritual heritage of Africa, starting with ancient beliefs that we call animism.  He illustrated some of the key features of this world view by using the Bible story of Namaan's being cured of leprosy by God throught the prophet Elisha.  It was very enlightening.

Next, Shara instructed us in some conversational Swahili basics such as greetings, thank yous, etc.  We will buld on what she taught us over the next couple of days.
Finally, Jennifer Prophete led a lively discussion of African Friends and Money Matters topics by asking those of us who have been to Kenya before to tell about five experiences involving money that we had witnessed.   We then discussed them based on insights from the book and with some great input from our missionaries.  It comforted me that there are many ways that awkward situations can be deflected graciously so that strong relationships can be formed rather than unintentional rudeness ruining the possibility of friendships blossoming.  These insights will probe most valuable to us and I thank our LCMS mentors for this.

At 5:30 or so, we broke for dinner at the Harris County Smokehouse, where many of us got to know each other better before heading home or to our respective lodgings for the night.
More to follow as the training continues.  Stay tuned.......


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preparation for November Mission going well

It's been a very busy summer since returning from Nairobi in May.  We had the pleasure of hosting Catherine and her family while they celebrated Mark's high school graduation, then it was time to produce the DVD slideshow to commemorate the mission trip and finally we hosted a meeting of our Vision for Kenya partners and the leadership of LCMS International Missions at Redeemer.  All the while, we were working out all the details that go into fielding a mission team in November times two, since we will be holding vision clinics at two separate sites in Nairobi this next time around.  One will be at the church in Kawangware, where we have served multiple times and are looking forward to renewing the friendships that have already blossomed there. I will be leading that team while Pastor Kevin will be heading the team that will be working in Kitengela, a suburban Nairobi location near the airport.  The distance between the two sites is such that our teams will need to stay in separate locations this time.  It has always been a joy and a blessing to gather everyone together at dinner to have a devotion and compare notes, this time we'll have to wait until the end of the mission to see how our other half fared. 

Pastor Kevin and I have also been busy preparing for the orientation we will hold at Redeemer on September 16th for our two teams and for those from other churches that might not be able to attend the sessions scheduled for them at our other partner churches.  I always love the mix of the quiet confidence of our team members that have served multiple times before and the excitement, enthusiasm and more than a little bit of anxiety that first time team members bring to the training.  This mixture is one of the things that helps keep me pumped up and coming back again and again to the wonderful mission field we serve in east Africa.  I will be making my eighth trip in 3 years. It never gets old and I pray that I never get jaded.  I am always looking for that next blessing that I can be a part of giving, all the while knowing that the Lord has blessed me abundantly every time I have stepped a little further out of my comfort zone to answer His call on my life.  I can't wait for what the surprises will be this time, and am anxiously anticipating the upcoming trip with all the zeal of a child that sleeplessly can't wait for Christmas morning to arrive!

Once the orientation has been accomplished, our next pre-trip task is to undergo cross-cultural training in Tomball from September 24-26th.  Our LCMS mission team, including Dr. Mike Rodewald, head of African missions, Pastor Shauen Trump, who is over the east African national missions and Shara Cunningham of the Nairobi staff will immerse us in lessons about the culture, language and best practices for sharing the Gospel during our next trip.  We are very thankful that they are so committed to making our missions better and better, both for our teams and for those that we come to work with and to serve.  Pastor Kevin and I will represent Redeemer at this training.

Stay tuned to this space, much more to follow as final preparations get into full swing during October, culminating in the actual mission taking place from November 8-18th.  Please continue to pray for us and, if the Lord moves you, to contribute to this next mission.  Contact me at or Pastor Kevin Westergren at for more details.

To God be the Glory!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Catherine's Big Adventure

To see captioned pictures of Catherine's U.S. visit from May 17th to May 22nd, click on the link below:

Well, now that I have had the experience of being Catherine FOR Catherine during her trip to America for her son Mark's high school graduation, I have come to have an even higher respect for all that she does during our mission trips to keep us safe, comfortable and happy in most every way.  I began helping her to plan the trip for her and her family even before our recent April-May mission to Kibera and there were still numerous details, including visa snafus, luggage that didn't arrive in Kansas City, etc. that made being flexible along the way a most valued skill.  Following is the story from start to finish as best as I can remember it, without too much embellishment!

                                              Planning the trip in Nairobi with Catherine

When I found out earlier this year that Catherine was definitely coming to Concordia, MO for the graduation at St. Paul Lutheran High School, I asked if I could have the honor of being her matatu driver.  For those of you that have not been on one of our missions to Kenya, the matatu is a 9-14 passenger all purpose van that is used for everything from taking people to work from the slums, to taking tourists on safaris (since many have a popup roof and are good for photography) to general transport for hire.  The drivers are phenomenal, not only skilled in every aspect of driving and repairing their vehicles on the spot, but also expert in many small ways at keeping their passengers from harm by avoiding unsafe areas and situations.  They are usually very nice guys as well.  So to have Catherine accept my offer to be her matatu driver meant that she was willing to trust herself and her family into my care, a high honor indeed and one that I was most glad to volunteer for and will always cherish. 

My initial plan was to fly up to Kansas City and rent an SUV or minivan, depending on the number of passengers, go to the graduation and then bring Catherine and her clan back to Austin to show her some Texas hospitality in response to the loving care she has always given us.  Once I factored in the flight, the rental of the van, the one-way dropoff charges, fuel and the like, it became very apparent that this would be unaffordable.  I considered using my Ford Supercab, but then the number of travelers eventually swelled to 6, including myself.  It would have been possible (and even comfortable by Kenyan standards!), but when my friend Lupe of Casa Chapala and previous African mission trip fame heard my plight, he very generously offered to swap me my truck for his Ford Excursion for the week.  Not only that, he had it tuned up, cleaned inside and out and put new tires on it to ensure our safety and comfort.  What a great friend he and his wife Lucina are to me.  They are a huge blessing to everyone they call their friends at Redeemer. 

I started out early on Thursday morning, May 17th and spent the day driving to Joplin, MO, where I had reservations to spend the night at a Microtel.  This left me with about 250 miles to go to get to Concordia, MO on Friday in time for the 1:30pm Commencement at St. Paul Lutheran High School.  It was an easy day and I arrived around 4pm at my motel, went out to dinner and took it easy in the evening, knowing I would need my rest to make it through the next several days. 

The Campus at St. Paul Lutheran High School

Friday morning, I hit the road around 7:30am after having the continental breakfast supplied by the motel and gassing up the Excursion.  I took state roads through many small towns, rather than the Interstate, since I had plenty of time and enjoy taking the back roads now and then.  Small town America still is alive and well.  I arrived in Concordia around 10:30am and drove to the campus to look around.  It reminded me of a miniature original Concordia University in Austin, with old brick buildings including dorms, a cafeteria, a chapel, a classroom building, the administration building and a gym.  What a beautiful campus it is!  With a couple of hours to kill, I drove down Main Street to the business district and was delighted to find a small town similar to the one I grew up in.  The church overshadowed the entire downtown, there was a town square with a clock tower and some old time businesses such as a Rexall Drug Store (hadn't seen one in years!) and an antique Ford dealership. 

Downtown Concordia, MO

After some fast food near the Interstate, I headed back to campus around noon and found a parking spot under a large shade tree, as it was beginning to get warm.  As I stepped from the Excursion, I saw some gentlemen standing there and inquired as to the time and exact building the Commencement would be in, allowing that I had just arrived from Austin, TX.  One of them said "Austin! What's your name?  I told him and he remembered me, it was Pastor Norb Firnhaber, formerly the pastor at the University Lutheran Church at UT.  I knew him from his days on campus.  He was in town because it was his 50th reunion.  When he was in school, it was all male and was a six year institution, high school plus the first two years of college.  Many pastors and church workers have come from this place.  I went with Pastor Norb to the cafeteria, where lunch was being served to parents that had already arrived.  I was in search of Catherine and her entourage, but didn't see any of them.  I retreated back to the SUV and rested my eyes as I waited for the festivities to begin.  Around 1pm I finally found Rhoda Houge, Catherine's former boss in Nairobi and Uncle Henry, a family friend and mentor to Mark who had also come from Nairobi for the graduation. We had a nice talk and waited for Catherine, her mother and Eugene to return from Mark's dorm room.  We finally all gathered together out in front of the gym and went in together just in time for the ceremonies.

Mark gives his Mom a rose and a big hug

The graduation was as full of pomp and circumstance as any I had ever been to.  Wonderful hymns were sung by the choir, the speaker was short and to the point and the afternoon focused on the graduates and on the 50th reunion class.  One of the most touching aspects for me was that each graduate was given a bouquet of red roses and there was time for them to go around and give them to their classmates and loved ones.  Mark was so wrapped up with his friends, particularly the girls, that I went over and reminded him that he needed to make sure that he got around to his mother and grandmother before he ran out of roses! 

After the graduation, I went back to my motel room and put together all of the pictures that I had taken so far and arranged them on my laptop.  When I went to the Mike Rodewald's house, where the family was staying, they were amazed that the afternoon's events from only a couple of hours before were ready for viewing.  We went to a potluck at the home of Gail, Mark's surrogate mother during his school days in Concordia.  It was wonderful, many of Mark's classmates and their parents were there and we all shared many stories and laughs.  Catherine's luggage had gotten diverted between London and Chicago and much of it hadn't arrived yet.  She had brought Kenyan spices and other fixin's for her contribution to the potluck.  With some help from Rhoda, she managed to make some chapatis or flat bread, which everyone used like a tortilla to wrap their food rather than folding it up and eating it like bread, as they do in Kenya. I told Catherine she would see tortillas soon enough and then she would understand why people did this.  She also brought some wonderful chicken, pulled pork, beans and rice.  Everyone loved it. 

After the party, we visited along with Claude and Rhoda Houge, our retired career missionaries who had been working in all of east Africa and with whom I served a couple of years.  We shared some great stories before I left early to get some rest for the big day's drive that I knew was ahead on Saturday.

Saturday morning I went down to the lobby of the motel for the continental breakfast and was sitting with a trucker that was obviously a Christian, since he blessed his food before eating.  He was a great guy and he too had a long haul ahead of him, which is a day of over 1,000 miles by definition, at least according to him. I was wearing one of my Christian t-shirts from the Voice of the Martyrs that says "This shirt is illegal" on the front and has the Gospel message on the back to highlight the fact that many people have to go underground in various countries to practice their faith.  A woman about my age overheard our conversation and asked if she could join us.  The trucker needed to leave, so I spent some time one-on-one with her.  She was a Canadian lady named Elaine.  She had just come from Cambodia, where she was working on rescuing young women and men from the sex slavery trade that is practiced at the high dollar casinos there.  It made my missions to Kenya look tame by comparison.  We really hit it off and we prayed for each other's ministries before we parted company.  You never know where Jesus will show up when you least expect Him to!

I arrived about 7:40am to begin loading up, since we had agreed upon an 8am start for what promised to be a 12 hour drive under the best of circumstances.  I had no delusions that even a long day like that was likely, traveling with 6 of us.  Everyone had their luggage except for Mark and Eugene, who were nowhere to be found.  Henry went looking for him, and as it turned out, Mark was having a hard time saying his last minute goodbyes in a timely fashion at the dorm a few blocks away.  We took some pictures on the lawn of the Rodewald home with the family, Mark and his friends, etc.  I finally got everyone herded into the Excursion and we were all waving goodbye to about 20 people on the lawn when the unthinkable occurred.  I turned the key and nothing happened!  They don't make movies better than this.  One of the Dad's came and jumped our battery a few minuted later and we headed for a NAPA parts store a few blocks away.  They made it clear that they would sell me a battery, but that they don't install them.  At least they tested the charging system for me and it was fine.  Henry and I spent the next ten minutes sweating and swapping out the battery.  We had a big laugh when the old one was lifted out and there was a neon green sticker on it that said "used battery".  It doesn't get any better than that!  The laugh we shared made it all worth it.

We finally hit the road at 9am and were making good time until there was a massive backup less than 2 miles from our turnoff in Kansas City, which had been caused by an accident.  We spent at least 45 minutes inching along before things started to move and we finally began to head south on I-35 for Texas.  When lunchtime arrived, I treated everybody to Subway, since each of us could have some control over what went into our sandwiches and Catherine and her family seemed to like it pretty well. During our whole time together that week, we had to keep making sure we asked for drinks with no ice, since they prefer room temperature drinks.  Also, we tried to stick to the bland side on food, since for the most part, Kenyans don't spice up their food much.  Mark had been in the States for his high school, so he was the exception and we each had Jalepeno chips and cold drinks with ice and laughed about it.

My friends were still suffering from a good bit of jet lag, so there was a lot of sleeping going on between stops, which allowed me to drive for 3 or 4 hours at a time.  The Interstate and the tollways in Kansas and Oklahoma had speed limits as high as 80MPH.  When I told them we were doing 80 it didn't really register until I said that we had been driving over 120 kilometers per hour.  While there are some good Interstate quality roads in Kenya, and the Chinese are building many more for them right now, there are speed bumps anytime you drive in front of a school.  So even on good roads, you can't really get going or have the luxury of setting it on cruise control and relaxing.  And there are many bad roads.  I'm sure one of their big impressions of their visit here was the quality of the roads and the speed at which you can travel. 

There usually was at least one of the group that was awake, particularly Henry, who acted as my co-pilot and kept an eye out that I didn't look drowsy.  Lots of coffee and other caffeinated drinks did the trick.  None of the them could or would dare to drive, since we drive on the other side of the street and they are unfamiliar with things such as street lights.  In Nairobi, there are roundabouts most everywhere for traffic control.  There are a few traffic lights, but policemen are posted at each one directing traffic and they override whatever the light is telling one to do.  I let them know that there was no danger of me wanting to drive in their country either!

We reached the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex around 6pm and had our final fillup on the Excursion at a gas station next to a McDonald's.  Except for Mark, none of them had been to one before.  Catherine treated us and everyone like it.  Mark and I had to show them how to eat fries with ketchup, and of course, it was very hard to make sure we got drinks without ice!  We enjoyed a view of downtown Dallas as we were passing through right before sunset that was really nice.  We finally arrived at Howard and Martha Faskes in Georgetown at 10:30pm, got everything unloaded and I got home at 11:30 on the dot, fourteen and a half hours after we set out for Austin.  A new record for me for solo driving and something I would not recommend even attempting to my fellow 60 year olds!  But it was well worth it and none of us will ever forget Dave being the consummate matatu driver nor how strong jet lag can be.

Catherine says hello to Redeemer

I was up bright and early to do my usual Sunday morning 7:15am prayers with the Pastors and a steadfast group of others that do the same and then managed to teach my Sunday school class at 8:15, though I don't know how I did it or what I taught.  Catherine and her family made it to Redeemer in time for 9:30 church.  Dan, Mary and the Zieschang kids took the boys to Sunday school and they had a great time meeting others and enjoyed the lessons they were taught.  I introduced Catherine at the 9:30 service and she greeted the congregation and gave a very nice talk about the partnership between Redeemer, the LCMS and the Evangelical Church of Kenya.  Pastor Dave had a great idea and asked if she would greet the congregation as they left church, so I walked Catherine down the aisle right after Pastor gave the blessing and she did just that.  I'm so glad that our members now have a face that they can attach to our Kenya project, instead of just Pastor Kevin, myself and others seemingly saying Kenya, Kenya, Kenya over and over again!

I also introduced Catherine at the 10:45 service and she started her talk by saying "This is my favorite song..." and then she began to sing They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.  Before you knew it, everyone in the sanctuary had joined in.  Not a dry eye in the house. Wow!  She again said a few words and then we left, I to go home to collapse for awhile and then put together some pictures for the evening festivities and they to go and relax at the Zieschang's.

Eugene has yet another birthday

Sunday evening was the big event we had been planning for since we got back from Kenya.  On the Evite, it said it was a Dinner in Appreciation of Catherine and it sure was.  I didn't know whether to expect 25 people or 100.  There were many other events that night, some at Redeemer, but we had around 45 people for dinner and my guess is that at least another 35 people came by at one time or another to make sure they saw Catherine while she was in Austin.  I had a slide show running on the wall of everything that had happened up to that point, including the graduation, our travels and even Catherine and her family at Redeemer that morning.  Her mother couldn't quit looking at it and always pointed to pictures that she was in!  That made everything that had gone into the planning for this trip worthwhile right there.  We had a birthday for Eugene, even though his birthday wasn't until June.  We had done the same in Nairobi a couple of weeks earlier.  He got serenaded by the whole restaurant while he and his brother Mark were wearing sombreros.  It was precious.  I was asked to say a few words about the Kenyan project, but instead just introduced Catherine and let her thank everybody.  After all, it was her night and everyone there had either been on a mission to Kenya or had been instrumental in making the project what it is today.

Monday morning was spent relaxing, and then Martha, Kay Allensworth, Dan and I took the family to Threadgill's for lunch, where they were introduced to chicken-fried steak.  We had a good time at lunch and then Dan and Kay took our friends to Mt. Bonnell for the view, followed by a visit to the Oasis for some libations, desserts and a look at Lake Travis.  Finally, they went shopping at the Outlet Mall in Round Rock, so Catherine could bring some souvenirs and gifts back to Nairobi with her.

I picked everybody up at Howard and Martha's Tuesday morning for the ride to Tomball.  Catherine had tried to extend the Texas portion of the trip by a few days, but it just didn't work out and they were forced to fly out Tuesday evening from Houston to London.  Henry had visa problems, so he had to go back to Kenya from London, while Catherine, her Mom and Eugene were going to spend about 10 days in the UK seeing friends there.  We got all of the luggage into the bed of my truck and truly rode to Tomball matatu style, with Eugene in the middle seat next to me.  We all laughed when I asked if we could've gotten a couple more people in the truck if we were in Nairobi and Catherine said maybe 10 would fit!  Of course, we couldn't pass Brenham without some Blue Bell, which all agreed is the best ice cream in the whole world.

We all got a nice tour of Salem Lutheran Church upon our arrival in Tomball and then we went out for barbecue, which was a nice treat provided by Salem. I couldn't believe our guests had almost gotten away from Texas without experiencing BBQ.  That completed the cycle, as they say in baseball.  They had Tex-Mex, chicken-fried steak, Blue Bell and BBQ while in the Lone Star State.  We said our goodbyes and then I loaded up footlockers in my truck with my friend Gus Jacob to bring back to Austin.  They spent the afternoon seeing Mark's new junior college campus and then our Salem friends got them to the airport.  What an incredible experience the past week had been.  Catherine couldn't quit talking about how everyone that had taken them in or shown them arround was so nice.  I had to break it to her that they were the ones who beat out everybody else that wanted to be their hosts and guides.  It was a long list.  Her mother couldn't believe she knew that many people and will now understand better when she has to work late taking care of us while we are on our next mission.  For my part, I was happy to just be the driver and stay in the background as others also shared in the joy of returning Catherine's hospitality.  When we are in Kenya, Catherine doesn't always seem to be there, but at the first sign of trouble, she magically appears!  She's always just around the corner.  I tried to duplicate that, but there is only one Catherine!  The whole week was a very good example of a group effort that really worked well.  To God be the Glory!  Thank you, Jesus!

Monday, May 7, 2012

More pictures added Saturday, May 12th

There are now over 400 pictures with captions in chronological order. As I continue to gather up more pictures from the rest of the team, I will replace any of mine as better pictures from the others appear. Click on the link below to go to the pictures.  The set now consists of pictures from myself, Lupe, Kay and new addtions as of today from Justin including some great macro flower and lizard shots as well as an outstanding panorama of the Great Rift Valley. Enjoy!

Travel home

I am having a hot cup of black coffee in Heathrow Airport as this is being written. Our Saturday excursion to the Lake Nakuru wild game park was probably the most eventful daytrip I have been involved with, even though this is now my seventh mission trip in a row since getting involved with the Vision Kenya Project. We had an early breakfast and were on the road before 6:30am. When we got to the Great Rift Valley overlooks, the valley was still fogged in and while it was beautiful, it was not worth the stop at the time. We did stop for a few minutes and took some good photos further on up the road across the valley. I put my camera into panorama mode and am hoping to end up with a spectacular result once I can work some magic on my computer. As we got to within about 20km of the town of Nakuru, the matatu began making a loud racket and shook like we had blown a tire. We pulled off to the side of the road and the tires were fine. Our driver, Caius, crawled under the van and saw that there were some loose connections in the drivetrain. We let the van cool down and then limped into town and went to a small repair facility that his transport company had used previously. In less than half an hour, they had done a temporary fix that included some wrenching and pumping fluid into the transmission. We were able to continue with our safari while the repair shop procured needed replacement parts. We saw white and black rhinos, gazelles, chevrons, impalas (does this sound like a Chevy commercial or what?), many species of birds, baboons, monkeys and we concluded the trip with an up close and personal look at an obviously injured large female lion resting on the side of the road. We had to quickly close the windows on that side of the van for safety sake. We shortened the safari a little bit to allow time for finishing the vehicle repair, which occurred while we were in a nearby souvenir stand. It actually worked out well, because Pastor Preece was able to get his long sought after Masai warrior club and several others in the group got some neat trinkets. I have a strong suspicion that club will make an appearance in at least one sermon and will be a welcome new addition to Pastor's office decor. Our trip back to Nairobi was uneventful and we did manage to stop for a few minutes at the scenic overlook we had skipped in the morning. Fairly aggressive souvenir vendors came out of the woodwork hawking their wares and more than one of us succumbed to temptation. We arrived at our Nairobi lodgings about an hour and a half later than planned, but we still had time for showers and some pizza before we had to load up our buses prior to heading to the airport. We left for the airport around 6pm rather than our usual 7pm due to concerns about heavy traffic that had dogged us all week with the abundant rains. It's a good thing that we did, since our trip took over two hours, lots of rain and involved several shortcuts I had not seen before. Our drivers are amazing, turning full sized buses around in areas where I couldn't do a three point turnabout with my pickup truck. 

Our time at Heathrow went very smoothly this morning, with the exception of a few of us being required to check our carry ons to make more room due to a nearly full flight back to the U.S. I escaped this fate and I'm glad I did, since I like to have my tablet computer, camera and other small electronics in my possession at all times. We are now traveling over the Atlantic Ocean west of Ireland at 35,000 feet speeding along at 547mph. At this point, it looks as if we'll arrive in Houston right on time at 2:45pm. I'll try to get a bit of rest between now and touchdown, since my body is adjusted to an 8 hour time difference. By the time we clear Customs and Immigration checks, it'll be 4pm, but my body will be telling me that it's midnight in Nairobi with a drive home to Austin still ahead of Lupe and myself. As usual, we'll be wrestling more than 50 footlockers and assorted personal items through several checkpoints as a large group, so anything is possible. More to follow after we get home. Thanks be to God for travel mercies and the way He has used each of us in His service!

Friday, our final day of the clinic

Last night we got in a little late for dinner and all retired to our rooms for a free night to catch up on some rest. I went to bed about 10pm, with all of my electronics plugged in and recharging. I woke up briefly around 11pm and realized that there had been a power failure. We have had lots of rain, lightning and thunder this trip, and so I thought the outage might last from a few minutes to an hour. Wrong! It was still out when I got up around 5:30am, so I got dressed and headed over to the cafeteria, only to find a surprise. There in a candle lit kitchen stood Lupe preparing breakfast for the gang! He outdid himself this time. Eggs he had ordered the night before had not arrived, but he was able to patch together some freshly made tortillas, and some potatoes and salsa to form breakfast tacos. We all appreciate him so much. I told Pastor Kevin that I couldn't stop him from being Lupe if I wanted to and I don't want to. What a great friend he is!

We are now nearing the end of our mission trip. We had a good final day and saw 403 people in the clinic. Our total for the week was 1944 people that actually registered for and entered the clinic. We always have a larger number at the gate, since not all people come to the clinic after our evangelism efforts. They could be waiting for a friend or relative, etc. While we are in a neighborhood where the population includes a significant number of Muslims, there were really no confrontations, but a few decided not to come into the evangelism tents as a prerequisite for treatment. Pastor Kevin left a little before 4pm and then I became the short term team leader just in time to box everything up and shut down the clinic. That all went very smoothly. We had a nice devotion led by Bishop Bakari which included letting team members from each side give testimonies as to what they had observed during the week. All church and Redeemer team members were very much in agreement that these clinics are a blessing to the church and to the surrounding area and that the week had been one of joy as we worked together. We then had chosen people from the church and our team make a final testimony. Sally, who was in charge of our registration process gave a beautiful witness as to how much the clinic helped the church and the community. Pastor Preece had a powerful talk on what he had observed of the African mind, African music and on the might of the African people. He has been a real blessing to everyone involved this week, including Bishop Bakari who absolutely loves his preaching. The congregation sang a blessing song over each of the Redeemer team members by name that was very special, with hardly a dry eye in the sanctuary. Pastor Bakari insisted that we once again sing the Doxology for him and it was so well received that the congregation insisted on a second time around. I will never think of the Doxology the same way again when I sing it. It was powerful, beautiful and the acoustics of the church made it all the better.

We packed up our foot lockers in a pickup truck that Catherine had sent for us and then rode back to Scripture Mission for dinner with Catherine. There we planned our safari at Lake Nakuru and for our final Saturday afternoon festivities before we head back to the States tomorrow night. More to follow tomorrow afternoon if time permits.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thursday evening

We indeed did eat at the Trump's last night, after serving around 385 patients in the clinic. Pastor Preece spent Wednesday in Kisumu visiting a clinic that had been setup by his congregation, Zion Lutheran Church in Dallas. Bishop Bakari was in Kitui on ELCK business, so 2 of our most effective evangelists were doing other good works. Kay had a great experience with a 14 year old girl and her mother.. The daughter had very bad vision and the mother had given up hope that here daughter would ever see and have a normal life. When our distance glasses actually allowed her to read much of the eye chart, the mother was beside herself with joy. A picture of this will most certainly appear online once we return home. We stayed busy right up until we had a brief devotion with our team and the volunteers while it poured cats and dogs outside. We left for the suburb of Karen, where we stay, and were anticipating the usual 35-40 minute ride home. In addition to the rain, there was a bus vs. pedestrian accident not long before we left the church. The ride became an over two and a half hour ordeal that everyone handled with good cheer. After all, we had just been proclaiming the Gospel to all who came to the clinic. We arrived before 8pm at the Trump's and Krista had a wonderful appetizer bar set with sugared nuts, bread and homemade cheese. The rest of the fare last night was also homemade and included Caesar salad, manicotti and bread sticks. This was followed by a homemade chocolate cake topped with strawberry slices served with homemade vanilla ice cream. Did I say everything was homemade? This can be a struggle for Kirsta, since she must oftentimes substitute for items that are in short supply, recently butter and cake flour being only two examples.

I had written up most of what is above while waiting for breakfast early this morning, then disaster struck. While saving my several paragraph long posting, it completely disappeared as my Android tablet locked up. Not good... I hate rewriting something I've already spent a good deal of time on wordsmithing. Especially when I knew I couldn't possibly come close to what I had written during the morning before work. And I'm sure I'm right, since trying to match a sharp early morning mind with efforts made after a long day are doomed to fail.

Our day today was much better, with an easy ride into the clinic. We saw 422 people today, putting us on track for possibly 2,000 patients before the clinic ends at 5pm tomorrow. One of the high points was a woman that came to the clinic that we had referred for cataract surgery last year. Dr. Stephen, one of our local eye doctors, remembered her and made sure she got a thorough exam. While her other eye is not good enough for surgery to be successful, the one that had been repaired was working well. Thank you, Jesus! Our clinic day concluded with a devotion led by Pastor Preece. He worked an evening devotion from the Lutheran Hymnal into a short sermon on what had been accomplished today. Giving light and sight to a world that needs a Savior. He led the Redeemer team in a very nice rendition of the Doxology after our Kenyan friends had serenaded us with a great Swahili song used to celebrate the end of the work day. We really sounded pretty good for zero practice and Pastor Bakari liked it so much he had us do it again. The second time was magical, soft and loud and bold at the right places, with very good Lutheran four part harmony. It had all of the heart and joy that the much different music our Kenyan hosts have gifted us with possesses. I will never forget it. We will lose Pastor Kevin tomorrow evening, as he heads home for Austin to preside over confirmation on Sunday. We still have Saturday to go after he's left and it looks like most of the team will travel to Lake Nakuru to see the wild game park and to stop and enjoy the view from above the Great Rift Valley, either when coming or going from the safari. More to follow as I am able. Praise God for another great day. Amen!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wednesday morning

5/2/2012 Wednesday morning
We had an incredible day at the clinic, seeing around 425 patients. Since it was the Kenyan Labor Day we were not quite sure what to expect. The day started out a a little slow as the neighborhood obviously was sleeping in. Traffic was light entering the slum, and there were far fewer matatus picking up passengers and only about one in four shops were setting out their wares compared to a normal week day. The morning was therefore a little slow, but we had registered our 200th patient by noon. Things continued at a good pace until the end of the day. We had a strong rain come in while we were doing our end of the day devotion and I got a chance to use a rain poncho for the first time in at least three trips. Veterans of these mission trips will always tell you to pack light and that if you haven't used something in 3 trips in a row, never bring it again. There is one exception to this rule. Rain gear. We did indeed go to the Carnivore, where we were joined by Catherine and her son Eugene. He is twelve and a half and ate us all under the table. Lupe told the wait staff that it was Eugene'a birthday and we had a grand celebration. It was real nice to have an evening to decompress from the work we do during the day. Tonight we will be at Pastor Shauen Trump's residence for dinner at the LCMS compound next to where we stay. We are honored to be able to join him and his family in their home. We expect larger numbers at the clinic today, since this is the pattern we have seen in previous years.

Sorry for the lack of pictures so far, the Internet and power have been big issues. Sometimes, a good power outage is the best thing for our Internet connection since it resets the whole building. At the very worst, I will have the nicest of our pictures out on the blog very soon after we return to Texas. So, stay tuned... Time to head off to work.. Please continue to pray for our effectiveness in spreading the Good News through this human care ministry.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Tuesday before work

5/1/2012 Tuesday morning before work
We leave for the church in Kibera in about 20 minutes. We were treated this morning by Lupe's best approximation of breakfast migas within the constraints of the ingredients on hand. What a blessing he is! I know none of us will have lost any weight on this trip! We expect large crowds today and are praying for the strength and joy to show the last patient the same loving care as the first one of the day. We will be going to the Carnivore, the eat meat until you surrender restaurant, directly from the clinic to avoid a real late night. We are all bringing a nice shirt or blouse to change into as we make our way there. More to follow as Internet connections and time permit.

Sunday and Monday, late postings due to storms and Internet down here

It is now 5:15am and Lupe has been going strong since 4am. I got our traditional photo with Lupe and the chefs with the wall clock behind them. Tortillas were being rolled out and browned, eggs were being broken, salsa was being stirred and it was already starting to smell real good. The breakfast tacos, bacon, sausage or potato were on the table by 6am for the first set of diners. What a blessing this meal was, especially for those heading out to the rural areas this morning as it strengthened them for their journey. After breakfast, Pastor Preece had a powerful prayer for all of the teams and we began sending groups out into the mission field. Our plan today is to worship in Kibera, set up the clinic if possible, have lunch and complete shopping for supplies for the week.

4/29/2012 Sunday, and end of the day
Our worship this morning was absolutely outstanding, with incredible African praise music by various choirs composed of youth, women and mixed adults. Before services, Pastor Kevin and I met with Bishop-elect Bakari and prayed with him and his ministerial staff for the worship and for a safe and effective clinic during the week. The liturgy was entirely in Swahili, but our hosts provided English references for Bible readings so we could follow along. Pastor Kevin gave a beautiful message based on the reading from Luke 4 in which Jesus reads the scroll from Isaiah about himself and then is rejected by his own hometown. Pastor Bakari kept right up, translating into Swahili as Kevin spoke. Justin took the drum he brought and played along with the African music, while Kevin Pieper added a bass line to most songs. During the announcements at the end of the service, the drum was donated to the choir, which is in the midst of a fund raiser for instruments. We lunched outdoors at the Junction restaurant and then bought our supplies for the week at Nakumatt. I finally heard where the name came from.  It was originally the Nakura Mattress company.  I learn some trivia on every trip. Once we got back to our lodging, we had a team meeting which I had the pleasure of leading off with my favorite missionary devotion by Oswald Chambers. After some discussion of the devotion, we went over details of the clinic opening tomorrow morning in order to insure a smooth start to the week. Ralph got Justin up to speed on the autorefractor in short order. We then had dinner and everyone retired early.

4/30/2012 The Clinic's First Day
We had a hearty breakfast, made a few sandwiches with the bread, jelly and peanut butter that were set out for us and got on the matatu that came for us at 7:15. Driving through rush hour traffic, it was fun to watch the faces of our new team members as they saw the hustle and bustle of the city and then the slum as it awakened. The sensory overload of seeing a hundred things all at once just boggles the mind. Every kind of little shop was beginning to open and they were putting their wares out in front of their businesses for all the world to see. The variety is endless, ranging from furniture to potted plants to ceramic creations up to and including a full sized giraffe. People were boarding their matatus as they made their way to work. Others were walking, all neatly dressed and resolute as they trod through the wet morning air. We arrived at the church a little before 8am, setup the clinic and then had a brief devotion led by Bishop Bakari and the singing of Lord I Lift Your Name on High, since everyone in the room knew it. People were already through with the evangelism process and we're being registered when we popped the door of the church open to begin letting our first patients in. We had the usual minor glitches during the morning, being the first day, but things were running very smoothly before noon. With heavier rains threatening at the end of the day, we closed the clinic a little before 5pm after having seen 345 people. We ended the first day of the clinic with a short devotion and a Masai praise song. We had dinner and a team discussion to go over the highlights of our day, looked for ways to improve our process and then had a free evening for everyone to reflect on the day and get some rest in preparation for what could be a very big day Tuesday. This is because people will go home and tell their friends and families about the clinic, Tuesday is a school holiday (Kenyan Labor Day) here and we will have someone on a bullhorn going throughout the church's neighborhood advertising the free vision clinic. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday in Nairobi

We had a great time on our first full day in Nairobi. Most everybody got at least a couple of fitful hours of sleep between around 1am and needing to be up by around 5:30 in order to breakfast and be ready to leave for the Nairobi National Park on the outskirts of town early enough to see the nocturnal animals coming in from a night of hunting. We had three matatus (14 passenger vans), with popup tops to take our group out, so everyone got a chance at great pictures with no obstructions. We got a very early surprise when we came around a bend and saw 4 or 5 vehicles all facing us stopped in the middle of the road. There was a pride of lions coming towards us from the other vehicles, including a female, her cubs and the first male lion I have seen outside of a zoo. I am writing this post on an Android tablet and need to take some time tomorrow evening to begin to upload pictures of our experiences. Every minute has been full today and I hope to have a little more time tomorrow after church, setting up the clinic and shopping for our supplies for the week. After the lions, anything else was a bonus. We saw lots of giraffes, water buffalo,  gazelles, zebras, baboons, many species of birds and near the end of the day we spotted a large rhino on the side of a big hill. We were the third van to approach the area and as we came down the hill, we noticed that the lead van was stuck up to its front axles in the mud, due to recent heavy rains. Our van was the only four wheel drive vehicle of the bunch, so we drove down to try to rescue our sister van. We also got horribly stuck. We were able to get out of our van and the men pushed and jockied it back away from trouble. Most of us ended up with mud all over us and our shoes completely caked in mud. I knew I had some good material for the blog and Pastor Preece said there were maybe 10 sermons contained in the event as well. We eventually were able to hook two tow straps together and with a lot of mighty pushing from the guys and the towing power our vehicle, we were able to free both vans and drive them to the top of the hill. Both sets of passengers had to hike up the wet and muddy road to get back to our transport. No one was hurt and yes, we did get some good pictures of the rhino!

After the safari, we had a wonderful outdoor lunch at The Veranda Restaurant and many in the group bought nice souvenirs at the gift shops there. We finished the day with a beautiful worship service at our compound for all of the teams, with music being provided by a choir from Springs of Life Lutheran Church, where we will be conducting our vision clinic. Bishop-elect Bakari Kea gave a wonderful sermon on what it means to be missionaries and we concluded with more choir music, prayers and an acapella rendition by the whole Kenya mission team of "Crown Him Lord of All".

It's now 10:30 Nairobi time and I need to hit the sack, since Lupe will be preparing early morning breakfast tacos for all the teams, including those heading out into the mission field very early.He is just finishing with our chefs on the initial preparation and will resume at 4am. Everyone loves it when Lupe comes on a mission trip!