First, we were shocked by the fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi in August that destroyed the arrivals section of the international terminal, the area that I have gone through nine times previously to get my visa and to claim our footlockers and other luggage. I remember it fondly as the first place where I would catch sight of our friends Catherine and Shara waiting to greet us. Even after the long journey, this always perked me up enough to run, not walk, to their waiting hugs and much laughter. It's gone now. In its place, the authorities have done a good job of converting one of the cargo terminals to perform the same functions as the damaged terminal. Rather than pull up to a gangway at the terminal as had been our custom, we disembarked from our British Airways Boeing 777 down the steps to the tarmac where buses were waiting to shuttle us to the temporary international arrivals customs and baggage area. One thing hadn't changed. Catherine was on hand as usual, with a smile and a big hug. That hug contained both greetings and relief, since we were all unsure until the last minute whether this trip would even happen.
The terrible Westgate Mall incident had cast a long shadow over our project. An order not to travel to Kenya from the U.S. State Department was always a distinct possibility. And that would have been OK. Then, there was the fact that we didn't even know where we would be serving until shortly before the trip. Would it be in Nairobi or somewhere on the outskirts of town, like Kiambu? There was a lot of concern on the part of our families, friends and our congregations as to whether we should go at all. Also, we were only a team of four, how could we possibly field an effective eye clinic?
There was a wonderful faith lesson in all of this. We trusted in the good judgment of our friends in the ELCK (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya) and in our LCMS staff on the ground in Nairobi, the Rev. Shauen Trump, Catherine Wangari and Shara Cunningham. They had all paved the way for us and had assured us that our safety was not in doubt and was of their highest concern. More importantly, we trusted that the Lord would provide for our every need. I keep learning this same lesson over and over again. When you get out of the boat, when you make that leap of faith and obey His calling on your life, you become an incredible blessing to others and receive abundant blessings as well. Everybody wins! As I stated prior to the trip, none of us was in any hurry to be a martyr. On the other hand, if you choose to live in fear, that's not living at all. There is a balance that needs to be struck. I worry far less these days than I did on my first several missions, both when we were building churches in Mexico and since I've been working in Africa. God has come through so many times in a row that I just give it all to Him and let Him take care of it. He'll be up all night anyway, no sense in me wasting good sleep over any of it! You can call me and the rest of our team crazy or even reckless, and it may appear so through the eyes of the world, but I have come to know a peace, comfort and joy that can only come from a child-like faith in His provision.
With all of the concerns about security and our safety, there was a humorous side to the trip in this regard as well. During security checks for three out of the four possible flights going to and coming from Nairobi, I ended up being "that guy". The first incident happened while boarding Flight 194 from Houston to London. After we were already heading down the gangway to board the plane, we were stopped in groups of 15 or so, told to get against the right hand wall, side by side, with our carryon luggage in front of us. The next thing I knew, there was a nice lady in a police type uniform with a German shepherd going down the aisle, and the dog was sniffing each set of carry-on bags. It spent about two to three seconds on each bag until it came to me. The dog showed heightened interest and wouldn’t leave my bag alone until firmly ordered to do so. One lady in my group had a similar experience and we were both ordered to go to a table where all of our stuff was thoroughly searched. I thanked the TSA personnel for what they were doing and they said most people get upset during this part of the procedure. I said I was glad they were doing a good job and that my guess was the dog was either fascinated by the smell of my long-haired Calico cat or wanted some of my snacks. It was probably a little of each, as they said the dog had a sweet tooth. I always bring some Payday candy bars and some bags of Teriyaki Beef Jerky to tide me over during our busiest days at the clinic when we may not be able to break for a proper lunch. Sure enough, everyone got a good laugh when they saw cat hair on my camera bag (Fluffin likes to lay on it for some unknown reason!) and when the snacks were uncovered. I thanked everyone again for taking our safety seriously and was one of the last ones to board the plane. Pastor Kevin and the rest of the team were waiting on board the plane and laughed at my story about the sniffer dog with a sweet tooth. The second problem was in the Nairobi airport after our mission on the way back to London. I had already passed through a metal detector and was gathering my things up when an agent began swabbing the outside of my backpack. He took the sensing cloth from the end of his wand and placed it in a machine with a computer screen. After several seconds, the screen turned bright red and the words "Explosives detected!" began flashing in big yellow letters. My companions took one step back from me. The agent repeated the procedure, and when the machine didn't have any problem the second time, I was waved through to the next metal detector in the security gauntlet we had to pass through. I think I would have been more comfortable if they had torn my bag apart. How did they know the first test was wrong? It just seems a little weird to me that I didn't get any more scrutiny after that. My final security incident occurred at London's Heathrow Airport when two of us carrying autorefractors had them pushed off to the side after being x-rayed for further examination. My friend from another team and I were first in line for the additional screening, when the whole second screening department got up and went on break. Other people began queuing up behind us and sounded like they were from the Netherlands. I think they may have had connecting flights to make, we weren't too worried ourselves since our next flight was nearly 4 hours away. But the Europeans were not a very happy bunch as we cooled our heels. The Heathrow security crew finally returned, thoroughly inspected both autorefractors and sent us on our way after we explained the equipment to them. In all of my travels carrying autorefractors, I have never had to do more than just say it was medical equipment and explain its purpose. I'm thinking the four lithium ion batteries stowed with each unit probably triggered the heightened screening.
Our time in Nairobi was full of many blessings once again. First, we awakened early the first Saturday morning and headed to Lake Naivasha for a photo safari. I had been looking forward to this all summer. After having some severe medical problems in late May, I returned to good health during the next few months. A big part of my recuperation was practice, practice, practice and lots of learning about nature photography using my new Nikon D5200 DSLR camera. As I progressed, I bought a better zoom lens, from an Austin photographer, that I found on Craigslist. All of the hard work paid off, I can honestly say without bragging that the photos from this trip are at a whole new level. I plan on continuing in my journey to become a better serious amateur photographer and who knows? My sister-in-law Peggy thinks I may have a new career ahead of me. I reminded her that I have a while to decide, since Grandma Moses didn't really get started til she was 85! Anyway, I hope you enjoy the candid photos we took and some of the HDR landscape compositions of the Great Rift Valley and during our scenic safaris that I created on the computer once I returned to my office back home.
Our next big blessing was being able to worship and serve with the congregation in Kawangware, the church where we got our start. Redeemer had helped to build a water well there and had put on numerous vision and dental clinics over the years. Our Sunday morning worship went the usual 3 plus hours and it just flew by, ending with one of the choirs singing outside on the beautiful new lawn. Pastor James ended by giving the benediction under a beautiful afternoon sky. After church, we setup the inside of the sanctuary for the upcoming clinic and then had a nice lunch with our good friends Catherine and Sylvester.
My concerns over being able to have an effective eye clinic with only 4 of us on our team proved to be groundless. We had veteran volunteers from previous clinics there at the ready and a whole new generation of the young men in the church willing to learn the stations that they could man for us. The blessings during our work week overflowed on both those we served and on us and our volunteers. We saw 1,644 patients that actually got treatment out of a larger number that came to the clinic, 104 people became new believers (at least that was how many we identified, who knows how many more seeds were planted that are already growing?), at least 15 people are going to get cataract surgeries and one young man, who was 23 years old and going blind from keratoconitis, will have his vision restored through a special set of contact lenses we were able to help him procure through our local doctors. Renewing our old friendships and forming new relationships made this clinic very special indeed.
Another wonderful experience was having dinner Monday night with Catherine, her extended family and friends at her mother's house. It is a high honor to be invited into someone's home in many cultures, and breaking bread together and being able to let our hair down with good friends that night was a true delight. We ate and laughed so much that it's hard to remember everything, but it was all good.
We also had a memorable meal Thursday night at a new Brazilian Steak House with our Nairobi LCMS missionary, Shauen Trump and his team of Catherine Wangari and Shara Cunningham. Mike and Cindy Rodewald also joined us. Mike is in charge of the LCMS International Missions in Africa and is based in South Africa. There were 12 kinds of meat to choose from and you ate until you surrendered. Good company and good food made for another great evening.
The final day of the clinic, Friday, concluded with the awarding of our volunteers with their Certificates of Appreciation, printed on very nice paper and suitable for framing. Pastor Kevin and I had each volunteer come up to get their picture taken with us and their certificate. Unfortunately, we came up one short and our volunteer in the reading glasses station, Peter, got shorted. We are working to make this up. Nevertheless, when the ceremony was concluding, Pastor kevin and I had a few words each for the group. Pastor James said his piece and then asked if anyone else had anything to add.
Peter got up and gave a beautiful testimony about what it meant to him and the other young guys of the next generation in the church to be trusted with doing the jobs that they did. What might seemed fairly trivial to us was empowering to them. Thank you, Jesus!
Our final Saturday was spent getting up before dawn so we could see the nocturnal animals at the Nairobi National Game Park as they came in from their night's hunt. We were rewarded for our efforts by getting to see many species including lions, rhinos, water buffalo, gazelles, impalas, hartebeests, baboons, warthogs, etc. and species of birds too numerous to count. Once again, we were able to capture some outstanding photos of the wildlife, many of which are linked to this blog.
We gathered up at the Daughters of St. Joseph after a nice lunch at the Veranda. We shared experiences with the other teams as they arrived from the mission field and had a closing devotion. We were on our way to the airport by 7pm and had uneventful, easy travel back to Houston, with the exception of my travails in security that were previously noted.
In closing, this was a trip that might not have happened. If it was going to happen, I couldn't for the life of me see how we were going to accomplish putting on a successful vision clinic with only 4 of us on our team. God had a different plan. I'm glad we were "foolish" enough to have the faith that He would provide for our every need. He gave us local evangelists that were on fire, that were calling Pastor Kevin over to pray a new believer's prayer over people more than 20 times a day. He gave us Pastor James to guide those He brought us to the Gospel and to the church. He gave us veteran volunteers that had followed us to many of the other sites we have gone in Kenya during the last 6 years. And, he provided us with a new crop of volunteers, the next generation, to help continue the work of these clinics into the future. Praise be to God!
If you think you might want to join us on our next mission to Kenya in April or May of 2014, please call Pastor Kevin Westergren at 512-459-1500 or me, Dave DeVore at 512-323-5343. You may also email Kevin at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Solo Dei Gloria!