Monday, October 28, 2013

What a blessing the Fall 2013 mission to Kawangware was!

Click the link below to view the pictures.  If you click on a picture, it will zoom to full screen.  My captions are in the upper right hand corner of the screen.  If you click on show photo details, you can see the camera and settings that were used and other technical info.
It's about that time again... I've been back home for about 2 weeks now and the recent trip has had just about the right amount of simmering and stirring in my mind to be ready for consumption by the followers of this blog.  You definitely need a certain period of time, sometimes a little bit longer, sometimes a little more brief, to reflect on what stands out for each of these missions to Kenya.  There was a lot of drama this time around, that's for sure!

Kenyatta Airport fire - August 2013

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.

Westgate Mall attack - September 2013

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.

Lake Naivasha wildlife

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.

The choir at the end of the worship service

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. 

One of our younger patients with his new glasses

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.

The Brazilian Steak House

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.

Evangelist Jeff and his certificate

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's testimony

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!

Lion at Nairobi National Game Park

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.

The fall 2013 Kenya mission team

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 or me at  Solo Dei Gloria!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Saturday at the Nairobi National Game Park and Travel Home

Click the link below to view the pictures.  If you click on a picture, it will zoom to full screen.  My captions are in the upper right hand corner of the screen.  If you click on show photo details, you can see the camera and settings that were used and other technical info. 

I am writing this with about an hour and a half to go as we head toward London on British Airways Flight 64.  We are nearing Italy, traveling at 36,000 feet above the ocean at 533mph.  I have managed to sleep for almost 5 hours since being served a late night dinner after our 11:50pm Nairobi takeoff.  What a blessing to sleep so well on a plane!  It is a sign that I was pretty tired from both the great week we had and the big Saturday full of non-stop activity we just had completed.
Our day started with being picked up by our driver Steven at 6am to head for the safari, since you need to be early to get a chance at seeing the nocturnal animals at the end of their overnight shift.  We all had to get packed up Friday night since we would not be returning to Rosa Mystica at the end of the day.  I also had Pastor Kevin’s carry-on, since he would be in meetings downtown and we could more easily get it to the Daughters of St. Joseph compound than he could.  We drove across town in light traffic and arrived at the Game Park in about half an hour.  Steven went in and helped me arrange for admission for our group and the van.  Residents, the driver and tour vans get in very cheaply, but non-residents pay about $50 each after all is said and done. It was worth every penny.  Linda and I both had our 55-300mm zoom lenses mounted on our DSLR cameras and Billy brought up the rear with my loaner Nikon point and shoot camera.  That was a good mix, because our zoom lenses are great for tight animal photos, but they can’t capture the broad vistas that we see at the park.  And, the little camera has a 5x zoom, so it had some flexibility as well.  I can’t wait to see all of the pictures from the entire trip and from this safari. 
We began to see the animals and birds almost immediately upon entry to the park.  It’s about 220 acres and has many dirt roads to take you to all sections that are on either side of the Nairobi River.  During the rainy season, the animals are more spread out and on higher ground.  When it’s dry, they are more concentrated at the lower elevations where the remaining water exists.  We were not too far into the park when Linda was all excited as we saw two female adult lions and the youngest cub I’ve encountered in all of my safaris.  They were laying on the ground, occasionally raising up to look around or they might have picked up the scent of their next unsuspecting prey.  The cub yawned a lot and was very cute.  Next we saw a species of stork that I am going to need to research as I post the pictures of it on the blog.  It had an orange beak, orange knees and stunning yellow between its eyes.  We got some fantastic close-ups of it.  I had never seen one of these, so I can add it to my growing list of species.  During the rest of the morning, we also encountered giraffes, zebras, hartebeests, water buffalo, elands, rhinos, baboons, secretary birds, gazelles, vultures and many, many more species of birds and animals.  One noteworthy incident was when we saw 3 or 4 water buffalo running toward our matata and quickly realized a rhino was chasing them.  Each of these species is HUGE, so it was a sight to behold.  We took the customary walk down a nature trail with an armed park ranger, hoping to see the big crocodile that resides there or maybe some hippos, both of which we have seen in the river on past trips.  It wasn’t to be, since the river was pretty low.  We did see some large turtles, a lizard and the sheep and goats that the Masai that sell souvenirs on the other side of the bridge have in their herds.  It was a beautiful morning that started out cool and cloudy, maybe in the upper 60’s and ended at around 75 degrees and sunny.  After the safari, we went to the Veranda restaurant and had a wonderful lunch.  Billy and I got fried prawns (shrimp, for you Texans!) and Linda had vegetarian lasagna.  We shopped for souvenirs there in the attached gift shops until 3pm and then headed for Nakumatt, where we needed to buy 45 soft drinks for the team members returning from the field.  This was at Catherine’s request, since she and Shara had gotten tied up at a wedding. Our driver Steven and I went in and made an assortment with the help of a store employee and when we got to the register there were only 44 bottles.  They already had 45 in their minds at the register, so our friendly store clerk ran all the way back to cooler in the rear of the store to retrieve one more.  I’m not sure they could have subtracted one drink without starting all over and scanning every bottle again, as they did the first time.  We made friends with everyone in line, which is the Kenyan way.  Waiting is a way of life, so you might as well make it a party.  I like this custom.  Catherine had one of the other drivers get 9 pizzas, so the late afternoon meal came off without a hitch right at 4pm as planned.  We spent the next three hours getting our footlocker packing finalized, talking to members of the other teams and finally having an evening devotion.  We all shared two or three stories from our week, some were funny, a lot more were moving.  I will share some of these when I’ve had some time to reflect on this trip.
The long range forecast for our trip had called for rain every day and we escaped without seeing a drop. This was good for our eye clinic, where we ended with an official count of 1,644 patients and 104 people either coming to Christ for the first time or wanting to consult with our pastor.  A good clinic by most measures and a real miracle, since after the Westgate Mall incident, we weren’t sure if the trip would make and if it did, we had no idea until literally the last minute where we would be serving. 
I am now at Heathrow, after an incredibly smooth landing.  We could barely feel the plane touch down.  I got torn apart in security with my autorefractor, as did several others.  They swabbed it and tested for explosives, since it is an electronic device with several lithium ion batteries in the case with it.  This caused me about a 15 minute delay, but we have plenty of time between flights and once again I thanked the authorities for keeping us safe.  Just another Dave going through security story, which seems to be a recurring theme on this trip.  Other people in the long line for second screenings of items didn’t handle it quite so well and paid with more scrutiny and aroused bad attitudes all around.  This trying to “treat people like Jesus would thing” really seems to be working for me!  We will be leaving for Houston around 10:30am London time and should arrive at Bush International Airport around 2:30 pm Houston time after about a 10 hour flight.  It will take about an hour and a half to clear Customs and Immigration if the past is a guide.  Tammy will be picking up Pastor Kevin with their truck and they will be taking most of the footlockers back to Redeemer.  I’ll take some empty ones and the autorefrators back home and will get them over to Redeemer sometime Monday.  I really don’t like driving back alone, since around 6pm I start to fade fast.  That’s 2am in Nairobi and my body will be telling me that it needs to be asleep.  I am very good at pulling over for a 20 minute trucker’s nap, which I’ll do if necessary.  I should be home somewhere between 7 and 8pm.
That’s about all for now.  Our Internet access was very iffy the last part of the week and the bandwidth when it was up was only good enough for plain text or simple emails. Pictures were not an option.  I’ll begin organizing the team’s photos on the flight home and hope to have the first of the pictures linked to this blog early in the week.  Within a week, I hope to have the best of the best, maybe 400 pictures, in the album for you to see.  I will continue writing about this trip for the foreseeable future and, as usual, will write a reflection on what this trip meant to me and the team once it has sunk in for a while.
To God Be the Glory!  Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.  We felt them half way around the world.

Photos are now available from October 3-13 Kawangware Mission

Click the link below to view the pictures.  If you click on a picture, it will zoom to full screen.  My captions are in the upper right hand corner of the screen.  If you click on show photo details, you can see the camera and settings that were used and other technical info. 

HDR photography explanation:
There are about a dozen HDR landscapes sprinkled throughout the photos.  These are composites that I made out of three pictures each.  This is a fairly new form of photography, unique to digital photography, not used during the days of film.  It is a new art form. The HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.  In plain English, the human eye and brain are a miracle of God.  They can average out the various contrasting parts of a scene hundreds of times a second.  A camera is stuck with one setting for a fraction of a second.  Consider a beautiful landscape with awesome clouds as a backdrop.  If the foreground is properly exposed, the brighter clouds will be overexposed (blown out) and will just appear to be a bright white sky with no detail.  If the camera is adjusted to get a great picture of the sky, the foreground will be underexposed, so dark that no terrestrial detail is seen.  Exposure bracketing done with my Nikon D5200 and some computer tricks overcome this technical problem.  In brief, each of the HDR pictures I produced for this project consists of  three shots.  They were taken rapid fire by hand and, thanks to the magic of vibration reduction technology in my Nikon lenses, they actually are pretty good.  This type of photo is usually done with a tripod and, when possible,  I even use a wireless shutter release to minimize any shaking that might be induced by even touching the camera to trip the shutter.  For those who care, one photo is underexposed by 2 stops, one is right on the money and one is overexposed by 2 stops.  They were joined together into composites in Photomatix Pro, a $100 software package most professionals use.  Final tweaking was done in Adobe Lightroom 5, another staple of the pros.  Many of the stunning photos you see in magazines or online these days were produced using these methods.  On some pictures, I went for maximum realism, on some of the others I made them a little more stunning or surreal.  I hope you like them.  They are identified as HDR in the captions.

This photo project is still a work in progress. I will be revising captions as I identify more species names, both human and animal!  A few more pictures may be added as time goes by.

Finally, I always write a summary of each trip, with a few photos in the body of the article and some reflections on what stood out for myself and the team, especially the places where we saw the hand of God moving in our lives through the experiences on the trip.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, October 13, 2013

We're home safe and sound Sunday night

Long, long day and a half of travel.  More stories and photos will appear here shortly.  For now, a hot shower and turning in early!  Blessings everybody, thanks for all of the prayers for us while we were in the mission field...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday - the conclusion of the clinic

We had an incredible last day at the clinic.  We saw around 350 more patients.  Pastor Kevin had Linda helping in the triage station, particularly with the women.  She needed a break after about an hour and a half because of the many heart-breaking stories that people had and what they asked her to pray for.   All of us who have ever done this job have had to walk away for some quiet time or to cry for a little while.  This is completely normal, you wouldn’t have a heart nor the compassion of Jesus if it didn’t affect you deeply.  She did some other tasks like helping with the eye chart and then came back to triage on and off.  We’re glad she did.  She prayed a beautiful prayer over a young Muslim woman who then got some reading glasses.  Pastor James, from the local diocese, talked with her and prayed over her and before you knew it, she was a convert.  Thank you Jesus for all of the broken people your Holy Spirit brought to us this week at exactly the right time for them to start a new life in you.
We closed up the clinic around 4pm, got all of our gear stowed in the footlockers and then had a nice closing ceremony in which Pastor Kevin and I handed out certificates to our volunteers.  As each came forward to claim their certificate of appreciation, Linda snapped their picture with us.  Some of these will surely make it onto this blog.  We have had very spotty Internet access this week and have not been trying to worry anyone, since we had daily reports earlier.  I will probably have to wait until Heathrow, where they have 45 minutes of free wifi, to post Thursday, Friday and Saturday happenings. 
We had dinner at Rosa Mystica and the staff brought us fruit, hard boiled eggs and bread for breakfast, since we will be leaving at 6am for a safari and need to be out there early for the nocturnal animals as they come in from their hunting.  Pastor Kevin has been called into meetings with our project leadership and the ELCK authorities, so he won’t be joining us.  We’ll do the safari, maybe the elephant orphanage and then some lunch and shopping at the Veranda complex.  After that, we’ll go back to St. Joseph’s where we stayed earlier in the week to wait for the other teams coming in from the field before leaving for the airport. 

Thursday clinic and other happenings

We had our usual 7am breakfast at Rosa Mystica and then made our way back to the Lutheran Church in the slum of Kawangware.  Linda opened our day with a beautiful prayer over the team and our volunteers.  We had a pretty busy morning once again and were visited by Sam from Concordia University, Irvine, California, whom we had met previously and a biology professor named Ken who was a classmate of our very own Larry Meissner.  We showed him around the clinic and he took a few pictures of our setup.  Later in the day, our Nairobi LCMS missionary Shauen Trump paid us a visit.  He had his two young boys in tow.  He was also joined by our friends Mike and Cindy Rodewald, who head up the LCMS missions in Africa.  They toured the clinic and we were able to visit briefly with them.  We saw about the same number of people as on Wednesday and now have seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 patients for the week so far.  More importantly, at least 30 people became new believers or were seriously interested in learning more about Christ or the church today.  This trip has been absolutely outstanding from the evangelism standpoint. 
We learned today that the first young boy who came to us for help in Kiambu for kerataconitis did get the operations on his eyes and was healed.  Praise God that Robert will now be able to lead a full life!  I pray that the Lord will lead him to make the most of his second chance.
The television crew never showed up to film the clinic for World Vision Day, so I guess we will all have to wait for another chance at fame…
We had dinner at a Brazilian steak house as planned.  We had 10 adults and Shauen’s 2 kids.  The group included our team of four and our driver Steven, Mike and Cindy, Shauen, Catherine and Shara.  It was a real blessing to break bread and eat massive amounts of very good meat with them.  There was a salad bar with 16 different types of salad and there were at least 12 different meats including crocodile, chicken, turkey, beef ribs, roast beef and the list went on and on.  The conversation and fellowship were great, a good time was had by all.  We are truly blessed to have our LCMS people in Africa to smooth the way for our mission trips.  They are a great encouragement.  After all that meat, I will either sleep like a baby or have a rough night.  Either way, it was worth it!
Tomorrow will be the last day of the clinic and so we will be packing up all of our equipment, loading it up on a truck for transport back to our lodge and will say our goodbyes.  More to follow tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday - we're starting to roll!

We saw a few more people today, around 325 total.  More importantly, Pastor James, Pastor Kevin and our evangelists from Nuru (the Lutheran Hour Ministries team in Kenya) had 32 people come to Christ or express an interest in the church or in counseling with the pastor.  It was a very good day by that standard.  We took a shortcut through the slum and knocked about 15 or 20 minutes off of our commute, which can be stop and go in heavy traffic on the main road around the periphery of the slum.  That was the upside.  The price you have to pay is one intersection with no traffic control that we have to cross while everybody and their brother is coming from every direction, wanting to turn, etc.  It is very safe, the conductors from the matatas (vans) jump out and do their best to make sure that things keep moving, since it is in their best interest to keep moving, picking up more passengers and arriving at their destinations on time.  We will get some video and pictures of this mayhem posted when possible.  I actually tried to upload 3 photos last night and it failed after 25 minutes.  It will probably not be possible to get many, if any, pictures linked to the blog until after our return.  The good news is that we have power plugs on our flights now, so during my waking time on the trip home I can be sorting through, selecting and organizing the first batch of pictures to be posted shortly after we get back home.
We got back to our lodge, showered and had short naps before dinner.  It was served buffet style, with beef, fish, rice, potatoes, vegetables and a fruit salad for dessert that included watermelon, pineapple and bananas.  It all tasted good, and we all ate our fill, since we didn’t get any lunch again, but subsisted on snacks and beef jerky.  This is an off night where we will app catchup on our rest for the final push Thursday and Friday.
Tomorrow, a television crew is supposed to come to see us in action at the clinic.  It is World Vision Day and the Kenya National Health system wants to highlight what we are doing in partnership with them and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya to help eradicate preventable blindness in the near future.  We may get our 15 minutes of fame in Nairobi!  Pretty cool, huh?
That’s all for now, time to call it a night.  Blessings everybody!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday clinic went well

We had breakfast at Rosa Mystica and were on the road around 7:30.  Traffic was heavy and it still amazes me that you almost never see even a fender bender with the crowded conditions, no stop lights or stop signs, occasional police directing traffic as best as they can at some major intersections and roundabouts being the chief traffic control system.  This is why the best cab drivers in the world come from Nairobi.  Linda seems to be more relaxed and just laughs a lot at all of the close calls we see between anything from a big bus to a matata (van), car, motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrians.  I guess I’ve gotten pretty immune to it and feel very safe in the hands of our expert drivers and the Lord. 
Pastor James started off the clinic with a prayer and we had a pretty steady morning, with around 200 people having gone through by noon.  The afternoon was a little slower and we ended up a little ahead of Monday in terms of raw numbers.  Pastor Kevin reported that the triage station, our pastor and our evangelists combined had around 15 people receive Christ as their personal savior, which is probably the most important statistic, particularly for those individuals.  Thanks you, Jesus!
We never were able to stop for anything resembling a lunch, but snacked on granola bars, beef jerky and candy to keep going.  We got back to our lodgings around 5:30 and I was able to shower and get a brief nap before joining the team for 6:30 dinner.  The cook served us individually with a meal of chicken, French fires, slaw and pasta.  It was good, but we were so hungry anything would have been fine.  We all headed to our rooms for some quiet time.  Billy and I downloaded his pictures from his camera, since it appear to have died.  Luckily, I always bring a little extra Nikon point and shoot camera, so he’s still in business for the rest of the trip.  This is not the first trip that I’ve had to use my “loaner” camera.  Probably not the last either.
I’m going to spend some time trying to get a few pictures out onto the web for this blog.  My Internet connection in the room is too weak tonight, so I’ll be working from the main building of the compound where the signal comes from.  More to follow if pictures are available today.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kawangware vision clinic is open for business!

We had a wonderful day from start to finish.  We had a hurried breakfast at 7am because we needed to be on the road at 7:20 to setup the rest of the clinic.  Our cook, Kennedy, made some good fried eggs with sausage and we had bread and fruit from a buffet.  There was hot milk, but no hot water, so I made my Nescafe with hot milk and it was actually quite good.  Our ride into the slum was uneventful, but it was fun to see the looks on Linda’s face as she saw new things and got a taste of a weekday rush hour in Nairobi.  It’s pretty much like a high speed video game, but you get used to it pretty quickly.  We had a nice surprise when we arrived at the church. Our old friend Pastor Zedekiah and his wife Karen were there to greet us.  They had an 8:30 commitment, so we could only visit for a minute or two.  We hope to see them again before the end of the clinic. 
We got all of our footlockers situated and other last minute details taken care of, had a morning devotion led by Pastor James and then got to work seeing our first patients.  We only had a few minor first day glitches which included getting the right lighting and technique down to work the autorefractors and the usual getting used to each job in the clinic.  With a small team, it was remarkable how smoothly things were running by noon, when we had seen about 180 people.  This was due to having seasoned volunteers like Barrack, Paul, Max, Frank and others with us again, the excellent work of Nuru (LHM in Kenya) and our driver Steven helping in many, many ways from crowd control to translating to anything else that needed doing.  By the time we ended the day, we had seen nearly 300 people, pretty respectable for a first day.  We had Max out in the neighborhood twice during the day with a megaphone.  Tomorrow we will have our driver Steven take him around a little larger area to drum up business for the vision clinic.  Word of mouth spreads quickly among the concentrated population in the slum and if our clinic holds true to form, the number of patients we will see will increase daily.
We went to Catherine’s mother’s for dinner tonight right after the clinic closed with the whole team including Steven.  Our friend Shara, who works with Catherine in the Nairobi LCMS Mission Office, was also there.  Mama, one of her best friends Margaret and Catherine's other brothers and sisters were there as well.  Not an empty seat or stomach in the house and lots of love and laughs.  Kenyans really know how to fellowship over a good meal.  It was a great night and we felt particularly honored to have been invited into Mama’s home.  Each day just gets better and better!
Well, it’s almost 10pm local time, I will sleep the sleep of the exhausted and we’ll get up and do it again tomorrow.  More to follow and some pictures soon since we will have 2 free nights in a row before a possible nice dinner, probably Thursday night, maybe at a new Brazilian steak house.  Thank you Lord for a day in which people came to know you and for letting us be your hands and feet.  Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sunday worship in Kawangware

We got up early and breakfasted with the other teams that were heading out to do vision clinics all over Kenya, some had to go 6 hours or more to reach their destinations.  We got a big group picture in front of the beautiful compound we had stayed in the first 2 nights and then we helped the other teams load up and head ‘em on out.  We were the last to leave, as we only needed to be at church by 10am.  Pastor Kevin was prepared to preach, having been asked the evening before.  The local pastors are very gracious with giving our pastors the opportunity to preach and teach in their churches wherever we go.
We arrived a few minutes late to a packed church and had a wonderful worship service, with all different styles of music ranging from traditional hymns to Swahili choirs to praise music and everything in between.  All the elements of a Lutheran church service were there including confession and absolution, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Benediction, etc.  Pastor Kevin chose the passage from Luke 4 where Jesus returns to Nazareth, reads the scripture from Isaiah pointing to Him as the Messiah and is rejected in His own home town.  The theme was “Is God here in church today?” and Kevin did a wonderful job of involving the congregation in answering this question.  After nearly 3 hours of worship, which flew by as it always does, we went outside where the choir did one more song and then Pastor James gave the Benediction.  We spent about half an hour greeting old friends and introducing Billy and Linda to everybody.  We then rearranged the church for the clinic and this took some brainstorming on our parts, since the flow of the clinic has changed a little since we first started doing clinics in Kawangware.  This took about another half hour, so we left the church around 2:30pm and had a nice lunch at the Java House restaurant (think Starbuck’s with a full menu!) with Catherine and Sylvester at the Junction Shopping Center, a block from where we will be staying the rest of the week.  After lunch, we walked to the Nakumatt and were glad to see heightened security.  Guards were running wands over everyone coming into the mall and they were also present at every turn.  We thanked them for their service and told them we felt safer due to their presence.  We bought snacks for the week and supplies for the eye clinic including hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other essentials.  We are blessed to be staying a block away from such great shopping and restaurants, knowing we can stock up on anything on any given day.  They even have the first Subway in Nairobi, which was just opened by an American entrepreneur.  As Billy stated it so eloquently “I didn’t come 8,000 miles to eat in a Subway!” so I doubt there will be any group meals there anytime soon.
All is well, we are raring to get started on the clinic tomorrow and are now in our rooms around 8:30pm.  Internet access is sketchy in the building where we are staying here at Rosa Mystica, so I may have to walk down near the office to post this.  If I had a better signal in my room, there might already be the first of the pictures for you to see.  I have a wireless repeater with me, but I can’t reset it to factory condition to make it work here without a paper clip. My BIC ballpoint pen won’t do it, so hopefully a paper clip will appear in the next day or so.  That’s all for now.  Keep a safe and effective mission in your prayers, we’re ready to serve.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday safari and more...

We got up bright and early for a 6am breakfast and were on the road to Lake Naivasha with our driver Humphrey.  He pointed out many interesting things along the way and took us to a different lodge than we had ever set sail from before.  We were pleasantly surprised that the entry fee for each of us was only 2,000 Kenyan shillings or about $25.  We saw many birds, nesting and in flight, and Linda and I both used our DSLR cameras to the max.  All of my practice with the new camera really paid off in what I know are going to be some high quality photos of hippos, zebras, wildebeests, water bucks, many more animals as well as birds in flight.  I was a little surprised to see that I had taken nearly 1,000 pictures, a new daily record, but I did do many multiple shot action sequences, which accounts for a lot of shots that will more than likely end up on the cutting room floor.  Pictures will hopefully begin to trickle up to the blog over the next couple of days as time and Internet availability permit.  As always, about 2 weeks after we return to Austin, I will have many of the very best of the best photos linked into the blog.  We had a nice lunch at the lodge that costs us another $25 or so each, which offset some of the savings from the safari.  Still, a very affordable, enjoyable day trip was had by all.
Our ride back to Nairobi found most, if not all, of us dozing off on occasion.  This was due both to sleep deprivation and travel jet lag but also from being out on the water in the wind and the sun all morning.  Upon arrival at the convent where we are staying, the St. Joseph Spirituality Center, Pastor Kevin and I were immediately summoned to a meeting of all of the team leaders with Catherine, Shara and leaders from the Central Diocese who are hosting our clinics.  We were welcomed warmly by all of our friends and we discussed our partnership in sharing the Gospel as effectively as possible. 
We worshipped with the other teams, since many will be traveling long distances and will not get the opportunity to worship on Sunday with the congregations they will be serving.  One of the blessings of doing urban ministry within Nairobi is that we worship with the people we will be working with during the week, renewing old friendships and starting on new ones.
Worship was followed by a very good dinner of chicken, rice, greens and watermelon and pineapple for dessert.  We all turned in fairly early, since the coming days will be very busy indeed.  Next up, worship in Kawangware on Sunday and our other activities…

London to Nairobi and safely at our lodgings

We got away from the gate in London right on time and headed east towards Continental Europe.  Our flight path has taken us past Bosnia, over the beautiful mountains surrounding Sarejevo and Montenegro and we are now just about past Greece in our southward trip towards first north Africa and finally Kenya, which is on the east coast of Africa straddling the Equator.  We expect the weather to be around 80 every day for a high and in the low 60’s at night.  Our missions always coincide with the rainy seasons in the spring and the fall, this is why our airfare is lower than at the high tourist times, such as spring break for European college kids.  If the pattern holds true to form, we will be in jackets in the morning on the way to work at the clinic, the clouds will burn off by 10am and it will be warm the rest of the day.  The rains usually come late in the afternoon.  More than once, a torrential late afternoon rain has cut our clinic short for the day, since people don’t go out in that kind of weather or will be scrambling home to try to prevent damage from flash flooding, etc.
We are a little more than 5 hours away from Nairobi at this point and have just had lunch.  I had curry chicken with spinach and a rice dish.  A small salad, a roll and some chocolate mousse rounded out the meal.  Our first flight was too warm for my liking.  This flight has been absolutely frigid.  Even I, who am always too warm, am bundled up in a blanket.  The hot meal plus a cup of coffee afterwards has helped to take the chill away and it’s now looking pretty likely that a nap is in my future.
I did get some good sleep of a little more than an hour and feel much better now.  I’ve done some stretching and went back to the galley and got some juice and a snack.  The current estimate has us arriving in Nairobi around 9:20pm local time.  I’m sure it will be midnight by the time we get our visas, a t4iour footlockers and other luggage, get everything loaded up into a truck, arrive at our lodgings by bus, unload everything and then get assigned a room.  We will have an early morning because we are going up to Lake Naivasha for a photo safari.  Those of you who regularly follow this blog will know that we’ve been there more than a few times and there were some outstanding wildlife photos captured by Pastor Robert Tiner on the last trip in April.  Those photos made me jealous enough that I got a comparable Nikon camera (D5200) to the Canon (t4i) that he had used.  I consider myself a serious amateur photographer and have worked hard all summer to learn all of the features of this camera and some stunning new photo techniques.  I hope that all of this effort will pay off in some fabulous animal pictures, portraits of the people we encounter and a great landscape or two.  Each safari and each clinic have their own personality, with differing people, weather, places and situations.  My goal is to give you a taste of the incredible variety of flavors we will experience.

We made it through immigration and customs without too much trouble.  Since the International Terminal at Kenyatta Airport burned down in August, they have gotten a pretty good replacement for it up and running in the cargo area.  We were bused from our plane on the tarmac to the cargo area and things did go pretty smoothly.  We then loaded up all of the footlockers and luggage onto a truck and took two small buses to our lodgings in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi.  We got our room assignments and I was showered and in bed by 1am.  I set the alarm for 5:45am and had a short but decent rest before getting up to breakfast and the safari.  More on the Saturday's safari and the rest of the day to follow.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Travel from Houston to London - we're at Heathrow now!

Well, I have my first funny story of the trip.  There was heightened security while boarding Flight 194.  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 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, 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 bags until 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.  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 with me 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 liked my story about the sniffer dog with a sweet tooth.  I am writing this at 35,000 feet as we pass over Little Rock Arkansas, a little less than an hour after a 4:36pm takeoff.  We’re on a newer British Air plane, with USB ports for charging up small devices and a nice interactive entertainment system for the 8.5 hour flight.

We just finished dinner, the choice was between a beef dish and pasta.  I took the pasta, since I had eaten a huge Swiss cheeseburger at the airport around 3pm.  We are now approaching Toledo, Ohio at about 2 hours into the flight.  Soon, it will be lights out in the cabin so those that wish to sleep can do so more easily.  I just discovered that this plane also has power taps, even back here in the cattle car section.  This is the first time I’ve ever been able to both use and recharge my devices in economy class.  I am an American Airlines frequent flier and have occasionally been bumped up to business or first class on fairly empty flights, but this is a new level of amenities for the common man.  Three cheers British Air!  I am hopeful I’ll get a wifi signal in the morning at Heathrow so I can post what our travel experience has been so far.

We’re about an hour out from London now.  I was able to get maybe 2 hours of sleep total over the last 7 hours or so.  Flight was very bumpy, especially over Nova Scotia and not very conducive to slumbering.  It was much more just resting my eyes with an eyeshade on, listening to music and various podcasts and a little pecking away at this blog than sleep.  I’m afraid I’ll end up napping a little too much on the next flight as a result and the first night’s sleep in Nairobi may be fitful as a result.  Oh well, it is what it is.  We just were served a breakfast of a croissant with strawberry jam, a granola bar and some Craisins, which are sun-dried cranberries.  It was actually much better than it sounds and a step up for British Air.  We used to joke about their tasteless cardboard biscuits for breakfast on past journeys.  I chased it with some black coffee and will be asking for some juice or water soon.  On these long travels it is very important to stay hydrated, particularly since our final destination will be at about 6,500 feet of elevation.  This is similar to traveling to the mountains in Colorado, but includes the extra kicker of the ease with which you can get behind the curve on hydration during two long flights.  I’m always like a mother hen on these trips with my team, driving them nuts with asking when was the last time they had something to drink.  It beats altitude sickness.  Over the years, several people have fallen ill on these trips that haven’t kept up on their fluids, but never on one of my teams.  The proof is in the pudding!

We’ve made it to Heathrow with about an hour to spare before our gate opens.  Everyone is freshening up or trying to send a quick email to family and friends to let them know we’ve made it this far.  More to follow from Nairobi.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

We have cleared security in Houston

We have made it through security at Bush International and now we have nothing left to do but get something to eat, phone our families one last time before we leave the country and visit with new team members we have yet to meet from the other churches.  Our flight, British Air 194, is on time and we should be flying out at 4:20pm for London.  Pastor Kevin and I had an uneventful drive down from Austin and he had a surprise for us.  He was able to get AISLE seats for all of us.  What a blessing, since veteran travelers know it's good to get up and move around on a regular basis to avoid various medical issues and to arrive in better shape.  We will try to sleep for much of the flight to England and then will force ourselves to remain awake for most of the trek to Nairobi, since we arrive around 9pm and want to be tired so as to get some sleep the first night there and begin to adjust to a time zone that is 8 hours different than our own.  More to follow as I have electricity and Internet access.

Finally ready to saddle up for Kawangware

After many fits and starts, not the least of which was the tragic attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi  couple of weeks ago, Pastor Kevin and I are heading to Houston this morning to lead a team to the church in Kawangware for an eyeglass clinic.  This is the church where we helped build a water well and we are looking forward to seeing our friends there again.  Due to security concerns, we have not been back there, where we got our start with the Vision for Kenya Project, since November of 2011 when Pastor Dave and Risa joined us.  Stay tuned for stories and a picture or two as our mission unfolds.  As always, many more pictures and reflections will be added shortly after our return from Kenya.  Please keep us in your prayers for a safe and effective mission in which many people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.  And check back here often...

To God be the Glory!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

We pray for Kenya and our friends in Nairobi

To everyone who has expressed concern about our upcoming mission trip to Kenya, at this point we are living our lives as if we are still going to go. Our tickets are bought, our medical supplies are packed up and ready and our team has been trained. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the Kenyan people, particularly those who have lost loved ones or know someone who was injured in the recent attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Safety and security are our number one priority on these trips. We are only out during the day, only travel as a team with experienced drivers that know the safest routes and are in gated, guarded compounds at night. None of us is interested in becoming a martyr, quite the opposite, our motivation is to share the love of Christ through our human care ministry of doing vision clinics in the slums and other relatively impoverished areas.  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we are ready to serve wherever God places us this time around and we are also fully prepared to continue to serve in our own communities if the upcoming trip is not to be.  We hope to know within the next few days what the outcome will be. Stay tuned. Blessings to everyone who reads and takes this blog post to heart.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Clinic summary and personal reflections on the April 2013 mission to Kiambu

To see the latest additions to the photo album from the trip, click the link below:

To see some of  Glen Smith's best photos, a professional photographer who visited the clinic one morning, click the link below:

Our week at the clinic started out slowly, but that's normal.  Unfortunately, we were missing our bullhorn, or as our Kenyan friends call it, our megaphone.  Kiambu is in an area where many people work on the tea and coffee plantations during the day or at other jobs in the area and they are more spread out than it is in the slums in Nairobi that we are accustomed to working in.  In the slums, we have local radio ads for the clinic and, due to the much higher density of the population there, word of mouth spreads much more quickly to greater numbers of people once the clinic is up and running.  Catherine was able to finally procure a megaphone for us from our team out in Rongai and it arrived Thursday morning.  We immediately sent Barrack out with Allan in the popup van to announce the clinic and our daily patient totals for Thursday and Friday nearly doubled as a result.  Note to self: we need to make absolutely sure that the next time we field a clinic in Kiambu that we have a megaphone on day one!  The only other minor glitch we experienced was that our box of Bibles was mistakenly taken by one of the other teams on their way out to the mission field Sunday morning and we didn't get them back until Wednesday morning.  These Bibles are handed out at the discretion of our Pastors and evangelists, usually being reserved for new believers or people who have decided to join the local congregation.  This was actually a blessing in disguise, because we were able to promise Bibles to people if they would only come back later in the week and we thus got to form stronger relationships with them than otherwise might have been the case.  By week's end, we had seen nearly 1300 patients in the clinic, had referred 30 people for cataract surgeries, had been involved with getting 2 young boys setup for sight-saving surgeries and nearly 2000 people had heard the Gospel message.  Thank you, Jesus! 

As has become my custom, I always give each trip a little bit of time to sink in before I write a wrapup detailing what stood out for me about a particular mission.  In the case of our April mission to Kiambu, there seem to be many more spiritual highlights and interesting stories to chronicle than usual.  Before saddling up for each of these trips, it has always been my practice to fervently pray what my Pastor Dave calls a "use me" prayer, in which I ask the Lord to strengthen me for what lies ahead, to use me in whatever way He chooses, and to please let me know that it's Him working through me.  I don't want to be out there doing what I think is the right thing to do without his guidance, since His plan is always perfect and my plans are, at best, just so-so.  And there is no way to know in advance who He will place in my path or what situation I will fall into.  On most of these missions, we as a team are able to discuss what kind of "God things" we have been a part of during the work day at our evening mealtime.  We had other groups of incredible Christians staying at Africa Heart and sharing the dining room with us on this trip, so we shared some things with each other, but also got to experience what amazing projects that the others were doing.  One group was working on shaken baby syndrome, educating doctors and parents alike that it's not OK to shake a baby and what symptoms medical professionals should look for.  Another group was operating dental clinics throughout Kenya and performing an occasional operation far afield from dentistry or maybe assisting in the birth of a child when the situation presented itself.  Others were doing marriage encounters in the local churches.  One group of youth pastors was there to teach local church workers about ministering to the next generation.  The list went on and on and changed nearly every day with each group that was passing through.  What a blessing it was to encourage and to be encouraged by other people who had gotten out of the boat when Jesus called them. 

It has been my experience over the 9 trips I have now made to Kenya since November of 2009, that there has always been one outstanding occurrence or encounter with someone that fits the category of being a real "God thing" for each member of the group.  Maybe I'm growing in my faith, maybe my eyes see things they didn't before, but I need more than one hand to count the things that happened on this trip that I was personally involved in. I know that each of the others had multiple encounters with the Divine on this trip as well.  Some of the following stories have been discussed previously in the daily reports on the blog and are expanded on here while others are being told for the first time.

Our first experience of God moving in our lives on this trip started on the way back to Nairobi from our first day's outing to Lake Naivasha for a safari.  Our driver, Edwin, thought we could take a more scenic route back to town through the tea and coffee plantation country just north of Nairobi, near where we would be serving in Kiambu.   As soon as we began to see lush fields of tea, Edwin spotted a small driveway and turned in.  This stop was not part of our planned itinerary, at least not mine!  After about a quarter of a mile, we saw a very nice white mansion with incredible grounds, including numerous plants, a lush lawn and many birds, all backing up to a forest.  A maid came out from the house and spoke with Edwin for a minute.  She went back to the house and conferred with a man we would later come to know as Joseph and even though they were closed for the day, they decided if we wanted to have tea and biscuits (British for cookies), they would accommodate us.

The mansion

It was nearly 4pm, the perfect time for tea.  While we waited for the tea to be prepared, we walked the grounds and got many beautiful pictures of the plants, birds and of the mansion itself.  It began to rain heavily, driving us up on to the front porch just in time for our afternoon snack.  Joseph asked what we were doing in Kenya and we told him about the eyeglass clinic in Kiambu, probably 15 miles from the plantation.  Imagine our surprise when he showed up Tuesday morning with freshly baked cookies for the team, seeking some reading glasses so he could read his Bible. 

Joseph and the team

He had taken a matatu, a van that is the most prevalent form of ground transportation, to Kiambu and then began to ask for the whereabouts of our clinic.  It's nothing short of a miracle that he found us!  A totally unplanned stop at the plantation Saturday had resulted in our new friend Joseph getting the reading glasses he needed the following Tuesday.  Thank you, Jesus! 

Saturday also brought another huge experience for me.  Last May, I was privileged to be the matatu driver for Catherine and her family when they were in the U.S for her son Mark's graduation from St. Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, Missouri, about an hour east of Kansas City.  I spent a week, along with Catherine's many friends in Austin, showing them around our town and central Texas.  Her mother, whom I call Mama (the highest term of respect for an older woman in Kenya), fell in love with me and was upset when I couldn't come to her house last November for dinner.  I was the only leader on our team then and couldn't find a way to break away during that trip.  This time, Pastor Kevin was around to hold down the fort and he graciously gave his blessing to my little outing.  Saturday was the best night, because Mama only lives about 5 minutes from our lodgings at Rosa Mystica, but it would have been a drive clear across Nairobi from where we would be staying the rest of the week.  During that wonderful evening, I got to meet Catherine's sister, her brother-in-law and her nephew.  Mama told Catherine in Swahili that she now has a son, meaning me.  I looked around at her walls and saw pictures of her entire family, and then I asked why she had no pictures of her new son! 

Catherine, Dave and Mama!

I'm going to fix that, since we took several nice photos that night with Mama and I plan on bringing one of them back, nicely framed, on our October trip.  Another big blessing and the work week hadn't even started yet!

On Tuesday morning, a woman in her early 40's approached me and asked if I remembered her.  Indeed I did.  Her name was Alice and she had come to our clinic in Kiambu in November.  Her husband had died some years before, leaving her alone to raise small children.  Then, she had gone blind from cataracts.  We had paid for her referral to the hospital in Nairobi to have the cataract removed from one of her eyes.  She had come to tell us that she now had perfect vision in that eye and was praising God, Jesus, our clinic, our doctors and anyone else she could think of for the miracle of having her sight restored.  What a blessing to be with her again!  I took her to our doctors right away and they wrote a referral to have the other eye taken care of.  I was happy to sign it.  This incident with Alice alone made coming back to Kiambu worth it all for me. 


But God wasn't done yet. A woman in her 70's, Salome, arrived within an hour of Alice and the same story was repeated in her life.  She was full of thanks and praise for God's blessings and she could also see perfectly in the eye that had been operated on as a result of our clinic this past November.  She too will get her vision restored in her second eye.  Thank you, Jesus, for letting us be part of your healing miracles!

Robert and his caring father

When Wednesday arrived, the Lord was still hard at work providing more miracles.  A young boy named Robert was brought to the clinic in a suit and tie by his concerned father and was diagnosed with keratoconus by our doctors, a disease that would surely lead to blindness without treatment.  His father had brought him to us and was looking for help for an operation that could cost as much as 250,000 Kenyan Shillings (about $3000).  Our doctors knew of a hospital that could do the procedure for about a tenth of that, which was still out of the reach of the family.  We decided to pay for half of the cost and let the community, his family and other resources supply the rest.  These are the kind of decisions we have to make sometimes.  Do we spend the money on about 3 cataract surgeries for older people or do we give a young boy a chance at seeing and being able to lead a productive life?  This one was not that hard, Pastor Kevin and I agreed that the boy needed our help and would get it.  Robert and his father came back the next day and they had been able to raise the other half of the money needed and had already been in contact with the clinic our doctors were referring him to. 

No sooner had we taken care of this boy on Wednesday, than another father and his young boy came in with exactly the same condition, only his eyes were also in a bad way from allergies, possibly infected or worse.  We also are going to give him the help he needs, but his eyes will need to clear up before anything more can be done.  Our doctors gave him some eye drops, and if they work, then he also has the possibility of getting the sight saving procedure.  We won't know if either boy will get treated, it is up to the hospital to do more screening and then their doctor's decisions will determine the final outcome in each case.  Please keep these two young men in your prayers.  I pray that we learn of a good outcome for both of them when we return in October.

Pastor Kevin hears the needs of a woman

On Friday, as I alluded to in my daily blog posting from Kiambu, I was blessed to work in the triage station for most of the day by Pastor Kevin's side.  We worked on determining the eye treatments each patient would get based on the eye chart screening, autorefractor readings and self-reported eye problems.  More importantly, we were also there to talk to each person about the Gospel and to pray over each one individually.  This is a very powerful aspect of our ministry.  In contrast to some of our earlier clinics that have been held in heavily Muslim areas in the slums of Nairobi, the overwhelming majority of our patients were Christians already and were thankful for the human care ministry we were doing.  We met some people who wanted nothing more than a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the blessings in their lives.  There were far more who were broken in one way or another.  Some had abusive husbands, others had able bodied family members who could not get a job.  Many had health issues themselves or family members who were terribly sick.

Dave praying over a woman
That final Friday of the clinic, we treated 439 patients, so I'm sure that Pastor Kevin and I prayed with more than 200 people each.  It's amazing to me that in each case, the Holy Spirit supplied just the right prayer for each person's needs.  A man named Peter that I worked with stands out as yet another encounter I had with God's will during this mission.  When I asked him if there was anything that I could pray for, he confided that he had just completed a 90 day alcohol rehab program.  He said that he wanted to be a better father to his children, a better husband to his wife and that his employer had shown mercy on him and had kept his job open for him while he had been in treatment.  He didn't feel that he had the strength to beat the addiction even though he had the best of intentions.  The Spirit gave me an incredible moment of clarity and I told Peter that God had sent me halfway around the world to share that exact moment with him.  I told him that there was a lost 25 years in the middle of my life that paralleled what he was going through and that I, too, had felt that there was no way that I could change a thing, even though I knew I needed to and I wanted to.  When I was at my lowest point, I had a close encounter with Jesus.  I cried out to Him and told Him that I couldn't carry the load anymore, that it was way too heavy for me.  I'm convinced down to my bones that He laughed and wondered why I had taken so long to bring it all to Him.  From that moment on, He has carried all of my burdens and I have worshipped and served Him and Him alone.  I have a peace and a joy since that time that is indescribable.  People who knew me before this defining moment can't believe it's the same person.  I told Peter that I would not pray a small prayer, only asking for strength to beat his demons.  No, I was going to pray big and ask that Jesus perform the same miracle in Peter's life that He had given me.  A new beginning.  A second chance.  No looking back.  A life of service to Him and to others in His name, which is what God designed us for.  When we had finished praying together, we were both crying.  It was beautiful.  It was crystal clear to me that all of the suffering that I had gone through earlier in my life now made sense.  God's purpose for it all was so that I could pay it forward for people like Peter.  What a blessing it is to stumble every now and again onto an answer for why God has allowed some seemingly bad thing to happen in our lives.  Thank you again and again, Jesus!
Allan and I were reunited the first Sunday morning
Two other personal high points of this trip for me are intertwined between the story of my travel Bible and our friend and driver Allan.    Allan has been one of the keys to our teams functioning so well on the last two trips.  You might ask yourself, “How important can a van driver be?”  Let me count the ways.   First, a joyful, easy going but hard-working driver such as Allan can, along with the team leaders and each team member, play a large role in setting the tone for the whole week.  He always had a good word for us, told our new team members many things about Kenya and was a marvelous straight man for my bad jokes.   Next, no matter what the team needed, he knew where to get it promptly and did so.  Also, while many drivers will sit in the vehicle, reading the paper and waiting for us to send them on some errand, an outstanding driver like Allan actually takes part in the life of the clinic by helping with translation, traffic control and many other tasks.  Another facet of being a caring driver is that he will go out of his way to point out local sights to newcomers and he explains the history or significance of what is being seen.  When it comes time for a nice dinner, a daytrip activity or just knowing where the best place to shop for supplies or souvenirs is, a solid driver is right in the thick of it.  And, of course, there’s always the actual driving skills, such as knowing the best routes, the right times to be on the road to avoid the heavy traffic and always keeping our team's safety number one.  Our LCMS liaison and good friend, Catherine, always gets us top notch drivers and vans, but she has outdone herself with Allan.  I know other team leaders have their favorite drivers to work with as well, and I have a short list of 3 or 4 others that I would like to work with again when they are available, but for me, it’s got to be Allan.  Our teams have loved him.  When the first Sunday morning rolled around, I had been told Allan would be out in the countryside in Namonga, with another team.  When I saw him at the top of the hill at Rosa Mystica by his van, I ran to embrace him and wish him well in Namonga.  It was then that he told me he had found a way to trade places with our intended driver.  What a moment of pure joy, the picture above pretty well says it all.  During the week, he taught me Jambo Bwana in Swahili, a welcome to Kenya song, and we regaled the team several times singing and dancing to it together.  He always wore a different hat every day and the running joke (a carryover from November's trip) was that I would try to buy his hat from him from morning til dark, which he always refused to let me do.  The last Saturday morning he brought me a dark blue beret as a parting gift and I presented him with the powerful Bible, in which I had prepared a personal inscription.  The team took a picture of us, him with the Bible and me wearing the hat.  He wouldn't let me buy one of his hats, but he had brought me one anyway!  He also blocked out the time that we will be in Kenya in October in his calendar, so this makes me look forward to our fall trip all the more.  Our growing friendship is a high point of this or any other trip for me.
Me in my new beret and Allan with his Bible
Now, about my blue travel Bible, the "powerful Bible" mentioned above.  On this trip, Pastor Kevin had preached out of it on Sunday morning, Pastor Robert had used it on occasion in triage, Pastor James had read it to several people as they were coming to Christ, our evangelist Immanuel worked with small groups from it, our congregational elder Michael talked with people one on one with it open in his hands and I had delivered our Friday morning devotion from it for the team and our local volunteers.  Pastor James called this particular Bible a very powerful book because it was in the midst of so many blessed occurrences during the week.   I pointed out that God's Word is always powerful, but he seemed to think this particular Bible had its own special powers.  I could tell he would have really liked for me to leave it for him, but I had to tell him it was already promised to another friend and I had already inscribed it.  This Bible had been my Sword, as my Baptist friends like to say, and had accompanied me for all nine of my trips to Kenya.  Allan had taken a liking to it one afternoon during the clinic.  I told Allan how special both this Bible and he had been to me and that I wanted him to have it.  I did promise Pastor James that I would bring him a Bible like it on our October trip.  I asked him what color he wanted, and he wanted one exactly like it, and it HAD to be VERY POWERFUL!  I have a feeling there will be a few more Bible stories to tell in my future. 
The Spring 2013 Kiambu Team
The final big blessing for me was our team.  Before this trip ever got started, Pastor Kevin and I were wondering if we would have enough team members to field a clinic.  At one point, it looked like we had 7 or 8 people, including ourselves, ready to go.  Then, as always seems to be the case, God had a different and better plan which tested our faith.  This happens so often that you would think we would be immune from worry by now.  We lost 2 team members when an unexpected medical situation arose.  But we were blessed when 3 team members from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Giddings answered God's call.  Pastor Kevin and I had done a presentation during their fellowship hour in October of 2011 that bore fruit on this trip.  It's amazing how seeds that we plant, when the Lord waters them, seem to bloom at just the right time!  Our other area for a little bit of concern was that Pastor Kevin and I would be the only "veterans" on this team.  Again, no need to worry.  Just like every other mission trip I had been a part of, things started out slowly enough Monday that we were all able to get our bearings in the posts that we had been trained in and were also able to get our local volunteers up to speed.  Even though we saw increasing numbers of patients every day, peaking at 439 on Friday, each day seemed easier than the previous ones because we became more adept at rotating team members into clinic areas that were bottlenecked.  Pastor Kevin and I both really enjoyed the energy that the new people brought to our team, the sense of awe and wonderment that they exhibited when they saw their first giraffe or zebra and it fully hit them that "I'm really in Africa!"  It was my joy as well to be able to take the group on daytrips and to places that Pastor Kevin had never been before.  After the numerous trips both he and I have made, it's pretty easy to get a little jaded after experiencing some of the same things over and over.  While we definitely missed the camaraderie and inside jokes that have developed among our usual veteran team members over the years, it was a nice change of pace to field a brand new team.  To a person, I heard each of them say that they would love to come back again, since these missions provide experiences that stretch and grow your faith beyond anything you could have imagined beforehand. 
Care to join us on our next mission to Africa from October 3-13, 2013?  Contact Pastor Kevin Westergren through Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin, TX at 512-459-1500 or me,  Dave DeVore at 512-323-5343 for more information. I will personally guarantee that you will not look at the world in the same way after serving with us. God will break your heart in one way or another and will put it back together again in a markedly better way. How do I know this? Because after 9 trips since November 2009, I have seen this in not only myself, but also in every single short term missionary that has participated in the Vision Kenya Project with us.  This incredible experience completely stretches any comfort zone you may have had before and it prepares your heart and soul for serving the Lord even more enthusiastically than ever in most any setting.  As our own Pastor Dave likes to say, you will be so in tune with God's plan for you that you will see the world through "Jesus eyes". In my own case, I have been more active than ever in local human care ministries than I was prior to these evangelism missions. So, to those who think that involvement in short term international missions and serving the Lord locally are mutually exclusive, I reply that it is not an either/or proposition but a both/and kind of animal. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer teaches in his landmark book, The Cost of Discipleship, faith leads to obedience, which leads to stronger faith, which in turn causes stronger obedience and so it goes during one's walk with Jesus. It all begins with faith, which is a gift of God which none of us deserves. This obedience or sanctification is our joyful response to this free and gracious gift, a gift that was bought at a terrible price by Jesus that all might be saved. I'm well aware that not everyone is called to the foreign mission field, nor are all physically, financially or otherwise in a position to join in our efforts on the front lines in Kenya, as we witness to all whom God places in front of us. We know we are blessed to have heard the Lord and been able to answer His call. However, there aren't very many people that can't serve in some way within the context of their own lives. This might include supporting a mission such as ours through prayer, helping to recruit more team members or via financial gifts. This particular project definitely requires far more people behind the scenes than just those of us on the front lines. If your heart isn't moved to action by this project, my advice is to find a way to serve others that is near and dear to you that you can become genuinely passionate about. You will discover a wonderful paradox that those of us that have abandoned our comfort zones learned long ago. You can't out give God, you will always be abundantly blessed far more than any blessing you can ever give. It's such a profound truth that I have to question my motivation before each mission. Am I going to serve others in answer to God's call on my life or is it for the many blessings that I know, based on past experience, that I will receive? If I'm brutally honest, it's both and that's fine. My plea is that you just do something for somebody else. Are you afraid of making a mistake or not having the right words? I've noticed that the only people that don't make mistakes are those that don't do anything, and if I think about that for a while, that in itself is a big mistake. The options for service are endless, ranging from helping with ESL classes, building ramps for your homebound neighbors, volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, delivering Meals on Wheels to shut ins, starting a Bible study at work or in your home and on and on the list goes. Redeemer members, including our mission team members, do all of these things and many more. Come on in, the water's fine! The Lord will grant to you a joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding if you do.

To God be the Glory!