Saturday, January 12, 2013

Final reflections on the Fall 2012 Kenya Mission

The pictures from the mission are finalized now.  Follow the links below to see them.

For the Kiambu team's pictures, click this link.

For the Kitengela team's pictures, click this link.

It's now been about 7 weeks since our return from Kenya and I've had time to digest the events that took place as we served in Kiambu and Kitengela.  This means it is time to write a little about the high points and the challenges that were encountered and to discuss where we are going from here as Redeemer continues to grow in its involvement with the Vision Kenya Project.

One thing that really stands out for me is how the Lord provides for us and always has a better plan than any of us could possibly conceive of.  This was evident before we even left for Africa.  With less than 10 days to go, we lost one member of our Kiambu team to a medical issue and we were blessed to have Him provide us with our friend Cecilia in her place at the last possible minute, or so it seemed.  I am convinced that God had been preparing us and our friend Cecilia for this very eventuality for the better part of the two plus years we have known each other.  Another example of everything falling into place was the addition of Larry Meissner and his niece, Elizabeth Huber to our team.  I had been pestering Larry for the last few years to join us on one of our missions and the timing never seemed to line up, since he leads field trips for his Concordia University students on a regular basis and our trips never seemed to coincide with his school calendar.  This last mission trip matched up with his sabbatical. It also worked out at exactly the right time for Elizabeth, who had been one of the original Redeemer members that had explored the possiblility of our church getting involved in this effort by going on a mission to Nairobi in 2009.   I could easily list how each of rest of the team members "just happened" to be available to answer God's call, but I think you get the idea that each of us was called by the Lord to step out of our day to day comfort zones to serve him on this trip. 

We had almost gotten away from Austin when one final big surprise took place.  I got a call from Pastor Kevin at 7am the Thursday we were to meet up with everyone at 8am in the Redeemer parking lot to caravan to Houston. He informed me that he was ill and would not be making the trip, at least not right away.  I met Tammy at their door, since he didn't want to expose anybody to what was ailing him and she gave me the petty cash and leader packets for the two mission teams.  This opened the way for two more big surprises.  One was that Ralph would need to lead the Kitengela team, and trust me, nobody was more surprised than Ralph!  The other came after we had already arrived in Kenya.  One of the Concordia San Antonio team, Laney, had taken ill at the Dallas airport and didn't travel the rest of the way to Kenya with her team while she was being attended to in the Dallas area.  She made a quick recovery, hopped a flight to London and arrived in Nairobi late Saturday night, a day after the rest of us.  It was our good fortune that it made sense for her to work near Nairobi with easy access to medical care if it became necessary again.  Laney was able to fill the void on the Kitengela team left by Pastor Kevin and was a blessing to all who served with her and to all the people to whom she ministered.

The big surprises didn't stop there.

Another change that caught us a little off guard was not being able to serve in Kawangware with our good friends there.  This was due to security concerns that are a result of the war going on in Somalia and occasional terrorist incidents in Nairobi related to that conflict, some of which have targeted Christian churches.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS, which is our flavor of Lutheranism) employs a highly respected British security firm to monitor hot spots around the world for them.  If our International Missions leadership in our St. Louis LCMS headquarters office decides, based on such security information and other factors, that a particular location for a short term mission has the probability of being unsafe for short term missionaries, we don’t go there. Our safety is their prime imperative and we respect that, even if we feel at times that they are being over-protective.  Our disappointment was soon replaced by the many blessings that serving in Kiambu (pictured above, with Pastor Michael) proved to hold.  The Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK, the national church we partner with) had desired one of our vision clinics at this location for some time.  When we were informed that we couldn’t serve within the city limits of Nairobi, it was a natural choice, since it is just outside of town, adjacent to a rural area famous for its coffee and tea plantations.  Our new friend, Pastor Michael , has been involved with the church there since at least 1989, and with the help of the Central Diocese of the ELCK and Pastor Carlos Winterle’s Heart to Heart program among others, progress has already been  made on building a permanent structure.  It is about one third of the way built as of this writing and the local congregation’s and the ELCK’s long term dream are that the church would be finished, complete with a parsonage on the grounds.  One huge advantage that this church has going for it is that the Diocese owns the property, so there is no landlord and no rent that needs to be made every month in order to keep the church functioning.  This is not always the case with small congregations, and a missed rent payment can sometimes lead to needing to relocate a church, with all the confusion and loss of focus that entails. 

Our week in Kiambu was markedly different than the missions we had been on over the last 5 years to the much larger churches in the slums of Kawangware and Kibera.  There was a different mix of people that came to the clinic, some from a nearby slum, others on their way to or from work and an occasional fairly well to do patient also came through the gate.  We had a greater need for local translators, since many of the rural working class, while they could speak English, were a little shy to do so with us.  When we were able to coax them into speaking English with us with Cecilia's help, it was perfectly understandable.   Regardless of language barriers, everyone that came to the clinic got the Gospel presentation from our local Nuru evangelists, Geoffery and Callistus. We talked to them about their lives during their trek through the clinic and all were prayed over individually.  All of the Redeemer  team members spent some time working at the triage station on this trip, which is always a blessing for the people being prayed over, but it is also a profound life changing experience for those of us that are privileged to be used in this way by the Lord.   This portion of the eye glass clinic appears to the outsider to be where treatment options are determined for each patient, whether they will get distance glasses based on an autorefractor reading, will be fitted for reading glasses, will see our local doctors for medications, receive a cataract surgery referral or some combination of any and all of the above.  In reality, since the overriding purpose of our clinics is spreading the Gospel in obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 18-20), the triage station is where we focus on not only the patient’s physical health, but also on their spiritual condition.  We have conversations that all lead in one way or another to a discussion of the where the patient is currently in their walk with the Lord.
We hear the needs of the people, and many of them involve very intense situations, and we then lift them up to the Lord in prayer.  If a person wants to know more about the church or Christianity, we immediately will get the local church leaders or the Pastor involved.  It doesn’t get any better than this as a short term missionary, it’s where the rubber meets the road!

The Kiambu Team
Every team has its own distinct personality and this one was no exception.  We were blessed to have a very easy going group that had an attractive joy about them that almost begged people to ask us about the reason for the hope we have within us.  And we all had good reasons ready when asked.  In my experience, how you live is the best witness you can have for Christ, a joyful Christian can’t help but call attention to the blessings that walking with Him will supply a believer with.  I’ve always felt that there was something profoundly wrong when I encountered a perpetually negative person that called themselves a Christian.  They obviously didn’t understand with their whole being what an incredible gift they had received or else they would have behaved every day as if they had won life’s lottery.  I pray that such people come to a deeper understanding and faith, to the point that no matter what circumstance they find themselves in, nothing can rob them of that peace, comfort and joy that only the Lord can give us.  Our group all had that gentle joy that comes from being assured of our salvation.  Each of us had our own gifts that we were able to complement the gifts of the rest of team with.  Larry’s gift of music, his preaching ability and calm demeanor were most appreciated during our devotions with the congregation and throughout the week.  Martha and Howard’s sense of humor and their ability to help keep the business of the clinic on track are always wonderful.  It’s very good to have a mix of veteran and new team members and Howard and Martha have always been part of the steady core group that helps me in numerous ways as a team leader to operate successful clinics. They were sorely missed when they couldn’t be on our team in Kibera last spring. Elizabeth and Thomas both brought youthful enthusiasm and a zest for life to Kiambu, and each demonstrated a real heart for meeting the needs of the people we served.  Beth, Charles and Cecilia each brought professional medical skills as well as their own strong faith, personal talents and engaging personalities to bear on the many situations we encountered, always exhibiting Christ’s love while doing so.   What a blessing it was to serve with each and every one who was on this team.

The Kitengela Team

Our team that worked in Kitengela also was blessed by the relationships they formed with the local volunteers, doctors, church workers and each other.  Judging from the stories and pictures they brought back, their clinic was a blessing to the church, the surrounding community and themselves.  This was the first time Redeemer had fielded two teams in separate locations, and with the exception of the last minute drafting of Ralph to head the team up, things went as well as could be expected for a first effort at a new location.  We had three team members come from Peace Lutheran Church in Hewitt on their first trip and all expressed to me what a profound experience it had been and a willingness to come back to Kenya with us again, perhaps as early as next October's mission. There are always many kinks to iron out during the starting up and running of a vision clinic, even at locations that have held them before.  At the start of the week on each and every mission trip, I wonder how in the world we'll be able to function when great numbers of patients begin arriving.  The Lord always blesses us by letting the first day or two start out easy enough to get the wrinkles out of the process, so that by the time the inevitable word of mouth advertising reaches the nearby neighborhood and people begin arriving en masse, we are more than a match for it.  This was the case at both of our sites.  Thank you, Jesus! 

Care to join us on our next mission to Africa from April 18-28, 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 8 trips in 3 years, 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 noted previously in this blog, Bonhoeffer taught us that 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 and been able to answer the call. However, there aren't 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 at the front. 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 it 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 passes all understanding if you do.

To God be the Glory!