Monday, June 2, 2014

A Great Mission! Final Reflections on the Spring 2014 Kenya Trip

This is the summary blog entry for the Spring 2014 vision clinic mission to Kibera and Kericho.  As has become the custom at this space, the link to the final set of pictures is directly below and it's time to reflect on what this mission trip meant to me and the other team members.  The captions for the photos are still being worked on, a few more pictures will be added to the mix and I still need some help with identifying people, birds, animals, places and things from our various adventures.

Click here to go to Kenya Spring photos

One great blessing and joy for me has been, as always, to introduce new members of the team to our mission work in the wonderful country of Kenya and it's people, places, wildlife and flowers.  It was a pleasure to have Michelle join us this time as she got to travel with her father, Charles.  She had intended to come on one of our previous trips to Kiambu, but was unable to make it due to an emergency appendectomy shortly before we left.  She had tried to talk her doctors into letting her come anyway, but it was just too soon.  She fit right in, loved the people we worked with and is already talking about coming on a future trip.

Michelle and Charles at the Great Rift Valley

We were also blessed by the addition of Caroline Bullock to the team.  She has taught at Redeemer and has a huge heart for children.  She served in Kericho with Ralph and Louise and I'm sure she's already shared stories with the preschool kids at Redeemer that she works with.

Caroline at the clinic in Kericho

Finally, Merrilee's friend Shirley joined us on the Kibera team.  They met on a Paul Maier tour of the travels of St. Paul several years ago as roommates and have remained friends since.  She fit right in with all of the veteran team members and was a lot of fun to have around.  She told us amusing stories at dinner of having danced on Broadway and her life in Aspen, Colorado.  Our volunteers loved her little dance steps she would suddenly perform when she was overjoyed!

Merrilee and Shirley

For me, the renewing of old friendships at Kibera after a two year absence was very exciting.  We had finally been allowed to go back to the Nairobi slum of Kawangware last October after two years of security concerns which had required us to serve in the more rural area of Kiambu just outside of town. We only took a team of 4 members on that trip because it was just after the Westgate Mall incident and some of our prospective team members and their families were quite understandably nervous and canceled out, some after already having purchased plane tickets.  That was my tenth mission to Kenya and it taught us all a strong faith lesson as we were forced to completely rely on God and our local volunteers for the first time in my experience with these clinics.  Neither God nor the volunteers let us down and we had a very successful mission any way it could be measured.  In fact, the volunteers were overjoyed that they had been allowed to step up to the plate and be responsible for almost all of the functions of the clinic.  To see more about last October's mission, read the blog entries for that trip.

Worship in Kibera

Back to our recent Kibera trip.  We were glad to see our old friends and make new ones.  It was a joy to worship there on Sunday, the service and the music are at a whole new level.  The Holy Spirit was definitely present that morning!  Our Nairobi teams are particularly lucky because we get to worship with the congregations we will be serving, while other teams that go to outlying areas of Kenya must use their Sunday for travel.  Thus, we always get a head start on building relationships with our volunteers and the Pastor.

Springs of Life Lutheran Church, Kibera

A great deal of the credit for the success of our mission to Kibera lies squarely with the preparation that the local congregation at the Springs of Life Lutheran Church did prior to our arrival.  When I first saw Pastor James on Sunday before church, I had asked if any of our friends from the other Nairobi churches where we have served in the past would be supplying us with volunteers.  He was adamant that the whole clinic would be staffed only by volunteers from the local Springs of Life Lutheran Church.  He said some of our friends might pay us a visit, but that this clinic would be a partnership between our team and this church.  I was saddened at first, because I wanted to see my other good friends.  But, after some thought, I realized that this was a large step for the people of this flock, since they had never been able in the past to entertain a clinic without some outside help.  Not only that, when the volunteers arrived Monday morning, all of them were in medical scrubs, a nice display of the teamwork that had been instilled in the young people since our last visit two years ago.  The high volume of patients we treated very efficiently is a direct result of the commitment and dedication of the Pastor, the elders and the congregation members showed throughout the week.  

The Kericho Team

Redeemer had 11 members ready to serve on our team.  A good size for a team is 7 or 8, although, as mentioned above, with veteran volunteers a clinic can be fielded with as few as 4 of us.  Salem needed reinforcements for their team that was going to be serving in rural Kericho.  Ralph and Louise have always had a heart for serving in new and exciting places, so they, along with Caroline, went there with them.  From everything I have heard, it was a wonderful experience for both our team members and the local volunteers that they worked with.

Everlyn and me enroute to Nairobi

After every trip, I do a recap of the "God things" that I was personally involved in or witnessed.  On this mission, some of my "God things" actually began to happen before we ever got to Kenya.  As I wrote previously in the blog:

I thought I was going to have a whole row to myself for the trip to Nairobi.  God had a different plan.  Just before the doors were scheduled to be closed, a woman arrived at my row, carrying a large bag that would barely fit under one of the seats.  She was breathing hard and was obviously relieved to be on the plane.  If she had missed our flight, she would have spent a day in London waiting for the next one.  We made small talk and I learned her name is Everlyn and that she works for a large bank in Nairobi.  More importantly, once she and I had discussed our vision clinic for a minute or two, she let me know that she was head of the women’s ministry at a large Baptist congregation that worships more than 10,000 on any given weekend near where we would be staying.  Each ministry in her church is expected to do a mission of some sort and they are very strong on discipling their members.  Does this remind anyone at Redeemer of our Vision 20/20 blueprint? Also, her sister lives a short distance from Kibera, the site of our clinic.  By the time we were done with the first of a few wonderful and uplifting conversations about our respective walks of faith, I had given her my business card so she could follow this blog and she was planning to come to our clinic for some eye problems she is experiencing.  She plans on bringing some of her family and friends to the clinic as well.  She had begun her trek in California, we had started our travels in Texas and the Lord made sure we met in row 43 on this flight from London to Nairobi.  It is so amazing when a "God thing" is happening right in front of your eyes and you actually know it at the time.  Thank you, Jesus!

Dr. Chris performs a distance vision exam

Some members of Everlyn's family

The story didn't end there.  Six or seven of Everlyn's family, including her husband, came to the clinic during the week.  She was supposed to bring her father for a possible cataract surgery referral, but that didn't happen.  Also, I was hoping to see her and her husband for lunch on Saturday, but due to a mixup on my part, that also didn't happen.  I would love to make contact with her and see her again on our next trip to Kenya in November.  It was truly a pleasure to meet her and her remarkable family, what a deep faith they have.  It is humbling, especially when you already think you are a mature Christian, to meet people that inspire you to take your walk with God to the next level of faith.

Waiting tent and registration table

One day, during the heat of the afternoon, Howard and I were on the porch of the church looking over at the waiting tent, the last stop before registration and entry into the clinic for our patients.  This tent has about 150 plastic chairs that we rent, along with all the tents.  As several people would be summoned to the registration table, everyone would move over two or three seats as they inched toward the front of the line.  A person might move fifty or more times in the course of a half hour to forty five minute stay in the tent.  As we were watching, Pastor James and several of our evangelists passed in front of the tent and an old man leaped out at him.  He was very angry, had his walking stick raised in his hand and had to be pushed back down into his chair.  The crowd became pretty restless and I was beginning to think that things were about to go up for grabs.  All of a sudden, the old-timer became very repentant and asked for forgiveness.  By this time, several other elders of the congregation had arrived and before you knew it, they had all raised both arms to the sky over the man and were praying a blessing on him.  We found out later that the heat and being around too many women and children had been more than he could take!  We promptly got him registered for the clinic.

Waiting for eye drops to work

After an eyechart exam, Howard shepherded him to the doctors where he was treated for itchy, scratchy eyes, a common ailment in the slum.  

Howard helps test out the new glasses

After a manual distance glasses exam, we made new Coke bottle glasses for him.  He needed lots of help with his distance vision and he could see just fine when we were all done.

Aloise shares a lighter moment

On his way out of the church grounds, the man encountered Aloise, a caretaker, usher and elder at the church who has an incredible joy about him at all times.  We all have come to know and love Aloise over the years we have been coming to Kibera.  They shared a laugh a two and the man was so happy with his new glasses and new found friends at the church that he jumped up, leaning on his cane and clicked his heals together before dancing a little jig. What a difference... Thank you, Jesus!

Dr. Milliam, Esther, Catherine and me

Another "God thing" that I was privileged to be a part of was when Catherine brought a woman wearing sunglasses into the clinic on Friday morning, the last day of the clinic.  The woman said "Dave, do you remember me?"  This happens at every clinic and it comes as no surprise to me that people know my name.  After all, I wear a name tag!  But yes, I did remember her as Esther, a  woman that had been referred for cataract surgery at a previous clinic.  I told her that I bet that she had come back to get the other eye taken care of and we would be glad to do it, since this has happened many times in the past.  I was ready to take her right to the doctors.  But Catherine said there was much more to this story.  When Esther had gone for the cataract surgery, they found fast acting cancer in the eye she was to have treated and an immediate decision had to be made to remove it.  She had come to thank us and was praising God for saving her life.  And, she had just one more request.  She removed her sunglasses to reveal the eye socket that had now healed.  She wanted a prosthetic eye so she could quit wearing the sunglasses.  We bring a budget of $1500 on each trip for cataract surgery referrals and other procedures that our doctors deem necessary that can be performed at a hospital or clinic in Nairobi.  Cataracts surgeries cost about $50-$65 each.  I had already approved 34 cataract referrals and several other possible procedures, so the budget was already more than gone by that Friday morning. I knew that an artificial eye cost maybe $800-$1000 in the U.S.  What could we do?  That's when Dr. Milliam went to work, calling labs in Nairobi that she has connections with.  She was able to write a referral for the glass eye that would only cost about $60.  I would have gladly paid it out of my own pocket if I had to, since we had started with Esther and needed to finish the job.  Redeemer is amazingly generous and I was confident we would find a way.  We always do.  The Lord provides...

This is the kind of encounter that keeps me coming back to Kenya time after time.  After reflecting for the last month on this woman's wonderful faith, I know that if I had been in Esther's shoes, I might very well have shaken my fist at God for the misfortune of losing an eye.  It's a natural reaction and being immersed in the me, me, me culture of America, it would have been totally understandable to say "Why me, Lord?"  Instead, she had a marvelous attitude of thanks and praise that through our clinic her cancer was discovered and her life had been saved. Not only that, her plea for an artificial eye was so humble and sincere that it still gives me chills and brings a tear to my eyes just thinking about it.  I wish I could bottle up the deep and wide faith that I run into everywhere I look in Kenya.  I wish that we here in the States could pray and believe that our loving Father will take care of us in the same trusting and child-like fashion.  There is much to learn when the Lord places people such as Esther in our paths.  It reminds me that our walk of faith is just that, a journey and not a destination.  Thank you Jesus, for teaching us through others by placing them in our lives.

Lions in the soft light of dawn

Our old friend

As on previous mission trips, we were blessed to have Saturday morning to spend as we wished, as the other teams were returning from the field.  Some of the team decided to sleep in late and do brunch and a little more shopping at the Junction Mall near Rosa Mystica.  The rest of us hit the road bright and early for one final photo safari at the National Game Park just on the outskirts of Nairobi.  We used to venture farther out, but when our van broke down two hours from town several years ago and we were lucky to make the flight out of Nairobi, things changed! Now that was an adventure.   I like to call these safaris worshiping in God's big church with no roof.  Being surrounded by the wonders and variety of His creation is a great way to decompress after spending a week in the slums with His children that He brings to us.

The Kibera team with Pastor James

Our next mission trip is tentatively scheduled for November 13-23, 2014.  If you would like more information on how to join us on that trip, please contact Pastor Kevin Westergren at 512-459-1500 or or me, Dave DeVore at or 512-323-5343.  We would love for you to share in the abundant blessings that we have been called to give and in the abundant blessings that he always bestows on us when we get out of the boat, having listened to His small still voice calling us and having responded "Here am I.  Send me, send me!"

To God be the Glory!!!