Friday, November 28, 2014

Pictures of the November Kenya Mission are being posted

Come back often, I hope to have them all available with captions before this weekend is over.  Here is a link to the images below, just remember this is a work in progress and will take several more days to complete.  There were nearly 3,000 pictures to go through, the best 500 or so are being edited, cropped, sharpened, etc., added to the Google+ album and then will be gone through again.  My goal is to end up with 300-400 of the best of the best, have them in an order that tells the story of the past 10 days and then add captions to each so they make sense to our families, friends and followers of this blog.

Click here to see the Fall 2014 Kenya Mission pictures

After the pictures have all been processed and uploaded, I will be publishing at least one more article summarizing this trip, what it meant to us and the wonderful ways that God used us this time around.  He always has surprises in store for us and we are blessed abundantly each time we respond to His call on our lives.

To God be the Glory!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunday travel from London to Austin, home again! November 23

We boarded British Air Flight 191 to Austin nearly on time around 10:45am London time.  Although we got a slightly late start, the estimates on our in-flight entertainment screens still predict an arrival time of a little before 4pm Austin time this afternoon.  This will be a real blessing, and with any luck, we will clear customs, get our footlockers and personal baggage, and hope to arrive back at my place in central Austin by around 5:30pm.  Many times when we’ve flown out of Houston, I wasn’t home until 8pm or later after getting my truck from long term parking, loading up our gear and driving back to Redeemer.  I think we will all be in the best shape ever because of this.  We are just now over the western coast of Ireland and have about 9 hours remaining of a 10 hour flight.  I expect we will be eating soon and then I’ll try to get a little more sleep. 

Over the next few days, I will be getting my feet back on the ground, shaking off the jet lag from a 9 hour time difference and will celebrate Thanksgiving with Redeemer, friends and family. As always, I will be reflecting on what this trip has meant to us in the near future, the God things that we witnessed and were blessed to be a part of.  As stated earlier in this space, I will also begin tackling the job of sorting through several thousand pictures, selecting the best of those, making them even a little better and then will post them out on the web.  Stay tuned for the next week to 10 days as the finishing touches are put on my account of the trip, the images are published and we settle in on the dates for our next mission to Kenya in June of 2015.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday at Fourteen Falls and travel to Heathrow, November 22

This was written beginning at about 11pm as we waited for our slightly delayed flight to London, which was to depart at 12:15am, worked on for a while as we approached London and at Heathrow. 
I did wake up at midnight Friday night and was able to get an aisle seat for myself, but when I tried for 45 minutes to check in for Martha, Howard and Ralph, the Internet connection at Rosa Mystica got flaky and the British Air web site was unresponsive. I tried again around 3am and also came up empty.  At 6am, I was able to take care of the Faskes, but Ralph’s booking had problems and he had to wait until we got to the airport to get a seat assignment.  After a night like that, I got one last shower at Rosa Mystica and finished packing.  We had breakfast with our driver Mambo and Barrack and said our goodbyes to the kitchen crew.  We loaded up the last of the cases of water from our rooms and our luggage and were on the road to Fourteen Falls by 8am.  We stopped and topped of the air in the tires and bought some gas to cover the rest of our travels.  The price was 108.90 Kenyan shillings per liter, which translates to about $5.25 per gallon. We only saw one gas station that was a slightly different price, less than a penny’s difference, since the government controls the price. 
We headed out, went through downtown Nairobi and then out on one of the new super highways that the Chinese have helped to build.  It was similar to an American interstate, with a few exceptions. One was that because there has been massive development of apartments, businesses and schools along the route of this expressway, there is a need to cross it on foot occasionally, since many Kenyans don’t drive or at least tend to walk much more than we do.  You could be driving along at highway speeds and then, out of nowhere, if you weren’t paying attention, is a large speed bump and a crosswalk, where pedestrians are navigating from one side to the other, perhaps to shop or to take a matatu (van) into town or to their jobs.  I’m sure that vehicles are supposed to yield to pedestrians, but like all traffic n Kenya, there appears to be unwritten, but generally understood, rules that make it seem more like a high speed video game.  I wonder how many rear end collisions and pedestrians being hit that this setup causes. I also wonder if this is the way such highways are designed in China or if this is unique to Africa.    An elevated walkway like we use would seem to be a better solution all around.  As a side note, Kenyans refer to one of these speed bumps, found on any and all roads, as a “sleeping policeman”, since it is a passive form of traffic control.  There is always one right before and right after a school, no matter where you are, whether in a city or in a remote area.  Sometimes the driver of one of vans will remember the first bump, but speed up and smack into the second one, often with us going airborne and/or bottoming out the van as well.  It’s quite an experience!  The other big difference from our highways is that they are not nearly so limited access, with many more exits and areas to pull off due to the need for matatus to pick up and drop off passengers frequently. 

It took us about an hour and a half to reach the Fourteen Falls National Park.  Once we got off the main road, it was maybe 2 or 3 miles to the park entrance, where the red dirt road was obviously muddy in some places.  One of the locals on a motorcycle had us follow him into the park after we had paid our admission fees.  There was a fee for each non-resident (us), a resident fee that was next to nothing for Barrack and mambo and a charge per camera.  They only saw one camera, so that worked out OK.   The motorcyclist went around to the right and lured us into a muddy area where we proceeded to get stuck.  This is not the first time I had seen this.  There was about 10 minutes of getting buried deeper and deeper and then, miracle of all miracles, some other guys showed up to push us out.  We paid them for their kindness.  If this had been my first trip, I would have written about the harrowing experience, the worry of maybe not being able to get unstuck, our relief and thankfulness at being saved by friendly people.  I’m not going to write any of those things.  This was a well-orchestrated trap that always turns out this way.  We aren't mad about this, it’s a fact of life when you have people that are wealthy by world standards visiting areas where people are just getting by.  I look at it as supporting the local economy and it didn’t cost more than $10 and a little of our time.  We were never in any danger, and with a veteran team, none of us were ever concerned about the eventual outcome.  We made it the rest of the way into the park and left the van on a high and dry spot.  Two young men, John and Peter, came along and were our guides.  Taking us down one side of the river, helping us as we climbed up and down the even rocky terrain and getting us to some great vantage points to get pictures of the magnificent falls.  The area is called Fourteen Falls, because when the water is at an average depth and flow in the river, there are fourteen distinct falls and they counted them off for us to prove it.  During rainy times the water can be up to 8 to 10 feet deeper and then the fourteen falls become one big falls.

I had my Nikon D5200 DSLR setup with a Sigma zoom lens that would go from 18-250mm (the equivalent of 24-375mm on a 35mm camera) which is from wide angle to zoomed in pretty far for things like birds in flight or animals you don’t want to get very close to.  I had given Barrack my backup camera, a Canon SX-510 superzoom bridge camera to also get some shots with.  Both are good cameras and I expect to be able to post some outstanding images within the next week or so.  Please stay tuned for that, it will be well worth it, I promise. 

We eventually made our way to where there were some old, green wooden boats along the short near a rope that was stretched across the rapidly flowing river.  The boatman said he would take us across for 500 Kenyan shillings each and back again for another 500 Kenyan shillings, so I invited Barrack to go with me as my guest while the others waited for us.  I told the boatman we would pay upon our return.  The terrain is very rocky and slippery near the falls.  I play a lot of singles tennis and am in pretty good shape for a 62 year old man, but the next 45 minutes was quite a workout.  First, we climbed into the boat and then the guys poled it over to the rope.  They then pulled us about 100 yards across the river.  We disembarked and then went up, up, up, stopping at 3 or 4 plateaus for increasingly beautiful views of the falls and the river below.  It was rough going, jumping from one rock to the next, steadying ourselves, sometimes needing one of the boys to pull me to the next stop, since I was using one hand to protect my camera.  I have a new appreciation for mountain goats!  We finally made it to a spot right below one of the bigger falls, about 100 feet above the river.  There was a cliff diver at the top and I got some great stop action shots of him raising his hands above his head and then leaping down to the base of the falls below.  John said it is about 36 feet deep there, so striking the bottom was not one of the risks the diver needed to worry about.  We slowly made our way back down, which was actually harder than the climb had been, with much more slipping and sliding.  After several stops along the way to get some more pictures from various angles, we finally arrived back at ground level, where we got some pictures of storks or pelicans (need to identify what they were) and some other birds on the water and in flight.  I made it back to within about 10 yards of the boat and then stepping all the way over my ankle in mud with my right foot.  John quickly was able to wash it off at the river side.  I’m glad this was the only minor disaster, a bad fall would have been much worse.  All in all, it was quite worth it.  We made our way back across the river, paid the boatman and tipped John and Peter.  While were gone, one of the locals washed the van for 200 Kenyan shillings (about $2.50).  I think this was the last part of the getting stuck scam, these guys are really good! 

Please don’t think that everywhere you go in Kenya, people are out to take advantage of you.  Our day probably cost us less than $100 for the six of us and we had a great time.  One of Kenya’s biggest economic drivers is tourism, so most experiences are perfectly wonderful, the people are very friendly and we always feel safe and welcome.  In defense of trying to get a little extra cash out of us, tourism is hurting a little bit the last few weeks due to Americans and Europeans being overly concerned with ebola and not realizing that this terrible, real problem is over 3,000 miles away from Kenya on the other side of the African continent.  I can understand when every news story about Africa seem to have the word ebola in it, how unreasonable worries would tend to prevail.  My prayer is that reason and common sense would come the fore and that people would resume coming to Kenya in droves.  It is a wonderful country, full of friendly people, natural wonders, incredible flowers and food.  I consider it the closest thing to paradise I’ve ever seen.
We drove back to Nairobi and had one final lunch at the Junction before going back to the Little Daughters of St. Joseph convent to meet the other teams prior to heading to the airport as a group.  The teams flying KLM had to wait for us to arrive on the first Friday night, now it was our turn to repay the favor.  We headed to the airport a little after 5pm, after saying our goodbyes to Catherine, our drivers and Barrack.   The KLM flight was leaving around 10:30pm and we were slated for 11:55pm, but were delayed until about 12:15 because our plane had not arrived from London yet.  We had some food and conversation with other teams in a Java House in the airport and groups began to leave one at a time until 3 teams were left to fly with us back to London.  The London flight was great.  Right after dinner, I slept almost the whole night, straight through until we were only about an hour and a half from London.  I must have needed it.  I am finishing this post at Heathrow, where we have about a 4 hour layover before our team flies alone back to Austin.  We are glad we missed the cold snap while were gone and will be returning to seasonal weather.  We are all looking forward to worshipping on Wednesday night at Redeemer for Thanksgiving services and to give thanks for God’s providence on this trip.  To God be the Glory!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday ends a great clinic. November 21

We had our customary breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast and bananas at Rosa Mystica and then drove to the church for the last time this trip.  It was cool and dry and patients began flowing into the clinic from about 8:15am onwards.  We had seen around 300 people by noon and saw a total of 684 people before we shut down the clinic at 4:15 to pack up and then have a final devotion with our volunteers.  The total for the week was 2560 patients, a good week by any standard.  We handed out the certificates and everyone was appreciative of them.  As always, it was hard to say our goodbyes, but many of us have been doing so since 2009 or even before.  We said to our friends that you have to say goodbye so we can say hello again next time. 

As I write this, it is 9pm and we have just come from dinner in the food court at the Junction where we all had a quarter chicken, fries and cole slaw.  It hit the spot.  I am getting ready to start packing my stuff up, since we will have a 7am breakfast and then drive out to Fourteen Falls, a nice national park that I have not been to yet.  We will meet the other teams at the convent we spent the first two nights in on Saturday afternoon and will leave for the airport around 5:30pm.  One group is flying KLM and will have an earlier flight than hours and will get back to Houston via Amsterdam.  Our team and a couple of others will be flying British Air to London around midnight.  I have all of our travel info next to my laptop and will wake up at midnight to try to get us the best possible seats, since we can't check-in online until 24 hours prior to our flight.  We all like aisle seats, since you can get up at will, drink lots of water to stay hydrated and get up again when the inevitable results occur.  This post is relatively short because of time constraints and the hour.  I will try to post another story before we leave Nairobi, but if this is not possible, I should be able to get something out to this blog when we are at Heathrow on Sunday morning London time, since we will have about a 3 hour layover.  Once home in Austin, I will begin posting pictures as soon as possible.  Normally, I put the 300 best pictures on the web, but have to choose them from several thousand and then work on each of them a bit.  I hope to complete this task by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.  Thanks for all of your well wishes and prayers.  It means a lot to us.  Thank you Jesus for a great clinic that brought many people to know you for the first time or that helped others to grow in their faith!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thursday's clinic reached new peaks. November 20

It was nice all day, just a little damp in the morning.  We had a pretty steady flow of people coming all day, with the exception of the lunchtime lull that has become the norm.  By the time we were finished letting the last people in around 4:30pm, we had seen 561 patients, although 583 people had been counted at the gate.  There is always some discrepancy between those that register at the gate and how many people are actually treated, but it is usually not quite this large.  It’s possible some patient treatment cards will turn up in the morning.  Either way, it was a busy day. In addition, we had many more cataract referrals than on previous days.  We have now agreed to pay for cataract or other eye surgeries at a Nairobi hospital for 27 people.  We typically bring enough money to cover 30 procedures.  You might be surprised to know that these sight restoring surgeries average only $50 each, so this part of our clinic budget amounts to the best $1500 value you will ever find.  Our doctors arrange for the operations, we do one eye at a time, and I almost always see some of the same faces on our next mission come back to have the other eye healed.  Thank you, Jesus!

The team and I just returned from dinner at the Junction’s new food court.  It’s on the second floor of the mall and had previously been enclosed.  Now the street facing side has had the wall of that floor removed, so it has a nice open air feel to it.  A waiter comes by, gets you drink orders and then you can select items from any of the different food booths.  Ralph and Martha had Chinese, while Howard and I chose pizza.  Pretty weird, go halfway around the world and have a pepperoni pizza, but that’s exactly what we did!

We have spent the last half hour preparing the Certificates of Appreciation for our clinic volunteers.  We will hand them out at the end of the day and each volunteer will get their picture taken with Pastor James and I.  These diploma quality certificates really mean a lot to the young people at the church.  One young man had his name misspelled last year when we were here and has fretted about it since.  I am going to issue a replacement for last year to patch things up.  This just demonstrates how working with us and being given responsibility for the various jobs in the clinic has a profound impact on the self-worth of these kids.   I hope it has a lasting effect.

Well, it’s about time to call it another day.  Tomorrow will be very busy and it will be hard to shut down the clinic since many people will show up expecting last minute care.  We will have the closing ceremony and will need to inventory and pack up our supplies for shipment back to the States or for storage in Nairobi.  I’m sure there will be more stories to tell tomorrow.  Keep your prayers coming our way for our team and the congregation at the church in Kawangware as we share the Gospel and meet human needs through our clinic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thursday morning musings, November 20

Looking out my window before breakfast, it is cloudy but dry.  I’m hoping we get a solid day of sunshine, since Thursday is typically one of our biggest days for a vision clinic.  Word of mouth has spread to friends and families of our clinic visitors that the care that the people are getting is good and it is indeed free.  We always have to fight the battle of being mistaken for other clinics that come to town that purport to be free but are really a scam.  Once we overcome that hurdle, the floodgates always open and we see a steady stream of people all day.  

Now that the clinic is more than halfway through, it is already becoming a little bittersweet that the end is in sight and we will soon be saying our goodbyes once again, doing inventory, packing up and preparing to make the long journey back home.  We are already planning a recruiting for two teams from Redeemer to come back to Kenya in June of 2015.  If you feel that God is calling you to join us, please contact either Pastor Kevin or myself at 512-459-1500 and we’ll be glad to give you all the information you need.  Time to get organized before heading down to breakfast and another day!  Blessings everybody!

The Wednesday clinic was crippled by afternoon rain! November 19

We had a steady stream of people in the morning and had seen nearly 250 patients by noon.  There was a lull, as usual around lunch time and things were going great when the skies opened around 3pm.  It reduced our traffic to a trickle, but we didn't close the gate until around 4:30 so that we could give proper treatment to each patient that was already on the grounds.  We made several pairs of “Coke bottle” glasses today, very strong prescriptions for people with very bad vision.  To see someone’s eyes light up and a smile break out across their face as they can recognize things around them is both humbling and gratifying.  To a person, they praised God for this blessing.  What a joy to be a part of a miracle like this.  We could all be doing something else with our lives at this point, but everyone on this team has chosen to do something significant for others through this project of ours.  The funny thing is the rewards are so great that it often seems to be downright selfish on our part to want to continue to come to Kenya, doing what He has called us to do.  We always have to remind ourselves that we have a loving Father that loves us and blesses us abundantly when we get out of the boat, out of our comfort zone, to be obedient.  It’s a win-win situation if there ever was one!  We get to help bless other people and are also blessed in the process.

After we got back to Rosa Mystica, we had some time to shower and get a little nap before walking over to the Mediterranean restaurant in the Junction shopping center next door.  Catherine met us there and we had a very nice, relaxed meal. It was quiet enough for about an hour and a half of cordial conversation.  Good company, good food and a good time was had by all.  I’m back in the room and it’s just about time to turn in and do it all over again tomorrow.  Please continue to keep our mission and ur team members in your prayers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wednesday, the start of another day! November 19

It’s 6am and I had a very restful night with one exception.   Catherine has been having some issues with a new smartphone, it has been calling people at random.  It called me several times during the day on Monday and called Shara during dinner last night.  The evil phone’s next victim was me at 12:11am, I have the proof in the call register in the old school cell phone we use for the team here.  We’re having breakfast with her today before we head into the slum and I’m sure we’ll all get a good laugh out it.  I’m also sure I am going to either fix the settings on her phone or smash it! 

I am expecting to see at least 500 people in the clinic today, based on past experience.  It wouldn't be unusual, if the weather cooperates, for many more than that to be served.  No matter how many folks God sends to us, each will get introduced to the Gospel and will have their vision needs treated individually with love and respect.  It doesn't get any better than that!  My hope is that my next report this evening is about a very successful day with a personal story or two such as a visit yesterday from Abednego.  He’s a young man that is the son of the Mother Teresa of Kawangware, whom we wrote about in previous missions.  She cares for orphans in the slum and is known for this work throughout the world.  He was always evangelizing when we saw him in the past, a committed street preacher.  He informed me that he had just completed the next level of his theological studies and is now a recognized evangelist and is well on his way to becoming a pastor.  He had always looked frail and underweight in the past, he is the picture of health today.  He and Mother Teresa hope to bring some of the children in her care to the clinic today or Thursday.   This is what our project is all about, we do short term missions with long term commitments.  If we had been doing trips to different locales each time, we would never see the fruits of the seeds we had planted.  Instead, stories like this abound as we renew old friendships and continue to forge new ones.  Blessings everybody, stay tuned!

Dinner with friends in Nairobi, November 18th

We had a wonderful dinner at Java House.  I once again had English fish and chips, one of my favorites there, and so did Catherine and her Mom.  Howard had pork chops, Shara (one of our LCMS missionaries and friends) had a chicken curry dish and I’m not sure what Martha had, but it was good.  It was all good and so was the conversation. We talked about our families, news of the day, Shara’s travels to Madagascar and all of the things that friends talk about that haven’t seen each other in a while.  It was a very enjoyable evening.  We all came back to Rosa Mystica for a while and Howard showed Mama some pictures on his iPhone of his family and an incredible clip of an ice bucket challenge that his family did dumping ice water on themselves with a tractor.  Wow!  It’s the end of a very busy and productive day.  We are all getting ready for bed a little before 10pm, and are using the team phone to call our families in the States to tell tell them about our doings.  Time to get some rest before another big day at the vision clinic. Blessings everybody!

Tuesday's clinic picked up steam! November 18

We had a good breakfast once again of eggs, toast, sausage and bananas at Rosa Mystica and were able to leave a few minutes later now that the clinic had been setup on Monday.  We arrived got our supplies and equipment out and arranged.  Our evangelist, John Karanja, opened our day with a beautiful prayer and we began seeing patients.  It was a nice dry day, with a high in the mid-70’s.  We had a few less patients by noon than we had seen on Monday, but it was pretty steady all day long and we ended up seeing 451 patients and another 21 people committed their lives to the Lord. 

As I write this, we are about ten  minutes from walking over to the Junction to join Catherine and her mother at Java House for a 7pm dinner.  We subsisted on snacks today like Payday candy bars, beef jerky, granola bars and a cookie or two, so we’re all pretty hungry.  There is more to tell after dinner when I return to our lodgings.  This dinner will be a great way to end a beautiful day here in Nairobi.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A good first day, November 17 Kawangware clinic opens, November 17

Our breakfast did turn out to be hurried, but good, as expected.  We had made to order omelets, sausage from an indeterminate animal, toast, mango juice, a fresh pot of coffee (unusual, Sanka or Nescafe is the norm) and some sweet bananas as a dessert.  We arrived well before 8am and began to set the clinic up, moving pews, bringing in tables and chairs, hanging eyecharts and station numbers on the wall, etc.  Like all Monday mornings we have experienced in the past, it was so chaotic that any first time observer would conclude that a clinic could never get off the ground.  Looks can be deceiving, since we had already seen around 200 patients by noon, with only minor tweaking to the process and continued training of volunteers. The afternoon was sunny and very nice, so it was a little slower.  We finished the day having seen a total of 338 patients.  People we talked to on the street outside the church were confused as to whether our services were really free.  Every clinic starts this way, but word of mouth is a powerful ally.  People go home and tell their friends and family about their experiences and before you know it, you are seeing many more people in a day.  Also, once the clinic begins to run smoothly, it hardly seems as if we’re working at all and the numbers really begin to soar.  Many times, rather than a mad rush of people and mass chaos, a clinic that is running well will be more of a steady drip, drip, drip.  At the end of the day, you can’t believe that you saw 3 or 4 times as many people and you don’t really feel it.

We stopped for some more hand sanitizer at Nakumatt on the way home and I changed some personal and team money at a currency exchange to get us through the rest of the week.  We had dinner at 7pm at Rosa Mystica.  It was a fried whole fish with sauce, something like tilapia, and many different sides including kale, rice, a vegetable medley, chapatti bread, bananas, beans and more.  We had subsisted on just a few snacks and water all day, so we were all famished and ate like it!  We’re all going to call it an early evening and I’m sure we’ll sleep extremely well.  Keep coming back regularly to follow our eploits and keep us in your prayers.  Blessings, everybody!  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Monday morning! Let the clinic begin! November 17

It rained throughout the night.  At the moment, at 6am, it’s just overcast and if it’s going to be a sunny day, that will burn off by 10am or so.  We will be scrambling to get some breakfast when the cafeteria opens at 7am to wolf down some breakfast because we hope to be loaded up and on the road by 7:20.  There is no school this week, so traffic should be lighter than usual.  Our first tasks when we get to the church will be to get the physical layout of the clinic setup and begin to train our volunteers in the various stations of the clinic.  With a small team, our roles will be to get things up and running and to supervise more so than actually man each part of the operation.  We are all looking forward to seeing many old friends, including the doctors that will serve with us this week.  Stay tuned for a report at the end of the day on how things went.  Continue to pray for a successful week of spreading the Gospel through human care ministry. To God be the Glory!

Sunday worship and other happenings... November 16

It continued to drizzle as we helped the other teams load up their footlockers and personal luggage as they headed out into the mission field.  We were the last to depart the Little Daughters of St. Joseph facilities at around 9am.  We had a little extra time, so we swung by Rosa Mystica and dropped off our luggage and claimed our rooms there.  We arrived at the church at 10am, right on time for worship.  With the rainy morning, we were among the first ones there, since rain, puddles and mud makes it difficult to travel in the slum.  It was a blessing, because we got to catch up with our old friends there.  Some of them were Emmanuel, the evangelist tapped to do the sermon, Thomas, the caretaker of the church and Pastor James, who was still suffering with a bad throat and not much voice.  The worship service was wonderful, as usual, with a mix of more traditional hymns, choir music with Tanzanian, Somalian and other African influences and the Liturgy.  Church let out around 1pm, we said some m ore hellos and goodbyes and headed to the Junction for lunch at Java House.  We got a nice surprise, our friend from Kawangware, Mambo, joined us and we found out he would be our driver for the week.  He has helped in previous clinics and will effectively be a 5th team member for us. 

After lunch, we shopped at the Nakumatt for snacks, water and clinic supplies such as paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.  All items that don’t make much sense to transport halfway around the world and that are readily available within walking distance of Rosa Mystica.  Our driver for the day, Simon, dropped us off, along with about 14 cases of water and some boxes of Bibles.  We divvied these things up among our three rooms and will dole them out as needed during the clinic.  Since we had such a late lunch we decided not to opt for the dinner at Rosa Mystica.  In fact, unless we order dinner, they won’t have it or charge us for it.  I’m guessing we will be eating out at least 3 times with friends this week, so that works just fine.  While dinner is actually part of our travel package, the food is so good at the mall next door with quite a variety of restaurants that it makes sense to entertain our local friends there when we can. 

I received an email this afternoon from a good friend of mine and Redeemer, Dr. Paul Maier.  He is having some computer issues that are interfering with the final edits on his new book.  I’m working on making contact and seeing if there is anything I can do by remote control, phone or email.  The world is certainly a smaller place these days.  I’m thinking my fee for doing international computer consulting has got to be a personally signed and dedicated copy of his new book.  Pretty cool, huh?  That’s about all for now, the others are starting a game of dominos and threatening to teach me how to be ruthless at it like they are.  If I can get the computer repair handled, I may have to take them up on it.  We’ll call it an early night, we’ll need to be fresh to get the clinic up and running in the morning.
Please continue to keep us in your prayers for an effective mission, both from the human care/medical perspective and from the evangelism point of view.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Early Sunday morning November 16

Alarms began going off starting at a little before 6am, which was what mine was reset for after being up for a while in the middle of the night.  It’s dry this morning and I’m thankful for that, since we’ll be helping the other teams pack up for their journeys to their clinic locations after a 7am breakfast.  Even though I a had a bit of a rough night, I’m pretty well rested and I’m comforted by knowing that on my last few missions to Africa, I usually got a pretty sound sleep on the first Sunday night.  Definitely something to look forward to.  Sometimes it’s the little things in life!

The Redeemer team is scheduled to leave for the church in Kawangware around 9:15.  Pastor James has lost some of his voice, so or friend Emmanuel is slated to do the sermon this morning.  This is good, because if the past is any guide, Pastor James will be needing his voice for the rest of the week.  Best to rest it on the Sabbath. 

I spoke too soon, a steady rain has begun at 6:40, which might mean I’ll get to break out my rain poncho.  I always get a cheap poncho at Academy sporting goods for each trip.  On one of my first missions, one of the old hands told me, “If you don’t use something for three mission trips in a row, don’t pack it again, with one exception.  Your rain gear.”  True words, when you need one here, especially in Nairobi, you really need one.  Many times, we’ve had a beautiful day until about 4pm.   Then, late afternoon clouds will come into the elevated city, which is from 5500 to maybe 6500 feet above sea level” and a downpour of Biblical proportions will ensue, just as we are packing up and needed to get to our vehicle.  At that point, a $4 poncho is a great investment.  More to follow after we get moved over Rosa Mystica, our lodgings for the rest of the week.  

Saturday afternoon, lunch and an excursion to see crocodiles and more! November 15

Ben was able to procure a van so they we could ride in comfort with him, Maggie and their two young daughters. It was still drizzling when we pulled into the dirt parking lot of Nairobi Mamba Village, a wild game display attraction that has numerous crocodiles of all ages, some very large giraffes, some large turtles and a small lake that is home to cormorants and other water fowl.  We were nearly the only ones there, so Ben checked on the prices and it was about $10 apiece for each of us and $3 for residents’ of Kenya.  We decided to wait and see if the rain was going to burn off and went to the Veranda for lunch.  Each of us had a great meal, some had sandwiches, some had chicken dishes, Howard and I had fried shrimp and fries, while Ralph got a hollowed out avocado filled with shrimp and an avocado sauce.  As we were eating our leisurely lunch, sure enough, the sun broke through and things began to dry out rapidly. 
By the time we returned the Mamba Village, only about 10 minutes away, the parking lot was nearly full. The mud and the puddles were already drying out nicely.  Howard treated the group to admission to the park and then we were greeted by Francis, who was to be our guide for the day.  He was a very knowledgeable young man about the many birds and wildlife throughout Kenya and had a very deep knowledge of each species he show us.  Our first stop was a pond that was surrounded by many large crocodiles, sunning themselves, apparently dead or maybe replicas.  I couldn’t detect any breathing or other signs of life.  He took about a six foot piece of4 inch diameter PVC pipe and poked one of the larger crocs, and we all jumped back at how suddenly and violently the crocodile reacted.  We got quite a few good pictures of several of them with their mouths open, looking very menacing, from only a few feet away.  Francis showed us a lot about this species, including the fact that it has no tongue and that they keep their mouths open when they are warm to help regulate the heat, since they don’t sweat.  Our next stop was a baby alligator pond, and some of us got to hold one that was about two and a half feet long.  Francis showed us a crocodile egg and we also learned that if the eggs are incubated at less than 70 degrees, the offspring will be female, above that, male.
Our final exhibit inside was several large and small turtles.  We learned about their lifespan, how to tell male from female and lots of other facts.  Some of us held a medium sized one for another great set of photo opportunities.  Nothing like a selfie with a giant turtle, I always say!
Once we got back outside, we started to take a walk around one side of the small lake that was there.  We saw some folks floating in boat, waterfowl in and around the water and signs for Egypt, Libya and other African countries.  Each area had plant life from that region.  As we wound around the lake, we came to a small field inhabited by several very large ostriches.  We have seen them before on photo safaris from a distance, they are quite large up close and personal.  Francis broke off a piece of lantana from a nearby bush and fed one of them through the fence.  He absolutely loved this treat!  My close-up pictures revealed they have eyelashes that most women would die for! 
We finished the afternoon by walking back towards the park entrance, with Francis continuing to point out various birds and other creatures.  I got several chances to take rapid fire photo sequences of larger bird in flight, one of my hobbies.  I hope some of them turn out well.
We went back to our compound, Little Daughters of St. Joseph for well-deserved naps, prior to worshiping with the rest of the team members that still remained in Nairobi.  The team going to Kitui left after lunch for Kitui, so they could worship with the congregation they would be serving there on Sunday morning.  We had about 20 of our team left and we were outnumbered by our many friends who included church leaders, evangelists, volunteers from Nuru (the Lutheran Hour Ministries in Kenya) and an adult choir that came from the church in Kawangware to provide the music.  It was great renewing old acquaintances and introducing first time team members to our friends that we had served with on past missions.

Our services were followed by a buffet dinner and we all called it an early night around 8pm.  I started writing this post and then went to bed around 10pm.  I am now finishing it up at 2am after getting up when I couldn't sleep.  I took a shower to save time in the morning and to make sure I got hot water, sometimes a precious commodity when we have large numbers of people wanting the same thing in the morning or in the evening.  It’ll be back to bed after publishing this.  Stay tuned, I will hopefully have both the time and an Internet connection Sunday afternoon (we’re 9 hours ahead of Austin here) to bring you up to date.  Also, I hope to have enough bandwidth to post a picture or two, sometimes this works out, sometimes we just have to be patient until a few days after we get back to the States. Please keep us in your prayers for a safe and effective mission.  Blessings everybody! 

A rainy Saturday morning, November 15th

As predicted, our group arrived just before 10pm in Nairobi and we were bused to the international cargo area, which has doubled as the arrival terminal since the airport fire in August of 2013.  They had a scanning system as we entered the building that was looking for passengers running a fever.  My understanding is they had previously been taking temperatures individually, this was a high tech beam of what appeared to be infrared light that everyone passed through.  They are taking the threat of infectious disease very seriously here and we were glad to see that. 

It’s 7am here.  I was supposed to go on a photo safari to the Nairobi Game Park near the airport.  Our original group of 14 dwindled to 9 hardy souls, mostly first timers, because it has been raining all night.  I really didn't want to subject my nice camera to those conditions and I have had several experiences in the past of needing to help push vans when they had gotten stuck in the mud.  I’ll leave that adventure for others!

The four of us had breakfast at 8am and were able to contact our friends Ben and Maggie. They are coming to pick us up around 10:30 or 11 to show us around a few sights in Nairobi and get some lunch.  We will be worshiping here at the convent at 5:30pm with the other teams, followed by dinner.  More to follow!

Friday November 14th Travel

Our experience in flying out of Austin was a dream come true.  We all arrived at ABIA at 3pm, Pastor Kevin helped get all the footlockers into the terminal and we were checked in and had cleared security by 3:30.  We had plenty of time to eat in the food court and make last minute calls to friends and family.  I even fixed one of my customer’s computers by phone.  The only disappointment came when the front row seats that Howard and Martha had reserved at extra expense had been given to a young family.  I’m hoping they can get a refund for this.  British Air Flight 190 was one of the 787 Dreamliners.  They have a very nice touchscreen entertainment system that allows you to pause, rewind and play just like a DVR.  There were USB jacks for keeping your phones charged up and for displaying pictures from smartphones on the display.  Each seat also had a 110 volt power tap underneath it, handy for laptops and other devices.  We all were able to get a little sleep on the flight after dinner, which was a choice between chicken curry and vegetable pasta.  While it wasn't the greatest food, it filled us up and it was way better than British Air’s food used to be.  We were awakened about an hour before touchdown for a light breakfast and hot tea or coffee.  We had a good jet stream at our backs and arrived in London about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

The early arrival was a good thing, since we had to take a bus across the rainy tarmac in 50 degree weather to Terminal 5, where we found that we needed to go through security, even though we were flying out of the same terminal.  We were waved into the longest lines, even though we pointed out we had a tight connection, with only about 45 minutes to go before our gate would close.  Martha was able to get the attention of a different agent and we were sent to the Fast Trak line, only to wait forever for our carry-ons to be screened.  Martha and Howard made it through, but Ralph and I got diverted, me for my laptop and he for his suitcase.  We sent the Faskes ahead to the gate to let them know we were on the way.  They swabbed my laptop for explosives and tore Ralph’s carry-on completely apart and spent quite a bit of time examining each and every item.  I walked away, I was afraid I’d say something, cause an even bigger problem and we’d miss our flight to Nairobi for sure.  Once Ralph was free to go, we dashed through the airport, got to the Departures display and it said our gate was closing.  We got to the gate and were pointed to another bus, which took us and about 30 other latecomers to our waiting plane.  We climbed the stairs and breathed a sigh of relief once we were seated.  After we were airborne, the meal choice was the same as the night before, so we all got the opposite of our previous selections!  I am writing this with about 4 hours to go until we arrive in Nairobi. Another group of ours will arrive an hour before us, flying from Houston to Amsterdam via KLM.  Our plane also has a team from Dallas and one from Illinois.  We get to Nairobi about 10:30, so after going through customs, getting our visas, loading up our footlockers and taking the 45 minute ride to ur lodgings, I’m counting on bedtime being no earlier than 1am after a much needed shower.   We’ll be staying the first two nights at Little Daughters of St. Joseph convent in Karen, a nice suburb of Nairobi.  Following church on Sunday, we’ll move to Rosa Mystica, another convent a block away from a nice shopping center.  We’ve stayed there before, we’ll have individual rooms with breakfast and dinner provided, although we expect to go out a couple of times for supper.  That’s all for now.  This will probably be posted sometime Saturday afternoon after activities of the day.  There is a 9 hour time difference, so this blog post will probably be available before noon Austin time.  Check back here often as our adventure unfolds!  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Head 'em on out! November 13 is here...

The day has finally arrived.  As I write this, I am about half an hour from Pastor Kevin arriving with his pickup truck full of footlockers.  He's going to take me to the airport here in Austin, where we'll meet Ralph, Howard and Martha for the flight to London.   British Air just added direct flights to Heathrow last April.  This will take the place of driving down to Bush International in Houston, paying for long-term parking and reversing the process at the end of the trip.  It should knock nearly a day of travel out of the total.  Our only concern at this point is that we only have an hour and a ten minute layover in London.  Even though we will be flying into the same terminal, Terminal 5, that we will be departing from, we will almost certainly have to go through security.  I'm praying that our flight from Austin makes good time and there will be some British Air employees on the ground that can shepherd us through the whole process.  If we miss our flight, we will be given vouchers for a Kenyan Air flight later in the day, but wouldn't get to Nairobi until 5am Saturday, rather than 10:30pm Friday night as originally planned.  I'm supposed to help lead a group in two vans on a local safari early Saturday to the Nairobi Game Park.  Should be interesting, to say the least, if we're on that other flight.  I know I'll sleep well Saturday night if that happens!

More to follow as I have time, Internet and electricity.  All three can be in short supply at times!  If we miss the flight in London, you'll see more written from Heathrow.  If not, it may be Saturday or even Sunday before the next entry appears here.  We'll be staying at Rosa Mystica, a Catholic convent, during the week and will be a block from a coffee shop called Java House that has good wifi.  So, I should be pretty regular during the week in telling tall tales about our adventures in and around Nairobi.  Blessings, everybody!