Sunday, June 7, 2015

We're Home, on time and safe and sound!

We arrived at ABIA a little before 4pm and cleared Customs around 5pm after retrieving all of our footlockers and luggage.  There is a new automated kiosk system in place now so that you don't have to fill out the declaration form for Customs on paper anymore.  That definitely sped the process up.  Karin was at the airport to meet William, Louise picked up Ralph, Howard Martha and Amanda, Diane was there for Laura and Pastor Kevin came from the cell phone lot in his truck to get me and the footlockers.  We all said our goodbyes to each other after a wonderful 10 days together.  We definitely have some stories to tell from this mission!  Now to get over the 8 hour time difference over the next few day.  I'm doing some laundry and catching up on bills before I retire early.  Another mission in the books, may the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of those we touched with the Gospel this week and may my team all be granted some rest.  Amen!

Final Saturday and travel home

After finishing packing my stuff, I went down early for breakfast and worked with Martha on my smartphone to complete getting seat assignments for the rest of our group.  In every case, we had been assigned and aisle or window seat and had been able to change them all to aisles.  As any experienced traveler knows, the aisle is the most desired seat, you can stretch whenever you want without bothering others.  Since we stress not getting dehydrated, if you are going to drink lots of fluids, you will need to get up more frequently than others.  I only get the window seat if I want to sleep most of the way or take pictures of clouds and other sights of interest.

We were blessed to have our friend Barrack from Kawangware join us for our Lake Naivasha safari.  We had breakfast, gathered our luggage into a conference room for delivery over to another convent where all of our teams would gather later in the day and we headed out a little after 8am.  We made a brief stop for pictures at a scenic overlook at the Great Rift Valley and then drove on. We arrived at the lodge on Lake Naivasha at 10am and, after paying admission and a restroom stop, we donned our lifejackets and boarded a boat with a guide.  We spent about 45 minutes getting numerous pictures of many of the water birds and animals along the shore. We also got up close and personal to several groups of hippos along the way.  We arrived at the smaller of two islands and got out for a 45 minute walk during which we saw wildebeests, zebra, gazelles and many more birds and interesting flowers and other flora.  It’s really quite an experience to walk among the animals with no fences.  Everyone really enjoyed this adventure.  After arriving back at the lodge around 12:30pm, we had a very nice lunch outdoors at a shaded table.  A perfect end to a great morning!

After lunch, we headed back towards town, with one short stop for photos at a Catholic church that was built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II.  William and I tried to get artsy shots and I think he may have won.  I’ll know when I review several thousand pictures from this trip over the next week or two.  We got back to the Karen, a nice suburb of Nairobi, around 3pm and freshened up, bought some souvenirs from some women that Catherine always brings in that use the proceeds of their sales for work with orphans and other worthy causes.  They know all the veteran members of our team by now, we’ve bought from them for years now.

We had a nice meeting of all the teams and members from each team, veteran and new members alike, shared some of the amazing things God had done through us.  One team was involved in healing a demon possessed woman in a tribal area, another took care of a 97 year old man that received surgery for his cataracts.  The story about him had a humorous side, he came without the assistance of his family and was obviously not fully clothed under his robe.  Our team had its travel adventure and a strong clinic to report on.
We left for the airport around 5:30, with one bus and several vans full of team members and a truck with all of our footlockers for the clinics and our personal luggage.  We made sure to put our things in last, so that we could lead the way through security and clear the way for the others when we got our stuff unloaded first at the airport.  We always try to have a team leader go through security first and this time it was me.  We have had newcomers jump the gun and make a mess of the whole process for all the teams before.  We have learned from experience and it went well this time.  The teams spent the rest of the time in and around the Java House Restaurant, meeting old friends, making new ones and sharing more stories of our clinics.

We cleared one more security screening, boarded our flight and were in the air before midnight.  We were slated to arrive just before 6am, because Heathrow closes overnight and opens then every day, out of respect for their surrounding neighborhood.  Once airborne, 2 members of other teams got pretty sick, one even was at the point that the flight crew called for any doctors on board to report to them. I heard them discussion among the flight attendants of maybe going back to Nairobi and my first thought was “Here we go again, my trip number 13 truly is unlucky as far as travel goes!”  They eventually stabilized the woman and she seemed fine when we arrived at Heathrow.  I’m writing this as we wait about 2 hours to board our direct flight to Austin.  We should arrive at Bergstrom about 4pm.  It will be good to have all of the amenities of home, but I pray that the deep faith and gentle spirit of the Kenyan people continues to work on each of our hearts and we can display that kind of joy in our own community.

More posts to the blog will be added regularly for a while as pictures become available and more stories are needed to be told, so keep coming back.  Thanks be to God for another safe and effective mission!

Friday clinic is tops for the week. What a great ending!

Our final day was busy from start to finish.  I led the devotion with a short talk on the end of the 2nd chapter of the Book of Acts and compared the early church to what had occurred during our week in Kibera. 

I was in the triage area most of the day, helping to keep up with the bottleneck that invariable forms at that station of the clinic.  As with past missions, all of the team members jumped in to more than one area during the day as the need arose.  Even though we needed to begin winding things down at3:30 or so in order to see our last patients before 5pm, we still served 522 people, the most yet.  There were some disappointed folks at the end, as we began to completely run out of weaker lenses, some readers and most medications.  We had to calmly explain that this was normal, that if they had come earlier in the clinic, we would have had what they needed.  Kenyans wait until the last minute for many things, and the results are not always good.  We could only invite them to join us at our next vision clinic in November.  We ended the week with a total of 2220 patients being seen.  All of them had been given a Gospel presentation, had their eye problems treated by us and our doctors and had been prayed over individually (with only a few exceptions, some really didn’t want a specific prayer so we blessed them and routed them for treatment).  We saw several hundred Muslims and nearly every conversation was cordial and respectful as we showed Jesus’ love for all people and shared His desire that all be saved by His name.

The end of the day was a scramble to pack up our gear and supplies, inventory the reading glasses we would leave in Nairobi so we can order for our fall mission and prepare to have a final gathering of the volunteers and our team to celebrate what God had done through us and for each of us.  We sang a few songs together for one last time and then we awarded our Certificates of Appreciation to all of our volunteers, with each one coming up individually to be recognized and have their picture taken with Bishop Bakari and myself in my role as team leader.  We said our heartfelt goodbyes and left Kibera a little before dark.  There was a very colorful sunset on our ride home.
We did have dinner at the Mediterranean Restaurant as planned Friday night.  Laura had begun feeling ill early in the afternoon, so she stayed behind at Rosa Mystica to rest up for our safari Saturday and the long trip home to Austin.  Howard and Ione again had the excellent lasagna, the portions are huge and I was barely able to finish mine.  William had a thin crust pizza with a host of toppings, Ralph had minestrone soup to calm a bad stomach and the others had various pasta dishes and shrimp. It was all very good.  We walked back to Rosa Mystica to pack our belongings for the trip home, since we would not return there after our safari.

I got up at midnight to try to reserve aisle seats for everybody and our Internet at the convent was down.  I had better luck at 3am.  While my laptop still wouldn’t connect, my smartphone was able to take care of me, Ralph and William.  The Faskes and Amanda were flying on the same reservation and their confirmation number just wouldn’t work.  A partial success was better than none at all and I went back to sleep until morning.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Nairobi Airport Saturday Night

We got through security OK.  Limited battery on laptop and minutes.  I may post more from cellphone from here or when we get to Heathrow.  Great safari at Lake Naivasha today.  More to follow as I can and I will post lots of pictures over the next few weeks so stay tuned.  Pray for uneventful travel, we have had enough adventures!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Friday morning thoughts

The final day of the clinic always arrives quickly. I expect we will see large numbers of people once again and that there will be some problems when we need to turn people away at the end of the day.  We will need to begin shutting things down around 3:30 or 4pm, so that we can take inventory of several of the items, pack things up for the airport and have a final worship with the congregation and give out certificates of appreciation to each of our volunteers.  There will be laughs and tears as we say goodbye.  Some of us may never come back to Kenya, others like myself, know that we need to say goodbye so that we can say hello again soon, Lord willing.

This past week has been a great experience, both for us veterans as we have watched our new team members and volunteers find and grow into their roles and for our new members as they have gotten to share in this mission we are so passionate about.  It has been very easy to be the team leader this time.

We plan to have a nice dinner tonight at the Junction Mall, maybe at the Mediterranean Restaurant.  Then, after a short night’s sleep, we will pack our belongings and say goodbye to Rosa Mystica as we head out for a safari on Lake Naivasha.  We will have lunch afterwards and then make our way back to the Little Daughters of St. Joseph convent to meet up with the other teams as they arrive in Nairobi.  We should head out to the airport around 5pm for a midnight flight to London and then a direct flight to Austin.  I’m praying our travel woes are over. 

We have had storms and intermittent Internet connections this time around, so the several thousand pictures that we have gathered up will have to wait to be edited and posted after we return to the States.  I usually cull them down to the best 300 or so and then link to an album here, so please continue to follow the blog.  With the tight schedule we have for the next day or so, I may not be able to post anything here until we get to Heathrow, around midnight Austin time.  Please keep our final day of the mission and our travel in your prayers.  To God be the Glory!

Thursday was our best day at the clinic yet

In terms of numbers of patients seen, we had 503 come through the door of the church for treatment.  It was busy all day long, we were only able to take short breaks before we had to work on bottlenecks in one area of the clinic or another.   Triage was full all day.  Around 10:30, a teacher named Immanuel brought about 40 students over from a nearby school.  This could have really turned the clinic upside down, but we had seen something like this before at Kibera a few years earlier.  We had the children wait while we setup their own “exam room”. We put an eyechart up on the wall of the parsonage and a lot of chairs on the lawn for them.  While they waited to be examined, William taught them a few songs and kept them occupied.  I got some great pictures of the whole thing and will post them when we get back.   Dr. Lilian quickly was able to screen out those kids that needed distance glasses.  Then, she diagnosed which ones had allergies and other eye conditions we could treat.  We used the autorefractors on the kids that needed glasses and Dr. Lilian worked with the other eye issues.

I was in the triage station a lot today, with Laura and Ralph and other team members helped as they could.  There were many moving stories and many tearful prayers.  I even had one Muslim man that had seen me and been treated by our clinic there in 2011 end up seeing me again.  Wow!  We got him some new reading glasses to replace the old ones that had grown too weak.  He was still a Muslim when he left, but I gave him more information on Jesus to think about and we parted friends.  Witnessing can take years, but it has eternal rewards for those that finally listen and believe the simple message we carry.  Maybe I’ll see him again in a couple of years. 

We were supposed to have dinner here at Rosa Mystica with Catherine, her mother and Eugene, but Catherine’s day got too busy.  Laura, Ralph and I ate at Rosa Mystica and the rest of the group went to eat in the Junction Mall.  It’s about time for bed, more to follow after our last day of the clinic tomorrow.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday's clinic ran very well

We had a little less wet weather overnight Tuesday and the church grounds were a little drier.  We were able to get setup in record time, with the exception of the lock on the footlocker with our tools and other essentials not behaving.  Every team member gave it their best shot at the combinations that we know, with all the other members chiding them on.  Finally, we were able to get our groundskeeper, Aloise, to come up with a hacksaw blade, which made short work of it.  We have extra locks, so it was no big deal.  Even though we trust our volunteers, it is better not to tempt anyone overnight while we’re away, since all of our supplies and equipment are needed to run the clinic.  We don’t bring anything 8,000 miles that we don’t really need.

The clinic ran at a steady drip, drip, drip like a well-oiled machine does once every kink is worked out.  All of us worked in multiple parts of the clinic as the need arose and many of us are familiar with two or more jobs.  I believe that all of us worked at least for a while helping with backups in triage, helping people with their eye problems, praying over them and witnessing to new believers and seekers.  By the end of the day we had seen 385 patients and now we have referred 11 people to local hospitals for cataract and other surgeries.  One little boy, about 5 years old, had been hit accidentally in the eye while playing with a friend.  There was an obvious scratch on his pupil.  Our doctors were able to determine that an $80 operation was needed, that it wouldn’t heal on its own, so of course we agreed to help. 
We were blessed to have dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse that had all of the usual meats and crocodile and some other exotics.  I swear I’ll never eat again!  Well, time for bed and some rest before we do it again.  This clinic has been a wonderful blessing to the people and to us as well. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A wet but very fruitful Tuesday clinic

We had heavy rains from about 11pm onwards last night.  It was very muddy on the way into the Kibera and when we arrived at the church, the middle of the sanctuary was a huge puddle.  Our volunteers made hasty work of mopping up all of the water and we had the clinic ready to go in short order.  William did a devotion out of Romans 10 about being sent so that others could hear about the Gospel.  You know the passage and surrounding verses that conclude with “How beautiful are the feet of those that bring good news!”  It was very appropriate for our team.  We concluded with some wonderful Swahili music and Francis blessed our day’s work with a prayer.  We did not see large numbers of people all at once, especially early with the weather.  But a steady flow of people gave us a total of 377 patients by the end of the day.  I am very happy with the day for several reasons.  Laura and Amanda spent time in triage, working with the people and praying over them.  At one stretch, Laura kept at it for about 5 hours. I understand it, time flies as you deal with each person and hear their individual stories as we care for them.  A local newspaper reporter came and interviewed me.  I showed him around the clinic and explained our operations, the purpose of the project and how we were committed for the long haul, having come to this church since 2010.  He is bringing us a copy of the paper tomorrow, the story may help boost attendance the rest of the week.  I’m thinking it will be in Swahili, so I probably won’t be able to read it.  I just hope they spell my name right!

Please pray for some dry weather for us.  With the start we have made in the face of everything from travel tribulations to ring weather, a few dry days might really make this one outstanding clinic.  Thank you, Jesus!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Early Tuesday thoughts

It’s about half an hour before breakfast and there are the usual tweaks we need to make to the clinic today.  We’re going to work on making the reading glasses station more efficient, probably by getting an extra table and increasing it from 3 to 4 volunteers fitting reading glasses for our patients.  In terms of sheer numbers, patients get far more reading glasses than they do distance glasses or referrals for cataract or other eye surgeries at our vision clinics.  So, it’s important that the busiest area doesn’t become a bottleneck. 

I had some difficulty overnight in getting the batteries fully charged for the autorefractors, the devices we use to examine eyes for distance glasses.  Since we want to see large numbers of people to bless them both with our human care ministry and with the Gospel, it is essential that these refractors are running when needed.  They take far less time to perform a diagnosis to get a distance glasses prescription than an exam by a doctor.  We have extra batteries and will make it through today, but we’ll have to jump on charging every possible battery up tonight after work, since I expect the rest of the week to be very busy.  The problem seems to be that I had too many things plugged into one surge protector and the camcorder chargers we use may not have been getting enough juice.  We can also plug the refractors themselves in, but they take about 8 hours for a charge.  The chargers we have been using have taken around 2 to 3 hours, on the average.  So, I guess we’ll use a combination of both methods to get the most batteries back up to snuff.  Details, details!

We will have breakfast here and be on the road by 7:30, hoping that the first day back to work for many doesn’t produce too much traffic at that hour.  Our trip is short in terms of miles, but it can take quite a while under heavy vehicle and human traffic conditions.  More to follow after another day at the clinic!

The first day of the clinic was awesome!

We breakfasted and then drove to the church in Kibera.  It was an easy drive, since it was a national holiday commemorating Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1962.  It was a little eerie for us old-timers, seeing hardly anyone on the streets in the slum when it is usually teeming with people and vehicles making their way out to work.  We expect a much different scenario tomorrow.  We arrived at the church before 8am and began setting up the clinic.  We were surprised that the sanctuary and all of the pews had been rearranged to closely resemble our last clinic, a nice surprise gift from our volunteers to us.  After we had things pretty well setup, I did a short devotion on the Great Commission and then we had a song together before a prayer was said to bless the coming first day of the vision mission.

We were fairly busy from the start, as we started the clinic with four Kenyan doctors, two of whom were already friends from before.  As with any new startup, we had some growing pains and had to concentrate on routing the patients to the proper stations to get care, but we had it running very well by the end of the morning.  Many on our team worked in more than one area, and as we get cross-trained a little bit more, we will all be able to jump into an area of the clinic where a bottleneck is occurring and make quick work of it.  By the time the day had ended, we had seen 433 patients, possibly a new record for the first day for any clinic I have been involved with.  Thank you, Jesus!  We ended the day with a song from our Kenyan friends, then I reviewed the day and thanked everybody for a great start.  William ended the devotion with an acoustic guitar he borrowed at the church, leading us in singing Lord I Lift Your Name on High.  The harmony between and our volunteers was awesome!  What a great start to the week.

We got back to our lodgings around 5:30, had time to shower and relax a bit before dinner together at Rosa Mystica.  We discussed the highlights of the day from everybody’s perspective over dinner and what to expect for the rest of the week.  If it follows the usual pattern, our numbers will grow with each passing day.  Time to hit the sack and get some rest for what promises to be a very big week.  Blessings everybody!