Friday, November 20, 2015

A Blessing on the last day of our Fall 2015 Clinic

Pastor Kevin and I were meeting on the last afternoon of the clinic with Catherine, Pastor James and Jarrod of Nuru (the Lutheran Hour Ministries in Kenya) concerning our future clinic locations in and around Nairobi when we got word that there was someone who wanted to see us.  It was little 4 year old Blessing and her mother, come to thank us for her successful double cataract surgery of a year ago.   Blessing looked and acted like any other precocious 4 year old.  Catherine reminded us how special this moment was when she likened it to Jesus healing the ten lepers and only the one came back to praise and thank Him.  Blessing's Mom was just overflowing with thanks and praise and told us how grateful she was in Swahili with Catherine interpreting for us.  My response to her was that it was cases like this that kept is coming back again and again to be the hands and feet of Jesus and that all the glory belonged to Him for putting Blessing in our lives.  There was not a dry eye to be seen.  We posed for the following picture.  The story of our original encounter with Blessing at our clinic in November of 2014 follows this image.

From a December 2014 post:

Over the next week or ten days, I’ll be adding more stories about what happened of note on the trip and several more pictures from other team members.  Here is the first of these stories and it deeply moved all of us.  It happened Friday afternoon, on the last day of the clinic.  We always bring a budget of $1500 for each vision clinic team for the purpose of paying for cataract surgeries or other procedures at local Nairobi hospitals.  The average cataract referral costs us about $50, so this means that 30 people regain the sight in at least one eye on each of our missions.  We had already approved 31 cataract surgeries, one more than the budget and had also agreed to help with half payment for a pair of contact lenses for a young boy with keratoconus (a condition where the eyes are shaped like the end of an American football rather than being more spherical) if the family and community could raise the other half.  I thought we were more than done with surgeries and we were already beginning to assess when we would have to close the clinic in order to get packed up and have a closing devotion with the volunteers from the congregation. 

God had another plan and brought us a 3 year old little girl named Blessing (shown here with her mother, me and Dr. Patrick).  She had been born with cataracts on both eyes.  Her young mother had been born the same way.  Our doctors had seen this hereditary condition before and recommended surgery for both eyes and said the cost would be around 20,000 Kenyan shillings or approximately $250.  They weren't sure if that would be for one eye or both, but that general anesthesia would be necessary.  Normally, we fund one cataract surgery at a time, mostly for older people because of the chance of infection and the possibility of permanently losing sight in both eyes.  In the case of a young one like Blessing, the risk of going under anesthesia twice far outweighed these other risk factors, so both eyes would need to be corrected at the same time. I asked that the doctors make some calls and firm up the cost that we were talking about and I also asked if there was any way the family and the community could come together to fund raise for half of the cost, as is our custom in cases like this.  After phone consultations with their colleagues at various clinics, our doctors reported that both eyes, including anesthesia would be a little less than 40,000 KSH.  After a few more calls, we learned that there was an angel donor at one of the clinics and if we could arrange for cash to be paid at the time of the procedure, he would pay about a third of it.  After hearing this and a little prayer, I was moved to OK the operation and little Blessing will have the best Christmas gift of her young life, sight in both eyes!  Thank you, Jesus!  But wait, the story gets better.  Since our return to the States, I have spoken via Skype with Catherine.  There was a similar case to Blessing’s at one of our clinics in a rural area and a program to help children in desperate circumstances was found to help pay for his care.  We are now hopeful that Blessing also qualifies.  Looking back on it, I believe that the Lord brought this little one to our attention at the eleventh hour to teach us yet another faith lesson.  He was going to care for His child all along, He just wanted to invite us along for the ride.  I’m so glad that we accepted His invitation.  Matthew 25:40  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Monday, November 16, 2015

Back in Austin, fighting jet lag today and a few final details about our travel back to the States

Alison and I drove straight through to Austin after we left Bush International in Houston.  I called Adrienne to let her know I was OK and contacted Kevin to report on the last day of the clinic and our Saturday.  He told me about his trip home and the wedding, as well as The Sound of Music at Redeemer and how everyone felt Jack was a budding star.  I decided to worry about getting the footlockers back to the church in the next day or two, so we could drive straight to my place, where Alison had left her vehicle.  It was a struggle to remain alert for the last 15 miles or so.  The jet lag can really be crushing.  We arrived at my house about 7:30 pm, which is 4:30 am in Nairobi.

I put the footlockers in my garage, moved my luggage into the house, got a hot shower, added a few lines to the blog and then crashed about 8:30 pm.  I actually did pretty well for a first night back and slept until 3 am.  I'll probably make it until 4 am tomorrow morning and finally 5 am or so on Wednesday morning, which is pretty close to my usual routine.  My 16 year old cat was very unhappy with me for being gone so long, but she finally calmed down around midnight.  I really thank my good friends Jom and Kathy Binneboese for wathcing my house, getting the mail, feeding the cat and taking care of cat box duties while I was away.  It takes a village...

I planned on taking today to decompress a bit and get a work schedule laid out for the rest of the week, as well as doing mid-month invoicing.  ATT had a different plan.  I looked through my snail mail and had received a letter stating that if I didn't pay a past due amount by November 13th, (which has been in dispute since June and which ATT has admitted was charged in error),  my service would be cut off.  They were true to their word.  No Internet, no phone and no TV when I got up.  It took exactly one hour and five minutes on the phone with a very nice lady in Pakistan to get it turned back on.  It's kind of hard to run a computer repair business without a phone or Internet connection!  I was promised it would be taken care of, but I've heard that now for 5 months in a row.  The disputed charge for equipment I never ordered and had returned right away is the gift that keeps on giving.  ATT has a record of receiving the item, but can't seem to remove it from their account system.  My agreement is up in February and I WILL be shopping around.

I also changed my credit card info on a half a dozen vendor and service accounts that I have auto-pay options for. I found another $600 divided among 4 fraudulent charges on the cancelled credit card account and spent more time on the phone with Citibank about those items, three were at Autozone and one was at O'Reilly Auto Parts on November 12th, right after the legitimate charge was made at the restaurant in Nairobi.  What a mess...

I did learn through Alison that the Salem teams arrived in Houston with very few team leaders, but managed to get all of their footlockers and luggage OK.  Also, Paul, Kevin and Catherine had been able to get out of Nairobi after all on Saturday night and had traveled back to Houston by way of Germany, arriving as the Salem teams finished getting their baggage.  Thank you Jesus!  I guess one of the themes of this trip was leaders getting separated from their teams.  In each case, everyone picked up the slack and it all worked out in the end.

Keep an eye on the blog, I'll be adding more stories and pictures for the foreseeable future. The team is all thankful for a great clinic, it was well worth the challenges we overcame.  Seeing old friends and making new ones, serving the people of Kawangware and spending time in Nairobi far outweigh any inconveniences.  Plus, we have some stories now and it will all look funny after a while!  As usual, I'll let the trip sink in for a few weeks and will right a final reflection on what it meant to us.  That is easier after a little time passes and we have a different perspective.  Thanks again for all the prayers for a successful mission and for our safety during our travels to and from Africa.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris to Houston

We would have taken off right on time from Paris at 10:30 am except they held the plane for 45 minutes for two late passengers.  The pilot assured us that he could still get us to Houston on schedule. As usual, Air France is going to shine when it comes to cuisine.  I just got the menu for the first meal on this 10 hour flight. We started with a vegetable salad followed by either chicken in a carrot cream sause, vegetable julienne and mashed potatoes with cheese or salmon fagottini pasta, fennel cream sauce with lemon. Dessert will be Camembert cheese, Clementine and a brownie. Wow! My clothes have shrunken on this trip or I've gained weight.  We were well fed on all of our travels and had big breakfasts and we were invited to dinner or took friends out every day. I'm afraid to hit the scales.

I plan to get some more sleep after lunch, since I didn't do real well in that department on the first flight. I need to be fresh for gathering up all of our belongings at the airport and for the drive home this evening.

We have had lunch and the chicken was excellent.  After the brownie, I ate the miniature orange that was a surprise on my tray. A great way to wash down the meal. If everything else is equal, I'll fly Air France, KLM and Kenya Airways for their food and good service.  Our only option for direct flights from Austin to London to Nairobi so far is the partnership of British Air and American Airlines.  We always weigh that convenience against lower costs through Houston or Dallas. This time, we were able to get $768 on Air France by booking early versus $12-1500 from Austin.  That's a big difference,  even after gas and long term parking is added.

We are now less than 4 hours from Houston as I write this portion of this post and are approaching Montreal.   The cabin crew has just served everyone an ice cream bar, probably the last thing I need but I'll return to my usual eating and exercise habits once I get back to Austin.  Heck, I might be tempted to stop for Blue Bell when we get to Brenham!  I expect we'll have one more meal before the end of the flight.

I was right!  They served a pizza wrap about an hour and a half before we got to Houston.  It came with a fruit salad and some soupy cheese in a container.  I had a cup of coffee to begin perking up before our plane arrived within about 5 minutes of being on time.  We were all in the back of the plane, an Airbus A-330, so it took a while to deplane.  We went through immigration in about 15 minutes and went down to the baggage claim area.  The footlockers arrived fairly quickly, but some checked luggage took a while.  Once we had retrieved all of our clinic and personal baggage, we proceeded to get into the very long line for Immigration.  Even though I tried to lead the way, the agent started questioning Robert about his footlockers.  Before we knew it, we were all herded into another room for an X-RAY scan of all of our bags and footlockers.  I explained what we do in Kenya and they asked me how much they paid me to do this.  I told them we're volunteers but the rewards are eternal and they waved us through after a quick look at the rest of the team's items.

At Charles de Gaulle airport

We landed on time and had to show our passports and boarding passes right after we deplaned, then went through an extra baggage and body scan before proceeding to the buses that route people to their terminals.  This place is huge! It took several stops before we got to Terminal L, then one moving sidewalk after another before we even got close to L53, our gate.  Sandra and I are enjoying some hot tea for her and a black coffee for me.  I remembered to take my morning meds, the coffee was scalding hot, so it had to cool for a little while.

We got through the security almost without incident, my autorefractor shot right through, while they examined and swabbed the one Sandra was carrying for explosives.  We thanked the security people for keeping us safe.  With our long layover, it was easier not to get testy at delays.

I switched over to my laptop here at the airport, they have free unlimited wifi that is pretty fast, and premium speeds for a fee.  Much easier to write with a keyboard and wireless mouse.  The Zochs have gone to check out the terminal, while we stayed here in a coffee shop 10 gates away to relax for a while, email our families and post updates on Facebook and here on the mission blog.

I was able to gather up all of mine and Sandra's pictures and will see what the Zochs can share.  I also have some great pictures my friends Barrack, Frank and Jarrod got around the clinic and in the immediate neighborhood that no "muzungu" (Swahili descriptive term for white person) could ever get because the situation would change by our mere presence.  I'll begin posting some pictures soon after our return and hope to have a completed nice album to share well before Christmas so our team can share with their families over the holidays.  That's all for now, I'm praying my next post is from Austin.  If it's from Paris, it means we had some more travel fun.  Keep those prayers coming!

An hour from Paris

Our flight from Nairobi left about 45 minutes late, but we've made up for it and will arrive in Paris on time.  It is a pretty full plane, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Kenya Airways.  This is my first time flying with them.  The food and the service have been very good.  Dinner shortly after takeoff was a choice of beef, chicken or vegetarian.  I had the beef with mashed potatoes, green beans and then strawberry shortcake for dessert.  They occasionally bring a refreshing cold wipe for your hands and face. I like that about as well as the hot towels on KLM. We just had a light breakfast of a croissant, yogurts and fruit salad.  At this point, we're about an hour from Paris and are not sure what to expect. We have a four and a half hour layover, so even if security is very heavy, we should make our Air France flight to Houston.  From what I have read so far, the French are determined to keep all flights operational.  I say good for them.  If that wasn't the case, the bad guys have won.

The only glitch I'm aware of for our travel so far is we understand that the Salem leaders, Paul, Kevin and Catherine got bumped from their very full KLM flight to Amsterdam.  There seems to be a theme here, teams arriving without their leaders.  The other teams arrive in Houston about 45 minutes after we do, and Alison is with them.  I'm hoping she clears Customs about the time we're loading my truck for the ride back to Redeemer with the footlockers, since she's riding with me. I'm glad to have her since after the long journey a second driver can be a Godsend.  There have been times I've made it to Giddings or Elgin and had to pull over for a short truckers nap.
I'm writing this on my smartphone, so please pardon typos and weird spellchecker grammar that may have crept in.  Hopefully, I'll be able to post this and more from Paris.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

At Nairobi airport

Sandra and I are at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after clearing security.  She graciously bought a coupon for each of us to get 12 hours of good wifi for my laptop and her Ipad.  Dr. Zoch and Diana went for a stroll to check out food and drink in the rest of this very nice terminal.  I have already posted on Facebook that we are well and that the Kenya Airways staff and security personnel we have talked to all say that the airport in Paris is safe at this point after the horrendous attacks we learned about early this morning as we tried to check-in online for our itinerary.  I flew to London for Thanksgiving shortly after 9/11 and it was the best vacation we ever had.  Nobody was flying, all of the castles and museums had no lines and all of the guides in every attraction were happy to take the time to explain things to us.  I honestly think that flying into Paris at this point is as safe as it will ever be.

We have about 2 hours until boarding our Kenya Airways 787 Dreamliner for the trip to Charles DeGaulle Airport.  We arrive at 6am local time and our next flight is at 10am to Houston.  I just hope that is enough time to clear security and continue on our way.  We thank everybody here and at my Facebook page for their prayers and we promise not to go any faster than our guardian angels can fly!

Sandra, Barrack and I had planned to go to Lake Naivasha for the boat ride out the river full of hippos to the island with lots of water birds and various animals including giraffes, wildebeests, zebras and many kinds of gazelles and other deer-like creatures.  I looked at and there was a 77% chance of rain at 10am as we would be getting in the open small boats.  We decided to regroup and find something to do around town.  We settled on the Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Center afterwards.  The program at the Elephant Orphanage was fascinating, as they introduced us to more than 30 elephants of varying size and age, giving the story behind each one.  Some babies had fallen into water wells and had hurt themselves badly trying to escape, others were left behind as too small and sickly while many were orphaned due to poaching for ivory.  Each one has two individual handlers that care for them 24/7.  I got a few pictures, but since I didn't get to go on any of the safaris this time, I turned my attention to the beautiful landscape with dramatic clouds and to the few birds that flew overhead or were in nearby trees.  A warthog came running through the elephant area and out through the crowd, causing a stir among the people.  Our narrator pointed out that animals always have the right of way in the Kenyan reserves.  He came near me and I got a few images of him. After the program, Sandra sponsored an elephant, and will get email updates on how here baby is doing.

At the Giraffe Center, we were given a handful of food each and were able to feed them eye to eye from a balcony on the 2nd floor.  I gave my feed to Sandra and she used it up also.  She said their tongues were really slimy.  None of us held a pellet of food in our teeth as some people do to get a picture where it looks like you are getting a giraffe kiss.  

After the two attractions, we drove back to the Galleria Mall, another upscale mall in Karen, a very nice suburb and had lunch at the Java House there.  We then went to the Little Daughters of St. Jospeph and I got our footlockers in order and made a manifest of what was in each one.  I needed it at the airport and we didn't get torn apart for once.  Catherine had pizza and sodas delivered and he other teams ate heartily, we were exploding, so we took a pass.

We spent time sharing stories of our clinics with each of the other teams, phoning home to assure our families and friends and freshening up in a couple of rooms, one for the men and one for the women.  I went outside to make a call and saw a couple of stunning birds, so I snagged my camera and got a few shots with another bird aficionado, Bill Goodoff. It was my mini-safari.  I guess I have to get back to Texas and practice, practice, practice.  Catherine has said she could book me an extra 3 days after some mission for around $700 to go to the Masai Mara for a bird and animal safaris.  I'd like to try that sometime with a few other people.

That's about it for now.  We'll all try to get word back from Paris.  Keep the prayers coming.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday clinic - the Grand Finale to a good week

I got up at 5am, since I couldn't sleep any more with a million last day details dancing around in my head and got onto the Internet to check email and maybe make another blog post.  I was horrified to see an email from Citibank about a Fraud Alert on my account.  Moments after my computer chip credit card had been scanned at the Mediterraneo restaurant, purchases in the U.S. began to occur.  The waiter had come to my table and scanned my card, but said it wouldn't connect and that he had to bring a second scanner.  The second scanner went through.  I spent 20 minutes on the phone with the Fraud team and the only option was to cancel the card, a real pain since it's my main business card and is tied into many online accounts.  A nice start to the day, I buy our team a nice dinner and then it blows up in my face. Such is life, I'll get over it and now I have another story to tell!

We breakfasted and got to the clinic a little early, where Pastor James prayed over us and the day ahead and we began work.  It was pretty steady all day long, and when we finished, we had the usual 300 or so patients, even with a day shortened by packing up the foot lockers and recognizing our volunteers for a job well done.  We finished the week with 1546 patients having been served and exposed to the saving Gospel message, a respectable number given how rainy it has been.  At the closing of this clinic, rather than award Certificates of Appreciation, we gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste to everyone.  Sandra had brought these supplies from her dentist and we got pictures of everyone individually getting their dental supplies from Sandra, Dr. Zoch and Diana. It was a nice change of pace.

We said our goodbyes and our "until we meet agains" and got back to Rosa Mystica.  Our driver Mambo walked Sandra to Kentucky Fried Chicken nearby where she bought dinner for the two of them, I believe the Zochs rested until the 7 pm dinner at the compound and I got a shower and went over to Java House for a quiet dinner by myself before going back to Mediterraneo to let the manager know what had happened with my credit card.  It was all cordial, the damage had already been done, I was just trying to give him the courtesy of informing him of a possible problem with his staff or their credit processing procedures.  I said Hakuna Matata ("no worries" for you Lion King fans) and came back to my room to write this blog post, check into my flight for tomorrow night and to begin packing, since we are checking out in the morning.

Tomorrow morning, the team will breakfast at Rosa Mystica from 7 to 8 am and then Sandra, our friend Barrack and myself will head out to Lake Naivasha for a photo safari with Mambo as our driver.  The Zochs chose to remain at Rosa Mystica until he has to check out the condition of our dental equipment stored in Nairobi tomorrow afternoon after several years without doing a dental clinic.

We will all meet up with the other teams at the Little Daughters of St. Joseph compound Saturday afternoon before heading to the airport together for our respective flights.  If all goes well, we will be flying Kenya Airways to Paris and ten Air France to Houston, arriving in Houston around 3pm Sunday afternoon.  We'll gather up our footlockers and luggage, make our way through Customs and Immigration and then depart for Austin, hopefully by around 4 pm.  Stay tuned for more updates as it is possible...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thursday and it's more of the same

Breakfast and the trip to the clinic were almost identical to the previous days.  In fact, by the end of the day, we had seen 313 people and are at a little more than 1200 for the week.  300 people a day seems to be the theme for this trip.  It's much more usual to start slowly and build every day until we are seeing as many as 700 to 1000 patients a day by the end of the week.  We have had rainy weather on and off and would explain some of this, but this consistency is very unusual.  I'm not complaining, it is just a little odd.

In the afternoon, one of our surgical successes from a previous trip was revisited.  The little girl Blessing, whom we were able to help last year when she was about 2 years old was there with her mother to thank us.  Blessing had been born with cataracts on both eyes and we were able to help her get the surgery she needed to have a full life.  She looked like any other cute little 3 year old girl today and her mother was very moving in her praise for us and the work we do here in Kenya.  We accepted her thanks and told her, through Catherine, since she only spoke Swahili, that cases like Blessing's are what keep us coming back over and over again and that we thanked Jesus that we were being used in this way.  I'll post pictures when I can.

Pastor Kevin headed back to the airport this evening for his journey back to Austin.  We all pray that he doesn't have any more adventures!  The rest of us went to the Mediterraneo Restaurant at the Junction Mall with Catherine and Shara Cunningham, one of our missionaries for East Africa who is stationed in Nairobi.  It was a real joy to introduce Shara and her wonderful ministry to team members who hadn't had the pleasure of meeting her yet.  A good time was had by all.  We all headed back across the street to Rosa Mystica to turn in early, since tomorrow will be a very big day.  First we will run the clinic, and then near the end of the day, we will be taking inventory of our supplies, packing up our equipment and saying our goodbyes.

That's all for now, to be continued as I can...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wednesday clinic, the week is very consistent so far

We got up bright and early and were all lined up for 6:30 breakfast.  The morning shift apparently didn't get the word, because the doors to the cafeteria didn't open until 7 when one of the other guests began rattling and banging on the barred, locked door leading to it.  We hurriedly made some toast, instant coffee, had some freshly made eggs and chicken sausage and wolfed down a few bananas before loading up and heading for the church.  Traffic was worse than usual, but we still arrived right on time, with very few people waiting for us due to the rain overnight.  We gathered together and Pastor James had Dr. Zoch lead the group in a prayer before we started work for the day.

We had a pretty steady trickle of people all day, with a few slower times and a couple of brief rushes.  I did a little more triage this afternoon and shared in the lives of several interesting people.  One man, Elisha, was an ordained pastor without a church.  He was over 60 and could not find a position after being forced from his old congregation when a younger pastor had come along.  Another man had fallen on his head back in the 80's and he had a large growth on his back right below his neck that he attributed to the aftermath of that accident.  We prayed for healing.  There were several other moving or funny incidents that we were fortunate enough to get some photos of, so I'll try to get them posted along with the pictures as soon as I can after our return to the States.  By day's end, we had seen 312 patients, about the same as Monday and Tuesday.  Typical clinics grow in attendance every day, other than the rainy weather, I have no explanation for this.  My attitude these days is we will serve the people that the Lord places in front of us and care for them as best as we can, with love and compassion.

We returned to Rosa Mystica and quickly freshened up before heading to Pampa, a Braizilian steakhouse with every kind of meat you would expect, plus crocodile and camel meat.  Some of us had the crocodile, nobody special ordered the camel after I related how tough it was on a previous trip at another steakhouse.  Catherine was able to join the team and we had a great meal and good conversation since it was quiet enough for all around the table to hear and participate.

Tomorrow will be Pastor Kevin's final day here in Nairobi, he is flying back late Thursday night to perform a wedding.  I'll get all of our team leader materials, insurance, petty cash etc. from him prior to his departure. I'll need to instruct the team on how we will finish the clinic Friday, pack up and prepare for our journey home starting Saturday night.  Please keep us in your prayers for a strong finish to a good clinic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday clinic and Tuesday night

We breakfasted again at our usual 6:30 am and were on the road back to the church at 7:30 am following a nightlong thunderstorm.  We were concerned that the slum would be solid mud, but our friend and driver Mambo was able to maneuver our van through anything that got in our way.  There were a few people waiting in the tent for us, but nothing like Monday when the weather was dry.
We had a fairly steady flow of people all day long once things got rolling around 8:30.  By the end of the day, we had seen 320 people and we had definitely made several lives much better,including a little girl that couldn’t see the blackboard.  She was fitted with some pretty strong glasses and she and her mother were all smiles when she could see clearly.  I got a few pictures of the mother and her and will post them when I return.  Our Internet has been spotty with the storms and is not very fast, so getting many pictures out is not likely until later.

The rest of the team either had dinner at our lodge or got a bite over at the Junction Mall across the street.  Pastor Kevin and I were invited into the home of our East Africa and South Africa coordinator for missions, Rev. Shauen Trump and his wife Krista.  It poured down rain in what some Texans would call a real toad strangler.  I had my poncho with me, I had learned from old-timers over the years that if you hadn't used something you brought in three trips in a row, don't bring it again, with the exception of a poncho.  Krista came out with a couple of big umbrellas to usher us into the house as we stepped through some puddles that seemed to be 6 inches deep.  After removing our shoes, we met Shauen’s parents who are visiting from the States and got to see the couple’s 3 young boys before they were put to bed.  We were treated to a wonderful Mexican meal with homemade salsa and chips, incredible chicken enchiladas with great cheese and jalepenos in them followed by a desert of grilled pineapple that had been marinated in a concoction which included tequila and several other secret ingredients.  We had a nice night of conversation, with no one staring into a smart phone or tablet.  It was refreshing and there was a wide range of topics interspersed with quite a few laughs.  A good time was had by all.  I'm glad to see the art of conversaion has not completely disappeared from the earth as we even looked each other in the eye occasionally!  We are so thankful we got to see these friends this time, since we have had conflicting travel or other schedule issues the past year or two.  I hope we can return the favor with a nice night out on our next trip in June of next year.

That’s about it for now, morning will be here plenty soon enough. Many more stories to come, I’m sure!

Note:I tried to post this last night, but Internet wasn't good enough, so here it is around 6:15 am Wednesday.  Better late than never!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Monday at the clinic

We had an early breakfast at 6:30 at Rosa Mystica, loaded up the van and were at the church by 8 am. As usual, there was already a tent full of people waiting to use the clinic.  The preparation we made Sunday after church made setting up the clinic much easier.  All we really had to do was hang eye charts and station numbers on the walls and get each station ready for business.  We were overjoyed to see our old friend John Karanja, who is our evangelist for this mission.  He led us in prayer to start the clinic and we opened for business.

It was also good to see many of our old friends from the church, like Jane and Elizabeth, Frank, Mosa, Barrack and Immanuel, the evangelist at the church.  And of course, Pastor James.  Our longtime Kenyan eye doctors were a joy to greet, as Milliam, Lillian, Chris and Gideon arrived to examine our patient's eyes, dispense drugs and refer those in need of cataract surgeries.  For Pastor Kevin and I, we felt right at home again and I'm sure our newer team members felt the love as well.

It was a pretty steady day until we had threats of rain and a few sprinkles late in the afternoon.  By the time we were done for the day, we had seen 293 people, which is a decent number, since from this initial group word of mouth will begin to spread.

We came directly back to Rosa Mystica from the clinic, arriving around 5:30 pm.  Dinner is served there at 7 pm every night, so we had an hour and a half to shower and relax before meeting for a buffet dinner.  We discussed how the day had gone, a few areas that could use improvement and our overall satisfaction with a first day's effort.  We were all dog tired and ready for an early night.

I went back to my room and finished tallying the registration cards and entering clinic stats into a spreadsheet before I began writing this.  There is a heavy rain continuing to pour outside, the lights flickered several times during dinner as there was thunder and lightning.  I figured I would dash off something quick for the blog in case we do lose power and Internet soon.  There is a very high chance of rain every day for the rest of the week and if the slum turns into mud, it may seriously impact our clinic.  My attitude is we will serve whomever God sends us.  It's really all we can do anyway.

Pastor Kevin and I have the high honor of being invited to the home of our East Africa LCMS Missionary Shauen Trump and his wife Krista for dinner tomorrow night.  We are looking forward to an evening of good food and fellowship as we share stories of our different ministries.  The rest of the team will either eat at Rosa Mystica or grab a bite at the Junction.  More to follow as time, electricity, Internet access and my energy permit.  Blessings everybody!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday happenings

It is midnight in Nairobi as I write this.  My body is telling me it is still 3 pm in Austin.  I went to bed around 9 pm and did sleep soundly, but am wide awake for the moment, so I thought I'd catch you up on our Sunday.

I got up about 6:30 and went down to breakfast with Sandra, the Zochs and the other teams and shared our travelogue with them.  Lots of poking fun at me and honest commiserating by those who had their own war stories over the years.  We all have a great determination to do this human care ministry, so we just buckle down when the Devil throws us a curve ball or two.  And we just keep smiling, he hates that!  Pastor Kevin wandered in and shared his perspective on our adventure as well.

We loaded up a truck with our footlockers and larger luggage and our van for the week with our personal items and headed for Rosa Mystica, a familiar place to most of us.  It is also a Catholic convent with lodging for missionaries and other Christian workers.  It is right next to a nice upscale mall called the Junction, where we can eat and get any supplies during the week that we may need at the Nakumat, a store similar to a Super Wal-Mart that anchors one end of the mall.

Our next stop was the church in Kawangware where we will be serving this week.  We saw Pastor James and many old friends including Thomas, Barrack, Elizabeth, Joyce and many others.  The worship service was awesome as usual, with traditional Lutheran liturgy and hymns, and choir and congregational music that ran the gamut of styles.  One young girl did a solo song that was very complex with no notes or music, it was very well received by all.  The children were sent out to their SundaySchool and Sandra went with them and was asked to lead the class which she did.  She had a blast and commented on how well behaved the 75 little ones were.  Out of deference to us, Pastor James had Thomas translate his sermon as he spoke about Matthew 18 and tied it into the forgiveness found in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He was on fire.  Church lasted about the usual 3 hours and then Pastor James had the men of the congregation help us to get the sanctuary organized for the clinic, which was a huge help.

We went to the Junction and had lunch around 2:30 at the Java House, which is like a Starbucks with a good restaurant.  We ate outdoors, at a table under an umbrella.  From there, we exchanged some of dollars for Kenyan shillings.  The rate is about 100 Ksh per dollar right now, so our usually 1000 shilling notes are almost exactly $10.  On previous trips, this was worth as much as maybe $13. We finished by buying snacks and incidentals for the clinic at Nakumat.

Upon our return to Rosa Mystica, we gathered for a devotion I like to do before each clinic from Oswald Chambers and each shared our reasons for coming on this trip and what we expected the upcoming week to bring.  It's fun to compare these thoughts at the end of the week.

Since we had such a late lunch, we all did personal things for the rest of the evening.  Some calling home on our team phone, me catching up on the blog and others getting an early night's sleep.  All is well and we are ready to begin our work tomorrow.  Please keep us in ou prayers for a joyful, safe and effective mission.  Time to try to get back to sleep...

Arrival in Nairobi

Our KLM 747 touched down at precisely 8 pm Nairobi time.  We took a while to taxi to near the terminal and two doors were opened so that we could deplane, walk down some steps and then take a bus to the immigration and baggage handling area.  The new arrivals terminal is not ready yet, they have only recently bulldozed the original one that burned down some time ago.  As we walked into the receiving area, they were scanning everybody on the walkway for fever, still taking precautions against ebola and other infectious diseases that could destroy their tourism business.

I headed for the line that was handling people who already had their evisa in hand.  Pastor Kevin went to a regular line, expecting to pay $50 to manually get a visa.  But when he showed his receipt for the evisa system, he was told to proceed to a different line and he returned shortly, whereupon they issued his visa promptly at no charge.  Meanwhile, one person after another went right through the manual process, while those who had the evisa, like me, took much more time to get through the system.  When it was finally my turn, the lady at the counter looked through my passport to find a place to stamp it and kept thumbing one page after another, most of which proudly stated Kenya.  She finally looked at me and said "Just who are you?"  I said, "Someone who loves Kenya, maybe I can become a citizen." She said, "To do that, you need to marry a Kenyan."  She was playing along, so I asked if she were available for marriage.  She sadly told me no, she was already taken.  We got a good laugh out of it and I joined Kevin in the baggage claim area.  Three of our four footlockers were already there, but it took about 40 minutes for the last one to finally show up.  We only could find one cart, so we precariously stacked all the footlockers on it and headed for the final customs inspection.  We had to open and explain every item we had, but we got through OK after we mentioned that we worked through the Ministry of Health.  Those apparently are the magic words, I'll try to remember them for our next trip.

After we got outside, there were about 100 drivers with signs with the names of the passengers they were to pick up.  I had looked through about 20 of them when I heard someone call out "Dave!"  It was Henry, a driver we had worked with several times before.  We had to roll the top heavy cart through a bunch of pedestrians, across a busy street, load up the vehicle and then fight a traffic jam to get to our lodgings across town.

We arrived at the Little Daughters of St.Joseph compound where the other teams were already staying, unloaded our footlockers, checked into our rooms and I was heading for the only thing I wanted, a hot shower at 11:30 pm.  It was not to be.  All the hot water was gone and, ulnike the other places we stay, they have a central hot water system, not the individual electric heaters on each shower head like Europe has. I got a cold shower, but at least it was wet.  I got about 6 hours of good sleep, a rarity for the first night, but Kevin and I were completely exhausted after our travel extravaganza.  This marks the end of the travel reporting.

Travel from Amsterdam to Nairobi

We left Schiphol a little late due to a very full flight and how long it took to get everyone boarded.  A 747 holds a LOT of people.  The Captain assured us he would make up any lost time if he could.  It looks like our choice for lunch will be between some kind of chicken dish and a vegetarian pasta and rice.  I’m sure either will be good.  Our only other hurdle that I can foresee right now is getting Kevin into Kenya based on his receipt from the online system.  We’re hoping the worst scenario is that he gets stuck for cash for an entry visa as we go through immigration.  Our plan right now is for him to go through first, so I’ll know what his status is before I get out to the baggage claim area.  If he has problems, I’ll get his baggage claim tickets in the unlikely event one of the footlockers he checked doesn’t make it today. 

Once lunch is over, I have a strong hunch I’ll get a little more shuteye.  It will be good to get to whatever lodging we have tonight and be able to lay down on a bed.  Sleeping sitting up on a plane is not the most restful slumber you’ll ever get, but it does help some.

I was right, I got a little more rest and have now had a cup of black coffee and really need to stay awake from here on in if I am going to stand a chance of sleeping tonight in Kenya.  We’re about 4 hours from touchdown in Nairobi.  I’ve gotten to the point that I can usually get acclimated to the 9 hour time difference by about the 2nd or 3rd night of a trip, with all of the craziness this time, it might be Monday or Tuesday night before I settle in to the new routine.  I’ve always found it easier to battle jet lag when you are going on vacation or a mission trip because you have to do what you came to do.  When you go back to your everyday life, it’s a little harder to find the motivation to do whatever it takes.  I guess it’s just human nature.

It’s finally beginning to sink in that we’re really going to get to our destination and see our old friends once again, working side by side as we provide eye care to the community around the Lutheran Church in the slum of Kawangware.  We’ve always been able to give blessings by what we do and the blessings we receive each time are pretty amazing.  I know there will be some great moments for each of us, the anticipation of just what they might be this time is always fun.  We’ll be surprised, that’s for sure.

With about 3 hours to go, the crew served us real Belgian ice cream and it rivaled Blue Bell.  Very good, a swirl of vanilla with chocolate sauce marbled right into it.  And it was very hard.  Of course, with an outside air temperature of -56 F they probably have a super duper freezer somewhere on our 747!  With about 2 hours to go, we had our final meal of pizza, a side with alternative slices of tomato and some kind of white, soft cheese and tiramisu.  Eat your heart out British Air!  It’s getting near the time I need to put the laptop up, plus I’m down to only about 15% of a battery charge.  There’s only one thing carriers with newer fleets have that KLM doesn’t yet, and that’s power taps under the seats and USB in the seats to keep laptops, phones and tablets charged up.  Oh, and no wifi on these flights this time.  No big deal, I write the blog in Word and copy and paste into the blog online as I can.  Anyway, given the choice, I’ll go for the better food!  More to follow in the days ahead.  Stay tuned…

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dave and Kevin's Excellent Adventure

Practice makes perfect.  We drove down to Houston once again Friday morning for another attempt at getting to Nairobi. We had to drive separately, since Pastor Kevin has a wedding and is returning to Austin starting next Thursday night.  Since we were unsure of whether Kevin would be allowed to fly on KLM without an issued Kenyan evisa (he did have a receipt), we had arranged the 4 footlockers such that if I was going by myself, I would be taking 2 footlockers with the most critical supplies like frames for distance glasses and Gospel tracts for clinic patients.  What a difference a day can make.  I felt like we were in the movie Groundhog Day, as we repeated the process from Thursday.  The same personnel were at the counter and were just as friendly, since KLM and Air France are partner airlines.  They recognized us and were sorry for our delay.  They had even given me a 50% off voucher for a hotel if I had wanted to stay in Houston Thursday night attempting to procure my visa.  We had both decided to go back to Austin instead, since there was no guarantee the buggy visa system would work any better at a hotel.  They commiserated with us about the wasted round trip we had made.  It proved to have been a good move, since I was able to use my Photoshop skills at my home office to fine tune the photos required for the visa application and mine had finally gone through at 3am Friday.

Another similarity to Thursday was that Kevin and I had the same clothes as before.  No, we weren’t beginning to smell funny.  We had each done laundry the night before.  I have a new lucky red shirt I am trying out on this trip and figured the bad Karma of Thursday couldn’t last.  I retired my old lucky red shirt after it let me down and we wound up in Istanbul on my 13th trip last June.  It lived a good long life, but it was time for it to be put out to pasture.

Anyway, we sailed through check-in, without even being asked about the evisas.  This made it very plain to me that Air France just didn’t have a grasp of the options available in Nairobi and didn’t care to go the extra mile to find out.  Rules are rule, zero tolerance means you don’t have to think.  New day, new airline, same personnel, different rules.  We left the check-in counter with everybody on both sides of it smiling.  I can say that while we were upset by the circumstances Thursday, we didn’t throw a tantrum or play the “Don’t you know who I am?” card so common these days but handled it in a loving Christian way.  The staff encouraged us both days in doing the human care mission work they knew we were on our way to do.

We also got through security without a hitch and I had just enough time to grab a sandwich and some waters for each of us before boarding our KLM flight.  Dinner was a choice between vegetarian pasta with rice and cheese or Korean beef with rice and candied carrots.  I got the beef, it was very good.  I watched the movie Minions, I love how creative this series is, and it’s as much for adults as kids.  Sandra Bullock’s voice acting as the evil Scarlet was superb.  I got some good sleep and am writing this as we are about 2 hours from Amsterdam and about to eat once again.  They have already brought hot towels for our hands and faces, a nice touch.

Breakfast was also good, a cheese omelet with sausage, a biscuit and mixed fruit salad.  We often fly the partnership of British Air and American on these missions.  They don’t know anything about food compared to KLM and Air France! 

I got a fair amount of sleep on this first leg of our journey, which is exactly what we try to do.  It helps in adjusting to the 9 hour difference when we get to Nairobi.  We have about 3 hours between flights in Amsterdam, I expect about an hour of that will be deplaning, getting through security and boarding of the next flight, so I should have time to post this if I can get onto the wifi at the airport.  If all goes well, we will arrive in Nairobi around 8:15pm local time and it usually takes about an hour to get through customs and immigration.  Please pray that Pastor Kevin doesn’t hit any visa snags.  We’re not sure where we’ll be staying, but we will worship with the rest of our team at the church in Kawangware where we will be serving this week.  That’s always a great experience, more to follow about that when it occurs.

We did talk to Dr. Zoch while we were going through check-in in Houston.  The team was already on their way to their lodgings at a convent we have used in the past, The Little Daughters of St. Joseph.  All were well and their trip was without incident.  I guess Kevin and I got all the drama this time!

We arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam a little after 7am and were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to go through any additional security checks like in London or Paris.  Sweet!  Looks like we get most of our 3 hour layover to spend in one of coolest airports in the world.  I’m drinking a medium black coffee that was 3.45 euros, not sure of the exchange rate but I’m guessing it’s a 5 dollar cup of coffee.  It’s good, but not THAT good!  I’m going to spend the time after posting this blog doing my 365 Day Photo Challenge picture for today on Facebook and letting friends and relatives that may not be following the blog that so far, everything is good.  Stay tuned! 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The trials and tribulations of International travel

Pastor Kevin's favorite word at the end of a mission trip is "uneventful".  He won't be using it this time!  I drove down to Houston with Alison Beck a little early because she was flying out with the Salem teams.  That way, I was there when the rest of the team arrived and could help with footlockers and luggage while the others parked in long-term garages.  The other teams went right through check-in.  We found out later it was because they all had gotten evisas through a new system that was just implemented September 1st in Kenya.  We had received notice that the system had so many challenges that the Kenyan government had decided around September 15th to continue to allow for the manual purchase of tourist visas at the airport.  Air France never got the memo and would not let 3 of us board.  Sandra was able to apply for, pay for and get an evisa issued on her phone.  My phone and laptop would not connect to the Internet, but Dr. Zoch gave it the college try for me on his iPhone.  The application can take up to an hour on a computer, you can imagine how painful it is on a phone.  We needed to take selfies, pictures of our passports, upload our itineraries, etc and they all had to be just right.  We worked from 12,:30 until 3 pm on it, never having lunch.  I get pretty snippy when I don't get lunch, so it was not the best afternoon of my life, but I was surrounded by good friends and we had a few laughs at gallows humor type jokes.  We finally got to the point where we had to send the team without any leaders, a new first.  We had alerted the leadership of the Salem team and no matter what, our team members would be safe and serve somewhere in Kenya, whether Kevin and I made it or not.  Kevin and I tried until 4pm, since Air France said they could rush us through security, but no bueno.  We called the long-term parking about a shuttle and were informed that they only drop off at the departure terminal, we had to make our way with all of our stuff through a series of elevators and tunnels to a passenger pickup area.  At least our pre-paid parking will be good when we return today.

I stopped for dinner in Hempstead at a McDonald's after battling Houston rush hour and eating a candy bar and a granola bar to tide me over.  I thought I could try the evisa again on their wi-fi, but it was pitiful, so I gave up until I got back to Austin.  I got a hot shower around 8pm and went to work.  The visa system kept crashing.  I gave up at 10:30 and went to bed, figuring I would try anytime I woke up in the night.  I tried at 1 am with no luck, but got it to work at 3 am by taking a fresh scan of my passport and a selfie with my phone and making them nice in Adobe Lightroom.  I usually don't do photo editing in the middle of the night, but I have to say, I made myself look GOOD!  And it worked.  Woohoo.

I'm writing this about an hour before heading to Houston once more.  I'm good to go, Pastor Kevin has a receipt for his application, but it hasn't been issued yet.  We hope KLM is not as strict as Air France and we do have copies of emails showing that we could get a visa in Kenya and also Catherine, our friend and liaison there has suggested we have them call the Nairobi aiport to verify it, since we couldn't make contact with the Kenyan Consul in Houston yesterday.

We did get word back from our team that they made it to Paris and should be in Nairobi by around noon today, Austin time.  Thank you, Jesus!

I'm ready for another round, wish us luck and keep the prayers coming!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Getting ready to saddle up once more, travel begins today!

We leave today for our Fall trip to the Nairobi slum of Kawangware to do a vision clinic.  The 5 of us are all excited to be working with our friends and veteran volunteers there at the Lutheran Church.  The team was commissioned last Sunday.  In the picture below, from left to right are myself, Sandra Dorn, Diana Zoch, Dr. Robert Zoch and of course, Pastor Kevin, who will be joining us this time.
Pastor Kevin describes our trip to the congregation before praying over the team for a safe and effective mssion
We typically have flown out of Austin for between $1200 and $1500 on British Air and gotten to Nairobi by way of London.  This time, we jumped on a deal with Air France and it was on;y $768 round trip, but we do need to fly out of Houston and our stop in Europe is in Paris.  Even with long term parking, this price made the drive to Houston worth it.  I will be reporting back as often as possible, our layover in Paris is only 2 hours, so it may be hard to get work out that we are safe until sometime Saturday morning Austin time.  We will be 9 hours ahead, so noon in Austin is 9pm in Nairobi.  We all have a strategic plan to sleep on the first flight as much as possible and then try to stay awake from Paris to Nairobi, to help make the 9 hour adjustment.  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we hope to reach several thousand people with care for their eyes and the Good News that is the reason we do what we do!