Thursday, December 13, 2018

Night of Hope - December 11, 2018

Redeemer Austin has been blessed so that we can be a blessing.  In October, our ministry staff was busy planning all of the Christmas events that take place on our campus every year and they were very hopeful that our Christmas concerts could take place in our new Commons auditorium, which was still under construction at that point.  In the midst of focusing on all of these details, someone asked what was being planned to show the love of Christ to our neighborhood in addition to all of our traditional activities.  The answer was nothing.  And it convicted everyone involved.

We have a wonderful relationship with Wooten Elementary School next door to our property.  We have been teaching ESL classes there for years and are mentoring 4th and 5th graders through programs called Academy4 and Leaders5.  Each child has one on one mentoring and activities each month on a Friday afternoon.  So, it was natural that we would approach the principal and his staff to see if there was any way we could bless the school children this Christmas.  The answer was a quick yes.  We are in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and over 90% of the students qualify for breakfast and lunch programs, meaning that most families would have a difficult time with Christmas presents this year.  He asked for our help in that regard.  We were just as quick in saying yes, we have a very big God and He will make it happen somehow.  As more thought was given to addressing this need, we realized that most of the children we hoped to help had siblings and that we would need to take care of them also.

Plans came together very rapidly.  We enlisted nearly 300 volunteers from the church and the surrounding neighborhood and all were background checked, since we would be dealing with children and wanted to treat them with the same level of security as we do our school children at Redeemer and as the Austin Independent School District also expects.  We also decided to make the program one in which the participating families would opt in, removing any possible objections some might have to a blurring of the lines between church and state.  Another choice was made to use the public park adjacent to the school and make it a huge outdoor event, which meant we would need to get all of the necessary permits and meet all of the requirements that this would entail.  One key component of our plan was to shop for the gifts that each family requested rather than a one size fits all approach.  This required large teams of volunteer shoppers to complete this task.  The best part of our approach was that we were going to let the parents be the heroes on Christmas morning.  During the festivities at the park, we would arrange for one of the parents to sneak off and pick up the gifts for their family so they could get them to the trunks of their cars unbeknownst to the children.  None of the children would be any wiser.

Many miracles happened over the next two months.  We figured about 1,000 heavy duty garbage bags would be required for the gifts.  When the big box store found out what they were for, they donated 1200 of them.   When a professional event planner heard what we were doing, she volunteered to oversee the whole project, using her talents and many connections with the city and the vendors we would need for everything from a hot cocoa booth to inflatable games to large tents to lighting to you name it.  Wrapping paper was donated and so were hundreds of teddy bears.  T-shirts for every member of each family appeared from Thrivent Financial, which also helped with matching grants for our donations.  It was just amazing to see the way people's hearts were moved when they realized what we were doing.

Even after all the preparations had been made, it took two days to get things ready for show time.  On Monday, a 6 foot fence was put in place around the perimeter of the park so that only participants and volunteers would be admitted.  We hired a security firm to help with keeping an eye on things overnight after much of the lighting, tents and electrical had been installed.  I was one of three photographers that volunteered to not only document the event, but also the setup, with the idea that we could show our donors what went into conducting an event this large and to show them that their trust in us was well placed.  In the process of getting my pictures, I was able to explain to vendor after vendor what the big picture of the event was.  Many times, their eyes would get big when they heard that this was all being done in a Secret Santa sort of way and they realized that this would strengthen each family we touched.  It also had a big impact on all of the volunteers involved as they discovered a lesson I had learned during my mission work in Africa.  It's called God's economy.  When you get out of the boat to help somebody in His name, He wants to bless BOTH the giver and the receiver abundantly.  It never fails.  Those who never get out of their comfort zone to serve others seem to think that somehow it is going to cost them something.  Just the opposite occurs, the blessings to all involved are beyond putting a value on.

At the end of the day on Monday, as the sun set, I was hanging around to see how much light we would have for the Night of Hope event Tuesday night.  I wanted to know if we would need flash units or if the large number of LED lights would be enough.  Unfortunately, the power never did get turned on and I let the other photographers know that we had to be prepared for either way.

Tuesday morning, volunteers began to arrive to begin setting up tables, small Christmas trees, etc. in the park and in our church parking lot across the street.  We had four large PODS, like movers use, full of the gifts, ready to go.  Each would be lit up with a different color in the evening.  A family member would come to retrieve their gifts with a ticket that might say Purple-85-3, which meant their gifts were in the purple POD, they were family number 85 and they had 3 children that there were bags for.  The attention to detail and planning that this all took was phenomenal and it all worked out very well.

Around  5 o'clock, the volunteers began to come to check in and get wrist bands showing that they had been vetted.  They then each went to their assigned areas to finish any last minutes details.  Besides inflatable games, there was a Nativity scene where people could hear the story of Christmas, a large tent with entertainment focusing on the Christmas story, we had professional face painters for the children (and some adults!) and Santa made an appearance and each child got to have their picture taken with him by a pro photographer.  Each child will have their photo mailed to them.  Cool!

The whole evening was a blessing.  We had not only gotten volunteers from Redeemer, but also from the neighborhood.  My friend Lupe, the owner of Casa Chapala Mexican Cantina supplied great food for the volunteers and a Mariachi band for some local cultural flavor.  We had many translators there as well, to help where needed and quite a few teachers and staff from Wooten were on hand as well.  A local TV station even came to report on Night of Hope.  I'm expecting that our ties to our local community will continue to be strengthened as a result of this event.  In my mind, I see a pebble being thrown into a still pond and the ripples emanating out for along time.  Thank you, Jesus!

To see pictures of the event, here are a couple of links to online albums.

Night of Hope pictures by Dave DeVore

Here are a collection of photos from all three photographers at Redeemer's Facebook page:

Redeemer Austin Night of Hope photos

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Spring 2018 Kenya Mission Trip

Dr. Lilian serving neighborhood school children
After each mission trip, and after I've edited all of my photos, I write a review of what the trip meant to me and what the Lord did through us.  It's that time again.  We were blessed to have 20 team members for this trip to Kenya to do vision clinics in the slums of Nairobi, helping people with both their physical vision issues and helping them to see the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.  Of the 20 missionaries on the team, 15 were with us for the first time.  Pastor Kevin and I were very excited about that many people willing to get out of their comfort zones to serve the Lord.  This high percentage of new team members gave us great energy and enthusiasm.  Experiencing a foreign mission trip is a real life changer. I know I thought about my first trip to Mexico and my first one to Africa for months afterwards, pondering what more I could have done and what I might have done better.  And praying for an opportunity to go again.

Here is a link to a photo album of our mission and the extra days of safaris we were blessed to partake in:

Because we had such a large team, we were able to do two clinics simultaneously, one in Waithaka and one with a church on the other side of town commonly known as Pipeline.  Pastor Kevin led the Pipeline team and I handled Waithaka.  We had several team members serve at both locations during the week, they got the blessing of seeing the differences and the similarities in each neighborhood.  Both clinics saw approximately 2500 patients during the week and 100 people received cataract surgeries on one eye.  Many others received read glasses, eye drops or distance glasses that we made for them on location.

Each evening, we share the "God things" that happened in the clinics with the rest of the team over dinner.  In the past, I was happy if there was one big thing for me per trip that really stuck out.  Maybe I'm more attuned now, but they seemed to come almost daily for me this time.  I'll briefly share several things that were special this time that I was involved with.

First, we were blessed that cataract surgeries were being performed about a mile away from my clinic this time.  In the past, we have given patients vouchers for a local hospital and we often didn't see results until our next trip.  This time, patients came in for referrals to the clinic one day and came back the next day to have the bandages removed from the eye that had been operated on.  In every case there were smiles and praising God!  One really cool thing that happened was Alison and I had the privilege of being allowed to see a couple of cataract surgeries performed by our friend Dr. Francis.  He explained what he was doing each step of the way and was actually teaching other doctors as the operations unfolded.  He wanted me to take pictures over his shoulder and I got many closeups of the patients eyes during each stage of the procedures.  When I showed him the pictures the next day, he remarked that they were more detailed than what he sees through his microscope during surgery.  Wow!  The first surgery was done for an elderly woman, already being operated on when we got there.  They have a cloth over the patients faces, with only the eye being worked on visible.  Alison noticed the woman was breathing shallowly and rapidly and asked if she could hold her hand and pray for her.  When she did, the woman immediately calmed down. Thank you, Jesus!

Alison prays over our patient

The second operation I filmed was on a man in his 30's that had been poked in the eye a year ago.  A cataract formed of fibrous material as a scar.  The doctor removed all of the obstruction and placed a new lens in his eye for him.  I have a much greater appreciation now for the life changing benefits our clinics bring to those who really need this help.  It keeps me going strong!

During the surgery

Afterwards with our patient

Another cataract surgery that stood out for me was because of the humorous results when the bandages were removed.  My friend Will, who is a big guy, asked if he could be there as the bandages were being removed.  Dr. Francis gave us permission and we were standing in front of an elderly woman as the bandage was taken from her eye.  The first thing she saw was this huge white guy and she screamed "It didn't work!".  She looked like she had seen Sasquatch, so that became Will's nickname for the rest of the trip.  Dr. Francis calmed her down and she saw the humor in it too.

My final cataract surgery story started when my friend Patrick from previous clinics emailed me and asked if he could bring his grandfather to the next vision clinic.  Of course I replied "Yes, by all means!"  As it turned out, his grandfather had not seen him since he was a young boy because of his cataracts.  When the bandages were removed and he saw Patrick, he jumped up on his walking stick and was dancing around.  Praise God!  He was so happy he asked Dr. Francis to do the other eye also.  This isn't usually done, just in case there is infection, but Dr. Francis was so pleased with how the first eye was already healing that he took grandfather back to the clinic that day and fixed him up.  Wow!

Patrick, Grandfather and me after the second surgery.  He has plain glasses on that we gave him to protect his eyes while they healed.

One of the benefits of short term mission trips with long term commitments to the same churches and locations is that we make lifelong friends and this strengthens the faith of all involved.  It is always joyful with lots of hugs when we first arrive and we feel right at home, while it is also joyful with lots of hugs, and a few tears, when we part company because we know that we will see each other again.

In addition to the wonderful things that happened each and every day at our clinics, including many people coming to the faith or renewing their belief, we were blessed to have an extended trip arranged by my dear friend Catherine Wangari and her company Mission Opportunities.  She arranges for all of our lodging, transportation, drivers and activities while we are on a mission.  Afterwards, she has incredible contacts for photo safaris and travel within Kenya and east Africa for anyone that can stay a few extra days.  It's very affordable, since our airfare has already been covered and we're there anyway.  Before the trip, I let it be known that I would be happy to take people with me for 4 extra days on photo safaris and would instruct serious photographers in wildlife techniques.  Out of 20 of us, I expected maybe 4 or 5 to say yes.  16 team members plus myself stayed over, what a blessing.  The group ranged in age from 16 to 80 something (I'm being kind here!).  We went to the Masai Mara National Game Park along the Tanzanian border, the park is about half the size of the King Ranch for you Texans, measuring about 589 square miles.  We spent about 2 days there, staying in a 4 star hotel with wonderful food, our rooms were permanent tents with hardwood floors and western style bathrooms.  Breakfast and dinner were buffet style, but each item was entree quality.  I never made it to the dessert bar, I was always full from the main courses, but others tell me the desserts were out of this world.  We traveled from there to spend a day at Lake Nakuru National Game Park.  Our hotel was within the park with real buildings and wonderful food as well.  It is famous for pink flamingos, which we only saw from the distance.  But we saw a wealth of other wildlife and birds.  Our final stop on the way back to Nairobi was Lake Naivasha.  We took three boats and got photos of hippos in the water, African fish eagles swooping down from trees for fish that our guides enticed them with and many, many shore birds including kingfishers, herons, egrets, cormorants, weavers and others.

Again, the photo album for the entire mission and after trip can be seen at this link:

This was my 18th trip to Kenya since 2009 and I'm still pinching myself that I have been blessed in this way to be a blessing to my friends in Kenya.  I have certainly received far more blessings than I have given.  I used to feel a little guilty about this, but a pastor friend told me not to let it trouble me, I had discovered "God's economy."  By this he meant that when you get out of the boat and serve others for Him, the Lord will bless both the giver and the receiver abundantly.  The only way to prove this is to try it.  He has never failed me in this regard!

Our next mission trip will be from May 30th to June 10th for the main team and we hope to have enough team members to be able to conduct two vision clinics once again.  I will be leading another 4 day after trip out into the Kenyan countryside for more photo safaris.  Details are still being worked out, so check back here or at as things come together.  There will be an online application at the church's web site in the near future with much more information about the trip than I can disclose here.  So, if you hear the small still voice of the Lord calling you to get out of your comfort zone to serve Him by serving others, please contact me, Dave DeVore at 512-815-5045 or Pastor Kevin Westergren at 512-459-1500 at work.   Blessings everybody!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Home again, home again!

Our flight back from Heathrow to Bush International Airport in Houston was uneventful and was almost an hour early, due to an unusual tail wind.  We are usually fighting the jet stream.  After clearing immigration and collecting our luggage, we boarded our chartered bus and were back at Redeemer by 5:30pm.  We said our goodbyes and headed to our respective homes.

Adrienne dropped me off at home and I did my two week's worth of laundry before going to bed around 9pm.  The charter bus ride home from Houston plus sleeping on the proper flights has made my recovery from 8 hours of jet lag relatively easy this trip.  I've slept at least 7 hours each night since returning Wednesday evening and have only hit a brick wall of exhaustion a couple of times when it would be the middle of the night in Kenya.

I am hard at work on editing pictures from the trip and am already done with images of our compound where we stay, worship on Sunday and the clinic.  Stay tuned for a link to the photo album when it's done and more in depth stories from our time in Kenya.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

At Heathrow

Made it into Heathrow on time a little after 6am local time.  The team made it through security with not too much trouble. We're now taking turns watching each other's bags, getting coffee and food, etc until our flight back to Houston at 10am. Much more to come after we get back home. Blessings everyone!

Final day in Kenya

We got up early and had breakfast at the wonderful lodge inside of the Nakuru game park that Catherine had booked for us. We checked out and were driving the three vehicles through the trails in search of the pink flamingos. About half of the team rested the previous afternoon following our arduous nine hour journey from Masai Mara,  so they now got to see the beauty of this place and its wildlife. We never did encounter the flamingos but saw a wide variety of bird and animal species including zebras, giraffes, hyenas, water buffalo, storms, pelicans, plovers and many more. Our abbreviated two and a half hour safari was capped by a stop at the Baboon Cliff high above Lake Nakuru. It is a great vantage point for surveying the entire lake and wildlife refuge below. I got some great pictures of a Cliff Chat, a really cool looking bird that lives in the rocks and trees poking out of the sheer cliff. Stay tuned for pictures of this little guy.

We made our way out of the park and headed for Lake Naivasha, our original destination we had planned on for our last morning before travel difficulties changed things up. We arrived at the lake around noon, donned life jackets and boarded three small skiffs for our final photo safari.  We were right among a pod of hippos for a few minutes,  always an eye opener for newcomers and veterans alike. I got many shots of the wide variety of shore birds this place is known for. African fish eagles were in abundance and our guides were able to coax 4 of them to fly down and snag fish they had thrown their way. I've been there on 3 hour tours when none responded,  so this was very special.  Some great photo sequences will be published as soon as I can get my feet on the ground back home. Due to finishing up our boat ride as 1:30 pm approached,  we skipped lunch and headed for Nairobi, since you never know quite how long it will take to get back.  Many in the team were very hungry after a full morning of fresh air, but when the lake lodge restaurant let us know it would take an hour and a half to prepare and eat lunch, we had to move on. I gave a bag full of Payday candy bars to Yancy to distribute to everyone for the ride and we headed for the Little Daughters of St. Joseph convent  for pizza and much appreciated showers. Catherine came and joined us and I went over vision clinic details and told her tall tales about our safari experiences before we left for the airport.  More to follow about the trip home. Blessings everone!

Travel to London

After saying our farewells to Catherine, we got on a bus for the airport. Ever since the Westgate Mall attack,  security has been at a high level. As we approached the airport,  there was a checkpoint at which we all had to get out and pass through a metal detector.  Some vehicles were also searched.  Next, just to enter the airport, our bags were screened and we traversed yet another metal detector.  I don't mind, whatever it takes to keep us safe. I went through last and checked in last to make sure the whole team made it through. We spent a couple of hours at Java House in the next terminal, eating and making conversation.  We had to go through another security check to get to the restaurant,  however.  Finally, when it was time to board our aging 747, we needed to go through two identical security checks.  When we arrive at Heathrow, we will also face very good security. I am writing this from the plane before touchdown in about 45 minutes and will continue with my next post from Heathrow if time allows for it.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The trip to Lake Nakuru was a disaster in many ways

And a blessing in others.  We were on the road a little after 7am for what should have been a 4-6 hour trip depending on traffic.  The plan was to get to our lodge inside the Lake Nakuru National Game Park, have lunch and spend the rest of the daylight hours on photo safari.  God had a different plan.  We started out driving down very bad dirt and rock roads with lots of ups, downs and scraping the bottoms of our vehicles.  We saw many Zebras, Thompson Gazelles, Wildebeests and other game outside of the park and it was a beautiful morning.  Then, we noticed the left rear tire of the van in front of us wobbling badly.  After stopping, we looked and 4 out of the 6 lug nuts were missing and the remaining two were loose.  We robbed lug nuts from the other wheels and tightened them down, but they kept coming loose.  We had to slowly crawl the nearest town for repairs.  The same van was also having problems with a leaky brake line, so that was repaired as well.  We piled everybody into the remaining two vehicles, a Toyota van that I was in and a Toyota Land Cruiser.  We didn't get to Lake Nakuru until after 4pm.  Several of us took two vehicles out for late afternoon animal and bird photography and saw some cool things, but our nine hour commute pretty well ruined the day.  Thankfully, no one blamed me.  Our planning was good, but reality happened.  I thank God that the wheel had not come off of the van or the brakes had failed at an inopportune time.  Things could have been much worse.

That's it for now.  Stay tuned.  I'll continue to write on the trip home and will add a link to a photo album once it's done.  Blessings!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Masai Mara rocks!

We were out from 7:15 to 4:15 on safari and saw many species different from other game parks I've been to before.  These include a cheetah in the tall grass, hyenas, dikdiks (tiny antelopes) and elephants. Also, many birds, both familiar and unfamiliar to me. Some of our folks split off in one of the vans around 2pm to check out a Masai village.  We will have dinner here and pack up. We are leaving at 7am tomorrow morning for Lake Nakuru. We will arrive for lunch and then an afternoon photo safari there, a park that is famous for its pink flamingos.
More to follow as time permits.  Blessings!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Getting ready for full day at Masai Mara

We are truly blessed. The 17 of us are going to take our 2 vans and Land Rover out for a full day in the game park. Since we had rain in the late afternoon yesterday, rather than our planned morning and afternoon safaris with a break for lunch, we are taking box lunches, plenty of water and snacks and heading out a little after 7am to see what we see. I still have hopes of my first leopard but the grass is tall and they are elusive. This place is huge, maybe 25000 square miles with plenty of places to hide. I love not knowing what I might see and then always being surprised in some way. More to follow at the end of the day.

First day trip to Masai Mara

We had breakfast at Little Daughters and hit the road for the Masai Mara around 8am. We got to.stop at the Great Rift Valley for some pictures and made a couple of rest stops on the way. About 4 hours into the trip, we drove a few miles on new highway the Chinese had constructed.  It soon ended and we were on dirt roads that our driver Simon called "riding the horse".  We spent around 2 hours going up down and all around before crossing a river in our van. We arrived at the Fig Tree Lodge around 2:15 pm and had an incredible lunch. It is a first class hotel and great food is abundant.  We aren't at the end of the world but you can see it from here.  We had about a 3 hour safari before dark and I saw my first hyena and elephants in the wild. Cool.

More to follow as the adventure continues!

Friday, June 1, 2018

The clinics finish with a bang

In spite of or because of the national holiday, both clinics did well, each seeing over 500 people.  My clinic saw about 2,250 patients during the week and Kevin's treated a little over 2500.  A very good week indeed for out combined totals.  I had a very pleasant surprise this afternoon.  Around lunch time, one of my local friends came to me and said I had a very special visitor.  When I went outside, it was Catherine's mother, Mama.  She had brought lunch for me and my team.  A special Kikuyu tribe dish called mukimo.  It was fabulous.  I later found out that it is only served when very important people are visiting.  What a high honor that she cherishes me so much, I love Mama!  And my team and many of our volunteers enjoyed it and the bananas and another dish she brought.  It was wonderful spending time with her, even if I had to speak through an interpreter.  But smiles and hugs need no interpretation.  We also got her an exam of her eyes by our doctors, I made sure she was in the express lane the whole way!  I am so blessed.

I had Alison help me order pizza and drinks for the team tonight from Domino's and it was a reasonable facsimile of what I would expect in the States except for no little red pepper packets.  After we ate, we had a short team meeting about the details of heading out for the safaris in the morning.  Breakfast at 6:30 and we hit the road by 7 am for a 6 hour drive out to the Masai Mara. More to come about our after trip if I have an Internet connection, otherwise, I'll continue to write and post the blog as I am able.  Thanks be to God for a most productive mission and for bringing us together as friends with the very hospitable Kenyan people.  I always feel right at home here.

Blessings, everybody!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Friday morning thoughts

After some rest, I now have a couple of minutes to share from yesterday.  One really cool thing that happened was Alison and I had the privilege of being allowed to see a couple of cataract surgeries performed by our friend Dr. Francis.  He explained what he was doing each step of the way and was actually teaching other doctors as the operations unfolded.  He actually wanted me to take pictures over his shoulder and I got many closeups of the patients eyes during each stage of the procedures.  The first one was an elderly woman, already being operated on when we got there.  They have a cloth over the patients faces, with only the eye being worked on visible.  Alison noticed the woman was breathing shallowly and rapidly and asked if she could hold her hand.  When she did, the woman calmed down.  Wow!  The second operation was on a man in his 30's that had been poked in the ey a year ago.  A cataract formed of fibrous material as a scar.  The doctor removed all of the obstruction and placed a new lens in his eye for him.  I have a much greater appreciation now for the life changing benefits our clinics bring to those who really need this help.  It keeps me going strong!

I was also visited by many friends from around Nairobi including Sylvester Opiyo and Douglas Masheti, both of whom I have known for over 10 years now.  They work with orphans in the slum and are great examples of sharing the love of Christ.  These close friendships are the by-product of our mission philosophy.  We do short term missions, but with log term commitment.  The church is its people and each human brick in this tapestry plays a part, everywhere in the world. 

Time to head down for breakfast, Friday is a very busy day since we will need to take inventory and pack everything up at the close of the clinic. I expect some laughs and some tears as we part company with our friends at Waithaka this afternoon.  Blessings, everybody!

Thursday was our best combined day yet for the clinics

We saw over 600 patients and Kevin's team had more than 500.  Lots of great stories to tell, but it's getting late after a very nice dinner at the Talisman restaurant, one of the finest in Nairobi and it's only about half a mile from our lodging.  I had spicy prawns (shrimp) and calamari stir fry.  Yum!  This missionary life is awful tough!

It's already 9:30 pm here, so I'm going down for the count.  Just wanted to let everyone know we're having very successful clinics and hope to finish strong.  Tomorrow is the Kenyan equivalent of our July 4th, the date in 1963 when they became independent of the British.  We really don't know if we'll have a very good Friday or maybe be sitting on our hands.  I think it will be one or the other, with no middle ground.  More to report after we wrap up the clinics tomorrow.

Blessings everybody!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday was a big day at both clinics

Pastor Kevin and his team at Pipeline saw over 600 patients today while we had nearly 500.  We had a little hiccup in the morning when there was a peaceful demonstration in our neighborhood and out of an abundance of caution, the police shut down the road coming into our clinic for about an hour.  We were never in any danger and I made friends with a few of the officers while they kept us safe from anything getting out of hand.  Our gracious hosts from the Lutheran Church in Waithaka fed us with a Kenyan dish called Pilau that had rice and meat in it.  It was very tasty and also very filling.  I may gain some weight on this trip that will need to be lost upon my return to Austin!  We have a young 12 year old boy named Noah Okello, the son of my friend and evangelist Thomas, who was instrumental in the coming to Christ of four people today.  He is a joy to be around and only wants to talk about Jesus all day long.  I asked him who Jesus is and he said "my Lord and savior."  I asked who else and he responded with "King of Kings".  I asked if he was also Mighty Counselor and he said "yes".  All told, we went through about 30 Biblical names for Christ and he knew them all.  When I wondered if he wants to be a Pastor, he said "No, I want to be like Jeremiah!"  Wow...

We had a nice dinner after the clinic and shared more stories.  I told about Noah and about an elderly woman that came to the clinic to have bandages removed after we had sent her for cataract surgery the previous day.  When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Will Bach, my team member and friend standing right in front of her.  He's a big guy and she must have thought she had seen Sasquatch or Yeti, because she yelled out "It didn't work!"  We've already gotten a lot of laughs from that story, but imagine the culture shock she must have had.  And don't worry, Will has a great sense of humor and loves this one!

We're beginning to run out of some of our supplies and my team is making distance glasses for both teams and some lens and frame combinations are getting pretty low.  We hope to restock on what we need rapidly.  At the very worst, any order we can't fill will result in the patient getting a prescription for what they need.

Well, it's about time for bed here.  We make sure we get our rest and try to stay hydrated in order to serve others in the best way possible.  Blessings everybody!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

First little trouble overnight

After the wonderful meal at Darry last night, I'm sure that everyone turned in early.  I noticed the power was out in the middle of the night, but thought it was a brief rolling blackout, not uncommon here.  I got up early and checked the circuit breakers on our floor and they were all fine.  I tracked down one of the sisters here and before long, the generator was up and running.  Unfortunately, we depend power overnight to recharge our autorefractor batteries for the clinic and each one takes from 6 to 8 hours for a full charge.  We will probably not catch up from this the rest of the week, since each of our four machine has 4 batteries.  We can plug in 4 at a time and maybe get 8 batteries to full strength in a good night.  We are essentially starting out where we left off yesterday.  We will work around this setback, I'm sure.  Pray that all goes well!

Both clinics continue to roll!

Each clinic was in striking distance of seeing 400 patients today.  There were many more touching moments than I can fathom at the end of a long day.  One surprise was our Evangelist Thomas' little son Noah.  He jumped into the triage station and was giving little sermonettes to anyone that would listen.  He's a pastor in the making!  While we saw about 50 more patients than yesterday, none of us were near as tired as we were after the first day.  Several people that had received cataract surgeries on Monday as a result of our clinic came back to have the bandages removed and it was a joyous occasion when they could see again.  I will probably get to go and witness a surgery in the next day or two, since the clinic is very close to our location.

After working at the clinic, we came back to Little Daughters and freshened up before going out as a group for a nice meal at Darry, a fine restaurant.  I had been there in November of 2016 for lunch, they have beautiful spacious grounds, peacocks walking around and water features with many places to eat outside.  We were inside and had entrees from the menu ranging from various kinds of fish and chicken to steak.  A good time was had by all and we've just returned home to get some much needed sleep.  More to follow as the week progresses.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A very successful day at both clinics in Nairobi

I just got done with dinner with the whole team and we all had a great day.  Each clinic saw over 300 people (not shabby by first day standards) and we know that lots of groundwork by both congregations and the dedication of dear friend Catherine Wangari played big roles in it.  Plus, we're doing the Lord's work, so He played the leading role!  We shared some of the high points of the day.  Alison told about working with a 22 year old Muslim man in the triage station, patiently going over the Gospel with him.  He told her he was a Muslim and after she said "I know", he said that he would one day like to be a Christian.  She said "Why not today?" and he said "OK".  After spending some time with Pastor James, he was baptized and I had the privilege of being there and getting some photos of the happy event.  We all welcomed him as a new brother.  Wow!  I also saw my friend Patrick early this morning and he said he would be around the clinic later.  He brought his grandfather, who couldn't see and it was unbeknownst to me at the time that one of the surgeries I authorized during the day was for him.  As we were boarding our van for the ride back to showers and dinner, Patrick approached me with an old man and to said his grandfather had already had the cataract surgery in our field surgical unit.  He had a bandage on his eye and they both were so happy that they would each be able to see each other again.  Thank you, Jesus!  They promised to visit me once the bandages were taken off.  How blessed we are to be a part of so many things like this that happened on the first day and we're just getting rolling.

Based on previous trips, I will not be more tired than I am right now.  Getting things running smoothly is quite an effort, but it pays off the rest of the week.  I'm ready for an early night and an early morning.  Blessings, everybody!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday worship and other happenings

Both teams had a chance to worship with their respective congregations this morning.  We had a wonderful service in Kawangware and about half of our team joined the children for their Bible study while the rest of us took in the full adult service.  It was great seeing old friends and making a few new ones.  Our team got to Java House around 1:30 pm and all had great meals.  We shopped for bottled water and snacks for the week at the nearby Karen Hub mall, then got some time to freshen up or take a short nap. I did both.

The Pipeline team was fed a very good meal after their worship by the congregation.  They are wonderful hosts and I'm sure their clinic will be a great blessing to their neighborhood.

This evening, Pastor Kevin and I worked with our teams before and after dinner to get everyone up to speed on how the clinic will be set up and will operate.  I trained the folks from both team after dinner in using the autorefractors to examine eyes for distance vision.  It's been a very long day, I'm heading to bed to get recharged before a very full week.  Blessings everybody!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday was a very full day

A little more about Saturday:
We were up bright and early, had breakfast and were on the road to the Nairobi National Game Park by 7am.  It has been very wet in Nairobi lately, so the native grasses had grown high and the animals were not as concentrated around water features as much as during drier times.  Nevertheless, we managed to see most every major animal with the notable exception of Lions.  I'm not worried about that, 17 of us are staying over for 4 extra days of safaris in the Kenyan countryside, there will be ample opportunities to see Lions!  I did get one of my best every images of an African Widow Bird, a beautiful black bird with a long flowing tail that almost looks like a wedding train in flight with brilliant red on its head as well as what I think were a pair of Augur or Marshall Eagles nesting high in a tree.  Plus, some up close and personal shots of Superb Starlings, another incredible creature.  We were in the game park for almost 5 hours and had several adventures.  The Land Rover I was in had to push a Toyota van out of a muddy low spot when it had gotten buried up to its axles.  There is a professional courtesy among the safari drivers when one of them gets stuck.  While we were in one spot for a while, which is not good for hunting down more animals, it is good for observing the different birds and other critters coming and going.

African Widow Bird

After the safari, we went to The Veranda, a very nice restaurant we have frequented for years.  Your meal is served outdoors under palm trees, the food is good and there are multiple gift shops for those that need that last minute souvenir.  After a late lunch, we went back to Little Daughters and got some of the team reassigned to other rooms, as we had to double up while our friends from Salem Lutheran Church were here.  For the remainder of our time in Nairobi, those that wanted a single room now have one.  Pastor Kevin and I, along with Travis and Ted, managed to organize all of our supplies into separate footlockers, suitcases and other containers.  This was done early so that Pastor Kevin and the Pipeline team could get their gear to the clinic Sunday after church.  My team, going to Waithaka, is going to worship at Kawangware and will probably get back to Little Daughters around 1 or 2 pm, when we will have lunch at a nearby Java House.  To get an idea of what Java House is, think of a Starbucks with good food.  I always get a pound or two of Kenyan AA coffee ground from beans while I'm in country.  It's a nice treat on occasion and rivals Kona coffee in my humble opinion.

Sunday will be our last day of relative rest and relaxation, then we saddle up to do what we came to do by showing the love of Christ to the people in the slums of Nairobi by caring for both their physical and their spiritual needs.  Please pray that we will be a blessing as we bless others.

A great first day in Nairobi

I had the best sleep for a first night of any of my trips so far.  I was able to get a hot shower and be in bed by 12:30 am and arose at 5:15 am reasonably refreshed.  While 4 to 5 hours of good sleep might sound like a short night, relative to my other experiences, it was pretty good.  We had breakfast at 6a m and were on the way to the game park by 7.  We saw many of the usual suspects including Giraffes, Zebras, Baboons, Impalas, Water Buffalo, Rhinos, a Crocodile, Hippos, Hartebeests and others.  No Lions this time.  We spent nearly 5 hours on the safari and I got some great shots of an African Widow Bird and some of my best Superb Starling shots ever.  I was in a Land Rover with the more serious photographers of the group and was blessed to have my good friend Barrack along for the ride.  After the safari, we went to The Veranda, a very nice outdoors restaurant with good food and very nice gift shops.  Once lunch and shopping were over, we headed back to Little Daughters for some rest until dinner.

As I write this, it's about half an hour until dinner at 7pm, during and after which Kevin and I will divide our group up into teams and announce worship times and other details for Sunday in Nairobi.
The wifi in our convent is pretty good now, so I'll be hopefully sending out more news soon and possibly even post some pictures.  Blessing to everybody and thanks for your prayers and support!

Friday, May 25, 2018

London to Nairobi

We got through security at Heathrow with only a little delay here and there. One of our autorefractors got a close examination but was allowed through. Some of us had water bottles that we were able to refill at a special filling station. Many airports around the U.S. have these too.  After spending. $3 or more, it's a little bit of a relief to get a free refill. 

We boarded the plane right on time and have already been served water and a snack.  Lunch should appear soon. Anything but chicken curry, please!  We'll, it was chicken, but at least not curry. I had lunch and then a short nap. I'm sitting on this flight with Thomas, a Concordia DCE student who is doing his internship at Salem.   He is excited to be on his first Kenyan mission.  Salem always does a great job with driving home the fact that mission and being a DCE should go hand in hand.

We're about 5 hours from Nairobi as I write this.  If the past is any guide, we'll arrive and spend an hour or more clearing Customs and Immigration and claiming our baggage. Then, we'll board buses and take about an hour getting to the convent we will call home for the next week, the Little Daughters of St. Joseph.  Tomorrow morning the teams will go to one of several attractions and then have lunch. The Salem teams are driving to their clinic locations tomorrow afternoon as well. Hopefully,  after a full day of activities we will all get a decent night's sleep.  I'm sure the choices for tomorrow morning will include a photo safari at the Nairobi National Game Park,  maybe a trip to the Elephant Orphanage or possibly the Karen Blitzen Museum.  We'll make the decisions about who is doing what around  midnight and then be up bright and early for a quick breakfast and saddling up.

We are now about 40 minutes from landing. I hope we shoot through the process, but with 2 large teams traveling together that's probably not realistic.

A good first leg of travel

16 of our team members all gathered at Redeemer starting around 9am, loaded luggage and clinic supplies in our charter bus and left on time at 10am sharp for  Bush International Airport in Houston. Our other 3 team members joined us there for checking in, going through security, food and some fellowship.  Our 20th person, Alison is already in Nairobi. More on that later.  We saw many of our old friends from Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball arriving as we did.  After some happy greetings, they prepared to get a group picture. I couldn't help myself. I stood in the back row and photobombed them. I was right next to one of their leaders and my good friend Kevin Pieper. He realized what I had dond after the fact. We had a great laugh.

Only Travis and his mom Julie had issues in security.  Travis' carry on got thoroughly inspected for who knows what.  Julie's Bible set off alarms. It is a very dangerous book after all! I know it's made a radical change in my life, that's for sure.  We boarded our  British Airways 777 without incident and took off for London on time.  I shut my eyes for about 45 minutes before drinks and snacks were served. A while later, dinner service began. Our choices in the back of the plane were either chicken curry or chicken curry. They had already run out of vegetarian pasta due to a large number Indian people and others on the plane that had made that choice.  So, I  ordered chicken curry with a smile. It came with a small salad with balsamic vinegrette, a roll, rice, crackers and cheddar cheese and a chocolate and caramel shortbread confection.  I'm glad I had a burger at the airport!  Airplane food can fill you up but it's still a TV dinner.

We always instruct our teams to try to sleep after dinner on the way to London,  since it helps with the 8 hour time difference in Nairobi.  We also stress staying awake from London to Nairobi,  since we arrive around 9pm and are usually at our rooms by midnight. If you're tired upon arrival,  you can usually at least get some fitful sleep before an early Saturday morning safari or other attraction.  With lots to do on Sunday, from worship to lunch to getting ready for our clinics, we are nearly acclimated to local time by Monday night. Sometimes, I've actually slept well as early as Saturday night.

Now for Alison's story. She has come on mission trips with both Redeemer and Salem Lutheran Church in the past.  She befriended a local pastor in the Mombasa area on one of those trips.  When his wife gave birth to a little girl,  they named her Alison. So naturally, she just had to come a few days early to meet her namesake.  What a blessing!

I've been sleeping on and off using an eyeshade.   It's only about 8pm now in Austin,  but that translates to 4am Nairobi time.  I really should keep at least resting my eyes, but 8 hours is a big chunk to bite off all at once.  It's why it always takes a day or two or three to adjust.  The 777 we're flying is an older plane with no USB for charging phones and tablets or underwear power outlets or a decent entertainment system.  Many newer planes have all of this and individual DVR type control over what you watch. I always come prepared and have movies, books and music loaded on my phone. Maybe we'll have a better plane from Heathrow to Kenya.

I was just awakened about an hour and a half from London by my tray table falling in my lap. I was surprised to see a "special meal" marked Hindu in front of me. I guess I've been out in the sun too much doing my bird photos! I took it back to the galley and had a good laugh with the flight attendants. My actual breakfast consisted of a cream cheese filled pretzel, at least that's what the label said and a honey and maple granola bar. I would have called it a bagel and cream cheese. 

It looks like we'll be a few minutes early into London after a relatively smooth flight. The Fasten Seat Belt light only came on as we ventured out over the Atlantic from the east coast of the U.S. and one more time mid-Atlantic.  It's pretty usual to experience sometimes dramatic bouncing around as you leave our continent.

I managed to follow the advice I give our teams and drank about a liter and a half of water in addition to the coffee and juices that came along with meals. It's easy to get dehydrated on long flights plus we serve in Nairobi at altitude as well. I had a large kidney stone removed in December as a caution. I didn't want any issues halfway around the world.  My urologist told me I could eat anything I wanted if I drank 3 liters of water a day. A tall order, but I'm trying to keep up with that pace.

We arrived on time at Heathrow, walked down some steps to the tarmac, took a series of buses and went through security in Terminal 3 and are waiting for gate info to be posted at the last minute. This is standard procedure here, maybe to foil bad guys.  More to follow from Nairobi as I am able.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Lots of preparations during last few days in Austin

After 17 trips to Kenya, I have long ago developed a two page checklist of all the important things that need doing before leaving and a very detailed list of what you pack.  One old timer years ago, on one of my first trips gave me some sage advice.  He said "If you haven't used something in three trips, never bring it again, with one exception.  A rain poncho!"  Truer words were never spoken, it has helped me to travel lighter and lighter each time, but when you REALLY need a rain poncho, you REALLY need one.  Some of the afternoon rains in Nairobi make a Texas gully washer (or do you say frog strangler?) look like a spring shower.

I spent most of today running to various stores for last minute items like medications, snacks for the trip, a new safari shirt, some hiking shoes that should stand up to the rigors of Kenya and other things.  I have made Amazon very happy for the past month since losing a backpack full of camera gear.  I've gotten almost daily shipments of one little gadget or another.  I am back to being in pretty good shape for the trip, with two very good Nikon camera bodies and Sigma lenses for wildlife photography for after the vision clinic ends.  One lens and camera combo will also be good for typical tourist travel pictures too.

I have also been in regular contact with our dear friend Catherine Wangari as we have nailed down various details for the two clinics we will be conducting, lodging, drivers, transportation logistics, local doctors, where we will worship Sunday and many, many more items.  We couldn't be nearly as effective without the support of Catherine and Gloria Sauck, our incredible nurse/missionary in Kenya who handles much of the health end of our project, dealing with community and government agencies. 

Well, I have to get back to working on my checklist!  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The team was commissioned this morning!

Ten members of our team of twenty were able to attend our commissioning at Redeemer this morning.  It's a busy time of year with graduations, confirmations and other family commitments.  Our friend, Dora Tamez, was able to be with us at our 8am ceremony, but couldn't stay for the 9:30 service, when the following pictures were taken.  We are almost packed up with all of our supplies for our departure Thursday.  One blessing of having a large team is that we were able to charter a full-sized bus to do the round trip from Austin to George Bush International Airport in Houston for only $100 each.  It usually costs me around $100 for long term parking, plus gas and tolls each way, so this makes great sense.  Also, I know how dog tired we can be when we get back, and have sometimes had to pull over and take a nap on my way back to Austin if I was driving alone.  Many thanks to Yancy Parsons for thinking of this and taking the lead in making the booking happen.

Pastor Kevin introduces the team and explains our mission to the congregation

Pastor Kevin prays over the team, which also includes him!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A little over a week to go!

Since my last post here, a lot has changed.  God has blessed us with our largest team from Redeemer ever, with 20 people total.  We had planned to only have one vision clinic, but the Lord had a different idea and now we'll be serving at two different locations.  One team will be in Waithaka, a church plant whose mother church is the Lutheran Church in Kawangware where we have held many clinics in the past.  The other is a church known as Pipeline, a new church planted by the national ELCK church body with incredible support from local lay leaders.  We have had clinics at both of these locations in the past with very good results.  Pastor Kevin will be leading one team and I'll take the other.  Please keep an eye on this space as I will be posting daily (or as much as possible) from May 24th to June 6th.

Another big change is our tour of several locations for photo safaris after the mission is completed.  I had envisioned only 4 or 5 fairly serious photographers wanting to stay over with me.  Out of the 20 person team, only three need to go home, so I'll be showing 16 others the country, people and wildlife I've come to know and love.  Our dear friend Catherine Wangari has worked overtime to book such a large group for some of the coolest locations you can imagine.  She had to come up with three to four times the rooms (in nice places), transportation, drivers/guides, game park fees, etc. and has laid all of the groundwork for a great time for all of us.  We will be heading out to the Masai Mara region bright and early on the first Saturday after the mission for a couple of days of photo safaris in this cattle herding area.  I hope to see my first leopard (been on my bucket list for years!) and possibly an elephant migration nearby.  I know we'll see all of the usual menagerie of animals and birds and many I haven't seen before.  After a couple of days there, we will make our way back to Lake Nakuru, a National Game Park that has large numbers of Pink Flamingos and many other shore birds plus Rhinos, Water Buffalo, Zebras and other animals.  Our final safari will be on Tuesday morning June 5th, when we will stop at Lake Naivasha for a boat ride down a river filled with Hippos and a possible walk with the animals on an island, depending on lake levels and how wet things have been during their rainy season.

That's all for now.  Come back often as I will be posting on our progress many times during the mission.  God's blessings to all of you!