Archive for the ‘Spiritual Life’ Category

For whatever reason, I didn’t get to meet my sponsored child while I was in Kenya.

There are over 600 students at the primary school, and it was a joy and a pleasure to meet children for the first time and to recognize children I had already met each day. But, there were a few children I was searching the crowds for, my own sponsored child and the sponsored children of a couple of church friends.

I learned midway through the trip that the mother of my sponsored child was ill, and the family had gone to stay with relatives outside of the city. I knew that this was a call to prayer. Yes, I wanted to meet him and hug him and get to know him outside of a picture and a piece of paper. But, I also wanted to be a blessing to him even when I couldn’t be beside him.

That was all I got on the trip — the idea of somehow being a blessing to him, the hope of being a blessing to him, and the opportunity to leave a few small things behind for him to receive upon his return.

20120917-174414.jpgThree months later, I did receive a beautiful letter from him, and some new pictures of a happy boy that I continue to get to know as the Lord allows. I trust that his mother is well, but I honestly don’t know. I trust God to fill any void he feels if she’s not. I praise God that he was able to return to school. I pray that school is a place he will learn to be the person God created him to be. I pray that God will honor the connection between us and that we will continue to be a blessing to one another. Abbey reminds me often to pray for him because she knows that the children in Kenya pray for their sponsors every day.

Currently, there are over 140 children waiting for sponsors through Kenya Children’s Fund. KCF has recently taken in a second stream of 9th graders who have passed the difficult 8th Grade Exams, but whose families cannot afford secondary school fees. Their education would stop at 8th grade without KCF’s intervention. There is also an incoming class of nursery students awaiting sponsorship.

I invite you to visit KCF’s website if you feel led to pray for these children by name or even invite one into your life through sponsorship.

I know I know, you are thinking “Great, she goes on this mission trip, and now she’s gonna guilt me into sponsoring cute kids…and she’s gonna keep asking me for money…why did I ever respond to that first request?!” I am learning to trust God to soften the hearts of those He wishes to be involved. Maybe you can’t get these kids off of your mind. Maybe you see things everywhere that remind you of Kenya. Maybe there’s some other burgeoning connection between you and this place or these people. If so, God might be trying to tell you something.

I promise you, you will be a blessing to them. And I promise you, they will bless you in return. It’s a beautiful thing.

My boy’s favorite animal is the cow, so Abbey & Sam have drawn lots of pictures of cows for him…


This is my boy’s art work:


This is Sam’s from when he was younger:


I like the similarities.

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OK, by now, I know you are thinking “Yes, but what did you DO?” The two most popular questions about my trip…1. What will you do? 2. What did you do? Followed closely by “Will you go back?” We live in a culture of doing, a culture that places value on accomplishing tasks. But Kenyan culture is a relational culture, a culture that places value on relationship and consensus.

You will be glad to know that I did however accomplish some ‘stuff,’ stuff we can all feel good about. I worked with a team of 4 that supported the school nurse, who for 20 years has daily supported not only the 600 students at the elementary school, but also their extended families and all of the students at the secondary school. Two of us took a look at her current record-keeping system and set them up on computer so that going forward, she could keep her records in a spreadsheet on a laptop, which would allow her to easily follow trends over time by student name or by diagnosis. This meant that we got to see a power outlet installed in her office, Kenyan style.

In addition, we helped her complete her monthly health assessment of all 600 students at the elementary school. Each month, she weighs, measures, and deworms all 600 students. We put all of this information in a spreadsheet, and set up the system for the remainder of the year, so that she just has to enter the data each month. Our team did the weighing, measuring, and some of the crowd control, freeing her up to focus her attention on the health education she does with each class when they come in (“We keep our nails short and clean.”) or to  see individual patients who came in for treatment during this time. Before the trip, I was told it would be a miracle if we actually accomplished all of this, and we did. (Or, should I say God did.) So, there it is. Miracle. Praise God. (“Praise God again!”)

But do you know what also happened while we were there? The nurse’s mother passed away unexpectedly. God placed a team of four compassionate Christian women around her to pray for her, to distract her, to ease her burden, to be her hands and feet and occasionally voice, to minister to her, to grieve with her. In my mind, this feels more significant than all of that other stuff.

I pray that our doing was a blessing to her, I pray that our work will be something that continues to be useful to her and that she will be able to continue going forward. But I know that our being was a blessing to her, and to me. I thank God that He let me share in walking beside her during a difficult time.

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As you can see from my last post, I felt like some of the most important work God gave me to do on the trip was just being a mom — seeing and loving the kids as a mother does.

The girls my daughters’ age, current 5th graders around 10 and 11 years old, and I seemed to find each other and hold a mutual admiration society. I saw girls on the cusp of young womanhood, equally apt to play ring around the rosey as sift through their personal beliefs and values. They probably saw someone who noticed them, who cared, who called them by name. “Write our names in your book so you will not forget us.”

They taught me Swahili. We swapped songs, games, and stories. I asked how I could pray for them. They say:  protection for their school, protection for their sponsors, especially when sponsors are traveling between the US and Africa, that they would do well on midterm exams, that their school would be the best in their district, and for protection and health for their parents.

“You are the best mother,” they said. “I wish she was my mother.” I didn’t learn very much about their home lives. I can only assume that many of their parents are absent, or too busy trying to make ends meet to cover all of their emotional needs.

Nevertheless, they were able to minister to me when I was tired and unsure of exactly what I was doing there. Each day, I left them feeling refreshed, loved, and filled. They were the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus to me. “Will you come back?,” they ask. “If God wants me to,” I answer.

I trust God to sustain the connection between us. And to fill the empty places they feel in my absence. He is their hope and their redeemer. I pray that they will continue to sing for joy in the shadow of his wing.

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She must be around 3 years old, and she is always there when I sift back through my pictures and memories. I’m not sure how much English she knows. At first, her eyes were searching mine and questioning. Can you be trusted? Do you have love to share?

By midweek, I’m greeted daily by tiny hands atop outstretched arms asking to be held, wrapped in a hug, assured that everything is ok.

During the second week of our trip as our team walked through the village with school staff, a shosho (Swahili for grandmother) beckoned us to follow her to her home by the river.  We prayed a blessing over her wood and metal home, built for her by community members after her previous home was destroyed by rains.

We learned that her daughter had died the previous year, leaving her to care for her grandchildren on her own, one of whom recently died during the rainy season, and one of whom is this girl…who needs some extra love, and to know that everthing is going to be ok.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ~John 14:18

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This May, I had the opportunity to travel to Nairobi, Kenya with Kenya Children’s Fund. In coming weeks, I will be sharing some of my reflections on this experience here.

Come and see. At first glance, Dandora looks like the most God-forsaken place on Earth. Piles of garbage burn by the side of the road. Men and women sort through the dirty scraps trying to find anything of use to keep or sell. Stall after rickety wooden stall, each one coated in a thick, red dust, line the streets of the village, where vendors peddle their wares to passers by. Kale, fried fish, plastic tubs, shoes, and jeans all are available within steps of each other.

Streets of Dandora

Bill Bryson writes of Kibera, a similar slum in Nairobi:

“To step into Kibera is to be at once in a random, seemingly endless warren of rank, narrow passageways wandering between rows of frail, dirt-floored hovels made of tin and mud and twigs and holes…Each shanty on average is ten feet by ten and home to five or six people. Down the centre of each lane runs a shallow trench filled with a trickle of water and things you don’t want to see or step in. There are no services in Kibera—no running water, no rubbish collection, virtually no electricity, not a single flush toilet…In the rainy season, the whole becomes a liquid ooze. In the dry season it has the charm and healthfulness of a rubbish tip. In all seasons it smells of rot. It’s a little like wandering through a privy. Whatever is the most awful place you have ever experienced, Kibera is worse.”

Kinyago Dandora School provides solace and shelter for the children who daily walk through such a village. When our van enters the gates of the school, the children wave, cheer, shout, and sing for joy. I am thronged by hundreds of the happiest children I have ever seen. They sing:

Joy, joy, joy in my heart is ringing. Joy, joy, joy Jesus has set me singing.
See what the Lord has done for me, He died just to set me free, Fill my heart with melodies with joy, joy, joy. I’m rejoicing.

“Mambo!” I say in my nascent Swahili, greeting each eager child with a smile and a handshake. They smile and return an often barely audible, “Poa,” which means “cool” in Swahili slang. “Jina laku nani,” (What is your name?) I say to one particularly striking girl of about 9 or 10. Her face is luminous. “Purity,” she answers. Yes, Lord. Purity, indeed.)

This is not Purity, but her face glowed with this same warmth

The children are fed here, educated here, nursed here, and sheltered here until night falls. There are only four things they will ever have for lunch: beans, rice and beans, maize and beans, and ugali and beans. They drink porridge that looks more like sludge than sustenance. But they have clean water piped in from the city of Nairobi. And they have living water.

The Lord is here. He dwells with his people. He has not forsaken these precious ones who are in no way deceived about their daily, hourly, moment-by-moment need for Him and His protection and provision. They know they were made to praise Him.

The Lord brings poverty and he gives wealth; He humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile. He seats them with the noblemen and gives them a throne of honor. ~1 Samuel 2:7-8

My life no longer makes sense unless it is lived in this context. I have seen my neighbors, and they love me with the love of Jesus — an everlasting love, a love that’s capable of crossing physical, cultural, and intellectual barriers to fill me to overflowing and make my joy complete.

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Good Morning, Lord is a collection of 108 short devotions to encourage you to start your day with God. The devotions are approximately two paragraphs long and include two thought questions with space for journaling, a prayer, and a Bible verse. All of the devotions in this book were adapted from several other books by Shelia Walsh.

This book offers just the motivation I need to commit my days to God. The brief devotions offer me just enough to think about and to “chew on” for the rest of the day. Too often for me, morning quiet time becomes overwhelming because of my perfectionistic nature. This book allows me to do one small thing well.

I also think it is beautifully designed and would make a great gift.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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I recently found out that bloggers can get free copies of Thomas Nelson books at BookSneeze in exchange for a review on their blog and one other consumer website. While visiting the site, David Murrow’s The Map : the way of all great men caught my eye, and I decided to review it so I could have a copy for my church library. (If any of you other Souls out there want to jump in, I’d love to have some more free books for the library!) Author’s note on this particular title: I grew up in a family of women, except for my dad; so I must admit, men are a bit of a mystery to me.

This book draws on the structure of the book of Matthew to translate the masculine spiritual life into an actual map. The first half of the book reads as a fictional allegory, and the last half reads more like a traditional self-help title. (I know, all the men are running away now! But wait!...)

Here’s a quote from Murrow himself (p.204):

Do you watch guy movies? If so, you’ve seen the three journeys played out many times on the silver screen. See if this plotline sounds familiar: A cocky young stud decides to confront some evil in his own strength. He’s nearly killed by the bad guys. Suddenly an aged, wrinkled man shows up and gives the villains a whuppin’. The old coot offers to train the immature hothead. The student humbles himself and accepts the training of the master (submission). He develops true physical and mental toughness (strength). Eventually our young hero meets his adversary and, after a back-and-forth battle, defeats him in spectacular fashion, sometimes dying in the process (sacrifice).

I like the way David Murrow tries to do away with the apparent disconnect between traditional masculinity (a la John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone, or even, say, Ralph Macchio) and Christian culture as we know it. I know some men who could stand to read this book; but will the type of man who needs to read it actually pick up a book like this?

I suspect that’s why Murrow opens the book with fictional tale of intrigue and adventure that he later ties together with his theories about the stages of Christian discipleship as they relate to male masculinity. I was not completely comfortable with this vehicle because the librarian in me knew this book was nonfiction, yet I spent the whole first half of the book trying to figure out if any of this was real or not; which for me, was a distraction.

The basic premise of the last half of the book is that the male journey of discipleship takes place in three distinct phases: submission, strength, and sacrifice. And that God requires different things of men during each stage of the journey. I found this comparison quite useful, and I enjoyed thinking about my own journey of faith in this way. Murrow also outlines ways men sometimes go astray in their faith journey and closes by thinking about how men can mentor and be mentored in discipleship.

This book isn’t actually as exciting or sexy as it tries to make itself out to be. It’s a traditional self-help book wrapped in a manly package, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anything that encourages people towards a growing, authentic faith is OK in my book. My hope is that many men will read this title and become better able to grow closer to God in the process.

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