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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Putting faces to the facts

Kijabe Hospital Paediatrics . . children come from nearby villages or from neighboring countries, some with major surgical problems that can not be treated very many other places south of Cairo or North of Johannesburg. Some come with the same issues that kill most children in the world: hunger, socially non-coping parents, exposure to lethal infections, poor quality water and food and education. And many come without the resources to pay for their care, even though that care is offered at about 1% of the cost of similar care in the States. Since this is a not-for-profit hospital belonging to the Africa Inland Church, we seek to help all of them, while still paying our Kenyan staff and maintaining a decent facility. Which is easier said than done. So some years ago other missionary physicians started a "Needy Children's Fund" to subsidize the care of select patients who were so poor they couldn't even afford the minimal fees charged by Kijabe. Here are a few of the kids we've helped with that fund this week. The first is a 16 month old girl with Kwashiorkor, peeking around her mom's shoulder as she rides on her back, similar to my patients in Bundibugyo. Malnutrition, a mom that weaned her too early and was unable to provide enough food, a father who seems to be at odds with the rest of the family. A treatable condition that is too often fatal. The second is a 10 year old boy who had been progressively more and more tired, unable to play and run like he used to, until in the last two weeks his whole body began to swell up. He was in heart failure, and we subsidized his referral to a cardiologist for an echo in Nairobi which confirmed that he was born with a major structural heart defect (common AV valve). The cardiologist helped us get him on a good combination of medicines, and he left feeling MUCH better. The third is a 3 year old who came in with a bad cough and was found to have TB, which lead to the diagnosis that she and her mom are both infected with the HIV virus. Now they are being treated for TB and AIDS, and what would have been a few months' decline until death can be redeemed into a decade or two (or more?) of life. All three of these children would have been dead within a few weeks or months without treatment. All three will have ongoing challenges, but left improved and hopeful. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, follow this link to: Kijabe Hospital Needy Children's Fund You will have to type "For Needy Children's Fund Kijabe Hospital 70351" in the comment box to be sure the money goes directly to help children like this. As you do to the least of these . . . I think Jesus thanks you.


Transitions.  Again.

Goodbye to Luke, he walked through the airport security alone, again, this is now beginning our fourth year of sending him to another country from the rest of the family for school.  At 18, he's already walked this path many times.  My confidence in him carries me through the airport scene, where we all stand huddled in Maasai blankets peering through the glass.  But when we get home and he's not there, it aches.  And when we hear that he was singled out for security checks, had his trunks pulled and opened on the tarmac in Istanbul with Turkish airline officials brandishing his Maasai swords and him explaining that they are "cultural artifacts", we're glad for his poise but sad that he was in that situation (images of a Turkish jail . . . ).  And when we get a facebook message from a friend and my mom, who drove him back to Yale from DC, we're so thankful for their care, but sad that we aren't the ones helping him settle into his new dorm, or anywhere available as he's told to brace for the hurricane and stay in his dorm today.

And hello to Jessica, Anna, and the Massos.  Dr. Jessica from our Bundibugyo team is here for a month at Kijabe to gain experience in OB, and Miss Anna is here to substitute teach at RVA.  The entire Masso family is here to settle Acacia in as a new RVA student.  As Anna pointed out, it was like a Bundi Saturday night, tacos at the Myhres with a dozen at the table.  We are blessed to be here in missionary central, a place where others from our teams can come for specific boosts.  This morning we all attended chapel together, filling a whole row of the folding chairs.  Mr. Crumley the chaplain brought us God's word from 1 Samuel, the story of Hannah, who gave her child up to the Lord.  Another paradox of faith, that those who lose will gain, that life comes from death.  The call to missions is fraught with so many goodbyes, such transition and loss.  What kind of God would ask that of us, he queried?  The God who went through the same thing Himself, the God who works all things for the good of those who are called, the God who will bring us all back together for eternity and wipe every tear.

We hold to these truths by faith, in the storm of transitions.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The ocean recedes, rhythmically. The tide is going out, slowly, stepwise, leaving a flat white stretch of sand.

This week has been that for us. A quiet declining tide, washing away long nights of anxious call, sadnesses of bereaved mothers, months of separation as a family, and a year of extreme change. 12 1/2 months ago we left our home in Bundibugyo, with the life, ministry, friends, purpose that had fallen to us there. In this year Scott transitioned to a new role as Field Director, our first kid went to college, we traveled through months and miles to visit countless people, we moved to a new country, fixed up and furnished and entered a new house, started new work, and have studied a new language. Like a high tide, this year has churned up a lot of sand and seaweed. It's murky. That's a lot of transition and loss and recovery. A lot has been great, cheering kids from the sidelines of their games rather than from a poor phone connection a continent away, re-learning so much of medicine that had lain dormant and musty, being blessed by the community and atmosphere at Kijabe. So much has been hard, watching the team we love struggle with unexpected sicknesses and loss of personnel and cutting back of programs and feeling unsupported, holding on to kids through disappointments and struggles, saying more goodbyes. So we really needed this low-tide break, these accumulated days of sun and breeze and quiet. No agenda, no projects, not really accomplishing much. Reading, sleeping, swimming. Emptying. Letting the crashing surf of this year ease back. Creating a space.

On Thursday we will move from this rented house to the small cottages we booked for our whole East Africa Field. And I think it will be time for the tide to turn, to begin to come back in. So we are praying that the space created by this week of rest will be filled with God himself. Not with plans or worries or strategies, but with His presence. Please pray that for us, with us.

Friday, August 12, 2011

just another day in paradise

The click of palm fronds in the ocean wind, swaying branches silhouetted, dark and papery against the bright day. A misting rain moves in, and out, leaving damp tiles that steam in the sun. Fishermen push heavy wooden canoes through the shallows, bumping over the waves of a receding tide, to reach the rich waters as dawn breaks. The thin dark arc of monkey's tails as the shy group of sykes brushes through trees, pausing to pick fruits. Thick adobe walls, brick floors, grass mats, pillows, thatch roof, dark shutters open to the fresh ocean air, house on a coral cliff, outside and inside blending without barrier. The smell of sea foam on sunscreened skin. The soft give of sand. The sweetness of coconut rice, the creaminess of a seaweed sauce, the firm chewiness of octopus, the charcoaled flake of grilled snapper. Books, more books.
Yesterday, trip to Shimoni, people milling about the cement pier, the piles of vegetable oil and plastic cups being loaded onto a huge wooden dhow. We board a small creaking swahili fishing boat, the motor sputters to life after the captain pulls an extra spark plug out of a plastic bag of greasy miscellaneous parts. We leave the harbor heading for a protected reef, the boat rising and slapping against the churning water, which gets rougher as clouds gather. Our little crew scrambles to pull a tarp out and rig it over the mast as we huddle, chilled, wondering what in the world we got ourselves into, the sea tossing our small boat, then we pass through to cloud-filtered sun. Two kids pale and queasy; two unaffected. Then we are there, anchoring near a small atoll, pulling on flippers and masks and snorkels, slipping over the side of the boat into the aqua water, bright blue. Beneath the surface, another world. Purple and golden corals, lumps and fans and lace and castle, mushrooms of rock. A school of mustard-colored sleek fish disperses and re-forms. Every color, every size, every pattern of creature darts around. Long sleek, thin; fluorescent blue on emerald green; yellow stripes and black spots. Floating, drifting, kicking, chasing, the bubbling effervescence of someone else's fins kicking. Julia pulls my arm to point out sea turtles, two, gracefully and slowly flying through the waters. The boys dart down to touch an octopus which has retreated into a cave. Later three dolphins swim through, playful, glimpses of silver fins. Back to the boat after two hours of swimming over the reef, another moment of doubt as the dhow teeters aground in shallows, we wait for the rising tide to allow our return.

Paradise is in the setting, but moreso in the wholeness of being together, time to discuss majors and futures, applications and ideas. Time to rest. A Sabbath from the agendas and demands of others. Sunrise on the flat roof patio, prayer and scripture. Late evenings watching a video as the moon shines on the water. Very thankful to be here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


First wildlife spotting of the trip: a warthog in the parking lot of the shopping mall in Nairobi where we stopped for breakfast and supplies.
Most tense moment of the trip: the gate at Tsavo, where the KWS had to make a ruling on whether we were residents or not. Visiting a park in Kenya is not cheap. For our family of six, including Luke now as a post-18th-bday adult, to spend two nights in the park camping with all our own gear and food, our own car, no guides or drivers or extras . . we pay about $150 as residents. But if we were tourists, we would pay bout $600. Actually, we wouldn't pay it, we just wouldn't go. So we had spent the time to be fingerprinted and temporarily registered as aliens when our long-awaited residence permit was still delayed, we had sms'd with a park tourism officer, we had stopped at the headquarters of the KWS . . all good news . . but in the end all that mattered was the lady at the gate. Who was not impressed with our receipts, our explanations, our insistence. So she called her boss. Listening through the Kiswahili one-sided conversation we weren't hopeful. But she hung up, and pronounced, "He said that because you are missionaries, you can pay the resident rate". Ahh, so none of our efforts mattered, but God provided.
Most exhilarating moment: Dawn, wrapped in Maasai blankets on the roof rack, bumping along the dirt track, stopping to watch a baby giraffe nurse, then looking up and behold, in the background, Mt. Kilimanjaro in all its glory, bathed in the light of the rising sun, purple and massive with the barest hint of a snow fringe outlining the crater. We knew we were close to the Kenya/TZ border, but honestly we've been in this area, even right at the BASE of Kili before, and never had a view due to clouds. So we had not really thought about seeing Africa's highest peak from Tsavo, until there it was.
Most delicious: toss-up between the chili we cooked up the first night, after setting up our tents, as the sun set and our campfire blazed and Caleb played his guitar . . and the brunch of grilled chicken with roasted carrots, onions, and pasta the next day. Yes, it was ALMOST lunch time, but we realized our cool-bag was not very cool, and thought our chicken might not make it 'til dinner time without making us sick, so we moved up our main meal. Which left us free to picnic on bread, cheese, wine and chocolate atop the Roaring Rocks viewpoint at sunset.
Most disappointing: The rhino-less rhino reserve. A swathe of the park is fenced as a protected area for the nearly-extinct black rhino. A large swathe. It is only open from 4 to 6 pm, and it was about a two-hour drive from our camp site (this is one HUGE park). The drive there was spectacular, in fact the scenery is almost as striking as the animals. Bare red rocky cliffs with tiny klipspringers standing at attention at eye-level as we drive by, elephants bathed in the red dust ambling through the brush (we watched one push over a big tree!), tiny dik-diks darting out of the road, we drove and drove. A lava flow from volcanic activity in the last few hundred years, still black and rough and massive and bare. Winding up hills and into valleys. An ostrich who played chicken with us, staying in the middle of the road until we braked (proving that ostrich are not chickens). By the time we reached the reserve, we had only about a half hour to see the rhinos and drive back by dark. So we were a bit taken a back to realize that one doesn't just drive into the gate and view them. There are supposedly 70 within the fenced area. We drove, and drove. Up one trail and down another, criss-crossing. It was the only place in the park where we ran into lots of other vehicles, pop-top vans sprouting long lenses and big binoculars and hopeful guests. All kicking up dust and looking for the elusive rhinos. We never saw a single one, or found a car who had. For something so large, they can disappear in the thick tangle of bare bushes, grey bark and and grey skin. Or perhaps they don't really exist. Who knows.
Most painful: The roads, by far. The classic corrugated wash-board effect. No matter how slowly you go, or how fast, it feels like your car and your spine are being systematically disassembled.

Most unlikely spottings: By Caleb, a crocodile sunning on a rock as we walked through a literal oasis. The Mzima springs, where water literally bubbles up out of the ground, having been collected and filtered by the nearby Chyungu Hills into an underground water table, it suddenly bursts out in the dry savannah, a fully-formed river in midstream, surrounded by palms, an unlikely spot of green. Blue fish dart about in the clear water, and an armed guard escorts visitors from the parking area to the spring source. But after miles and miles of near desert, a crocodile on a rock was sort of shocking. And by Luke, a leopard sauntering away into the bush, at noon no less, and a few minutes from the park gate as we were about to exit. Though Tsavo is synonymous with man-eating lions, and we heard hyenas during the night, we did not see any dangerous carnivores in 47 1/2 hours . . until the last minute.

Most satisfying boy-moments: Not politically correct I'm sure, but people who shall remain unnamed seemed to derive great satisfaction from aiming harmless slingshot-slung volcanic rocks at the fat little rock hyraxes, and finally it one (a mere sting, nothing lethal). And in running around our campsite with a slingshot and knife as we packed up and the baboon troop moved in, hoping to find our leftovers. It was a bit eerie to be stalked like that, dozens of the baboons moving through the site, keeping a perimeter, waiting. One darted up and stole a carrot in a ziplock bag where I was washing out our cool-bag and packing up cooking items, but I think we packed the rest out carefully. So I was glad to have one of the boys on watch with weapons.
Most unusual animals: the Lesser Kudu, the Orynx, the Eland, all large antelopes which we rarely saw in Uganda. And the lone wildebeest hanging out with a herd of zebra.

And lastly, the best planning, as it turns out: coming to the coast after the game park, to beds and showers and seafood and luxuries like chairs, after two days on rocks and campfires.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Aliens and Strangers

Nyayo house, 7:30 a.m. on a foggy cold Friday morning.  We have braved near-zero visibility along the ridge of the Rift to get into Nairobi early.  Traffic is surprisingly light, and we slip easily into a nearby parking area and pay our fees.  A dozen police in military-like camouflage fatigues mill about the entrance, each armed with a brutal-looking heavy stick in addition to their guns.  This is the city that riots, and they are ready.  Nyayo house was notorious for torture and abuse in past administrations.  Now it houses the immigration department.  We pass through the front gates of the grim city multi-story structure, and are told not to enter the spacious front doors.  Instead there is a sign that directs "aliens" around to the side. 

We're early, and though the offices open at 8, people drift in slowly.  We are accompanied by a brand-new early-20's administrative assistant from the hospital, with her curled hair, slim jeans, dainty glasses, and constant reference to her cell phone, she is quiet and polite and sweet, but this is a new scene for her too.  Thankfully the AIC has sent another experienced man who barely acknowledges us before his business-like approach to one barred window after another while we sit and wait.  As it turns out, we're really only there for the purpose of 4 signatures and 20 fingerprints, he does everything else for us, whisking our passports from one station to the next.  A whilte middle-aged lady chats in Italian to a small Kenyan boy who calls her mom; Africans sit and talk in Swahili and compare their papers. We're hopeful with the efficiency until we reach the final stage, the actual finger-printing.  The office, it turns out, is being cleaned.  Several women with rubber gloves, buckets, towels are bustling around the office, and we are told to wait on a bench outside the door.  For about 45 minutes, while they mop and wipe and chat and come in and out.  People come and go, a line accumulates, but no one seems perturbed.  There is an Indian family, a couple of non-Kenyan Africans, a European nun, and us, each with various Kenyan facilitators.  But always room for one more on the bench, until we are so pressed we can't move.  

And though we were the first in that group to arrive, we're the last called for the printing.  A bored young man takes us one by one, holding our fingers, rolling them also one by one, along a black wooden block covered by a film of ink.  Then he presses them into the correct boxes on a piece of paper.  We're offered a little cotton-wool to wipe our fingers very ineffectively.  And that's it.  It takes about one minute.  Or five hours, depending on how you look at it.

Now we have a temporary alien registration, so we won't be arrested and sent to jail if anyone looks at our passports and questions why we've been in the country seven months on tourist visas (three months, then out to Uganda, then three more, which just expired).  

After almost 18 years in Africa now, I don't usually feel so much like an alien. But it is very alienating to be labeled as such.  It takes away the illusion that we belong.  Hebrews calls us aliens and strangers, like Abraham, leaving our home land and looking for something.  For that substance of things hoped for.  For healed babies and changed hearts, for abundant water and an end to hunger.  For a home that we will not likely find, here.

Tomorrow we will wander a bit further.  Since January we've been working pretty hard, even our two-week-trip in April was to Bundibugyo, not exactly a vacation even though we're glad to have been able to visit.  Luke goes back soon, and so we put in a request for leave for 2 weeks again.  We will camp at a game park and then stay in a house we rented off the internet from the owners in Mombasa, the first 9 days being pure vacation.  Then from Aug 18-22 we will lead a retreat for all the WHM missionaries in Africa, arriving back in Nairobi a few hours before Luke flies out to his second year of University in the states.  Then back to work.

Pray for us aliens to rest in our real home, even as we travel.  Pray for all the details of the retreat to fall together as we gather aliens and strangers from four African countries, and try to create an opportunity for God to speak to them.  Pray for us as a family to be blessed by this time apart.