"And if you SPEND YOURSELVES on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday."

"The Lord will continually guide you. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."- Isaiah 58:10-11

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Big Kids at Oasis

Last month we spent a week reconnecting with the high school, college, and vocational students.  Many of these students, we’ve known, loved and poured into for more than 10 years!  As with our own children, each walks a unique journey, making both good and bad choices along the way, ultimately growing and learning with each decision. We want to share some of the things we’re thankful for about their journeys.  

We personally asked James* to lead the group discussion time for the Freshman and Sophomore boys.  The fact it was possible to make this request, much less to be enthusiastic about it, demonstrates dramatic life change. James has a history of self-indulgence and hedonism.  He has been deeply hurt and turned to deeply hurting himself and others to try to mitigate his pain.  Over the last year, amidst a ‘tough-love’ environment, he has faced his struggles head on.  He has apologized and found restitution with others. He has forgiven himself. He’s found an intimate connection with God as his Father and found grace and mercy. He’s on a path to growing wholeness.  His joy and new found freedom is contagious.  I was so thankful for his vulnerability with the younger boys and the positive discussions that ensued.

Betty has been consistently faithful since she was a small girl.  She’s still is. She loves others so well and it’s encouraging to be a part of seeing her mature.  She wants to be a teacher.  I think she’ll have a profound influence on the next generation. Her future impact is why we’re presently here.  She, and others like her, are the solution.

Mercy and Grace are really struggling.  They’ve made some poor choice and it is heartrending to see them suffer the consequences. Their futures feel bleak right now. We cried together and put our arms around them and reminded them they are always, ALWAYS loved. Loving a broken someone, when someone has loved broken you, is gift.

We're thankful for everyone who makes it possible to do what we do in Kenya.  Blessings to you.

*Names changed to value privacy

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Beauty of Going Home

Today was nostalgic and sentimental for me.

I met Agnes* in 2009 when she was six months pregnant.  She was 13. She was embarrassed and shy and unsure of the new people who were now interested in her life. She gradually warmed up and became a joyful side-kick to whatever I was doing. She’s one of my favorites.

Agnes is fun and funny.  She has a hilariously sarcastic sense of humor. She loves to laugh and easily elicits joy in others. Agnes is discerning and truthful and unafraid to speak her mind. It’s helpful when she’s revealing hidden motives of situations she’s observed. It’s helpful when she senses someone’s needs or when she’s advocating for someone wrongly accused.  But it’s hard when she’s hurting and wants control over every decision.

Agnes is lovely and Agnes is broken. She was orphaned at a young age and moved in with an older sister who also died.  Her uncle, who makes charcoal as subsistence living, took her in.  Hating this change and wrought with emotional pain, she wandered around in defiance. In her wandering, she was taken advantage of and became pregnant. She was brought to us in this condition, expectant and hurting.

Agnes is bright. She finished primary school, performing well on her exams and was set up in high school for a successful future. I envisioned her finishing college and creating a sweet life for her and her child.  We shared this dream regularly and she’d talk excitedly about someday buying a big car her son would drive her around in.

Life has a way of bringing past reality to the surface.  It can be incredibly painful.  As Oasis children navigate their hurt, there are several types of responses that ensue.  Agnes’s response was to RUN!  At the height of her potential, Agnes, among the top five students in her school, ran away with a cunning man who promised her love and freedom.  He lied and left and she crawled back for help and delivered her second child, who died after a month from an incurable heart condition.

Agnes returned to school, determined to finish and go to college. But, shortly after, she fell for another man who was even more convincing. He too lied and he forced her to abort her third baby. During this time, of her own volition, she left the Oasis program.

Agnes has continued to regularly call me to let me know how she is doing. In 2014, she married a good man and gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Purity. (I feel the weight of the declaration of a transformed future in this name.) When she called the following year, her husband was working far away making very little money.  She was hungry and desperate and couldn’t feed the baby.  We worked out a plan for her to attend tailoring school and she proudly graduated in July of 2017.

Through all of this Agnes’ son has remained in the Oasis program. We’ve watched him grow from a tiny baby to a delightful young man over the last 9 years.  We adore him as we do his mom!

This brings me to the present.  Today was the day that Agnes’ son transitioned home. Agnes just started a job in a small tailoring shop a thirty-minute walk from her home.  She’s expecting another child.  Her husband has work building the railroad. He loves her and all her children. Her son was thrilled to go home.  He is going to thrive because he has a family that loves him.

It’s our dream for every child to find a loving family environment with people who know them and know their story. Agnes and her husband have established a simple home and are building a loving family. We’re proud of them for this. Agnes’ son will remain in the Oasis guardian program until the family can get their feet under them. We’ll be covering his schooling needs and checking in on him regularly. He’ll walk to and from school each day and come home each evening to be with his family!

It’s not exactly what I dreamed it would be for Agnes. There was only a little upward mobility. There’s no college education and no car. At least not yet. Maybe, hopefully, the next generation will make different decisions.  The journey with Agnes has been a lot messier and more exasperating than anticipated and has required forgiveness and ‘do-overs,’ but I’ve seen God right there in the middle of all of it, particularly the ugly parts. He’s comfortable with messy and I’m learning to be.

I’ll miss seeing Agnes’ son around and I’m sad I won’t see him daily, but I’m truly thrilled he’s home. It’s right where he should be. 

*name changed

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Greetings 2017

December 2017

Warm Christmas Greetings from the Smiths!                                                                                          
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
… Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
"Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps… means a little bit more!”
                                                                                                                  - Dr. Seuss

Things we love that ‘don’t come from a store:'

Rick: US food, homes of rest, time with Caleb, golf, well-placed books
Ann: renewed friendships, the six of us together, the Comforter, pictures
Katie: Costa Rica, sponsorship, ND Development (& football), Young Life
Julia: two home cultures, running friends, cousins, cheesecake, driving
Rachel: being alive, scholarships, college friends, Utah x 2, Passion Church
Caleb: 5000 shots, homeschool (well, maybe not…), shoes, 100 pounds!

As we’ve ended the year soaking up time in the U.S., we are so thankful for the many ways you have encouraged us and blessed us with your time, words, prayers, financial support, and friendship. May God’s blessings rest upon you!

Much Love –

Rick, Ann, Katie, Rachel, Julia, and Caleb

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rachel - Alive and Well

About three weeks into starting college at Liberty University, Rachel was hit by a car.  She was walking across a street in a crosswalk and several cars were preparing to turn left on the road in front of her.  It’s a long crosswalk so she went half way and one car turned in front of her.  She looked at the next car and thought the driver saw her so proceeded forward.  The driver didn't see her and accelerated into her, hitting her on her right side.  She slammed onto the hood of the car (thank God) and rolled off to the ground on the passenger side.  Adrenaline kept her feeling ok that night, but Saturday am she woke up feeling the weight of it.  
A friend at Liberty, who is an ER nurse, graciously went over to her dorm, took a look at her and recommended she be evaluated at a hospital.  We drove through the night to get to her and bring her to the hospital.  We were SO THANKFUL to be in the US...
She had a concussion and some deep tissue bruising but everything else checked out ok.  Some gracious friends in the area let us stay at their house while she hibernated in a dark room until she could tolerate light again. She had a hard time getting up and down the stairs because her left hip was bruised internally. 
During her recovery, the family we were staying with let their 'therapy baby' hang out with her!  This brought her SO much joy! She's missed having babies to hold in college! 
By the third day, she was able to tolerate some light and join us for meals!
Amazingly, she only missed four days of school and we were able to drop her off in her dorm to finish her semester.  She had to avoid church and chapel for a month because of the lights and noise, but she was able to go to classes and even work on her computer to finish homework.  
We are PRAISING GOD for sparing her life and for such a quick recovery.  Thank you to all of you who were praying so diligently for her!  We are thankful!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

September Update

Greetings Friends!

The Smith family is officially stateside for the next few months!

Our primary goals for our stay is to find rest, renewal, and reconnection with family and friends.  So far, we've visited family...

...enrolled Julia at Vernon Hills High School...

...settled Katie at ND and Rachel at LU...

...returned to LU after Rachel was hit by a car. Thank God she's back on her feet again...

...and started home schooling Caleb.

We've also meet with our incredible Oasis team in the US and are excited about our future in Kenya!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Little Things we LOVE About Kenya

First Tour of Duty

July 2017 

We're nearing the end of our first 'tour of duty' as Rick likes to call it. School closes for our children on July 12th, Rachel graduates the next day and then we're headed out of Kenya for a few months for rest, renewal and reconnection with family and friends before returning to Kenya at the end of December. 

As we reflect back on the last seven years, here are a few of our learnings from Kenya:

We came expecting to get a lot done in a little time.  We’ve learned nothing happens very fast. We think when we communicate something it can be easily understood.  But our perspectives are vastly different. Explaining things from a 200-year-old cultural perspective that is viewed through a 2000-year-old cultural lens is hard.  It’s challenging for both sides to see these as simply differences when it feels like right and wrong. The truth is, we both have things to learn from each other and change takes a long time.

We’ve become better at valuing relationship over task (proverbial pat on the back for us).  Being willing to sit and listen and to let everyone in the room be heard shows deference. Being willing to not make a decision because it’s going to hurt other people communicates their significance. Taking time to think through a decision (because 2000 years of history must be considered) is worthwhile. It can be frustrating and is B.R.U.T.A.L.L.Y. slow. It’s why people are still pooping in holes, but they’re vastly more content than we are. Task still feels more important many days, but we are trying. 

Even though progress seems slow, kids everywhere grow fast.  As we bring our second child to college, many of the Oasis children, who have grown alongside our kids, are also entering high school and college and becoming independent adults.  Though they don’t have a perfect story, they have a growth story and the majority of them are doing really well.  They are succeeding and failing, making good decisions and learning the hard way, and ultimately developing in the way God wants.

As we reflect back on our first tour, we stand in the tension of being disappointed over slow progress, but being grateful that so many children, including ours, have grown and developed into confident, successful young adults that are making a difference in their sphere of influence.  Hope is renewed as we see new children filling the beds of the children that are finishing their own tour of duty.