"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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

New Faces, New Fears

We are nearing the end of Term 2 and after making the difficult decision to board Rachel, Julia and Caleb at RVA we anticipate quality time together during the break.  Our children have done wonderfully during this season and have embraced deepening their relationships with friends in the dorm.  They also have outstanding dorm parents which has been a blessing.   
We’ve also seen a lot of change at Oasis over the last few months. We’ve added more than 30 children to the Oasis programs!  It’s been an exciting time to see the empty beds we’ve prayed over fill up and watch seasoned Oasis children welcome new friends with open arms.
A few months ago, an insightful 8th grader asked me this question, “Do kids like coming to a children’s home or do they look at it negatively?”  It’s a great question.  Children who join an Oasis home eat nutritious meals.  Most of them sleep in beds with blankets and mosquito nets for the first time.  They have their health, educational, and social needs addressed.  They are surrounded by loving staff who genuinely care for them. It seems like an easy yes and it’s actually a resounding, “YES!” over time.  
We’ve had our staff go through the exercise* below and it helps answer the question in an eye-opening way so they understand what the children feel like at first.  We thought you may like to try it with your family. 
Answer the following questions:

Who is important in my life?

Significant Person _______________________

What groups do I belong to?

Group ________________________________

What do I do that gives my life meaning?

Meaning/Role __________________________

What gives me a sense of joy?

Source of Joy ___________________________

In what do I hold strong beliefs?              

System of Value _________________________

How do I know about and preserve my past?

History ________________________________

What locations or places are important to me?

Places _________________________________
These answers define who you are. They include everything of value to you and make up your identity. This is YOU! 
Now, look carefully at your answers and choose one and cross it out.  In your mind, take it out of your life completely.  Decide that you will live the rest of your life without that piece included. Think about being without this piece of your life for a few minutes. 
Then, do it again. Remove another piece.  Consider it no longer a part of who you are and sit with this for a few moments. 
Though it’s difficult, do it again.  Take out another piece of your life.  Cross it out completely and remove it from your life.  How are you doing?
It gets even harder.  Do it again.  Completely erase another area of your life. 
And again take out another important piece of you.     
Finally, do it again.  Remove one of the last two pieces of your life.  You can remain with one thing.  Just one.  Everything else is gone.
You just walked through an excruciating exercise and got to choose what you would remove from your life.  This is how children walk into our children’s homes but they don’t have a choice in what they lose.  They have literally lost almost everyone, everything, and every place that is important to them.  

We can tell them they are lucky to be at the home and that they will have everything they need. We can tell them they should be grateful, but the truth is, when they first arrive, they’re not.  They would rather have their parents back, or even their dysfunctional family and their crowded floor to sleep on with their brothers, sisters and cousins because it’s familiar and it is home.  
It’s why new children come to us with a blank stare and why they run away sometimes and why it takes time to feel safe and secure. It’s why ensuring children remain connected to their guardian family is one of the most important things we do.  It is why finding Jesus is critical because life IS hard and though everything else can change, He will not. 
We know from experience this changes over time as these children feel physically better from improved food and health care.  We know from experience, they will embrace this opportunity and they will find hope, education, joy, and Jesus.  We know they will connect with the staff and find life-long friendships with children who share their experiences. We know they will feel like their family has grown. We know what's coming... in time.
Please be praying for the new children at Oasis as they adjust.  And please pray for our staff who are working tirelessly to ensure these children feel welcomed and loved.  
*This exercise used with permission from Back to Back Ministries

Monday, January 2, 2017

Christmas and New Year's Greetings!

Warm Christmas and New Years 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… 
means a little bit more!'*

Things that mean “a little bit more” in our lives:
Rick – God’s provision through faithful supporters. Jesus’ redemption. Small group. The CUBS winning the WORLD SERIES!!!
Ann –The saints who regularly pray for us. Jesus, because my life is hidden in His. A husband who kills snakes and tarantulas. Puzzles. The Smitherene's. 209 children being supported by 295+ people.
Katie – A summer home in Kenya. Trip to the Dominican Republic. God, opening doors to serve. Consistent grace. Business classes at Notre Dame. Sister-like roommates. Being at Wrigley the night of the CUBS win! 
Rachel – Quality friends. A wise mentor. Getting accepted to college. The Oasis kiddos. God, who’s ways our bigger than ours. 
Julia – Sleeping in. Parents who love us. Dinner every night. God’s forgiveness and grace.
Caleb – Katie coming home for Christmas. God answering prayer. Fun and funny friends. Short notice parents. 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Monday, November 7, 2016

Broken and Hungry...

By Katie Smith

What in the world is God doing with all of these broken hearts and hungry souls? This is the question on my heart and in my mind. When I travel, I see them - the child searching hopelessly for love, the woman aching with pain from abuse, the old man starved of hope. When I am in the U.S., I see them as well – the middle school-aged child running away from home, the driven college student chasing grades, the lonely kid on a Friday night who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

I think there is this strange dynamic around the world consisting of two groups of hungry people; one group (usually the more Westernized group) is hungry for purpose. They chase drugs and sex and alcohol and violence, hoping that something will fill their hungry hearts. The second group is literally hungry. They beg, grow thin, and starve hoping that something will fill their stomachs or someone will provide shelter to protect them at night. The first group has resources but no joy because material possessions leave you joyless. The second group has a glimpse of the love-strong relationship found in suffering with Christ and, shockingly, lives with more joy. But they don’t really live; they “get by” because of injustice and poverty.

And I can’t help but think... 

What if the first group reached out to the second group? What if the empty people found the hungry people and were able to recognize that there really aren’t any differences, that we are all in need of Something Greater than this world can satisfy? What if the people who are empty in the United States gave to the people who are hungry in the Third World and we were all filled with God’s holy joy and purpose for our lives? This is the banquet dreamed about in Luke 14. This is the dream behind the Greatest Banquet – filling each other. 

What if the millennial generation used their blessedness to be a blessing? What if we full-heartedly embodied Christ’s love, the starting point for change and the wrapping paper for all of God’s other gifts? Not only would the hungry begin to receive food, shelter, healthcare, education, and a chance to break free of the cycle of poverty, but the empty would begin to be fulfilled because they would experience the joy of giving. 

It’s my hope and my dream to see the millennial generation rise up and take a stance against evil by embracing the love God has given them. Imagine what the world would look like if we took what our generation is called, Generation Me, turned it 180 degrees around, and become Generation YOU. Imagine the joy and peace that would abound if we live for each other instead of ourselves. Are you hungry? Reach out. Fill and be filled by Love. 

I wrote this in my journal on a cold day last December after all my classes were unexpectedly cancelled. God placed a dream inside of me to see young people reach out to the needy around them and create change simply because they are so in love with God.

Although I didn’t know what would come of it at the time, I felt like this dream involved uniting the people I know and love in Kenya who are in desperate situations to the people I know and love in the United States who are eager to serve in various ways. 

This dream came true for me last week. 13 students from 11 different colleges applied for passports and visas so they could fly to the land full of fresh chai, lush gardens, and 196 orphaned children I consider my family. 

We journeyed through the country, tirelessly engaging children, peers, and adults in conversation and soaking up the richness of relationship. We filled ourselves up with the love of God and learned what it means to intentionally and immediately love those around us. But mostly, we said “yes” to God whenever He changed our plans or prompted us to move. 

We danced ridiculously in church with an entire community instead of eating lunch alone as a team. We cleaned toilets and made each other laugh to the point of tears instead of getting a good night’s rest. We embraced the joy of adventure instead of anxiety when we got lost in the dark on our team-bonding hike. (Let me tell you, we bonded.) 

So, I’ll tell you what I think God is doing with all these broken hearts and hungry souls: I believe He allows us to be broken by our sin so He can knit us into a tapestry of love, redeeming us by His mysterious and powerful grace”(Colossians 2:2-4). He allows us to hurt so that we can unite with and impact others, and through impacting others, experience Him more fully. 

I saw it these past two weeks: how the soul-hungry reached out to the literally-hungry, and we all found joy. We found joy because when God asked us to go and make disciples of all nations, He meant it; and, the only true fulfillment we will ever find is in God’s calling for our lives. 

We give, serve, and love not only because it’s what God has called us to do, not only because it meets the needs of others, and not only because we find tremendous joy in doing so, but we do it because we are so ridiculously blessed by our Father in Heaven. 

Do you ache to see a world that smiles, is full of compassion, and is so empowered by love that it conquers evil? Are you ready to fill and be filled by Love? 

Thanks for being a part of our lives... DREAMS CAN COME TRUE!! 

Monday, February 1, 2016

To SEE...

Every morning as I crawl out of bed, the first thing I reach for is my glasses.  I want to SEE, definitely not myself, not at 6am. But, I want to see. I want to clearly see what’s in front of me, and I want to see my people.

I recently read a story in the Old Testament about an African girl who was taken from her village and forced to work as a slave for a prominent family far from her home country. The man of the house impregnated her against her will.  She was legitimately angry and became rebellious.  This didn’t sit well with the missus, who verbally and physically abused her, causing her to run away into the wilderness.  Alone, destitute and heavy with child, she sat to rest by a spring.

Inexplicably, as she sat there, God Himself appeared and spoke to her. He told her to return and serve this abusive lady and to do it with a change of attitude. God even told her she was carrying a son, who would grow to be a pain in the a** (the actual word used was donkey, but the point was clear). She was overwhelmed and humbled by God’s visit to her and His interest in her life. She gave Him the name Elroi, “the God who sees.”  This is the story of the slave girl Hagar from the Old Testament.

To see – really see - beyond the visible, into the heart, illuminating the darkness has penetrated my mind’s eye as I’ve read about Hagar. God sees. It’s one of my favorite things about Him. He sees our true condition, our affliction, our joy. God sees and He acts.  He spoke words of truth, words of direction and words of encouragement over Hagar, and He does the same for us.

Last week, we took Isaac to the hospital. That statement alone is a miracle, and I love that his name hearkens back to the story of Hagar. Isaac is a new little guy at The Shelter.  He came with his younger brother, from whom he’s been separated since they were orphaned two years ago. Coming from a polygamous family, his stepmother, who was also widowed when the boys’ father died, couldn’t care for both of them along with her own seven children. She sent Isaac to live with a pastor, but he struggled to provide food, let alone schooling, for Isaac because he had twelve other orphans in his care.

Isaac had been having some pain and trouble with his bowels, but did not complain because, as far as he could remember, this was normal.  The keen eyes of the Shelter mama found him stressed in the bathroom and the bowl full of blood. She alerted us, and we acted immediately. Thankfully, under the watchful eye of the doctor at Tenwek Hospital, the source of the problem was uncovered and repaired, and he was sent home to heal.

God sees.  He sees His children.  God saw Isaac when no one else did, and He acted.  He brought Isaac to The Shelter. The mama saw him and brought his issues to light. His sponsor and the Angel sponsors saw him and provided the means to receive medical attention. The doctor saw him and brought him healing.  His problem has been seen, known, and addressed. 

Even more than that, Isaac is receiving loving care and his physical, spiritual, social and educational needs are beginning to be addressed.  He’s only five, but he’s so thankful. He’s thankful for food and a bed.  He’s thankful to be with his brother again.  He’s thankful to be healing.

We too want to see.  In 2016, we want to see the way God saw desperate Hagar, the way He saw suffering little Isaac. We want to see into issues more clearly, more completely and more compassionately.  I’m thankful we were able to see this story unfold.  I look forward to sharing what God shows us this year.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Beautiful Mess

It is a holy experience, when God brings a needy child into our path. There’s something in those moments, similar to a birth or an adoption, where the presence of God is tangibly felt as He entrusts the care of one of His seen children into our hands.   Words aren’t enough because it’s deep and precious, and bold and outrageous. Thinking back, there’s a knowing, that God was there, and deep soul emotion stirs on remembering because of it’s significance on many levels.  And over time, as that child becomes known, the significance grows.

That is how it was the day I met Anna, Sammi, and Eman*.  The moment and the meeting was steeped in God’s favor. There wasn’t smiling, laughing or embracing, just an awareness that God was moving and that we were supposed to get involved. It was a holy moment.

Their story is heart wrenching and messy. They have the same mother, but unknown fathers. Hurting and broken, mama had turned to drugs and alcohol to mask her pain, and prostitution to support her addictions.  In an unnatural moment she locked them in a house and left. Screaming with fear and hunger, the children were found by neighbors and brought to the hospital suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. Eight-year-old Anna was hungry, but physically ok.  She had never been to school. Two-year-old Sammi and seven month old Eman were near death, weighing less than 10 pounds and less than 5 pounds respectively. They are lucky to be alive. The hospital social worker asked us to take the children to the Oasis home when the month long search for the mother came up empty. 

We’re still looking for their mama.  She also needs help. Further investigations are also ongoing to determine if there is other family who could or should be involved but until then, they will remain safely at the Oasis home. 

Anna started school this month and was thrilled to have a uniform, her first new clothes ever. Her smile was radiant. The boys are improving slowly and have just begun smiling. What God will do with these three, only He knows but I am thankful to have been invited into their beautiful mess. 
*names have been changed for privacy 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Warm Christmas Greetings from the Smith's

Warm Christmas Greetings from the Smith's!

Thank you for being a part of our lives and for growing with us over 2015. This year is marked by refocus and renewal in our personal and professional lives. 

In addition to family and Jesus, these are the things we are thankful for in 2015:

Friends who can stitch up your forehead
People who make living in Kenya possible
Texting Katie during ND football games
New staff, missionaries and partners
Fishing and golf 

Ann -
Our kids character growth
Friends who provided a visit to Paris
Relational time with people in the US
The connecting power of the internet 
Rick's ability to scare monkeys and baboons out of the house
Seeing children's lives changed 

Katie - 
New beginnings 
Notre Dame
Hearing God's voice
World travel
Costa Rica

Rachel -
Teaching piano
New Oasis kids 
Henna tattoos
Water Skiing!

Domino's! We welcome you to Kenya!

Julia - 
Domino's Pizza in Kenya
The flute
Parisian ├ęclairs 
Formal dresses 
Airport surprises

Caleb -
Rugby. The trumpet. Healthy teeth and friends. Burger day. Mombasa. 

He'll probably hate this some day...but he's just SO CUTE!

Now may the Lord of peace Himself 
continually grant you peace in every circumstance. 
The Lord be with you all.
(2 Thess 3:16)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Coming Home

“Do you feel like Kenya is home or the US is home?” she asked me with a quizzical look on her face.

Thinking for a minute and knowing the answer sub-conciously, but verbalizing it for the fist time, I replied, “I feel like I have two homes.”

How do I begin to describe the longing we have to be in both places at once? 

We love America.  It’s the greatest country on earth.  We logged over 5000 miles on our car visiting friends and family and churches.  Our culture is there.  Our daughter goes to university there. Good roads, customer service, resources, infrastructure, convenience, Lou Malnatti’s, etc. It’s all there. 

Ann's Side of the Family

Rick's Side of the Family
It’s also hard to be in America.  It’s overwhelming and consumeristic and expensive and complicated. Time is over us. We feel obligated to be punctual, even in the middle of a good conversation. It’s over efficient at the expense of relationship.

Katie's Graduation from RVA

We love Kenya.  It’s the second greatest country on earth.  Our friends and family and church are here.  Our way of life is here.  People deliver milk, flowers, meat, and other helpful things to our door who stop to chat.  Time is under us. Friends pop in unannounced and stay for chai and work gets pushed aside for relationship. 

It’s also hard to be in Kenya.  It’s impoverished and slow.  The customer is never right. Excellence is hard to find. Everything is done by hand – road construction, excavation, foundation work, etc. Corruption in leadership and government impacts everyone. It’s under efficient at the expense of progression.

With that said, we feel like we came home and then we went home!  And though there are blessings and challenges no matter where we go, we feel we are right where we are supposed to be.  We are excited about pressing in to the vision to restore more children.  We are humbled by the magnitude of what lies before us but are confident that God has a plan and know that our daily reliance on Him for direction is the critical piece to moving forward.

Thank you for being a part of our lives we loved seeing you and love seeing you!