"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

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Orphans

These children are so beautiful and precious! We are getting to know most of them by name. We have spent the last two days interviewing them and learning more about their pasts. Their stories are heart rending. Most, after losing both parents, have moved to several different homes before being brought here to Oasis. I will tell you about Stephen Ledama. He is/was not yet living at the orphanage. He was one of the 23 that were to move in when the second half of the orphanage was finished. After his parents died he moved in with his grandparents. They feel as if he is a burden. He is not fed very much at home and often comes to school having had no dinner or breakfast. The orphanage staff have been feeding him before he goes home after school so he has some nutrition. More disturbing than that is that he is being mistreated at home. He is being beaten and forced to carry very heavy cartons of water long distances. He is being forced to care for the cattle by himself – he is 5 years old. Whenever the orphanage gives him something – like new shoes – they are taken from him. As Jill and I interviewed him and heard about his situation from Peter, one of the incredible caretakers here, we first shed tears and prayed for him, and we determined that he should move in immediately. We decided that he would not go home that very day. We asked Peter the best way to inform the grandparents that he would not be coming home. Peter told us that would not be necessary – they wouldn’t care if he did not come home. We found this a little hard to believe. However, we had brought a blow up pool mattress to use as a bed so we inflated that and put it on the floor – now there are 43 living at the orphanage. I am sorry to say that is has been two days now that he has stayed at Oasis and we haven’t even heard a word from the family… Stephen is doing great! He used to come in in the mornings to school very sad – depressed. The night we told him he wouldn’t be going home anymore, he was so happy – running aound, playing freely – like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He’s been that way ever since.

The Celebration Ceremony - Tuesday, April 1

WOW! The entire Trans Mara region came out to celebrate the fact that we are here! School was called off and people traveled from all over (some from over 100 miles) to be here to meet us today. We were not expecting such a greeting! We gave the orphans their red T-shirts and slowly marched up the hill to the orphanage singing all the way! The children from the primary, secondary, and High school had prepared dramas, poetry readings, songs, and traditionally Maasai dances for us. The town government officials came, two Maasai chiefs, and 9 pastors! Every one of them spoke! It was over 3 hours long but it was really cool! Both Rick and Scott had opportunities to speak and they were the ones to officially cut the ribbons in the dedication of the orphanage. It was quite an honor!

Once it was over we had a chance to play with the orphans a little which was very fun! They are a lively and joyful bunch. I can tell already that it will be difficult to leave them. Tomorrow we will spend the entire day with them and begin the interviews with each of them! The younger children are fascinated with our kids. They keep rubbing their arms to try to get the white paint off to see the black skin beneath!

It is amazing to be in a land where everything is so opposite what it is in America. No one has a car here – everyone walks…far. The houses are made of mud with grass roofs or are made of crude bricks with aluminum roofs. They are grouped in threes or fours with miles between them. The roads are all dirt and there are mostly foot paths that people travel down. There are small herds of cattle scattered around. No one is in a hurry – everyone stops to greet each other as they pass. Children wear tattered, filthy clothing. The babies are all wrapped in blankets because there are no diapers. There is no running water and people cook over a wooden fire with pots. There is no electricity save for the generator at Joseph’s house and one at the orphanage. No one has a bathroom – they make due in the wild. There is one here where we are staying but it is only a hole in the ground. Everything seems so primitive except that many people have a cell phone! It is very humorous to see someone dressed in traditional Maasai clothing walking along with their cows and then hear their cell phone ring and watch them pull it out of their beaded belt and start talking!

We made it to the Trans Mara!!!

Monday morning we hopped into the smallest plane any of us have been in and flew over the beautiful Rift Valley. We saw elephants, ostriches, and other herds of animals below us. The landscape was breathtaking. Sounds enticing eh? Well – It was beautiful but we were all feeling quite queasy by the end… I won’t continue with the details. We landed in the middle of no where – literally. There was a small wooden sign that said Kichewa Tembo Airstrip, a small rickety old gazebo, and a dirt runway – that was it except for miles and miles of grassy fields and a few gazelles. One of our drivers was a little late and the pilot had to leave for another flight. It was a strange feeling to be left there! Fortunately the driver was not far and we loaded up our things and began a 3 hour treck along a very dusty, bumpy, road – people in America go off roading on these types of roads – it was interesting to navigate it in a Safari van!

As we traveled along we were amazed to see elephant herds, zebras, strange large birds, unusual plants, and huge termite hills. The most amazing sites were the people. They live in mud huts with grass roofs. There many were very young children (4-6 yrs old) along the roads tending cattle – cows, sheep, and goats. There were mothers and grandmothers working in the yards, doing laundry, carrying heavy loads on their heads. Everyone was very interested in us and were very friendly – waving and yelling ‘Jambo’ or ‘Sopa.’ Our children had the windows wide open and were yelling and waving as well.

As we neared the town of Kilgouris which is at the bottom of ‘The Hill’ (our destination) throngs of people came to welcome us. All along the road the children were running to our vans and reaching out to slap the hand of our kids. Everyone was waving. It was very fun! We finally reached our destination and were amazed at the beauty of the landscape. It is very mountainous. Everything is covered in green grass and you can see for miles and miles the hills and valleys. We were surprised how spread out everything was. We walk half a mile to the school from Pastor Joseph’s house. Many children walk 2-3 miles to school each day – some of them up to 7 miles and it really is all uphill!

When we got to Joseph’s house there were about 20 Maasai women dressed in full Maasai garb singing to greet us. They slowly marched forward in two rows and gave each one of us a huge hug! We then went into Joseph’s living room which his wife, Anna, had filled with wooden benches and tables for us and were introduced to everyone. Then we filed outside again and the children from the orphanage came down and sang us their welcoming song and we did the whole thing again. We were welcomed for about 2 hours! What an honoring tradition!

It was so awesome to finally meet the orphans! We recognized so many of them from the pictures we have been looking at over the last several months! They were so excited to see our kids! They are such beautiful children – their smiles are remarkable – the sight of white teeth surrounded by soft black skin is strikingly beautiful!

We ate dinner very late that night and went to sleep in our small but very cosy beds! We can’t believe we are finally here!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A day at the beach

When we walked from the hotel down to the beach we immediately drew the attention of the locals who were selling their stuff.  The locals were asking us to buy everything from a boat trip out to the reef, to braided hair, to wood carvings in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  After they stopped selling we were able to get to know some of them.  One of the guys I met was a guy named Tito.  I found out he became a Christian about four years ago and he even used language like "I made a decision to follow Jesus."  In our conversation he found out I was a Pastor and asked if I could share something from the Bible with him.  The next day I brought my Bible to the beach and shared Romans 5:8 with him and then spent some time just talking about various questions he had.  He had lots of questions about the difference between how the Muslim's see Jesus and how Christians see Him.  I did my best.    

As the kids filtered down to the beach Tito suggested he teach us a Christian song in Swahili.  We got all the kids together and learned the song.  We then asked if we could teach him one of the songs we have been practicing for the orphans.  He said o.k and Nate brought his guitar down to the beach and we taught him "Lord I lift your name on high" with motions and all.  As we started singing many of the merchants gathered around and we realized that they knew this song as well as several others that Nate had brought.  What started out as a simple conversation ended up in about 30 minutes of worship on the beach with about 10 of the African merchants.  It was a very cool moment.  

One of the people who came to sing was an orphan girl named Shika who was dressed in a very old and worn dress.  Here is what Rachel wrote about this experience in her journal.  "... All of a sudden this whole entire group of people came over with a little girl.  Her name was Shika.  All the people started to sing with us.  The girl was really really nice.  Nate played the guitar.  Then we went up to eat.  We brought Shika down my skirt, Katie's shirt, and a pair of my swim shoes.  The minute we gave them to her she went behind a rock and started to put it on.  She came out and she had a huge smile on her face.  We were so happy.  I think Jesus felt so happy with us.  I'm so happy that I did that even though I gave up my favorite skirt."

Thanks for praying everyone.  

Fun at the Coast!

We returned late last night from our 3 day trip to the Indian Ocean!  What an incredibly beautiful place!  We had a great time planning and preparing for our trip out to the Trans Mara and just relaxing and having fun with our family and friends.  We head out to the Mara in the morning... We are so so excited!!!

Some of the eventful experiences we had:

On the evening we arrived we were playing in the ocean as the tide came in.  Katie and Piper were stung by jellyfish!  Fortunately some vinegar provided by the kitchen staff took away the pain!  (Sorry the picture is crooked - I can't get it to upload straight)

We had monkeys come visit us outside our room!  We loved watching them - especially the babies - and were very glad we had closed our patio doors that morning!  

We also went snorkeling and saw the most amazing, beautiful, and unusual things.  Nate has the pictures on his camera so I can't upload any for you to see here but we'll show you a sea spider, a red polka-dotted starfish, and some sea urchins when we get back!  

Rick will post on the cool beach God moment we had the day we left...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What is comfort? What brings joy?

We had a very interesting conversation the other day when we were talking about Dave and Carrie's houseworker, Emily.  She is in the picture above with us.  She is a single mom of two boys, one of which has sickle cell anemia and is often very sick.  She works for Dave and Carrie full time - 5 days a week.  All of the families here have houseworkers - it's a way of supporting another family and of providing jobs for Kenyans.  (I'd like to bring a houseworker and a gardner home with me!)  

Emily lives in Banana Hill - there are pictures of her town in an  earlier post.  Katie asked why she didn't live here at Rosslyn Academy and instead lives in Banana hill.  Auntie Carrie told Rachel that she actually had the option to live here in the worker's housing but she chose to live in Banana Hill.  "Why?"  Great question!  From all outward appearances it is much, much, much more comfortable here.  Here there is running water, electricity, safety, and a bigger house.  There she has to walk to a pump for water, there is no electricity, and her home is smaller.  But that is what is familiar to her and the things we consider 'conveniences' are not important to her.  Sure it takes more time - but she is not in a hurry.  Her family is there - her sister lives very close.  She has many friends there.

  So the first question we pondered is what do we need to be comfortable?  The second is what do we need to be happy?  I challenge you to think through these with your family as well....

The Whole Family in Africa!!!!

Sorry we haven't posted in a few days.  It's been thunder-storming in the evenings and we lose internet at those times.  Rick and the Haywards made it here safely!!!  We were so glad to see them!  The kids have really missed their Daddy so today has been great.  We had lots of time together!  

We went to the larger branch of 'The Nest' today.  This is the orphanage that houses children whose mothers are in pri
son.  Most of the mothers have short terms for petty crimes but several are away from their children for years.  It is really hard on the children - especially at first.  There was a wonderful Kenyan woman who has worked in several orphanages who is helping these kids to adjust.  She has a ton of experience and is doing a very difficult job with joy.  Please pray for her as there are several new children who are really struggling - and please pray for these precious children.  

We then went back to the Hawker's market so Rick could experience it.  Later we met the Haywards for dinner.  Dave and Carrie took us all to a wonderful Asian (Keyan's call Indian food Asian) dinner.  We've never had Indian food before! It was definitely a cultural experience.  I loved it!  The kids and Rick loved the naan!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tea Farm

Today we went to a Kenyan Tea farm.  One of Kenya's major exports, along with flowers, is tea.  It was very interesting to see what makes up a large part of their economy and employs many, many people.  This particular farm was started by a British man and his wife.  His grand-daughter and her husband now run it and give tours of their grounds and tell of the tea making process.  The large picture is of the kids in front of the tea bushes.  The go for hundreds of miles all around and cover the hills that once used to be forested.  We were given a tour by a very old Kikuyu man who grew up on the farm and whose father used to give tours.  It was very interesting.  The homes are those of some of the tea farm workers

On a personal note.  It is Good Friday today.  I have thought of all of you and the amazing experience you will be having at the services this evening.  I've prayed for you... This particular service is my favorite one of the year at the Chapel - I think because it is such a tangible reminder of the gift Christ has given us.  I will miss being there because they don't even have a service here.  That's okay though because it doesn't make what Jesus has done for us any less meaningful.  I remember with you, even halfway around the world, the incredible price that Jesus paid for my sin so I could be in a relationship with Him.  What an amazing act of love!  Romans 5:7-8 keeps coming through my mind.  

"For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man someone would dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us."

The town of Banana Hill

Today we went to a Kenyan Tea Farm.  On the way we passed through the town of Banana Hill,  this is what a typical outlying Kenyan town is like... Double click on these photos so you can get a good idea of what they look like... This was in the morning so there were fewer people around.  On our way back there were people everywhere.   It was about 5 miles long.  Pretty powerful.  It was sobering to drive through.   

Day Five Adventures

On Thursday we had an incredible experience.  We went to Amani Ya Juu.  It is place where women who have literally fled for their lives can come and work and sell the crafts they make.  There are women from all over Africa - Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, the Congo etc.  We were able to hear some of their stories.  One woman fled with her husband and 8 children.  They found a tiny one room shack to stay in and had no source of income.  With her family starving she connected with Amani through word from a friend.  She was accepted and now can feed her family.  They have moved into a two bedroom house with a living room inbetween!  She was so thankful.  I think of the verse in I Thessalonians 5:18 "...in everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  It takes on a whole different meaning.  What a blessing to have met her and heard her story.  
Amani began with three women in a garage and has now grown to 80 women!  They recently built a 3 story work facility and ship 20 crates of goods all around the world once a month.  The women also receive counseling and are introduced to Jesus.  Most of them have come to know Him as their personal savior!

While I was there I also had an incredible thing happen - a God moment.  I saw a white woman there who I faintly recognized.  We started talking and it turns out she was someone I graduated with from Wheaton College.  She is the United States liason for Amani.  She shared with me that in October she is bringing 20 Amani women to 5 different states in America.  They are going to be doing fashion shows to raise awareness for Amani and will be selling their things - which are beautiful BTW).  Their first stop is Chicago and they will be doing a show in Wheaton.   She asked if we could house some of the women while they were there.  What a fun opportunity.  I think it would be a blast to have a fashion show closer to our home and support this incredible ministry!  Maybe!  I'll work on that when I get home!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day Three In Kenya

It's actually day 4 for us here but today we just took it easy b/c Katie came down with a fever about half way through the day yesterday.  Please pray for her.  The rest of us are still holding out. But I'm going to tell you about our day yesterday...

We went to a school called 'Kids to Kids.'  It's a school for children who can't afford to go to the public school.  Even though the public school is free the students have to pay for books, uniforms, and a desk.  Students also have to be able to bring lunch to school.  'Kids to Kids' is a place where the poorest of the poor kids can come to school for one year.  They are given breakfast and lunch and at the end of the year are given books, a uniform, and desk money!  They also bring them lunch at the public school the next year.  
We had a chance to teach them for their craft time.  We brought with us colored beads to make bracelets.  Each color stands for a different Bible story and all together tells the story of salvation.  We taught it to them and they are going to teach it to others!  My kids each told a different part with some posters we made before we left and did an awesome job!  It was a fun experience to teach other students!    We also helped several of them with their English reading.  All of the Kenyan children learn 3 languages - their tribal tongue, Kiswahili, and English.  
We ate lunch with them as well.  They all lined up along the wall and we served them first and then we sat down with them and ate.  We had ugali and kale.  Ugali is a corn based mush - it is the most inexpensive food available to Kenyans so it makes up a major part of their diet.  It wasn't that bad but we left thankful that we don't have to eat it every day.  
After we left, we drove down to the slum where the children live.  It was at least a 3 mile walk one way.  Their homes were made out of cardboard, wood, tin - basically any large scrap they could find.  
We left feeling very wealthy.  There is so much need here - and everywhere...

After we left we went to the grade school Chapel at Rosslyn Academy (that's the school where my brother works). There was a group of kids from another slum who were part of a group run by some missionaries.  They had prepared a program for us.  We spent the first 20 minutes singing worship songs.  They were the same songs we sing at The Chapel.  It was AWESOME to stand outside and worship the God we all serve with people from all ages, economic backgrounds, and races.  It was a very moving experience for me - it felt a bit like heaven.  

Monday, March 17, 2008

Day Two - Part Two

After we left the market we went to a halfway house of a large orphanage called "The Nest." We were at kind of a satellite orphanage.   This house cares for small babies and children whose mothers are in prison.  The older children were at school so we got to spend time just holding the babies.  The girls and I were in heaven!  We were there for almost 2 hours holding them, laughing with them, and playing with them.  We had a chance to pray for each one of them as we held them that some day they would find Jesus as their Savior and would grow up to be strong leaders and make a difference in their community.  I'm sure we'll go back before we leave.  
We've also had so much fun with our family.  The kids have had a blast with their cousins.  They were feeling a little better today.  Still a lot of coughing but less feverish.  Please continue to pray for our health.  

Day Two in Kenya

Carrie took us to the hawkers market in town and it was unlike anything we've ever seen. We drove in and saw what looked like a makeshift tent.  There was an enormous garbage pile, about 10 feet high and 25 feet long along the left side of it.  As soon as we arrived several people surrounded our car offering their services to watch our car and to carry our food.  As we entered what looked like a shack we were amazed to see rows and rows of beautiful fruits and vegetables in unbelievably filthy conditions. I've uploaded a picture of the girls there.  The picture looks great but it smelled of rotting vegetables and body odor.  The ground was uneven and muddy with rotting fruit here and there.  There were hundreds of vendors vying for a few buyers attention.  I left feeling with an overwhelming sense of helplessness at the great needs of the people and the inability to help them all.  Here is where the heart of God lies - with the poor and needy.  It was quite an experience to feel the weight of that today. 

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It has been an absolutely beautiful day here in Nairobi - about 85, dry, with a nice breeze.  We went swimming for about 2 hours in the new Rosslyn pool.  It was so amazing to go swimming outside in March!  The kids keep saying, "I can't believe we're in Africa!  This is awesome!"  It has been awesome!  The kids climbed an avocado tree, tasted giant honeysuckles, saw their first palm trees, and learned what a flame tree was.  God is so incredible to have created so many cool things!
We have had so much fun seeing our cousins again!  We brought light sabers out for their boys so there was an all out Star Wars battle as well.  Uncle Dave is a hero for fighting with 5 boys!  
You can keep all of us in your prayers as well.  The Matlak family is pretty sick - fevers, bad chest cough, and this is day 4 for some of them.  We'd really like to not get it...We could use a miracle.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

We Made It!!!

After 24 hours of travel we are so excited to be here in Nairobi!!!  Loud cheers erupted on the plane as soon as we landed and we were probably the loudest!  The kids did awesome on both flights!  We had fun trying on wooden shoes in Amsterdam.  And it was so exciting to track the countries we flew over... Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy...  So for home-school today we had Geography!  

We are headed to bed after about 5 hours of sleep....  Thanks for your prayers!  The flight went flawless and all of our luggage arrived intact! 

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Katie and I have spent the last few days compiling the little bit of information we know about each of the children we will visit. Basically we have some of their pictures, and know their names, ages, and school grade. There is a little bit of information about how some of them were orphaned. It has been very impacting to me as I've written each of their names on the form and noted their ages. These kids are my kids ages - some 4 years old, some 7, some 9. others 10. I can't even imagine the depth of loss each of these precious children have experienced in their short years. Yet here they are, smiling and hopeful. We got word that they were ecstatic about moving into the orphanage. Some of them had never slept in a bed!
We also heard back that the orphans that will move into the second phase of the orphanage have been identified. We now have 65 children to meet! And the Chapel family has come through with the funds to begin the second phase. We are bringing the architect who designed the orphanage with us, Nate Kaiser, he is Jill Hayward's cousin. He will take a look at Phase 1 while we are there to make sure the plans for Phase 2 will work!
We have also been so thankful for the generous outpouring of gifts to bring to the kids. Only 6 days until we leave!!! We can't wait!!!
Please pray for our health. We are battling fevers and colds here and would really like to be healthy before take off!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Preparing for Kenya

After preparing for the last year we are finally in the home stretch and counting down the days until we leave for Kenya. Our trip has been delayed by almost two months because of the political tension in the area but we have the go ahead from our contacts in Nairobi that things have settled down and it is safe to come! Originally we were traveling with 3 other families. Then it was down to just us. Our dear friends, the Haywards, just purchased tickets and are going with us! We could not be more excited!!!

The purpose of our trip is twofold. First, we have very dear family living and serving as missionaries in Nairobi, my brother Dave and our sister-in-law Carrie and their 4 boys. We are so looking forward to spending time seeing what their life is like. We can't wait to play with the cousins and to reconnect with them. We look forward to seeing and experiencing life as they have described it to us.

The second needs more explanation. A few years ago we heard about a group of guys at the Chapel who made a trip out to the Maasai Mara in Kenya and fell in love with the people there. They met a Maasai pastor named Joseph who had a God given vision to reach the Maasai people by influencing their youth. Joseph spent many years in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi trying to minister to the young people that ended up there. Most of them had come to the city orphaned and penniles and looking for hope. They found none and ended up escaping by getting high on glue. By the time Joseph got to them they had so destroyed their minds that a future for them was empty. Joseph decided that he needed to reach these young people before they reached the slums. The group of men from the Chapel made it possible for Joseph to move back to the Maasai Mara and began supporting his vision for the Maasai. These men together agreed to start a mission organization called Oasis that houses, educates, and cares for orphans. Two years ago 11 orphans entered Oasis' care. Just last month, with a financial blessing from the Chapel people, phase 1 of an orphanage was completed. Over the last two weeks 41 orphans have been moving in!! See oasisfororphans.com .

Our hearts have been captivated by these orphans. We feel like they are an extension of our family. We are going out there to meet them, play with them, teach them, and love on them. We are looking to learn as much as we can about each one of them so that when we return we can find families who will 'adopt' them as their own. Please be praying as to whether you would like to be a part of this.