"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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sheep Poop and Christmas Blessings

A picture of the Valley home
I’m thinking about Christmas.  This will be our third Christmas in Kenya. Big bummer, because we will miss seeing our amazing families.  Big bummer also because we won’t get to reconnect with precious US friends face-to-face. Bummer, no Auntie Bevvie tenderloin and mashed potatoes with killer gravy. Bummer, no peppermint lattes or candy canes for that matter. And bummer, we won’t see snow for another year. (Actually, some, myself included, may argue that’s a blessing.)

I’m also hung up on Christmas gifts and am torn between whether consumerism is a bummer or blessing. On one hand, the idea of consumerism seems appealing.  What a “blessing” it would be to do some bargain shopping at Target, Costco, or even Kohls (small screech of excitement as I think of scratching off an “Additional 30% Off” coupon at the check out). It’s amazing how a great deal feels like money well spent to me, whether it’s something I need or not.  And wouldn’t it seem Christmassier and make my kids feel so significantly loved to be “blessed” by some really awesome, well-intentioned, bargained (of course) stuff? It’s fun to think about being “blessed” by more stuff (sigh, moment of joy, anticipating purchased gratification). 

On the other hand, it’s not very fun to think about (sigh, did I just roll my eyes?) because the line between blessing and greed can be challenging to define. During our Swahili lesson this week, Edward, our teacher asked, “Do Americans really use all of the gifts they receive at Christmas? Or after January, do they end up just sitting around?”  “Why do you ask?” I replied.  “I asked because do you know that the amount of money Americans spend at Christmas could supply enough boreholes to bring water to the entire continent of Africa?” Gulp…..

When I look around me and feel the financial strain of every, single household to make it day to day, contrasted by my selfish idea of purchased “blessing”, it’s not actually very fun to think about consumerism. We all have ample opportunity to give of ourselves to bless those around us. But honestly, depending on the moment, for me, being surrounded by financial poverty can sometimes be exhausting (“Does he seriously have to come to my door and try to sell me flowers three times this week?”), guilt-inducing (that’s probably it today because his family may not eat unless I buy something), annoying (“Ummm…nope, I don’t need sheep poop this week.”), pride inducing ("What a saint I am for buying flowers once this week."), and even exasperating (“Stop asking me for a handout and GET A JOB!”).

A picture of a sheep and a bed
And, though I’m totally full of myself, because I could shop (meaning I actually have coins to spare) online and then ask a visiting friend to bring some ‘American (Made in China) stuff’, being surrounded by financial poverty and being poverty-stricken of soul myself is the self-induced plight of humans going back to the garden.

So what is true Christmas blessing? I’m in a great Bible study with some wiser-than-me missionary ladies, and we’ve been studying Hebrews.  We’ve read a lot about Jesus, God’s Son and spokesman, our eternal intercessor, God in the flesh.  My favorite two liner so far is this, “…consider Jesus…” (Heb. 3:1 NASB). Consider Jesus.  This thought has penetrated my mind so often over the past few weeks.  I can hear God whispering it into my ear every time I have a selfish thought (which is a lot), a challenging situation, and especially in moments of joy.  “Consider Jesus” has been speaking to me related to poverty and blessing.  Consider Jesus in the midst of not only financial poverty but poverty of the soul, mind, body, emotions, circumstances, (fill in your own need). Consider Jesus as the One who can totally relate to our condition because He experienced it firsthand. 

Defining blessing as Jesus being God with us and giving us of Himself in the midst of any circumstance, makes blessing continually accessible and only dependent on my ever-present choice to be aware of it.  For me, this is astounding, humbling, and freeing and puts consumerism and true blessing in perspective.

And so as I ponder consumerism and poverty and blessing, I ask myself, “What will I consume today? And what is truly a blessing to me or to my children? How can I, like Jesus, be a blessing to those around me? Will I be consumed by my own selfishness or choose to consider Jesus and consume the audacious fact that Jesus is all I need and that in itself is a blessing in the midst of my own poverty stricken circumstances?

And, by the way…thank you on behalf of our whole family, from the bottom of our hearts for your generous blessings to our family which allow us to live so lavishly.  We have never once wondered whether we would have enough to eat.  And I personally am grateful that I’m in a position to think these thoughts and that Rick is not spending his days selling sheep poop to feed our family. 

A picture of her friend

Pictures represented in this post were made by the Valley kids when we asked them what they were thankful for this Christmas.  It puts things in perspective for me...

A picture of his bed

Monday, December 15, 2014

Merry Christmas

Warm Christmas Greetings from the Smiths!

Thank you for your outpouring of encouragement, prayers and support to our family over the last year.  We are so thankful for the many ways you have walked alongside us.  We could not have accomplished the tasks God placed before us without you!  We know that God is calling our family to grow and expand the Oasis for Orphans programs in Kenya, and we remain excited about continuing in this work.  

2014 Family Updates
Rick – Was grateful to see Oasis officially grow from one to three sites as legal partnership documents were signed with The Valley and The Shelter.  Enjoyed teaching at Moffat and seeing the first group of Maasai and Kisii pastors graduate from their three-year training program through Commission 2:2.  Upped his manliness when he killed a snake in our house. Added a few grey hairs as Rachel is now learning to drive.

Ann – Was overjoyed at seeing the Oasis sponsorship program grow by 30 children at The Valley!  Is excited that four Oasis kids graduated from High School and are headed to college. Is thankful for the more than 70 visitors who visited this year from the US and Canada.  Embraced working with the dental team by pulling out someone’s tooth! Found out the hard way that she doesn’t like paint balls in her face or baboon spiders near our house.

Katie – Is teaching the Model United Nations class at RVA this year. Enjoys leading the Jr. High kids in worship each week. Traveled to Zanzibar with her class and swam with dolphins and ate octopus. With typical Katie priorities, took last place in the One World Run to hang with her little sib because, “Walking is SO FUN Katie!”  Looks forward to finding out where she will be going to college. Is approachable, humble, and embraces joy even when it means laughing at herself.

Rachel – Had a surprise Sweet 16th and went paintballing. Nearly tossed Rick and Caleb out of the sunroof of the car when she rolled over a small cliff in the road while learning to drive.  Joined the art class this year and renewed a passion.  Has boldly shared about Jesus with several people who have chosen to become Christians!

Julia – Became a teenager! Built her first “snowman” in Africa (in the sand).  Confirmed the loss of the missing Malaysian flight when she pulled some plastic bottles from the Indian Ocean with “Made in Malaysia” stamped on the bottom. Fell in love with a janitor-turned-superhero in the school play.  Bravely, rock climbed up Hell’s Gate.  Has a precious heart of generosity and compassion for others.

Caleb – Wants to visit the US so we can put his clothes in that awesome thing that makes them warm. Couldn’t move his arms for three days after his birthday party because he and his friends did push-ups through two decks of cards.  Scored with a header and both feet in soccer this year. Is our faithful prayer warrior – send in your requests.

Enjoy your families this Christmas as you focus on the birth of our amazing Savior!

All this took place
to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet;
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son,
and they will call Him Immanuel,
which means God with us.”

Much Love – Rick, Ann, Katie, Rachel, Julia and Caleb

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kibera Fire and the Women of St. Martha's Ministry

This has been a challenging two weeks for our partners at St. Martha’s Ministry. Oasis for Orphans is partnering with St. Martha’s to build our newest home, The Shelter.  They also have a ministry to HIV widows in the Kibera slums in Nairobi.  They teach them skills in jewelry making, sewing, and in business management.

Around 1am on Monday, November 3, a fire broke out in the Hocus Market area of the Kibera slums.  The fire consumed hundreds of businesses.  That so many buildings were affected is not surprising, as the businesses are crammed together in close quarters and are primarily made of wood.  The St. Martha’s Ministry building was among the affected shops.  It burned completely to the ground. It was a total loss. 

22 Burned Sewing Machines

This week, I had the opportunity to join the ladies of St. Martha’s in their weekly Bible study, the first they’ve had since the fire.  They met to talk about their experiences with the fire and share what God has been speaking to them over the last week.  I was humbled to be in their midst and want to share a few of their words to encourage you.

“I was so down about the fire.  I heard about it in the middle of the night when Margaret came to my door.  We couldn’t go to the area until the early morning, but when I saw it, I became so down.  I lost everything to do with my business in the fire.  I lost my machine (sewing) and all of my inventory. I lost all of my items I had been making in preparation for Christmas.  I lost everything.  I even lost my spiritual heart. 

When I first came to St. Martha’s, I was so down like this.  I had lost my husband and I felt like I just wanted to die.  After this fire, I felt like that and even more so because I felt like I had been fooled by God.   

I walked away from the burning and cried for two hours straight.  Then I went home to my children and they were asking me so many questions.  I didn’t have any answers for them so I took my Bible and left for some time. 

I began reading in Psalm 107 and I felt as if God were speaking to me over and over again about how He provides in every circumstance and that nothing is impossible for Him.  So I’m choosing to put my hope in the Lord.”

“I was at the hospital when I heard about the fire.  As soon as I left, I went to the market and saw the destruction. For some time, I couldn’t even speak. 

When I went home, my children were asking me so many questions.  I told them our ministry is burned, and we have nothing.

I had no strength in me, but I took my Bible and I read of Job and his trials and how he felt in suffering.  He was faithful to God through his struggles, and in the end, God lifted him up.  I am choosing to be faithful.”

“All of the week before the fire, I kept feeling fear, like something was going to happen.  This fire was it.  I have felt very bad since the fire.  We are ok walking around during the day, but we cry a lot at night. 

Though we have nothing, we are alive and walking, so we are thankful.  God will be God, and He is the one who is wiping our tears.”

“When I heard of the fire, it was in the middle of the night.  I did not sleep the rest of the night but was up worrying and praying.  When we finally reached Hocus Market in the morning, I couldn’t even cry.  I was in shock.  We began searching for anything that remained in the ashes and found nothing.  We found the big box where we keep our supplies and we opened the lid.  Fire came out of the box as soon as it was opened.  That is when everything hit me. I broke down in tears and cried and cried and cried. 

Later, when I returned home, I picked up my Bible and God reminded me of 1 John 4:7-11.  This passage talks about God’s love.  I asked myself, “What is God’s greatest gift to me? His love.  Everything that we have lost is not as important as God’s love. We will never lose His love.”

These are just a few of the many stories shared. And yep, I cried through every one.  These women literally live on what they earn day to day.  When they told their children they had nothing, it was not an exaggeration. Each of them talked of sadness, crying, despair, and pain, and then every one of them said they reached for their Bibles.  I love this about these precious ladies!  I love their deep faith, determination, and hope.  I LOVE that God spoke to each of them differently and yet the same.  It was an awesome picture for me of God being with us and sustaining us through suffering.

They ended their time singing this chorus over and over and over:

He has done so much for us that we cannot tell it.

We feel the same…

St. Martha's property in preparation for rebuilding...

Thank you to so many of you who chipped in to help the St. Martha’s widows in their time of crisis.  Their physical needs have been provided for through December and there is enough money to re-build their workshop!  If you’d still like to contribute, we’re still collecting money for the replacement of sewing machines and inventory.  Please send any donations to Inspire 180.  Inspire 180 works directly with the HIV Widows of St. Martha’s Ministry.  

Go to:

https://inspire180.cloverdonations.com/donate/.  Choose St. Martha’s Ministry in the drop down tab.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Her name is Vineous, and she was the first child to be cared for by The Valley community.  She never knew her father because he died during a tribal border dispute a few months before she was born. Then, she lost her mother to AIDS three months after she was born.  In fact, the only reason Vineous is alive today is because a well-wisher urged her mother to use medicine when she became pregnant and encouraged her not to nurse Vineous once she was born.  Because of this, Vineous never contracted HIV and lived.
Vineous (left) when we met her in 2012
Baby formula is as expensive in Kenya as it is in the US. However, with an average income of less than $2 per day for a working Kenyan, feeding a nutritious diet to a baby whose mother has died is nearly impossible. Vineous’ shosho (grandmother) found herself smack dab in the middle of the impossible.  She was a widow herself and lived off the yield from her small field of crops.  How was she to ensure Vineous’ survival?   

Shosho struggled for several months, feeding Vineous a thin watery porridge, but even that was a challenge.  She finally took her to the church and begged the pastor for help.  Pastor Moses had compassion on little Vineous and took her into his own home.  She was the first of many children he would come to care for as his own.  When the community heard of this now public situation, they helped… and they brought more children.  And so The Valley Children’s Home began.

Shosho Vineous and Ann
Last week, we had the privilege of introducing Vineous to two of the members of her sponsor family.  Words cannot begin to describe the magic that happened at that moment.  For Kathy and Rose to see, face to face, the child for whom they’ve prayed and sacrificed, and for Vineous, who has clung to a picture and some words on a page, to tangibly feel arms of love wrapped around her - it moved us in the deepest regions of our souls. When God brings two worlds together over the love of a child, it is miraculous and awe inspiring.  We can only rejoice in our simple human ways and praise Him!

Rose, Vineous, and Kathy meet!
Shosho Vineous prays with the Fords.  Two worlds collide over the love of a child!

If you are interested in sponsoring a child at The Valley, please email us at info@oasisfororphans.org.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Memorable Aberdare's Family Trip

For the first few days of our winter-in-Africa-but-still-feels-like-it-should-be-called-summer break we went to the Aberdare's National Park for some much needed family bonding.  Known for it's beautiful waterfalls and trails, we anticipated hours of hiking to exotic places, enjoying family time together in the outdoors.  It was not exactly what we dreamed it would be…we'll call it a memorable family trip.  We bonded, but not how we expected.

As is typical of the Aberdares, it was cold and rainy about 80% of the time we were there. We anticipated this and brought our rain coats, hats and extra layers - good planning.  We even arranged to stay in some cottages located "just outside the Aberdare's National Park" in the "foothills of the Aberdares" because we didn't want to camp in the rain for three nights.  

However, what we did not anticipate was to experience just about every Kenyan snafu possible.  It began with realizing that the "just outside the park" cottages were actually a three hour drive from the closest entrance to the park in the middle of one of the many (this is significant later) Aberdare foothills.  Hmmm…no wonder we were the only one's there.  After wandering through the many (did I mention this was significant) foothills and finally arriving at the park entrance day one, we decided to modified our plans, to make up for the time we lost actually getting to the park, and enjoyed viewing some stunning waterfalls. So far so good.  We're flexible.  

The Queen's Waterfall
Caleb in the Queen's Cave behind the waterfall
Unfortunately, Google Maps does not work as well in the outlying regions of Kenya as it does in the city and we spent more than five hours returning to our "just outside the park"cottages "nestled in the foothills of the Aberdares." Wow are the foothills of the Aberdares extensive and they all really look identical.  Arriving well after dark (but thankful to be arriving and not sleeping in our car) we were tired, hungry and cold.  After dinner we crawled into bed with our warm water bottles listening to the soothing lull of the heavy rain.

Did I mention that it rained all night? Day two as we ventured out towards the park during a break in the rain, we accidentally drowned our treasured family-sized bag of Skittles (saved for this trip) with our water supply, which overturned when we got stuck in the mud. I'm embarrassed to say our Land Cruiser could not make it up one particularly steep muddy hill, but really, it was only because one of the hubs wouldn't lock.  Don't ask Rick about this…he might still be fuming over it.  We reluctantly (some more than others) decided that reaching the park this day was futile and we were able to slide our way back to the cottages, which we easily located due to the now dropped pin saved on Google Maps.  We changed from our muddy clothes and decided to go fly fishing instead.  We're super flexible! The cottage fishing guide (possibly the cottage grounds keeper who instantly added this to his job description) excitedly joined us (likely because he thought he might get tipped more than because he wanted to fish in the cold mist) and assured us that, "Fish always bite in cold weather."  After fly fishing for about four hours with nary a nibble, we decided to turn in for the day, with our guide mentioning that if he would have been the one fishing he would have caught at least ten fish.  Thanks, that helps. We then settled in to watch a "Lost" marathon on our laptop only to realize that we'd forgotten the computer cord and the battery was at 10%.  Not to be thwarted, Rick rewired the entire front office in order to connect the cottage desk top computer to their TV and our stellar speakers.  Game ON, Rick! 

Our third and last day, we woke up early, packed our bags, said good-bye (forever) to the cottages and arrived at the park excited to tackle the original hike we had planned for day one to the top of the highest peak.  As we entered the gate, we were told we would not being allowed to do this hike without an armed guide (in case we stumbled across elephants, one of which we did not see the entire time).  Fortunately, this armed guard happened to be standing right there at the park entrance.  Unfortunately, said guide's services had to be paid for at a park fee collection station an hour and a half outside the park. Logically, since this hike takes a good part of a day, we didn't have an extra three hours to spare to remit the 1200/= (about $15) payment for the guide.  And no, he would not bend on these regulations, even for a "cup of chai."  (If you're looking for a group of honest Kenyan law enforcement officers, they are located at the remote entrance in the very north end of the Aberdares.) We ended up safariing around the Aberdares slightly disgruntled but beginning to laugh at the incredible amount of challenges we experienced.  We did find a peak by four-wheeling with our now repaired hub lock (Go Rick!) and managed to take a short hike on our own trail (sans elephants). And we did love the many beautiful sights the Aberdares had to offer between the rain showers. All in all, we bonded, which was the purpose of the trip.

We returned home a different route by exiting on the other side of the park.  It took us a mere two and a half hours to reach Kijabe.  Yes, by doing this we realized our actual home was a closer drive than the cottages we stayed in.  But we're flexible.  Ahhh….family bonding.

Below are a few pics snapped during the moments when the rain stopped.  We must say, the Aberdares is a beautiful place with amazingly varied landscape and vegetation often looking quite mysterious and mythical.  Next time, however, we'll make it a day trip.

brilliant orange lichen on rocks

A bush buck…pretty much the only wildlife we saw excluding birds, but what a setting!
 'peppermint' flowers

Family bonding!

mythical hairy moss covered trees

pillowy moss covered trees

mysterious threads covering whole forests of trees
fields of Torch Lilies