Thursday, August 4, 2011

the bad... (part 2 of 2)

so, if you read the other post, then you know that things have been going well. really well.
they continue to go that way, too. yet, in the midst of greatness, there will be attack. whether its the display of human depravity or the schemes of the devil or perhaps both, we were hit hard recently.

i went to the bank to withdraw money for the day then walked to another bank to pay a bill and then hopped in a tuk tuk with some of our team members to head off to Obunga. Dr. Sloan was doing a medical camp that day with the help of some of the students that are interested in pursuing careers in the medical profession. when we arrived, everything seemed to be going well. every was doing their job and manning their post. the waiting room was filling up. Dr. Emily and translator/assistant Lillian, were seeing dozens of patients. Mathews (Ndoto student studying to be a pharmacist) and Jane (local community health worker) were running the pharmacy and doing a mighty fine job. there were a few sick Ndoto students, and because there was a charge for the clinic, i reached for my wallet to pay the fee for them.

i put my hand in my purse and couldn't find it anywhere. like at home, i carry around a behemoth of a purse, full of stuff, so it didn't initially shock me. however, as i started to empty my purse, i realized it was gone. that was when PANIC swept over me. i called christi over to help me. we dumped out the contents of my purse on the floor and spread the news to the students to scour every corner of the church looking for the lost wallet. when it seemed that it was more than lost, christi and i jumped in a tuk tuk with Joshua (the driver) and one of our older students, Dennis. we backtracked and went to all the places we had stopped on our way to Obunga. at each stop, i began to freak out a little more. it can't be gone. it just can't be. it has bank cards, receipts, important papers, and most of all A LOT OF CASH in it. after we had stopped at every place i had been that morning, it became clear that is was gone and that it had been stolen.

i was crushed. how could this have happened? i have walked these streets by myself for years without any trouble. i'm careful. i'm aware. i am busy, and particularly so when the team is here, but could i really have been so preoccupied that i wouldn't have felt someone taking something out of my bag. at moments like this, a wave of helplessness, anger and frustration crashes over me. there was nothing any of us could do. it was gone.

what happened next stunned me. the reaction of our driver and the ndoto students was one of deep sorrow. they were distraught. they kept asking questions like, "how could someone have stolen money that helps poor students go to school?" "why would someone do that even before Ndoto has reached its full potential? we haven't even finished our strategic plan yet" "what is wrong with us Kenyans?" i quickly found that my role was shifting...instead of being the angry, inconsolable victim, i was called upon to be the comforter. the realization that this shift was going on spurred something in me to call upon the name of the Lord (we had been praying and praying at each step along the way) and speak truth to these young people, so that at the end the name of the Lord will be praised.

Christi and i shared with them that God is at work and things are going well, that we should expect attacks from Satan, who is always looking to thwart the plan of God and His children. we also reminded them (and ourselves) that all money, resource, time, and gifts belong to the Lord, and so if someone wants to steal from God then let them do that at their own peril. we also shared with them as they were in tears that "If God is for us, who can be against us?" we also encouraged them to struggle with this situation, but in the end to hand it over and let the King deal with it. i shared with them that God has given them power. power to change their individual lives. power to change the face and the soul of their community. power to help people. power to use what they've been given for good. yet, if they are so discouraged that they give up (a couple of university students had big final exams to take that day), then they are relinquishing that power, which is exactly what the devil would want them to do.

their responses have been inspiring. the students have decided that we need to pray more. the students have also decided that they are going to pray more for me, so that despite the attacks i don't give up. (tears!) they have also decided to continue their efforts with more fervor and commitment than before. they keep coming up with new ideas for how to help each other and help me in order to make sure things like this don't happen anymore. we got to address the issue of fear as well. we got to remind them that we will not walk in fear, and we will not buckle under the pressure of the enemy. whew! it was such a powerful teaching time.

here are a couple of the most important takeaways from this experience for me:

1. they were upset b/c Ndoto money was stolen. this means their money was stolen. this isn't allison's money or allison's problem. this was OUR money and OUR problem. that kind of response is a clear sign that we are moving in the right direction. they are owning the project and its success. anything that is an affront to what God is calling them to do offends them. this is how it should be.

2. God, in His mercy, used this experience as a profound teaching time for us all. we all learned (or were reminded) of the truth that He is God, He is Sovereign, and He is in Control. He gives and He takes away. Our hope and faith are in Him!

3. The unity that comes when a group unites after hardship can strengthen their bonds and their resolve making them unstoppable. I believe with all my heart that is what is happening here.

The reality is that we were hit hard when this happened. I lost about $100 of my personal money, but the bigger concern is that Ndoto lost about $700. For those who question why I would walk around with that much cash, let me reassure you that it is the way that things are done here, and I have been doing it for years without a problem. We deal in a 100% cash system, which means no credit cards and no debit cards. When you have a team doing as much as we do with as many people as we have, we can spend that amount of money in a day or two. In fact, I had already given out about $700 that day to other team members to carry in order to lighten my load. Now, we are putting the pieces back together. I called and canceled both debit cards (mine and Ndotos) and they are sending new ones ASAP (within the next 3-5 days). I'm glad that the team is here, because one team member has an Ndoto debit card. Otherwise, we would be without access to money.

we ask first and foremost that you join us in praying for God's provision, both immediately as we try to recover and in the long term as we ask the Lord to provide that which was stolen. He knows what we need, and this is an incredible opportunity for us to trust Him as He increases our faith. this is also a stretching experience but a crucial one in terms of learning and growing for our students. please pray that the Lord uses this to draw the students closer to Him.

second, we ask you to prayerfully consider helping to replenish that which was lost. you can mail a check to: 2526 Rosebud Court, Carrollton, TX 75006 or you can donate online at our website:

third, we ask that you share Ndoto's story with your friends and family that they, too, can be involved in what God is doing in Obunga, Kisumu, Kenya!

thank you, dear friends, for praying for us, partnering with us, and standing with us during this time!

the good... (part 1)

dearest family & friends,

i don't even know where to begin. we (ndoto) have been so deeply blessed. God has been gracious to us and has provided for our needs. he has also brought one of the greatest groups we have ever had. everyone gets along. everyone serves. no drama. no complaining. they just do it. and they do it well. :) the primary school retreat was this past monday and tuesday and couldn't have gone any better. we had 26 young ones in grades 1 - 8 and ranging in age from 6 to 15. our team shared a verse from 1 John talking about the love that God has lavished on us calling us his sons and daughters. this is SO important for them to hear for a couple of reasons.

#1 they need to be reminded (as we all do) that God loves us abundantly (especially when so
few others do)
#2 in the absence of an earthly father, the love and care of the Heavenly Father become all that
much more impactful
#3 if God loves us all as sons and daughters then that means that we are brothers and sisters
which hopefully for each of them creates a sense of family

i believe God gave me the words to speak to them about why all of this is important. i also believe God gave me what i needed to talk to them about how love means that we teach them what is right and encourage them when they do it but also correct them when do something wrong. i explained that it is our job to raise them to be independent, hard-working, respectful and kind adults that serve God and others. as a result, this means that we will discipline them, but throughout it all, we love them so much and are so proud of them. we encouraged them to say "i'm sorry" and to help each other and to see Ndoto as family. two young ladies actually stood up in front of everyone and apologized for things they had done. i started to cry. :) i couldn't be more proud of them. i also realized that i am getting a crash-course in parenting.

on the second day, the team shared the story of Noah with them. we did a skit, plenty of songs, loads of cool crafts, and soccer matches that had everyone (including our tuk tuk drivers) sweating profusely! then, we took them to Impala Park, which is their equivalent of a local zoo, only at this zoo, zebras, impalas, and monkeys run around freely. there are also cages of ostriches, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, and a leopard. the park also has one of the nicest shores and views of Lake Victoria. because most of the kids had never been here before, it was incredible to get to watch their reactions as they took it all in. such unadulterated excitement. every animal was so cool. when a monkey or a zebra would run by, they would all take off after it just to catch a glimpse of what they see in their school books. very few of the students have ever been swimming before, so the chance to put their toes in Lake Victoria thrilled some and frightened others. eventually, though, they all did it. they were awe-struck. they didn't know what a lake was and the little ones have never seen it, even though they live less than 2 miles away from it. my favorite comment came from Rida, one of our first graders, who said, "it's like big rain!" i smiled and laughed so much during these days, that my face hurt.

i was also privy to witness the worship of one of our university students, Michael. before most everyone got there when it was just Michael, me and a few kids, he stepped out some rocks and began to sing. As the waves crashed against the rocks, he stretched out his arms and began to sing louder. one of our team members walked up then and asked her if she could hear what he was seeing. she nodded her head and smiled. Michael was singing, "How Great Is Our God," one of both of our favorite songs. he said he was overcome by the beauty of God's creation as he looked out on the lake and that God had blessed this group to grow up near this reminder of the power, generosity, and creativity of a mighty God.

i continue to say it, but this is my favorite season of working in Kenya ever. we are blessed beyond measure to witness the fruits of our labor (only because of HIS great work!) and the sowing of seeds planting long ago. despite the struggles, i continue to rejoice in the Lord's work around me and continue to thank Him for not giving up on all of us. i also couldn't be any more proud of our students. everyday, they are up against struggles and odds that most of us can't fathom yet they excel in school, care about each other, listen to what they're told, and say things (that only children can say) that are profound and make me laugh. i know it won't be like this forever, and that there are indeed seasons. yet, i want to revel in this time....really soak it in...for it is sweet.

these are lyrics to an old worship song that i love. they continue to minister to me every morning when i listen to them: "i will trust in you, my God! there is a fountain who is the king. victorious warrior and Lord of everything. my rock. my shelter. my very own. blessed Redeemer who reigns upon the throne."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nyasaye Nyalo (God is Able)

A week or so ago, I sent out an email asking for prayer. I had an important meeting with the church council about the property and building coming up and the underground gossip ring had warned me that there might be some dissenters. I honestly haven't known what to do. The situation is confusing. How does Ndoto partner with the church in a way that is effective for both without co-mingling them or causing dependency? History, statistics, and life have taught us that the two need to remain completely separate. But, when two groups are working to achieve similar things in a place like Obunga, it seemed foolish not work together.

Then, there was the issue of space. A piece of land and the structure of a building. Who owns it? Who uses it? How can this thing that was built (and probably shouldn't have been) be redeemed? After all, it sits right in the center of a community that still desperately needs hope. That was the topic of the meeting and from what I was hearing, it seemed as though every man was out for himself. Those who want Ndoto to succeed want the property and building for Ndoto. Those who are a part of the church want it to remain with the church. I was frustrated by what I was hearing and feeling.

I was torn. In some ways, it seemed God was ordaining this. Ndoto gets to use the building and property that was built for ministry in Obunga and not properly maintained. As I said earlier, I felt as if I was glimpsing redemption - all the time, money, work, and effort that was poured in that place was not for naught. Yet, as I reflected back, there were definitely warning signs to stay away. Don't get involved. The church hasn't been able to maintain itself and they have their own problems and any partnership will just create dependence.

So, there I was. torn. frustrated. I found myself getting angry. I was mad at people who felt like they were entitled to that space. I was mad at people who might stand in my way. I was mad at people who have continually hurt me over the years. I was mad at people who steal from the church and then expect the church to cover up for them. And the meeting hadn't even happened yet. I would be deeply ashamed if my thoughts over the past few days were shown to the world - some of the accusations I was ready to make and some of the mean things I was ready to say to get my way or push through my agenda.

So, I prayed somewhat reluctantly and asked others to join me. I also asked the Lord over and over again what the right thing to do is in this situation. Community development principles would lead in one direction. Church ministry principles the other. People from both camps asked tough questions and made valid points. Yet, things were unclear to me.

This morning in church (before the meeting), I realized that I am struggling with unforgiveness. I am struggling to really forgive and release several bad things that have happened to me. I am harboring them in my heart, and they are weakening me and separating me from the Lord. I had a stark and humbling realization that if I forgive those who hurt me, I will lose some of the fire that motivates me. I won't have as much to prove. I won't have as much to guard. I won't have as much "power." While I would love to tell you that I had this powerful experience where I miraculously forgave those who had hurt me - it isn't true. I did, however, decide that it is time to let it go and to humble myself before the Lord and others and admit that I am struggling.

Fast forward to my entrance into the meeting with the church council. I sat down unsure of what I was going to say, what I was going to ask, what I was hoping for. I just asked the Holy Spirit to speak and give me the words to say and to enlighten us all to God's plan and give us the courage to speak the truth. I had my doubts.

Then, something surprising happened. We began talking and as one of the men reviewed our notes from the last meeting, i sort of lightened up. I can't explain it - other than to say that something was changing inside of me. When it was my turn to speak, I began by apologizing to this group for how I had hurt them or let them down. I also expressed to them how hurt I have been by them. For the times they have seen and treated me as a dollar sign. For the times they would steal and take advantage of the church. It was humbling to tell them how sorry I was and even more humbling to admit they had hurt me deeply over the years. (After the meeting, one guy said he thought I was going to cry and that the whole group was drawn in and listening attentively - almost in disbelief that I would be saying these things).

As the meeting progressed, it was one positive testimony after another. It was one of the "dissenters" saying that we should forgive each other and move forward. It was the one of the other "dissenters" offering his complete support for Ndoto. There was a public acknowledgement of how Ndoto is helping and making a difference in the lives of people. I got to share how if the vision is mine alone then I have failed. If the community doesn't embrace it and own it, then change will never last. (one of the problems from a few years ago) Then, the new pastor passionately shared that he supports us as well and that the two which are separate can work together to usher in the Kingdom of God and bring change to Obunga.

No specific details were worked out. The most incredible thing was that they didn't need to be. God had a plan much bigger for this meeting than simply the ownership or management of a piece of property. God's plan was to usher in the beginning of forgiveness, healing, and then restoration. I found myself less concerned about whether or not we were going to own the building and more concerned with how Ndoto can be a healthy blessing to the church and how we can involve the community more so that ownership will be theirs. I also found myself considering new and fresh options for how to make it this situation work.

The truth is that nothing can happen for several months anyway, as Ndoto is still in the process of applying for and registering to be an official Kenyan NGO. (prayers for this would be greatly appreciated)! So, we have time to take the specifics to the Lord and work out something that is mutually beneficial. But, I can confidently say that this was the most productive, most joyous church council meeting I have EVER sat in, and I had predetermined that it would be the worst. I was angry and was prepared to be defensive and aggressive, yet I didn't need to be. In my opinion, God did the impossible. He took a bunch of hardened hearts (many that I have only ever known as hardened) and selfish people and for a few hours one Sunday afternoon when it mattered most brought them humbly together to achieve something beautiful...a sort of new beginning.

So, as I head to bed (with a big smile on my face), I am able to rejoice in seeing hearts change and grievances melt away (including my own). I am also able to rejoice in a new beginning and in time to seek the Lord for guidance in making a complicated decision. So, I will stand and proclaim that which is a motto for Ndoto and its students: Nyasaye Nyalo! (God IS Able!)

Friday, July 15, 2011

moments. (long, as always!)

I've delayed in blogging recently, because I've been trying to get my new blog (confessions of a messed up missionary) set up. Because I can't get it to work now, I'm going to use the old in the meantime.

This week has been really special. It has been great to be back in Kisumu (after visiting friends in Nairobi for a few days, with a necessary stop for a pedicure. Oh, life's little indulgences).
Without a doubt, I have never been more proud or more pleased by what is happening in Obunga. You have to look with a "sharp eye" and you have to know what you're looking for, but once you've got both those things, you are sure to be surprised. What are you seeing when you know what to look for? CHANGE! It has started and will continue. What is most beautiful about the change you'll see is that it has sprung up from the inside. It has been inspired, implemented and fought for by local young people. You'll see a maintained piece of property, more flowers and bushes than I've seen in that part of the city before, and a building once left for ruin that now shows traces of a strengthening heart beat sure to carry it beyond what we could have ever planned or expected. There is much to be done, but there is a sense of peace, order, and confidence that surrounds that piece of Obunga that has never-ever been there before.

It has been good for me to be back at St. Anna's for a week or two, where I can relax and feel safe. I have also gotten the chance to connect with the staff and other dear friends throughout the city. I have begun the old routine of walking a lot and making my way to all the shops, corners, and businesses where friends live and work, as it customary to do. Time heals hurts, mends rifts, and helps us move past differences. All of which is really good when you go back and forth between two places. While things will never be perfect or close to it, things are better...more stable...more normal...all of which I am extremely grateful for. It is tough to live as a sort of "fireman" always trying to put out fires and "rescue" people from tough situations. I have surely learned in the past 8.5 years (YES, that's how long its been since I first came in Feb. 2003) that I am not the queen, the one in charge, or the fixer. Allowing Him, who created and loves far better than I ever could, to do His job has relieved us all of a lot of unnecessary stress. There are still times, though, where I feel Him calling me to stand up, to help, to fight for what's right. One of these "moments" happened this past week and startled me back to a reality where race and injustice lay just below the surface ready to rear their ugly heads.

I was walking down stairs in a grocery store when I got a call and then a text message from Joshua, a dear friend and tuk tuk driver. (He recently received a loan and bought his own tuk tuk, the proudest and most special day of life, for sure)! I called him back and when he answered, he sounded panicked. He said he had been in an accident, and he needed help. He told me to come to Electric House as fast as I could. I thought it was weird, because he doesn't need my help with things like that but after confirming he was ok, I headed out to meet him there. By the time I reached Electric House (after greeting 2 different old friends I hadn't seen in a long time - it is considered rude to not stop and greet them no matter how rushed you are), Joshua was gone. So, I called him and he said that the police had come (which in Kenya is usually NEVER a good thing), and they told everyone involved to go to the police station. Once again, I thought it was weird, but when he insisted I come, I hopped in someone else's tuk tuk and made my way there. When I arrived at the police station, I saw Joshua's tuk tuk parked outside, and then entered the police station searching for them. As I walked past some different rooms, I heard a mzungu (white man) shouting . (isn't it interesting, we are known by our voices!). Joshua is a reserved, kind, hard-working, and non-violent man, so I knew he wasn't in there and continued to search. I looked everywhere and couldn't find him, so I asked someone. Sure enough, they sent me to the room with the yelling mzungu. When I entered, it all made sense. That's why he wanted me to come. He had been in an accident with a mzungu and knew he would never get justice without help. I noticed quickly that the yelling was leading no where. They both claim the other hit them, and the policemen and other "guards" there were trying to mediate unsuccessfully. Both men were drawing diagrams of what happened and while Joshua looked annoyed, he keep this voice calm and tried to make his point, while his mzungu counterpart was about to lose it. His face was red and his yelling loud.
I introduced myself, explained that I had been around for a while, and asked the mzungu if he was from America (which he was), and asked if I could help. Once they explained the events to me, I realized we were facing a few big problems. First, the minimum required car insurance in Kenya (which both men had) only covers injury to passengers when there's an accident. There is absolutely no allowance for fixing your vehicle or that of the other person. Second, the mzungu was driving a small, newer Land Rover - a totally expensive car to fix. Third and most daunting, this guy had diplomatic plates. Oh mercy. At this point, I started to reconsider whether or not I even wanted to be involved.

--Allison approaches Soap Box for brief rant-- I understand why countries like the USA look out for their citizens working abroad in other countries, but I am absolutely FED UP with the huge, rich, ineffective, and wasteful NGO's who are trying to do good and end up doing so little. I won't name names here, because in every organization there are good people, many of whom I consider friends who work hard and really care about the people they are trying to help. This man's wife works for one of these huge American monstrosities (he made sure I knew that she managed all of this org's HIV-related projects in Nyanza Province and that meant $45 million in grants. My question remains the same: where is $45 million worth of change and growth?!) and as a result, they are granted diplomatic immunity and are taught to call in these special "guards" when they have any kind of accident or problem. It is ridiculous, but I digress. --Allison sheepishly backs off of Soap Box--

After they both reviewed what happened AGAIN, I went outside to look at both vehicles. The mzungu's Land Rover had a dent and some scratches while Joshua's tuk tuk only had a tiny dent. So, we decided that we would all go and take this mzungu's Land Rover to a few different body shops - 2 of his choosing and 2 of Joshua's choosing. This way we could find the cheapest and most fair estimate for the repair. The police kept pressuring me to agree to pay the damages, which I continually refused to do. I just said I was there to help Joshua and that whatever agreement was to be reached would be between the two of them. Before we left, I pulled Joshua out to talk to him privately. I told him that we had been friends for a long time and that honesty had always been a hallmark of our friendship. I told him that if he hit the mzungu that he should be honest and agree to work something out, because if they couldn't settle on something, it would get messy since this man is considered a diplomat, by default. I also told Joshua that if he didn't do it, then I would believe him. He said he didn't do it, and we went back to the room to try to negotiate a deal. The mzungu had calmed down a bit by this point. When he got up to join us outside by the cars, I realized he was wearing Christian tshirt. His shirt bore the name of some Baptist church and of all things had the fruits of the Spirit listed on it. ironic. more than ironic. Joshua and I hopped into the Land Rover while the police followed behind and headed out to auto shop #1. As we drove, the mzungu began to explain that in 11 out of the 12 months that he and his wife had lived in Kisumu, he had never been in an accident, but in last month, this was his fourth. He explained how in each and every case before, the person who hit him (or who he hit - who knows the truth!) had run away or given him a fake phone number. It had taken the police 3 weeks to track down the owner of the matatu (public van) that had hit the Land Rover and busted out his back windshield (which still had a piece of plastic covering it), and the owner kept promising to meet the mzungu to work out a deal but every time they agreed to meet, the owner never showed. (Such is life in Kenya!)
By this point, I started to realize how frustrated the mzungu was and how he was taking it out on Joshua (a driver who had done the right thing). I was also startled by the fact that he was a really aggressive driver. I have to be honest and say at the beginning I was doubting Joshua's story, but by this point I whole-heartedly believe that he was innocent and that the mzungu hit him.

It was lunch time and so all the auto body shops were closed. We all agreed to take a break and meet back together at 2pm when everything re-opened after lunch. Joshua and I both gave the mzungu our phone numbers and got his and affirmed that we were honest and good people that were not going to run from him. In the car, I had been trying to reassure the mzungu that Joshua is a good person, a Christian, a hard-working man who struggles to make ends meet and that paying 20,000 KSh for car repairs would rob him of 2/3 of a month's work. (20,000 KSh is the amount the mzungu kept insisting the car repairs would cost and is the equivalent of about $236 USD). For a man who makes 2,000 - 3,000 KSh a day and is paying back a loan for his new tuk tuk, getting stuck with a 20,000 KSh bill for someone else's car repair isn't just discouraging, it is downright debilitating. After I said all this, the mzungu looked at Joshua (who he kept calling Joseph) and rather arrogantly said "are you a Christian man," to which Joshua replied "yes." Then, he asked Joshua where he goes to church and Joshua answered the Catholic church. Then, the mzungu said, "do you go every week?" I saw Joshua kind of roll his eyes and answer yes. This is funny because often times Joshua works on Saturdays and Sundays and doesn't get to attend, but I don't blame him for lying to such a jerk. (This guy had a dirty mouth and a bad temper, and I would have said what he wanted to hear just so he would leave us alone.)

We went back and forth with the police and special guards about how it was all going to be handled and eventually reassured them that things were going to be ok. We also insisted that they give Joshua his tuk tuk back and not hold it until the situation was resolved for fear he would miss out on a few more hours work. At 2pm, the mzungu called me. I called him back and said I was finishing lunch but would meet him at the shop in a few minutes. I knew 20,000 KSh was way too much, but I feared it might still cost 10,000 KSh to fix and I knew Joshua wouldn't have the money. It was not my responsibility, but I wanted to see Joshua succeed and pay off his loan and I knew that paying for the repair would set him back tremendously. So, Joshua and I had talked about how if the repair cost too much, I would loan him the money and he could pay me back after he paid off his other loan. I kept praying about this situation over lunch, because the truth is that after paying for all that's required for me to rent, furnish, and outfit a completely bare apartment, I wasn't going to have much money left. Nonetheless, I paid the lunch bill, said another quick prayer and headed off the auto body shop. On the phone, the mzungu had said something about the dent only costing 2,000 KSh to repair (which is only $24), but I refused to let myself believe it would be that cheap until I arrived and asked the repairman myself.

When I arrived, I found the mzungu, the repairman, and the body shop owner sitting around talking. As it turned out, the mzungu had so many other scratches on the car from the other accidents that the body shop owner agreed to paint over these new scratches for free since the mzungu was paying for the paint and labor for the others to be fixed. Whew, that was a relief and a great blessing. So, now, there was the issue of the dent. I asked if 2,000 KSh was the correct price, and the body shop owner confirmed that it was. I breathed deeply and thanked God under my breath and reached for my wallet. I would gladly pay $25 for this problem to be resolved and wouldn't even care if Joshua ever paid me back or not. As I pulled out the cash, the mzungu said, "listen. if Joshua really is as good a man as you say and the dent only costs 2,000 KSh to fix, then don't worry about it." I can afford to pay 2,000 KSh to fix it. These guys here at the shop are giving me a break, so I'll give Joshua the same break. I asked him if it were true, because I was stunned by what I was hearing - such a complete turnaround from the irrational, angry man I first met. He said he would pay for it! I couldn't believe it. I thanked him profusely and walked away. Whew! Relief and Praise. That's what I was feeling. After this 6 hour ordeal, we walk away not having to pay anything. I called Joshua and told him the good news. He cried. He thanked me profusely and said that if I had not come and helped, he would have landed in jail. (unfortunate but probably true). I joked that it was all in a day's work.

I was exhausted after that, but I rode home in Joshua's tuk tuk that evening with a smile on my face, convinced that when race and injustice boil to the surface God's heart hurts and that He is calling us to stand up for what's right - even when it is against one of our own (an American) or against a big dog (diplomat) when we are nobodies (a poor tuk tuk driver or a grassroots community developer in the most unpopular part of the city).

Psalm 10:17-18: You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man who is of the Earth, may terrify no more.

If you are still reading along, I hope you are blessed and encouraged or else not too sleepy from all this reading. :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the things we do for cash

Never in my life did I think I would be so happy to see an envelope with a few hundred dollar bills in it. Who wouldn't want to get one of those, right? Well, I did get one, only I didn't find it, I worked for it. For the past month or so and for the next few as well, I have a few extra expenses...namely furniture and plane tickets. :) So, I had been praying and thinking about ways to earn some extra cash. House/pet sitting is something I have done before and while it requires work, it typically isn't overwhelming or completely time consuming. So, you can imagine my joy when I get a call that a family I know needs a pet sitter for their 2 dogs for more than a week. The dogs are big but are really cute and well behaved, and so I quickly agree.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through my journey now, and while things have gone well, I was not prepared for one particular task. Tomorrow (thursday) is trash big deal...gather up the trash from all the cans and wheel the big can out to the curb in the morning before I leave. Got it. No problem. Only...wait...I have to what? poop what? So, one of my tasks was to go through the back yard and scoop the poop that has been gathering there for almost a week and put it in a specific bag and then put that in the trash. So, in my head, I'm thinking that it can't be that bad. Well, I was wrong. It can. Fresh dog poop coupled with rain and an inexperienced scooper (me!) is a recipe for a hot mess. Wearing flip-flops was probably the first bad idea. I had to tiptoe through the wet grass and try to make sure I don't step in what I'm supposed to be scooping. Then, as I go from "spot" to "spot," it is clear that certain places are more wet than others and some of it starts smearing. Then, as I lean down to get a big scoop full scoop, the handle breaks off of, and I almost fall into the pile of crap. As I struggle to catch my balance, I lean against the broom thing and sure enough, in the same motion, I break that handle in half as well. So, at that moment, I am hating my life and second guessing what made me think this was a good idea. During these moments, I have to remind myself of the envelope of cash that awaits me on the other side of this chore.

Well, I did the best I could and eventually finished with literally 5 lbs of POO. I couldn't believe it. That's a lot of crap. As I turned on the TV to relax and celebrate my accomplishment, I flipped past a show I had never heard of before called Househusbands. It made me laugh that the episode was about how animals were annoying these guys and though their wives loved the pets, the men HATED them and were tired of keeping up with them, especially cleaning up their crap. It made me laugh out loud. So, what's the point of all of this? Well, there's not one except for this...I definitely DO NOT WANT PETS that poo anytime soon. I don't want poo on my carpet, butts on my couch, or pee in my kitchen. I just don't. Maybe that will change one day, but for now the answer is NO! I also thought the title, "the things we do for cash" was pretty funny since it is true. I did it for the cash. I also thought of another one. "Sass in the City." We'll start there next time...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The unusual faces of friendship...

Never in my life did I think I would have friends like Michael and Kay. They are special people, but strange characters for sure. They were friends of Z and mine from Church Under the Bridge, and over the years that we knew them both, some pretty funny things happened. I wanted to take this opportunity to give them a "shout out," not that they use the computer at all. I just want them to know that they have each impacted me in profound and funny ways.

I can't even remember how we first met Michael. I honestly think he was Z's friend first. Every few years, Michael, with his fun personality and influence with the ladies, would pick a few young Baylor coeds and stick to them like glue. How honored I (we) am that we were chosen from 1999-2002. :) The three of us became quick friends and Michael's telling and re-telling of stories soon became a regular part of our week. I don't know what exactly happened to Michael in his younger years, but I do know that he is mentally ill. I suppose he's the type of guy that at first glance most folks would try to avoid as he would either appear "crazy" or dangerous. What's funny is that honestly, he's neither. All that unkempt white hair, those missing teeth, and the same dirty Baylor tshirts probably don't convey the message he would like, but after all, he had limited resources. I remember sometimes being shocked at the miles that he would walk to faithfully attend church each Sunday and how he would forego meals in an effort to keep batteries in the small radio from which he listened to each and every Baylor football game. His love of the attention and friendship of Baylor ladies was only surpassed by his commitment to Baylor athletics and Dr. Pepper. (He should get some sort of loyal fan award - that's for sure!). Sometimes Michael annoyed us (me), and I wished he would leave us alone. I remember being particularly offended one Sunday when Z was out of town and a friend of mine was visiting. Because I had a guest, we made plans to spend time together on Sunday afternoon. So, after church I told Michael we had to hurry and eat at Wendy's across the street from church. He didn't really like this idea, since typically we went to nicer restaurants and spent time talking, bonding, and making the average "after-church" crowd very uncomfortable. As we walked over to Wendy's and got in line and I re-explained to Michael what was going on, he proceeded to call me a "cheap skate." I was insulted. How dare he call me a cheap skate? I (we) buy his lunch every week after church and take him to sporting events, feed his Dr. Pepper addiction and keep in a constant supply of AA batteries. Why couldn't he be appreciative and content? After all, we sat with him every Sunday in church, took him to lunch every Sunday after church and then would hang out with him at our apartment or various other places throughout the week. Didn't he know how much we were sacrificing for him?

At that moment I self-righteously wanted to leave him on his own and force him to see what life would be like without us. In my immaturity, I was sure it be too painful for him to handle and he would come back to us and apologize. HAHA...that never happened. Not even close. What did happen though is that one night we got a phone call. As we answered the phone, a hysterical Michael was on the other end begging for help. Perfect, I thought. He's realized his mistakes and needs us. You can imagine my surprise when he tells us that he's been kicked out of the house where he usually crashes and though he needs a place to stay, he's calling to see if we can help Maria**. Maria and her children were being beaten by her on-again off-again boyfriend and Michael, with all the courage his aging and broken body could muster, stood up to Gustavo** and told him not to mess with Maria and the kids. Gustavo then proceeded to yell at and threaten Michael and kicked him out. So, late at night, Michael is calling us, from a pay phone, not to take care of his immediate need but to help those whom he cared deeply about. As 21 year old college students, there wasn't a whole lot that we could do, but we did what we could. We picked up Michael, gave him a place to crash for the night and told someone about the incident. We also went by Maria's place later to see if there was anything we could do or bring for her and the kids.

In all of this, I saw an unusual face to friendship. I learned that sometimes friendship is about loving and caring for people so they can do that for others, not so that they will return it to you. For Maria and her kids, Michael was someone who "mooched" off of them, but more importantly, he was also someone they could count on when no one else would intervene. He would stand up for them, bring attention to their difficult situation, and always remind them that better days were ahead. This reminds of the "pay-it-forward" concept. Sometimes God calls on us to love not because we desperately need it back, but because HE first loved us. If in some ways we all had that attitude, imagine how many "Michaels" there would be out there loving the lost, the least, the left out, and the unknown? Could be pretty amazing, huh?

Kay was another interesing friend that we made during our college years. In all honesty, Kay was really messed up physically. She had a list of ailments longer than my arm and a bag of meds bigger than my suitcase. AND, she had an attitude to match. She didn't ever take crap from anyone and would let us know exactly what she thought. Through her rough and tactless exterior, there was a soft heart inside of Kay that would lead her to break down and cry when she was discourged or overwhelmed. We would talk to Kay, encourage her, get her clothes and other supplies and just tried to befriend her as best we could.

During this time, I got a new(er) car! I was SO excited. After driving a really old car for years that broke down at some really inopportune moments (later, later), to say I was excited when I got my 2 year old Honda Civic seems like a gross understatement. Z and I would joke that riding in my passenger seat would be a great quad work-out for her, since I wouldn't allow her to put her feet on the floor mat in an effort to keep it perfectly clean, just as it was when we pulled out of the dealership. (Love ya, big dawg!) One particular Sunday after church, Kay approached us for a ride home. About this same time, a young guy who we suspected was strung out on drugs also asked for a lift. Being the people that we are, we said yes to both and all headed for my new(er) Honda. As we were loading into the car, I started to get a knot in my stomach knowing that this wasn't going to be good for "preserving" my car in its new state. I tried to continually remind myself that as God had provided this car for me, I was to use it to bless others. I started to feel a little better about it until Kay stated that she had been to the doctor the day before and had a catheter hooked up which flowed into a plastic bag that she was carrying underneath her coat. Z and I exchanged glances, rolled our eyes, and we all piled into the car and hit the road. As I begin asking the young man where we needed to take him, I hit a speed bump going a bit too fast and Kay screamed out. Her screaming scared me so I hit another bump going too fast to which Kay pulled out the plastic bag full of urine and told me that if I didn't slow it down, the bag would explode ALL over my car. OH NO...NOT KAY'S FECES! I couldn't handle it. If I wouldn't even let Z put the bottom of her feet in my car, how much less would I handle the explosion of Kay's medically-necessary "portable toilet?" To top off the uncomfortable and stressful situation, the guy in the backseat (sitting next to Z - haha) starts demanding that we call him "god." He refuses to be called anything else and will not give me instructions on where to take him unless I address him as "god." At this point, Z is poking me in the back demaning in spanish that we hurry and drop this "crazy" off. I'm thinking, "which one?" The one who's high and thinks he's the savior? Or the bossy one who at one wrong turn or large bump is going to involuntarily have us swimming in a sea of her waste? I am happy to report that we were able to drop "god" off at the right spot and that he exited the car without trouble, and though the explosion of Kay's excrement was still a looming threat, we could all relax a little. Finally (and after taking the long way), we dropped Kay off at her house with EVERTHING in tact. When she got out of the car, I felt such a specific sense of relief. We had completed our mission and my car remained in good condition.

What I didn't expect though, is that a few months later as Z and I were packing our college apartment preparing for graduation, is that we would hear from Kay. Kay was insistent that we see her before we left. When we made it over to her place, she proudly presented us each with a Christmas gift. As we unwrapped our presents, Kay reflected on the help we had been to her and how much it meant, and then this poverty-stricken, ailing, seemingly unlovable woman gave us the most generous gifts she was able. One was a huge painting of an angel and the other was some sort of lion drawing. Both were incredibly frightening and nothing that either Z or I desired to look at again, much less take home with us. I feel bad saying that, but it was the truth. The gifts themselves were nothing special, in fact nothing normal, but the heart of friendship that presented them to us was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Though neither Z or I have those gifts anymore due to the vagabond-ish existences we lived for years after college, I am sure they are things we will never forget. It struck me recently that sometimes friendship isn't something that materializes right away, no matter how much you put into it. It comes in time, as God sees fit, and is not always expressed by both parties the same way. It was Kay, you see, that God used to show me another unusual face of friendship.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Never in my life did I think I would love "customs." Never in my life did I think the sight of such a long, unmoving line would fill me with excitement. Never in my life did I think that I would be so overcome with emotion as i stepped up to the counter with my passport in hand. Generally, "customs" gets a bad rap, and I don't know that I've ever heard some one praise it or long to be there, and while, I suppose I never done either of those, "customs" has a special place in my heart. To me, "customs" connects me to "home."

After some of my longer or more harrowing journeys, typically a long line or some strict rules aren't exactly what I want, yet somehow when I step onto U.S. soil, I am moved deeply. (And while I am definitely grateful to be an American, I wouldn't typically consider myself a patriot) There is something about "that" room in DFW, ATL, MIA, ORD, JFK, or IAD that makes me light up (Next blog idea: success determined by how many airport codes have been memorized!). Somehow, to me, it represents hope, connectedness, and relief. It represents home. I no longer have to watch my back at every moment. I no longer have to feel lonely, longing for quality time with family and friends who "get it." I no longer have to be inundated with complex problems, life-threatening situations, or endless needs. I no longer have to explain what I mean or do the mental gymnastics of articulating my thoughts in a language that is far from fluency for me. I no longer have to life out of a suitcase where roaches may or may not decide to take up residence. I no longer have to boil water in order to have something to drink. I no longer have to sweat just walking from one place to another. You get the picture.

Even after all the times I've winded through that line, I anticipate my turn to step into line 28, for example, and wait for the customs officer to call me forward. Something wells up inside of me as I confidently clutch my passport and immigration form. Things like, "I belong here," and "this is my home," keep going through my mind. I can't wait to get on the other side. I feel so "American." I feel free, alive, and as if the possibilities are endless, thankful that the adrenaline takes over so I'm not so keenly aware of my exhaustede state. And then, it happens. He (yes, to date, I have never had a female customs officer call me to the counter) beckons me to the desk and I hand him my paperwork. In all but maybe one or two cases, words that I so dearly love to hear are spoken to me. "Welcome home, sweetie." "Glad you are home safely, darling." "Welcome back, dear." "Wow, you've been gone a long time. What were you doing?" "That's a lot of countries to hit in such a short period of time. Are you crazy?" Whether or not these quotes are verbatim, you get the idea. I love hearing that I'm welcomed...that I'm home. I treasure the life I've been blessed to lead and the opportunities to go abroad and I wouldn't trade them for anything at all, yet there is something so moving that I get to come "home."

I feel as though I often neglect the joy of "home," always looking for opportunities to leave, explore, experience. Though I LOVE traveling, adventure, challenges, and trying to "make it" in places very different from here, I am privileged to have such a wonderful and welcoming "home." This period of my life is one of "home." Living, growing, learning, and being "home." What a special, sacred, and blessed time it is. Time to BE "home."