As I’ve traveled over the past two years, I’ve left behind pieces of my heart scattered throughout the world. Families have opened their homes to me, countries have shared their culture, experiences have left a permanent mark, extreme poverty has opened my eyes, missionaries have inspired and strengthened my faith, travelers have given their friendships, civilian struggle and injustice has broadened my awareness, and children, from ever corner of every country, have stirred my emotions and reached me deeply. When one travels and opens themself up to the experience, it is nearly impossible not to be changed in some way. There are people, places, sceneries and experiences that will embrace a part of your heart and never let go. The children of IAA now possess a piece of mine.
One can learn so much from children. They approach life wide open, so full of love and excitement. Their only requirement is interaction, which is the fuel of their vibrant, little hearts. I wrestle and play with the kids on a daily basis, and other times I simply sit back and watch. They inspire me to live life more freely: to laugh more, to play more, to love more, to watch
movies more (I’m kidding...that’s impossible). Children have a way of removing us from our sometimes stressful lives and transporting us into their world, and for a moment, we too are kids again.
The more time I spend in the presence of these IAA children the more difficult the farewell. Each adoring smile and every loving hug squeezed tightly around my waist whispers “Don’t go Uncle, don’t go.” And it pains me to say goodbye, but I know it’s not forever. I’m eager to see what each of these young seeds sprout into. I will always keep in touch and lift them up in my prayers. I have no worries about their future, because they are well taken care of here at IAA. The Into Abba’s Arms family will ensure each and every child will grow up with good Christian values instilled in their heart and a sharp mind to lead their way. And not to mention, I’ve also instilled them with some of my hand-to-hand combat techniques and an intimidation stare that’s sure to frighten away any aggressor. No need to thank me…it’s all in a day’s work.
During my time here, I’ve sat and talked with Donna,
Christine and Jen (who just arrived a few weeks ago) and learned more about the children’s lives before they were taken in by IAA. What I’ve learned has really shocked me and broken my heart. But to know the hardships and pain these children came from and then to see their lives now, truly makes me realize the tremendous importance of missionaries and those who support them. There is indeed far too much poverty in this world to remedy, but to help as many as we can sure does make a difference in some of those people’s lives. And those who have been helped and supported in their time of need will most likely turn around and do the same for others. The effects of one person’s charity will multiply exponentially. An example of this “pay it forward” effect was displayed to me through the actions and words of one of the children of IAA; actually he is more like a young man now. One day after school, the children brought Auntie Donna a letter home from Nelson, who presently lives at Boarding school. The content of the letter delivered us all a surprise. Nelson expressed his desire to help
those who have been displaced from their homes and lost everything. The following is a small portion of that letter written by Nelson Muturi. “…I feel so much touched by God’s love that I need to help the people who are suffering a lot. I want you and I to organize a trip to Limuru to help the affected. Just like I was helped, I will also help. I feel God’s love telling me to do it.” I would have posted more, but I feel that these few powerful words sum it up best. Enclosed with his letter was a prayer he wrote asking for healing to come to his country and his people (every tribe, not just his own). The prayer was hung in each dorm and in the kitchen, as he requested, so that everyone could read and reflect on it.
Before we received the letter, I was continually rifling through my brain (which isn’t much to search through) for an idea on what to put your donations toward. At first, I was thinking something along the lines of a three-day Health Spa package for Uncle Jeremy in Nairobi, but Nelson’s letter brought me back to my
senses. I realized then that the children of IAA are well taken care of by their sponsors and everyone else contributing to Into Abba’s Arms. At this point in time, there are thousands displaced from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. So, Nelson’s desire that pressed so firmly against his heart became our aspiration as well. Soon, Mama Jane back in Texas had received and forwarded Nelson’s letter through her network of supporters and our new mission was off and going. I spent an entire day haggling with vendors in the Naivasha open market (which is a challenge when you’re the only foreigner around) and by the end I had a large quantity of children’s and women’s clothing, sandals, blankets, beanies, food, and a giant mango for myself…yummy! Now, just to give you an idea of how far your money goes here in Kenya, I will provide an example. I stood in front of a pile of multi-colored, rubber flip flops and inquired the going price for a local, not a Muzungu, that’s what they call us foreigners. I told him I’d buy more than one if he gave me a good price. We finally agreed
on 50 shillings (about 70 cents) and then he asked how many. I looked down at my feet and then back up at him and said, “I’ll take 80 pairs.” The poor guy nearly fainted. Not only were we giving to those displaced, but we were also supporting the local community and having fun at the same time. Back at the site, the staff was busy going through the storage room and children’s drawers, pulling out any clothing the kids could do without. Christine used the money provided by the IAA supporters back home to purchase a large quantity of blankets and supplies. The principle of Nelson’s school got involved and donated some food. He also gave permission for the IAA boarding students and a few of their friends to come along and help out. Soon the date was set and the kids were anxiously ready.
Two weeks after Nelson’s words inspired the cause, we pulled out of the Good Shepherd School loaded to the ground. Our team consisted of Nelson, Francis, Eunice, Caren, three of their school friends (I forgot their names), Christine, Daniel, James, Monica, Nelson’s principle, Freda (who works for child services and assists with adoptions),
and yours truly. Our plan was to stop by three different camps in Limuru and hand out all of our donations. The first camp was the smallest of the three at seventy-five people. We sang and clapped along with the children and I entertained them with freakish, white skin. Some were scared to death of me (I think they thought I had a disease and would turn their skin white as well), but most of them just wanted to jump and hang from my limbs like I was a giant toy. We handed out clothing, blankets, sandals, flashlights, and others supplies. Groups of the displaced families gathered and sang for us in gratitude. It truly warmed our hearts and reflected God’s love back on us; for we were there to show His love and in return we felt it as well. It’s amazing how much better it feels to give than it does to receive. And I could tell by the shimmering smile across Nelson’s face that he too understood the power of giving and the gratification that comes with helping those in need.
Soon we left for the second camp, which was a tad bit larger at eight
hundred people. By the time we left we were completely out of everything and could not go on to the third. We were given tours of the facility and were able to sit and talk with those displaced and hear their stories. I can’t even describe the emotions of the day. I heard so many horrible stories, but at the same time, I saw so many grateful smiles. I watched kids racing each other in wheel barrels and others passing a soccer ball made of wrapping plastic and twine. I observed tents that held twelve people and six latrines that serviced eight hundred. We handed women their only pair of shoes and children a blanket to finally keep them warm at night. I watched as Nelson and his friends offered comfort to those their age and I listened to women sing praises of thanks for God’s love. The saddest moment of my day was when I heard a young teenager say that he had been in the church that burned in Eldoret. He escaped unharmed but his father and both grandparents were burned inside. His mother suffered serious burns all over her body and was in intensive care at the
hospital. I looked into his desolate eyes and I couldn’t even imagine the pain he was going through. This was only one of many terrible stories. We asked so many if they would be able to return to their homes and almost all of them said that everything they owned had been burned. Some responded with a simple question: “Would you return to a place where your neighbors burned your home or killed your son.” That response stuck in my head, because it is something I could never conceive happening. But even though the day brought many painful stories, it also brought so many blessings. One of the happiest parts of our day was when Christine and Freda came back to the van with an eight year-old child who would be coming home to live at IAA. The girl, Teresia, had lost both of her parents before the conflict and lived with her grandmother. During the riots, their home and belongings were all burned and now the grandmother could barely take care of herself, let alone a child. So, she asked if IAA would take her granddaughter in and raise her up as their own. The answer was an overwhelming
yes. We returned to IAA that evening and introduced Teresia to her new family.
The following day, I visited a group of displaced families that Daniel had informed me of the week prior. They were staying only a few miles from the IAA site and had thirty-eight people living under one roof. I had set aside some of your donations to purchase this group with enough food to last them a week or more. As the elderly owner, who wore an old cowboy hat and rubber gum boots, showed me through their living conditions, I felt a sadness come over me. There was one room divided in two by a cabinet, leaving just enough room on each side for a bed. On one of those old, tattered mattresses, six young children slept crossways like little sardines sharing one blanket. Not knowing what to say, I simply held my words and continued on to the next room. The kitchen they used wasn’t really even a kitchen at all. A small fire sat in the chimney corner, where a pot rested atop two stone blocks placed on either side. In order to feed all thirty-eight (thirty-six of which were displaced from
north-western Kenya) three more fires were placed outside the home. The two biggest problems that they disclosed were that the firewood was running low and the blankets were too few to keep everyone warm by night. I stood and talked over the families that were sharing this home (translated by Daniel of course) and shared with them a little about myself and let them know that my friends and I will continually lift them up in our prayers. I explained to them that without the support of my friends that none of this would be possible. I then gave them the large bundle of ugali, bags of beans, rice and corn, other small items for meals, and money to purchase more blankets. The elders of each family stood and offered their gratitude and blessings to me and my friends.
That next week at the site, I couldn’t get out of my head the conditions those people were living in. I‘d spent all of the money I’d received and that of my own, but still wished I could to do more. And then days later, I received an e-mail from my mom stating that more people had sent in donations
for her to deposit into my account, so I thanked God and set out on another mission. First off, I returned to the household of thirty-eight and brought them a stack of new blankets and a large load of firewood. Then I arranged with a local friend at church (George aka GG) to visit five more displaced families in the area. That coming Sunday, I sat in the homes of five different groups of displaced families and listened to their stories of what happened in their areas. The families were from Nakuru, Eldoret, Lodiani and Burnt Forest. In many cases there were several families living under one roof. Each of their homes and belongings had been burned. They shared with me their stories in order that I might tell those in my country what took place here. I’m not going to go into the details in my journal, because they are simply too sad and barbaric, but I will share with any of you who wishes to hear when I return.
I’ll never forget the tears in this one man’s eyes as he described the horrors he witnessed. I’ll never forget the tremble in this one man’s voice as
he painfully rehashed his story. I’ll never forget the disgust I felt when told that police offered no help to those of a different tribe. I’ll never forget the sadness in this one ladies heart as she explained how members of her own church burned her home. And I’ll never forget the strength I saw as many said that they would learn to forgive those who don’t deserve it. Then after a prayer at each home, I surprised each household with enough food to last them a couple weeks, blankets to keep them warm and some extra cash to get them going. I must say that it was an honor to stand there and represent all of you back home. Thank you so much for your donations and prayers.
After the weekend of meeting displaced families, I took a trip into the capital with Christine, Donna and the babies, to visit the Nairobi Rescue Center. This is the children’s home that little Solomon and Ruthie were taken from years ago. It was a tough place to walk through and I soon realized why Donna decided to stay outside. The facility is a temporary home for young children rescued from
Weaving through the endless maze of tents
Around 800 displaced people sharing the small grounds of the camp.
abusive families, separated from their parents, those physically challenged and abandoned, or homeless orphans. As I walked through the dreary, depressing hallways, the stench of urine turned my stomach. The despairing faces of young children gathered at my side to see if maybe I was there to take them with me. The children’s clothes were tattered and dirty as were their little bodies. Their mouths uttered little to no words, but their eyes said so very much. One hallway was lined with over a dozen young children using miniature, plastic potties that rest against each wall. In the baby rooms, cribs were tightly packed together with no room to spare and the cries of neglected infants echoed in my ear. The rescue center seemed poorly understaffed for the number of children roaming through the halls. I was told stories of how awful Ruth’s diaper rash was when the IAA team first got her. The growth of her little body was stunted from lack of contact and nurturing. Ruthie is now three and rarely says a word. However, she is continuing to develop and she will soon be singing like a little bird. She actually called me uncle the other day
and put a smile on my face to stay…well, that was until she sneezed and the most colossal booger I’d ever seen hung from her nose and totally grossed me out.
We brought both Solomon and Ruthie to the children’s home to show the staff there how well the two had blossomed. But the true purpose of our visit was to pick up a new family member of IAA, Newton, who is six years old and cute as a button. He had recently lost his mother and step-father to AIDS and needed a new home. At first he was shy and didn’t say much, mainly due to the fact that he only speaks Luo and a little bit of Swahili, but by the time we reached the IAA site he was dangling from my neck and running amuck. I accompanied the clinic doctor to check Newton’s blood for HIV and soon learned that he was clean and healthy. It was yet another amazing day with IAA.
Easter weekend at IAA was a blast. The kids had Friday through Monday off from school so we left the site to change things up a bit. By this time, Auntie Jennifer
had returned to IAA from the U.S. and sure was glad to be home. I met her when I was here in June and we became good friends. We stayed in contact this whole time and it was good to finally see her again. Saturday was her first full day back at the site, so she and I took the whole group of kids to Naivasha to join us in our weekly shopping. I’m sure we were a funny site to see as we walked the kids through the open market in search of their winter coats for school. It was Jen leading the pack followed by fourteen kids and Uncle Jeremy at the caboose. Every local’s head turned as the sixteen of us weaved our way through the market holding hands. The kids soon had their winter jackets and a boat load of kid movies which they earned for being good.
The next day was Easter and it was my final Sunday to spend with the children. I would be in Kenya the following Sunday, but Jen and I would be in Nairobi for the weekend, where she lives part time. So, to wrap up my final Sunday,
I played Satan in the Easter play and let me tell you, there are no young Kenyans in Kinangop that ever want to meet the Devil now. Donna led as the narrator and I pranced through the aisles screeching with a high-pitched, sinister laugh and nearly scared every young child out of their skin. By the end of the play, every person within the church walls cheered loudly for Jesus and hailed down a barrage of boos on me, Satan, so I guess we pulled it off.
Easter Monday was another fun filled day. We all loaded up in the vehicles and took the children to the private pool in Naivasha. The kids only get to swim a couple times a year so most are very skittish of water, especially when Uncle Jeremy is chasing after them like a hungry shark. The day was full of laughs and cannon balls that splashed the ladies who refused to get in the water. Jen and I boiled and dyed nearly forty eggs to use in an Easter egg hunt after the swim, but a heavy downpour of rain kept us inside the rest of the day. The eggs didn’t go to
Teresia and her grandmother
The young girl who IAA brought home to come live at the site. She lost both her mother and father when she was young and her grandmother could no longer support them after her home and belongings were burned.
waste though, the kids gobbled them down and soon the dorms smelled something fierce. Fourteen youngsters with hard-boiled toots is something you never want to encounter.
After Easter weekend, Jen and I headed into Nairobi for a few days to run some errands. While at an internet café, I checked my e-mail and discovered an Easter present. My mom e-mailed to inform me that a pair of my close friends stopped by her house while in town over Easter and delivered a check for five hundred dollars to spread around to those in need. It was such a huge surprise. I finally got that Spa treatment I’d been itching for…I’m kidding…it was such a blessing and I made sure to place it in the hands of those who need it most.
I began racking my brain on how to divvy out five hundred dollars with only one week to go before I departed Kenya. Soon, with Jen’s help and a little prayer, I decided on what to do with the money. I divided it for four different causes: A portion went to some of the displaced families around Kinangop, some went to support IAA (a new dresser and
IAA's new little boy Newton
Don't worry, by that night he had a smile on his face that has left. He's is loving his new home.
night stand for the kid’s dorm), some went to a school called Spring Valley that feeds kids in one of the slums of Nairobi, and a portion went to Christ Covenant Centre which helps educate children living in the slums. We drove out to the Christ Covenant Centre and were able to tour the facility, meet some of the kids, and talk with the director. It is an amazing organization that has really impacted the youth in that area. As for the Spring Valley project, before their induction several years ago, around 400 kids died a year from starvation and harsh weather exposure in just one of the many slums in Nairobi. The number of starvation deaths in that particular slum has been brought down to nearly zero in result of the organization’s efforts.
My last three months at IAA have been an experience beyond explanation. The children and I have spent countless hours playing soccer (until one of them broke my toe), monkey in the middle, going over homework, engrossed in worldly discussions, wrestling like a band of crazed animals, and singing and dancing like stars in the dorm living room. On several occasions, I had various contests
for prizes to entertain the children, but most of all myself. On the first occasion, we had a mango eating contest wherein the contestants had to race to consume an entire mango, skin and all. It was an absolute mess and an absolute blast. Kennedy walked away with the crown for that competition, but Sheila soon put the girls on top after she won the cracker eating contest. Each contestant had to eat six crackers down without drinking water and leaving no crumbs behind to be crowned the champion. This turned out to be such an entertaining time (which I got on video) that I decided to hold championships the last two nights of my stay. This time instead of mangos, which gave many of the contestants terrible diarrhea, we had a marshmellow contest (which was Jen’s idea). Each kid had to see who could pack the most jumbo marshmellows in their mouth at one time. With no surprise, Joseph, who can talk up a storm, packed twelve in his mouth for the victory. Then Kevin, Grace, and Teresia, each walked away with a victory in one of the three cracker contests that followed. The prize for first place was
A child in her crib at Nairobi Children's Home
Notice how close all of the cribs are together. This is only one of many rooms.
a kids DVD containing numerous movies, second place and on down received different size portions of junk food that left them bouncing off of the walls. In the end, everyone got candy and prizes and had loads of fun in the process.
When I first planned to stay at the IAA orphanage, I never thought that the children would have such a deep impact on my heart. It has been really hard to say goodbye. They are each so precious and so full of life. I will never forget a single one of them and will hopefully be able to return one day and see their smiles again. I realize that it must be very hard for children who have lost their parents to have people coming in and out of their lives as frequently as these do, but I know that they know that I love them and that I will always be thinking of them. Goodbye Joseph, Simon, Kennedy, George, Moses, Johnny, Kevin, Josephat, Nelson, Francis, Newton, Solomon, Grace, Sheila, Maggy, Lydia, Teresia, Eunice, Caren and Ruth…you are all forever in my heart.
Into Abba’s Arms has nearly completed a new baby dorm that will be
home for at least ten more little ones. If you would like learn more about the organization and the children visit their website at intoabbasarms.org. I would like to thank Jane and the Into Abba’s Arms family for allowing me to be a part of their life. May God bless every seed you sow.
Well, now I’m off to Egypt and elsewhere. It’s now back to hostels, planes, trains and buses, and everything else that accompanies a life on the road. I know Egypt has gotten a little rough lately with the Palestinian refugees flooding across the border and all, but don’t you all worry, after post-election Kenya, nothing can faze me. Following Egypt, I may head to Israel if I can find a cheap flight (which has been unsuccessful so far) and then I will be hopping from country to country in Eastern Europe for around three weeks to a month. After that, I’m coming home! I hope that you are all well and I looking forward to hearing from you soon. Kwa heri rafiki zangu.
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