Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Excitement in the Slums!

March 7, 2018, As we traveled to the airport, I carried many hugs from my family with me, and my grandchildren’s arms were still wrapped around my heart. My grandbabies had turned my suitcases into a piece of art with yellow and black tape for easy identifying. They drew hearts and wrote words of love along with “See you soon” and then proceeded to put their toys inside for the kids in Africa. The time for parting grew closer, and the hugs got tighter.  The little ones dressed for the blast of cold air they would feel as they opened the door lingered and ran back for more hugs and kisses. With a heartfelt goodbye, the door closed. I would soon be on my way to a destination halfway around the world.

The March northeaster threatening eighteen inches of snow was still pressing in, and a pending flight cancelation was of concern.  As we traveled toward the airport a mixture of snow and rain started to pelt the earth. Buses had already begun to change their schedules, and parking bans were being put into effect, but we continued with a prayer that all would go as planned.

March 8, 2018,  After being in the air for sixteen hours I arrived in a land very dear to my heart. The flight was smooth and the northeaster ready to reveal its strong winds and snow was far behind me. All my luggage arrived intact and on time. Customs waved me through so I didn’t even have to stop, and my reliable driver was waiting for me outside the airport.  As we left the airport and headed toward Nairobi, the security surveillance continued.  Lights from the city cameras flashed periodically as we drove under them. I had entered a land of gated and guarded homes where guard dogs bark and howl through the night.

The late night hour had opened up the roadways and gave us easy travel through the city. Soon we were greeted by the guard at the gate who handed me the key to my room.  After a long journey, a hot shower and a bed was a welcome sight. With an eight hour time difference, and being tired from the flight, it would take a few days for the body to adjust.  

The night fled quickly as the African sun filled the sky like a blazing ball of fire. The morning was full of friends waiting to greet me.  A happy reunion was consumed with hugs, handshakes and a custom greeting of,  “welcome, welcome, welcome home.”
The pastor from the slums was walking about the property waiting for me to meet with him.  When the Kenyans saw him, they automatically knew I was here.  They could “smell Linda in the air.”
Twelve hours ago I stepped into a third world country with all of its cries for help, and now it was time to go into a deeper level of poverty and suffering known as the slums.  From the busy highways, tall buildings of glass and fancy stores we travel to the outskirts of the city. The scene changed drastically as we entered a land with one room tin homes locked together in rows. They are built on wasteland and filth.  Layers and layers of garbage become the base for which they build their homes.  Each year the population increases bringing the unhealthy sanitary conditions to a higher level of concern.  Raw sewage rolls through the pathways and beside the dusty streets like a fresh bubbling spring brook.  Children play in it with their sticks and breath in the air saturated with a smell known to the slums.  Small wobbly wooden bridges are placed here and there across the running sewage so that people can enter their homes.  In other areas, it becomes a balancing act as one steps from stone to stone midst the sludge and wetland that blankets the ground.

Not a sound is coming from the church but as we enter all eyes turn our way.  Surprise and the awe of seeing a white woman are visible on the school children’s faces.  I soon realized there was one little girl that wasn’t as happy to see me.  She quietly retreated to a place of safety behind the teacher's desk and watched me from a distance.
The leaky tin roof has given way to puddles on the floor, and their desks are moved to the other side.  It is depressingly dark within. The uneven walls have been made of old rusty pieces of iron sheets, and the previous nail holes let a ray of light shine through.

When the darkness of night settles over the slums, evil wakes and runs rampant through the land. Just a couple weeks before I came thieves broke into the church and stole the school children’s chairs.  One thief was shot and killed not far from the church.  Mob justice often takes over when someone is caught in such a crime.  Stoning or a tire placed over their body and lit on fire becomes the instant sentence and ends their life.

In 2005 I went into the slums for the first time. It is an area of high crime with much suffering, disease, and hunger is seen throughout. There is also the beauty of life, precious children and newborns snuggled in close to their mamas. Here in the slums, I am known as Pastor Joy, which is my middle name. My first day here I had a beautiful little baby girl placed in my arms.  “Joy Linda” born January 12th is a very healthy and happy little girl!

In the midst of our visits, plans are made to demolish the existing church building and erect a new structure to worship in. One that would keep them dry and would give the children a place with plenty of light to study in. The thought of a new church was filling the hearts of the people with excitement. They had waited and prayed for this day not knowing how it could ever come to pass.

Tomorrow when the sun bounces into the horizon the church structure will be taken down.     

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Happiest Pastor Around!

February 11, 2017, Saturday
The work begins!  After meeting with the head carpenter and coming to an agreement, we headed to the warehouse outside of town. We hired a big lorry truck and filled it with as many supplies as possible; timber, posts, iron sheets, nails and cement, and then sent it up the mountain to the site of the new church.

I had met several good and faithful pastors in Mt Elgon last year, but there was one although small in frame he stood tall in the Lord.  He is 75 years old, and because of an injury he walks with a limp, but that doesn’t slow him down. He continues to work for the Lord tirelessly, and his eyes light up like fire when he talks about Jesus.

He was not aware that a decision had been made to build him a new church and the supplies were in route to the mountain. We had tried several times to contact him, but the phone service was down in the mountain so he could not be reached.  Joy bubbled out of our hearts, and we laughed with delight as we thought about the surprise that awaited him.   

We decided it best to send someone to find him and tell him to find a place with phone service and call us.  The call finally came through, and the bishop or pastor over him began to speak to him in Swahili. There was an element of excitement in the head pastor's voice as he informed him that Linda was here, and soon he was to receive a truckload of supplies for a new church.  There was silence on the other end of the phone.  It had been about a year since he had heard from me and he hadn’t been promised anything while I was there.  I hadn’t even brought up the idea of possibly building him a church.  For me, it was a trip to search out the land, but he was unaware of that. 

Then he spoke “Wait– let me call you again, I'm not hearing you” was the response from the other end of the phone.  The pastor was in disbelief and thought the words he was hearing couldn't be right.  But he did hear correctly and very soon his eyes would see piles of lumber on the small piece of vacant land that he had prayed over for years.

February 12, 2017, Sunday
After meeting under the tent for the morning service, we traveled out of town to the project site.  The paved road was straight, and the mountain stood before us.  Then things suddenly changed when the tarmac ended.  It was dusty roads and potholes the rest of the way. Mountain life filled our view, and animals roamed free.  A couple of motorbikes sat in the middle of the small stream we crossed as the boys worked hard to clean it.  Cows waded in the same water and didn’t hesitate to relieve themselves while mamas gathered water to take home to their families.

Farm land surrounds us, and it sits barren as it waits for seed.  A single Acacia tree stands in the midst of an open field and children stunned to see a white woman jump with excitement as they wait for my response.

As we walk down the hill to a kitchen made of the mud of the earth the pastor is already on his feet and coming to meet us. He grabs my hand and shakes it ever so tightly, and in English, I hear the words “thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over again.  Mama Julia, a Pokot woman, doesn’t speak a word of English but she wraps her arms around me and gives me a long lasting hug. Her actions are universally understood.  Her face was full of gratitude and appreciation for good things that were about to take place within the village. 

Last night a heart full of happiness chased any thought of sleep from the pastor’s mind, and after counting the supplies two or three times, he decided to keep the night guards company.  With the stars above him and lumber piles around him, this man rejoiced openly and thanked God all night long.

My heart was full, and overflowing that the Lord was using us to answer this pastor’s prayers. Excitement could be felt in the air as we gathered on the land soon to be the home of a 25 x 40 church. The men measured and marked out the placement of the church on the dry earth beneath our feet where a small field of maize once grew.

People from their thatched roof homes around us stood on the sidelines to watch along with forty or more children. The peaceful valley below us was in plain view, and the wind broke through the rays of the sun bringing us some relief from the mid-day heat.

With very grateful hearts we bowed our heads and thanked God for all that he was doing for the people here in the mountain. The pastor was about to burst with joy as we broke ground for the first corner post
Psalm 126:3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Street Boy's Sermon

February 9, 2017, Thursday
Each bump we hit as we traveled toward the mountain made us aware that this was going to be the norm from here on up. In fact, it got much worse. The car rattled to the point I worried something might break, we had seen the last of paved roads. Our mission today was to meet with a pastor who was holding his services on one of Mount Elgon’s slopes. 

This extinct volcano covers 494 square feet.  It sits in two countries, Kenya and Uganda and is known for its elephant caves. It fills the skyline and has endless slopes and valleys rich in native culture.  Fields of light green sugar cane decorate the base adding beauty to the dry and dusty land.

Cows saunter lazily along the roadside and even take ownership of the road not carrying a bit that they have brought us to a standstill. They stare at us, head on and seem to be deaf to the toot of a horn.

As we ride in the midst of a cloud of dust one can almost hear the earth crying out for a drop of rain. The dry season came early this year, and in some parts of the country, it has brought death to their door. Food prices have and continue to increase; it will become more difficult for many families to have food.
Native homes made of rock and mud dot the slopes around us and blend in with the earth in the valley below us.  The modernized homes, those with iron sheets on their roofs, reflect the sun like a mirror.

We climbed upward and then down into another valley and up the other side. The prominent red soil began to disappear, and white sand covered the roadway.  The ground beneath us had a mixture of tiny rocks that glistened like diamonds under the Kenyan sun.  The road out of the valley was steep, and soon it started to close in on us.  The route we traveled got narrower, and rocks too big to ride over began to show themselves. 

The thought of our vehicle passing over the trodden footpath before us was a bit alarming, but my driver assures me that we can make it.  We quickly roll up our windows as the thorn bushes slide against the sides of our car. 

The thorn bushes pushed back by our car quickly bounce back into the pathway, as we enter an opening.  Big boulders decorate this once volcanic mountain, and there is evidence of lava rock around us.  Large cactus plants separate the church land from the acres of garden land beside it.

Several church people are are waiting for me on wooden benches under the open sky.  It doesn’t take long for the word to get out that I’ve arrived and the neighbors hurry to welcome me.  Soon a wooden couch from someone’s home is being carried through the bushes and placed in the front of the church for me to sit on.  A mama takes the corner of her wrap and gives it a good dusting before I’m allowed to sit.

The sun is mid sky and burns down on us as we stand to sing a couple of songs. There isn’t a roof over their head, but their hearts release praises to the Lord.  

February 10, 2017, Friday
My days have been full, and it was necessary to take the time to run into town to buy some food. I was trying to make it a quick trip as I had a lot to do and I was also a bit tired from the journey into the mountain the day before.  The sidewalks were busy with people coming and going.  Construction piles were here and there as a new store was in the process of being built.  Men with motorbikes lined the roads in hopes to see someone that needs a ride.  Mama’s sit beside the roadway with tomatoes, onions, bananas, avocados and veggies of all kinds trying to catch you before you enter the store. It’s like walking through a maze trying to get in and out of a store.
I finished my shopping and was walking away somewhat tired of all the hustle and bustle and ready to get to a more quiet place when Wilson, a street boy that I’ve known for years, spots me.  Mama Linda, Mama Linda, enters my ears and soon I have a 6’ skinny street boy with filthy clothes walking beside me, and he wants something to drink. 

I shake my head and say not today.  I'd already been in the store, and I didn’t want to go back through all the traffic and vendors.  I hear, “Please, Mama Linda.”  Feeling torn inside but knowing how tired I was I said  - not today another time Wilson. Wilson isn’t willing to give up because he knows I usually will help him.  Next, I hear;  “Mama Linda, do it for Jesus!”  That stopped me in my tracks.  “Do it for Jesus!”    

Wilson and I walked to place serving food, and he not only got something to drink, but he went on his way with something to eat as well!   Today I heard a touching sermon from a street boy that I will remember for a long time.  “Do it for Jesus!”

Psalm 97:5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Walls of Iron Sheets

February 5, 2017, Sunday                                                                                                                  The scenery quickly changed as we left the city limits and entered Mukura slum.  The luxury style homes, businesses, and tall glassed-in buildings disappeared along with the smells of sweet-flowering trees. We had entered a different world, and the life of survival was like an uncut movie rolling before me. Near the entrance of the slum stood a large pool of dirty water and it bubbled with life as children bathed and played in it.

Our step was determined, and we walked steadily down into flat lands that became the breeding ground for rats.
Filth surrounded us, and raw sewage flowed down the middle of a narrow passageway making it necessary to jump back and forth to walk on dry ground. Children without the green grass, tall trees, and elaborate playgrounds spent their time moving their sticks through the sewage.  

The wall of iron sheets on each side of us never seemed to end.  Men lacking work sat on a step in front of their humble home with the stench of sewage filling their nostrils.  Those around us walked with heads held down, we could feel the gloom and despair in the air.  People here seemed lost to the world, and the world didn’t care.  In the midst of such darkness and incredible poverty, children are born not knowing anything bigger or brighter.

Within this pit where rain waters run and fill the land, a young man found his way out, but he did not stay.  He has returned and opened a school.  He is a beacon of light bringing hope to the forgotten children of the slum. His vision is ever growing as he sees children run through his gate eager to learn more.
February 6, 2017, Monday                                                                                                                 My early morning flight was on time. It was a small plane, so my luggage was sent via truck. Everyone had a window seat, and the pilot was in view.  He informed us of the emergency instructions before we took off and they went something like this.  In the case of an emergency, there is a red handle to pull to open the door. Do not pull the red handle until I give the emergency instructions. The emergency instructions will be “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate!”   Fortunately, we flew above the wind clouds into the open blue sky without problems.

The city started to fade in the distance, and the mountains and craters were soon beneath us. We crossed the Rift Valley into acres of agricultural land known for producing maize and beans.
The plane glided across the small airstrip in the midst of farmland. It had delivered us safely to western Kenya with its red soil, hot days and cool nights.  Soon I would enter through a door with “Linda” painted on the outside.  It would be my home, my place of rest, for the days ahead.

As others welcome me little Christine, a child rescued from Turkana land runs to greet me.  Her eyes twinkle with delight, and now the smile once covered by her tumor can easily be seen. She is beautiful, healthy and growing strong.  Just last year she has held in her mama Mary’s arms like a baby even though she was almost two. The lack of food had weakened her body, and she was tiny for her age. A drainage shunt can be seen and felt in her abdomen, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She is a very active and happy little girl.  We thank God for his divine plan. Without medical care and someone to oversee that she is taken care of little Christine would not be here today. 

February 7, 2017, 
A chorus of perfection fills my ears as the birds alert us that the sun will soon break the sky. The delightful song comes to an end as the Muslim call to prayer awakens every dog for miles around from their quiet guard duty.  They howl back and forth, rest awhile and then do it some more.  Morning is here, and all is awake around me.  The mosquito net around my bed is tightly twirled around and then tossed above the bed.  My day has begun.                                                                                                                                                                                   
The school children are waiting, and as I view my surroundings from the back of a motorbike, all appears unchanged. Cows are sauntering across the road without fear of oncoming traffic. The have eyes, but they don’t see.  Matutu’s ( public transportation vans) have people sitting on people, and still, they are ready to carry more. They rush by us at high speeds.  A beep beep sends shivers up your spine and a quick prayer to heaven as it means to move out of the way - we are not stopping!

Donkeys pulling heavy carts trot beside us as the master swings the whip across his body relentlessly.  It’s a busy road leading us out of town toward a simpler life.  Chickens in wire cages are for sale beside the road.  Although they will be tough when cooked it’s the only way to guarantee freshness. Crates of eggs are stacked high on the back of bicycles and carefully pedaled to town. Women are seen walking with bundles of firewood on their heads either in search of a sale or just to provide a way of cooking at home. We are in a culture set back in time, and children excited to see a white woman holler “mzungu how are you?”

We pull up in front of the school, and the children are in their uniforms and even though it is over 80 degrees most of them are wearing blue sweaters! The children’s hands reach toward the sky and frantically wave as they want to make sure I see them. Since we last met the children have sprouted upward. They no longer set comfortably in their baby chairs and at their desks so it's time for them to graduate into something more fitting.

Their eyes are glued to me and as I open up a bag of slippers made by my mom, Charlotte Towne the school shoes quickly come off! The children are elated and immediately try on their new slippers!

We hired some motorbikes and headed out of the village and across the main road to pray with one of the teachers.  She had something removed from her foot surgically and was still sore, and her leg was very swollen.
When we arrived, she was resting under a shade tree, and the little ones were running around the yard as a neighbor’s cow munched away on the small pieces of grass found during the dry season. 

She needed encouragement, prayer, and instruction on how to keep the swelling down.  We believe that soon she will be back at school teaching the children.

The day was not over. On the other side of town was an orphanage with over 200 exuberant children rescued from Kipsongo slum. Throughout the years I have visited Seeds Children’s Home and have seen God pour out many wonderful blessings upon these orphans.  When the children return from school, they form a circle and join hands.  They gather together for a short time to share in song, and one will say a prayer of thanks for a safe return.  Before they end and go to their room, every child hears “Welcome home” as the house mother pushes rejection further from their broken hearts. 

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.