Walls of Kenya. First Presbyterian Church Blogs posts from the Summer 2013 Tree of Lives pilgrimage to Kenya
On June 22, 2013, twelve pilgrims traveled to Africa on behalf of Tree of Lives in Norfolk, VA . They left America that day with the God-given purpose of bringing the love and hope of Christ to the lost and least in Kenya. Much practical and spiritual work was accomplished during those 14 days, including: •Educational assessments of of Joy Village children •Art therapy intervention with 250 children and adolescents •HIV+ patient home visits in surrounding villages •Joy Village medical care •Pastoral Counseling This book of blog posts, written by team members during their two-week stay at Nazareth Hospital, calls you along on their journey and into their story.
A Dad to a Brother Nairobi, Kenya June 21, 2013
suspect all parents say the goal is to raise independent children, responsible citizens both of their nation and, for those of faith, of the Kingdom of God. I suspect, as well, that when it comes down to it, the idea scares us to death. How will this little one, now so sweetly cradled in my arms, who depends on me for food and faith, health and hope, treats and trust, how could he ever really grow into a creature so independent heâ€™ll no longer be in need of me, his creator dad? This more than twenty-seven year parenting experiment tells me our fear never really goes away. Creating an independent being is, in a sense, counter-intuitive to much of the love we
give, day in and day out. A self-sacrificing, “I would die for you” faithfulness: He needs me to mimic his first word (“Mama” by the way), hold his hand as he stumbles into his first step, balance his feet as he peddles into his first solo wheeled excursion. He needs me. So deep is this love that we easily believe we will be forever intertwined, forever drawn together, forever tying laces, wiping noses, scrubbing bruises, forever in need of each others needs. Truth is, I’ve easily equated fathering with being needed; it has fit me well. Well, the fit is no more. My first-born just landed in Yida, South Sudan. Likely won’t find it on a map – until a matter of months ago it didn’t exist but now is the home to more than 70,000 refugees from an oppressive evil regime, seemingly hell-bent on a racial purge. For the next year, at least, he will live, work, play and pray with a people he has only known from the glossy journalist’s photos, the glassy politician’s words. From today forward “those people” will be his people, each with a name, a story, a heart, a soul. I couldn’t be more proud and more fearful. Proud that he is own man. Fearful for his safety and sanity. Fearful as well that, when I next see him, I’ll no longer be needed, so independent will he be. No longer relying in any way on the faith of this father, instead filled with the completed experience of a man in Christ – this singular savior who lives on the borders, welcomes the alien, pours the first cup of water, sets the fresh table of freedom, binds the wounds of fear and loss. Strange how closely entwined faith and fear are, isn’t it? Everything I ever wanted for him and everything that, at least in some sense, makes me irrelevant. Now all this father’s love has left is to pray. To pray for my son. To pray for those sons and daughters of the King to whom mine will freely offer the unique privilege of bestowing royal dignity, with a welcome along the border, an offer of a first cup, a seat at the family table, a hand to hold. And pray, I will, with all of the intensity my spirit can muster. And as each petition draws to its end, I will ask that He give me the privilege of being a dad, no longer to a son, but to a brother. Pray with me, will you? by Jim Wood, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA
Uphill Can Be So Much Fun Don’t know why but I would much rather be going up than down; whether it be walking, backpacking, running, my compass points North. So this Sunday’s Joy Village field trip was right up my dirt path – a peripatetic journey to a familiar steep hill where, under a blue African sky, I joined twenty-three energetic future Olympians as we raced and raced and raced - all uphill.
Bright beautiful faces of childhood, digging deep, head tucked, leaning in, foot in front of foot, lungs pumping to burst level, exhilarated by the thrill of the chase. And me … not so bright and beautiful but putting forth my best to shouts of encouragement, laughter, helpful hands and shoves - all the way to the top, time and time and time again. To these young lives, the uphill is nothing new; in many ways they have been in training for it their whole lives. Whether orphaned, abandoned, forgotten, abused, HIV+, living on the street, each has an uphill story – each a history so steep I often tremble even to imagine. Each with an imprint of “No” etched deep in her or his life; yet, each now a daughter or son of Joy Village. Joy Village is an uphill place. An uphill struggle from the first dream – how could we afford the property, how would we build, how should we run it, how might we sustain support, how, how, how … all the way up the hill. But today here it is, a city on a hill...
...where the light of Christ shines high and lifted up and beautiful little uphill children now see the steep approaching incline and realize that, together, we can conquer anything, side-byside, sisters, brothers, partners of a shared smile, shouting “Yes!” all the way home. by Jim Wood, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA
Mothers’ Prayers Everywhere During this pilgrimage, Susan and I are privileged with the opportunity to explore the education of our Joy Village children. On our first day, we found ourselves driving through the rolling hills of rural Kenya to visit a few of their schools out in their small village. As I looked out the passenger window of a humble car, I saw ordinary scenes of African life. Mommas were walking their distant journeys, barefoot alongside their children; carrying heavy burdens both in their hearts and arms. It’s a life so strikingly uncommon to mine. As we drove along the countryside, my mind took me back a year ago to the United States. It was a time filled with excitement for me, in choosing the right school for my own child, who is the very same age as many of these Joy children. I remembered my hopes and dreams for her that would come packaged as the ideal education. Recalling that experience, I became overwhelmed with a similarity in these opposite worlds that I traverse. Every mother prays for
the very best for our child, no matter what part of the world in which we live. We pray for hope, safety, prosperity, and something more than what we had for ourselves. I am tremendously humbled with the honor of serving as a small servant to these precious children, as they begin a new life of hope and prosperity, carried in the loving arms of Christ and their new mommas. Looking into the eyes of these children, I see a curiosity and eagerness so full of potential for greatness. I pray the same words for these children that I spoke just a year ago for my own flesh; words of thanksgiving, love, and hope for something great…something so much more from where they came. by Hunter Johnston, Director of Children and Family Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA.
A Time To Mourn, A Time to Dance Hannah was a young wife, married since last November. In January, she suffered a miscarriage. And now, she was back in the maternity ward of Nazareth Hospital, suffering through her second miscarriage. When I walked into her room yesterday morning and stood at her bedside, I was overcome by her deep grief and sadness. This young woman was dwelling in aÂ land of deep darkness. After telling her how sorry I was for her loss, I asked her if she knew the story of Hannah in the Bible. The biblical Hannah was also a young woman who was traumatized by her inability to bear children. She poured her grief to the Lord, and eventually we're told,Â God heard and answered her prayer as she conceived and bore a son named Samuel. When I asked her if she knew about the Hannah of the Bible, she nodded her head and her eyes brightened for a moment. My prayer for Hannah since meeting her has been that Hannah also would be able to put her hope in the Lord.
In another wing of the hospital, a man named Daniel was laying in the same bed that he had occupied since last December. Daniel was walking along the side of the road when he was struck by a motorbike, breaking his leg in two places. The breaks were so severe that Daniel's doctors recommended amputating his leg just below the knee. Daniel, however, refused to sign off on the procedure and decided to place his hope in the Lord. Today his leg is nearly fully healed. In telling his story, Daniel radiated a deep peace and joy as he shared how God not only healed his body, but deepened his faith. Two patients, two children of God, facing very different realities. One in need of healing and hope, the other celebrating those same two realities. I was privileged to meet Hannah and Daniel as I walked the hospital core doors with Liza, another visitor from the US and Lenit, a pastoral counselor on staff at Nazareth Hospital. Lenit is one of three pastoral counselors who spend their days rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. These counselors live out, on a daily basis, Christ's call to bear one another's burdens. In speaking with Lenit and one of her colleagues, George, I discovered that Nazareth is the only hospital in this part of Kenya that has a pastoral care department. It's a ministry that was birthed by, and continues to be supported by, Tree of Lives.
As a first time visitor to Kenya and as someone who has had the blessing of witnessing this ministry first hand, I am so grateful that the Hannahs and Daniels who end up in Nazareth Hospital have people like Lenit and George who are committed to sharing the love and grace of God. "Bear one anotherâ€™s burdens, and in this way you will fulfillÂ the law of Christ..." Galatians 6:2 by Brian Smith, pastor at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Canton, MI
Home Visits But So Much More While in Kenya, we get the opportunity to make home visits, accompanied by counselors from Holy Family Centre (HFC), who check up on patients, and provide food and emotional and spiritual support. Ruthie Rand and I went on home visits together with Nancy from HFC. We had the privilege of being Christ's hands and feet, merely for a few hours, as we talked with, and prayed for, Leah and Rose and Carol. God Â also exposed us to several of his local faith heroes - to Nancy, HFC counselor who visits often desperately sick people, 4 out of 5 days a week; to Margaret (Tata), HFC's oldest community health worker, unpaid, who took in Leah's one-year-old child while Leah is too weak from tuberculosis and HIV to care for her; to Rose's friend, who carried her up a steep hill, and on 2 long matatu (bus) rides to get her to Nazareth Hospital for treatment of her tuberculosis, when Rose was too weak to get there by herself; and to Carol's younger brother, Daniel, who stays home and washes the diapers of his bed- ridden older sister. Faith heroes, compassionately sharing Christ's love with their neighbors.
Carol's mother told us she had not walked in 8 years, but on this day, she walked. Slowly, painfully, and palsied from Â nerve damage, but she still got out of her bed, pulled herself along one wall of her small room, and fell into a chair and received us as visitors. Her mother called it miraculous and I cannot disagree. Tears fell down her face during much of our visit, and she could not verbally communicate with us Â well, but it still felt like we had visited Holy ground, briefly joining a hurting sister in Christ, praying with her and sharing the love of God. In Kenya, people frequently profess:
"God is good, all the time . All the time, God is good." Amidst such pain and suffering, it's hard for me to see sometimes, and even harder, if not impossible, for me to intellectually understand. Nonetheless, at the end of a day of home visits, with the patients we visited, and with the local faith heroes who accompanied us, I join, in child-like faith, to honor and praise God for all the rich blessings of this day. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
P.S. Walking along the trails back to Banana, we passed a grandmother. When Margaret told her we were from Tree of Lives, she excitedly and effusively thanked us for the two Boxes of Love her two grandsons, who lived with her, received last Christmas; Boxes of Love purchased with your generous donations. I told her I would convey her thanks to all who supported the Boxes of Love program last year. It was a very humbling experience. by Steve Story, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA
Learning to Trust Lord, you know I am broken, please give me strength to serve you. I know going back to the surgical ward for rounds is of you. Thank you for sending me with Pastor Bryan. His compassion and presence strengthens me. I feel like I am supposed to be the strong American with her act together but yet I am weak. I am so grateful that Bryan wanted to come back to the house during our break. I am counting on you, Lord, to give me strength so I can be available for the works you have prepared for me. I feel so inadequate. I guess this is good since I am suppose to be living on your strength and not my own. In my heart I know this is a time of blessing but it sure is hard.
So Lord when is it that I can learn to really trust you? After our tea break I went back to the hospital where I was to meet with Hannah a women who had just lost her second baby. I knew with Christ's help I could do it but I felt like I was in a thousand pieces myself. When we arrived at her room we learned she had been discharged. I then went to visit Isaac a dear 12-year-old friend who is hospitalized. When I arrived he asked me about my work in America and I told him I am an assistive technology specialist who works with children who have disabilities. To explain my work I told him about a student who can't talk and the app my son had made for her so she could tell people about her life. We proceeded to use it and make a story about Issac's life. He told about his age, his grade in school, his friends and his faith. He ministered to me and I was richly blessed. I am not sure why when I might feel like I am going to fall off a cliff I don't have the confidence of faith. This was a profound day I will remember. by Susan LaSante, from Littleton, MA, who is experiencing her second pilgrimage to Kenya with Tree of Lives.
Time Takes Days for Living Much to my delight I heard that the premies nursery had been added on at Nazareth hospital. After changing my street shoes into clean clogs and putting on a blue gown I entered the room. It was beautiful and filled with little sounds of life. The head nurse walked toward me and asked if I would like to hold a baby. My motherly instincts began and I extended my arms. I had never held such a tiny person in my life. I sat down in a chair and just stared at him. Little face, little nose, little ears, big soul. I began to pray as I stared and as I thought about his future: When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept. I saw him as one of our porch kids putting together a puzzle and coloring while lying on his stomach and his feet kicking in the air. There is an Orange Fanta by his side and a yummy biscuit.
When as a youth I dreamed and talked, time walked I saw him with a book bag on his back walking through the hospital grounds in his orange and green uniform. He was making all A’s and was smiling at the world.
When I became a full-grown man, time ran. I saw him scrubbing his hands at Nazareth Hospital getting ready to go to the theater to do surgery. What a steady divine guided hand he had. And as I grew older, time flew. I saw him, a Mzee, with gray hair holding his grandson and looking down on his face praying about his tiny person’s life.
Soon I shall find when traveling, time gone. I see a beautiful large family celebrating his life and scooping up special handfuls of dirt to go reverently on his grave. Christ, what will become of me then? I see him singing with the angels and thriving in his new life in Christ. I said Amen and gently handed him back to the head nurse whose name truly was Grace and thanked her for the sacred journey of life. Dear Heavenly Father, may each and every boy be blessed throughout their time on this celestial ball. by Sheryl Wood, Missions Outreach Coordinator for First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA
Continuing the Movement Jesus began a movement that changed the course of human history by issuing this simple directive to a rag-tag bunch of folks,
"Follow me! " And after they had followed him for a while, watching him, listening to him, and learning from him, Jesus told this same group, "Go! I am sending you out." And Luke tells us, "they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere" (9:6). There is this simple rhythm inherent in being a disciple of Christ. First, he calls us to him, inviting us into fellowship with him. In this fellowship, we hopefully learn the ways of our Savior. We seek to be transformed into his likeness as we obey his commands and live out his ways. But the Christian life isn't just about coming to Christ. It's also about going out in Christ's name to carry out his mission of redeeming humanity. This sending out of Christ's followersÂ narrated by Luke came to my mind as I had the privilege of traveling to some of the villages surrounding Nazareth Hospital. My travel companions for
the day were Rahab, a counselor from the Holy Family Center, and Liza, a member of First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk. We got there by hopping aboard what are called "matatus."Â They're basically vans that have been equipped with three rows of bench seats that would comfortably seat nine people. However, rarely do matatus travel with nine folks aboard.Â We had 14 crammed into ours and I've heard rumors of 22 human bodies somehow pressed into one vehicle! We rode in three different matatus for about 30 minutes before we reached the village on our itinerary. Once in the village, we met the community health worker who guided us from one home to another. We visited nine homes that day, walking along narrow dirt roads, finding tin shack dwellings tucked away in a maze of confusing paths. The purpose of these visits, on one level, was to find out how well these patients, who were all HIVpositive, were adhering to the medical protocol they were given. All the pills that had been prescribed were counted to make sure the patient was taking his or her medication. Rehab would also ask how things were going in the patient's life and then Liza and I would pray for them and anoint them with oil. So while checking on patient adherence was one reason for the visits, the greater purpose was to provide holistic care to these children of God who had been infected with a virus that not long ago was a death sentence. The
intent of each visit was to help ensure that the body, mind and spirit of these sisters and brothers of mine were cared for in the name andÂ spirit of Jesus.
As we moved from home to home, visiting Margaret, Felis, Joyce, Anne,Â Lucy, Salome, Joseph, James, Philip, and Mary, I felt privileged to be part of a mission that began so long ago of being sent out in Christ's name. I am grateful that Tree of Lives makes it possible for counselors like Rahab to carry out this Christ centered work. by Brian Smith, pastor at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Canton, MI
God Can Find Us I sat in church on Sunday with the same two children as last year tucked under my arms ,my spirit soared. The church was packed. It almost felt like a 9 passenger matatu with 21 people in it. As I worshipped my thoughts went to the Anajali church in Kibera where they too were worshipping and praising God with their Kenyan exuberance. There was a touch of sadness. I will not see my friends from Anajali on this trip. Do you know those Sundays when the pastor is preaching and you feel like he is speaking directly to your heart and you had better listen carefully because there is a special message for you? Well this was one of those Sundays for me. I know I don't really understand God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit but I try. I was astounded at how I could be in this church in a little village in Africa and have a message for me, a message that would help me understand and put some of the pieces of the last year together. Here are some notes I took during worship:
Hebrews 11:8 By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Abraham was called and he obeyed. Christ is calling us to move from the familiar. God has many promises for us. God has a better thing for you. It is possible to draw nearer to God. Are you in a tent and able to move where God calls you? God has a clear picture of where you are suppose to be. Abraham wanted to be in a place planted for God. God is calling us to be able to move. God has prepared better things for us. Are you looking for that type of family God has prepared for you? Are you longing for a better you? God has a better idea for us. God is ashamed of people who settle for little - he has prepared something better for you. Last year Christ called me to Kenya with a new organization and he called me to return with them again this year. I did not understand it last year but I was richly blessed by the experience. During this trip to Kenya I can see how my experience at the Anajali School in the Kibera slum was preparing me for my work at the Joy Village. During this past year my husband and I were called to a new faith community after 32 years at a church with people we know and love. In the sermon I could hear the promises of what we have found and will continue to find in our new faith community. I know this isn't really about me but this is about all of us no matter where we live. God has a plan for us, we just need to be willing to pick up our tent and follow. May you too find your calling. by Susan LaSante, from Littleton, MA
Spirt Led Lives The day began with bright African sunshine. As we waited in the courtyard of the Joy Village, Momma Lucy appeared with all nine of her children, five of whom are under the age of four. They were all beautifully dressed and early for the ten minute walk to the children's service at their church. We walked with them, some held while others went hand in hand. As the large church filled, the music began, beautiful songs of praise lifted up by several hundred African children in unison. It appeared as if they knew all the word s by heart. There were no hymnals. Although I did not understand a single word, the sense of worship to our one God was over powering. Then the readings began, quickly changed from their native African tongue to English in generous hospitality to the five guests in their midst. The second reading ended with these words, "if you are led by the Spirit, nothing can touch you". This has been a familiar theme in my devotional recently. Oswald Chambers refers to it as "inner invincibility". He states, "No power on earth or in hell can conquer the Spirit of God living within the human spirit."
I left the service pondering how often I have witnessed that power here: - in dear friends shouldering heavy burdens with incredible grace and strength; - in mother Faith, an SOS mother, in her twenty first year of mothering ten children at a time; older ones leave and young ones come in. The Spirit is evident in her wisdom, smile, and graciousness. - in a holy family counselor, who declares after ten years of making home visits, " I love my job!" As she counsels, encourages and gently corrects her clients, God's spirit shines in her - in mother Lucy as she parents nine young children. " It is only by the grace of God that I can do this" she tells me as I examine her children. I pray Lord may your spirit lead me this day when the needs seem overwhelming and my efforts too small. Lead me in my conversations this day, in my hearing and in my seeing. It is my deepest desire to live a Spirit led life, one that is an effective witness to our God. Give me the will. Most of all Lord, may the lives of these thirty three children at the Joy Village be always Spirit led. by Laurie Talty, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA
Kwanza Sunday My rudimentary Kiswahili ears grasp her first words, “Listen for a Psalm of Thanksgiving,” as the young nursing student begins her reading. Proud of my slowly expanding vocabulary, I listen intently as she continues … then it happens – to me! In more than twenty years of preaching I’ve seen it happen many many times to countless others but never before to me – I blank out – that labotomized stare of attentive inattentiveness that any preacher can spot forty pews deep. I lose it, no recollection of which psalm it is, how long the reading might last, whether her inflection is helpful or distracting. I zone out.
“Listen for a Psalm of thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving, “Kwanza” in Kiswahili.
Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for row upon row of plastic chairs, three wide to fit in the central corridor the Nazareth Hospital of Kiambaa, Kenya, seated right next to the swinging doors marked, “Surgery,” thousands of dings along her walls from countless gurneys coming to and fro, the patina of healing. Thanksgiving for this morning’s companion, my young friend Isaac, twelve and in the hospital more than he is out these days. (His presence next to me brings me a special pleasure.) Thanksgiving for Sisters Fabian and Carmelangela representing more than 110 years of richly ordained ministry between the two, each wrapped especially tight on this chilly morn. Thanksgiving for Sister Clara, the boss of this place, who shares Jesus in such a powerful way that it makes me so happy yet so jealous. Thanksgiving for Samy, who hears the sonorous sound of young voices, as he scrubs after emergency surgery and rushes in out of breath. Thanksgiving for our team, now somewhere in the stratosphere above another continent, headed back – no longer tourists, nor even pilgrims, but apostles – those sent out to share the good news birthed here at Nazareth yet present since the beginning of days. Thanksgiving as I remember to slip Isaac the equivalent of a dollar and watch as he leans forward, meticulously folding the bill, placing it in his pocket. Ready for the offering to come, he sits back in his chair just a bit taller than before. (This gives me even more pleasure.) Thanksgiving as my Irish friend, Father Tom - nearly eighty years of vibrancy, half of it spent here in Kenya - brings the Word, more in presence than vocabulary – truest compliment for a preacher. Thanksgiving for the afternoon’s hours yet to be played at Joy Village with thirty-three of my children, each gloriously, meticulously birthed in the womb of prayer and promise. Thanksgiving for my closest friend, Jesus, who is in and through all of this and so much more.
Thanksgiving. The definition of life. I pray Iâ€™ll be able to zone out in worship next Sunday as well. by Jim Wood, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA
Tree of Lives P.O. Box 11390 Norfolk, VA 23517 www.treeoflives.org
Blog posts from the July 2013 Tree of Lives pilgrimage to Kenya.