August 26 – Back Home!

We made it!  The August 2012 Kenya Team and Lisa are now safely back in the USA!

We left Huruma and the kids late Saturday afternoon, and Mama and some of the oldest kids came with us.  We all stopped at a nice mall with a food court and ate dinner.  Many of us indulged in foods we had not otherwise had during our stay in Africa: burgers, pizza, even salads.  Then if was off to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and our first leg of the journey.

The flight to Schipol International Airport in Amsterdam took off a little over half an hour late, but it made little difference.  Most of us slept for the better part of the seven-hours-or-so flight, and upon landing in Holland, we actually had about an hour and a half to see a bit  of the airport (for a change).  Then it was off the Detroit, on an eight-and-a-half hour flight that ended with arrival in the USA!  Going through US customs was much faster than our arrival in Kenya.  Our layover was about five hours, but after two long flights, and being hungry and eager for more familiar food, most of us didn’t mind.  That afternoon, our flight to Phoenix lifted off and we all made it safely home… after some 36 hours of travel!

We are still full of wonderful memories from our time in Huruma.  We have come back with many new friends and life experiences.  We come back changed people.  We come back knowing that our work is but one of many seeds planted for the future, and we pray to God it will bear much fruit.  We ask for prayer for Mama, for Croline, for Roberta, and for everyone at Huruma, that God would bless them mightily and give them strength, wisdom, and health.  Please also be in prayer that Mama will be able to raise funds for a bus and – more important  – be able to have enough money to begin work on the new girls’ dorm late this year, or early in 2013.

God is doing exciting things at an amazing place in Kenya called Huruma Children’s Home… and we are humbled He saw fit to let us be a part of it.  May God Bless you and yours!

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August 25 – Saying Goodbye

Our feelings today are mixed.  Today, this afternoon, we will leave Huruma.  The two weeks have flown by – they seemed so quick.  It just wasn’t right.  We were just getting to know the kids, and actually get some names memorized, too, and here we have to leave today, this afternoon.

At seven thirty, we all got to chapel, and Mama had the entire Cornerstone team stand up in front.  She thanked us for the work projects, for the youth camp, for standing with her in her ministry.  She passionately prayed to God, saying many of the same things, while the kids kept saying, “Amen!  Amen! Amen!”  Mama then presented us with gifts.

To the women, she gave each an African dress, complete with a head scarf; they were similar in style to the ones she wears.  The women also got loose fitting wraps to go with their dresses.  The girls helped the women put the dresses and wraps on.

To the men, Mama gave T-Shirts that had the Kenayan flag embroidered on them.  She also gave the men wraps just like the ones the Maasai men wore, even in what color they were: most of them were red or purple.  The boys helped the men and tied the wraps for them.  A lot of the guys were wishing they had their spears with them 🙂

After the gifts, the kids sang a goodbye song to each person in turn.  The song was the same for each person but the names was changed each time.  Lisa – Mama Lisa  -was the last one to be sung to.

While the kids sang, we already knew the kids were sad that we had to go.  But they smiled, they sang, they waved their hands, they were passionate, they were everything happy kids could be in the moment.  And we knew they were happy, too.  Happy because there had been two great weeks spent together.  Happy for lessons we had taught each other.  Happy for new friends that had been made.  And we know, too, that we all have friends in Africa we will be corresponding with on a regular basis now.

After chapel, we packed up all our bags.  It was far less of an undertaking than packing to come out.  All the craft supplies, sports gear, and shoes were remaining in Huruma.  Thus, we all had an extra, big, empty bag, and in most cases we were able to pack one bag inside another one and have less to transport overall – even with the souvenirs most of us had.  It was a welcome change from having four pieces of luggage to deal with, all carefully weighed to ensure bag fees could be avoided.

We spent more time with the kids on this, our last day to be with them for perhaps a long while.  But they knew, and we knew, what had to happen, and at four forty five that afternoon, it did.  The bus arrived for us, and our luggage was pile high atop it. And the goodbyes began.  Neither the kids or us wanted to have to have to say goodbye, because things had been so amazing over the last two weeks.

It’s hard to put into words what the last two weeks have meant, and how they have changed us.  To be sure, they have changed us.  Kenya, for all its relative disorder compared with back home, for its poverty, for its beauty, has taught us all much.  But especially the kids.  They come from life situations most of us would never want or choose.  The kids’ stories are heartbreaking, yet there is little, if anything, that bothers them.  They know they have been rescued, and simply find ways to overcome.  Their smiles and their songs warmed us and reminded us: the best things God offers to us while we are here have little to do with our station in life, or in what possessions we may have.  It was a reminder that nothing matters but Him.  And that our availability matters more than our ability.  It’s hard to leave, but we do so changed people, knowing we are loved, knowing a difference was made.  We’ll miss Mama and the kids – and we all want to return as soon as we can!

August 24 – A Slower Day

Today was a slower day.  Absolutely noting had been planned for the day, because today was our last full day in Huruma.  We wanted to spend as much time with the kids as we could.

Some of the crafts from the camp were setup, and the younger kids had a blast getting their faces painted, then borrowing our cameras and taking their photos.  They couldn’t get enough.  The older kids played sports with us or played music on the bass, drums, and keyboard.  The basketball court was particularly the place to be, as most of the guys on our team went and joined in games on the court.  We got tired pretty easy… must be the elevation.  Or the fact that we just don’t get on the court nearly every day like some others do 😉

Mama told everyone they had to be at chapel early the next morning – seven thirty.  And we all knew why, too…

August 23 – A Kenyan Wedding and An Amazing Dinner!

Today was a slower day.  Nothing formal had been planned, save for dinner tonight.  We intended to spend all day with the children.  And for most of the morning and afternoon, we did just that, while a few others finished up the last little tasks from the work projects.  We got out some crafts from the kids, played games with them, and had some music lessons with a few of the teenagers.  Despite their circumstances, the kids are so full of life, hope, and happiness.  Their smiles are plentiful, and wonderful.  It it truly a gift from God to be able to be with them in these very short weeks.

Just prior to lunch today, though, the plan changed.  Moses, one of the older guys at Huruma, had just experienced an amazing life event. Late Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, his girlfriend, Agnes, had just given birth to a little girl, Karen.  We knew that Agnes was expecting and that she was overdue.  Nine days after the predicted birth date, Karen was finally born.

What we found out was interesting: in Kenya, a father will typically drop off a mother in labor and pick her up only after the birth is done, once mom and baby are ready to come home.  In a departure from the behavior of most Kenyan Fathers, Moses never left the hospital during the birth.  He was right outside the delivery room and later said the sounds coming out of it some of the scariest sounds he has ever heard(!).  After Karen was born, Moses and Agnes decided to get married, to commit to each other and little Karen.

So, the team all piled into vans, rushed down to the hospital – many of us were taken aback by its appearance! – and we were all witness to a small, sweet Kenyan wedding.  Pastor Adrian presided over it, and it was the first wedding in which he had ever officiated.

That night, the team and several of the oldest kids from Huruma went to eat out at the Carnivore restaurant, a pretty high-end eatery famous for its meats.  The meats are all served on large skewers and carved right at the table, right on your plate.  They keep coming with the meats until you put your table’s flag down.  The meats included pork sausages, pork spareribs, chicken wings, roast chicken, leg of lamb, beef, turkey, ostrich, crocodile, and even ox balls (which several team members actually tried).  The Carnivore also provides all sorts of wonderful sauces and side dishes to accompany the meat.   Dessert is included also.  Most everyone agreed it was a meal to remember, and we all left nice and full, of good food and good memories too.

August 21& 22 – Work Projects

Having returned from safari, the team was eager to attack the various work projects we had come to perform at Huruma.  There were three main ones: painting the Mother’s rooms, painting the chapel, and hanging curtains in the boys’ dorm.

The mother’s rooms proved the most tricky.  Buildings in Kenya are typically constructed using masonry – stone and mortar – and not much wood.  They are thus very strong but it means that the walls are plaster also, and they are not usually smooth.  The boys’ dorm has two rooms for mothers who help look after the boys, and it was those rooms that needed to be painted.

However, the walls were not smooth and needed to be scraped before any painting could be done.  It was a laborious and dusty task, but Adrian’s team got it done and then put primer on the walls.  After the primer dried, we were finally able to paint the walls.  The rooms are pretty tiny, so the paint’s nose-clearing odors got pretty concentrated.  Thankfully, the team had masks and lots of other equipment too.  After a good bit of work the painting was finished and despite the rooms’ small size, they looked much more open and inviting.  What a great difference!

Yet another team took on the task of painting the chapel.  Unlike the mother’s rooms, the chapel had been smoothed and painted for many, many years, but the walls were quite dirty, scuffed up, and in need of re-painting.  Plus, the original paint had been white and everyone figured that some color could help brighten up the chapel.  The teams set about to washing the walls of the chapel, even up high.  The walls were some 20 feet high, so we had to be careful!

The chapel also serves double duty and the main eating area/cafeteria.  It had worked out that most of the kids who had any family were off visiting that family, so there were a lot less kids who were displaced from being able to eat.

Once the walls were washed, the prep work for painting began.  Lisa decided that the lowest four feet of the walls would be purple in color, the rest would be a light yellow… not an overpowering color but definitely a bight one.  Once we had taped the four-foot mark all around the room, the painting began!

We had rollers so most of the walls got done quickly.  It was the work of cutting in at the very top, near the ceiling, that was hardest.  We had to get way up high on a ladder to reach it.  Eric, Jeff, and Mike spent lots of time up and down the ladders doing that work.  Eventually, the yellow all got applied.

At the same time the painting was occurring, all the benches the kids sit on were cleaned.  We had stacked them in the center of the room and many people pitched in to help clean them and Carol, God love her, spent all day at the cleaning.

The next day, it was time to apply the purple paint to the lower portion of the walls.  Because the mother’s rooms had been completed the previous day, there were lots more people to help out today.  However, we quickly determined we would need two coats of purple to adequately cover the white walls.  Lisa went back to town to get paint, and while there picked up black paint so we could also paint the metal bottoms of the benches in black.  The results in the chapel were fantastic… and a lot of little faces peered in, eager to see for themselves.

The same day, Jeff was tapped to start measuring to mount the curtain brackets.  As things turned out, no measuring was required, but what was required was drilling pilot holes for the screws to hold the brackets in place.  Again, masonry construction!  It made for slow, loud, and dusty drilling!   As the painting in the chapel finished up, more people were able to go over and help with the curtain hanging, too.  The results were wonderful… we got a little over half of the curtains up on the windows today!

That evening, Mama held chapel for this kids, and many of us also joined in.  It was held outside while the paint was still drying inside.  Mama led the kids in a few songs, and then called on several people to each have a turn at leading the songs, too.  The she called Jeff to lead one song, too.

The last song at chapel was “Happy Birthday”, sung for Brienna.  Unfortunately, she discovered that Kenyan tradition on a birthday is to be doused with water… oh well.  Happy Birthday, Brienna! 🙂

August 18-20: Going On Safari

After the youth camp, the team took three days and went on safari, and meet the Maasai people.

On Friday, the team piled into three vans and headed out toward Maasai Mara Preserve, in the southwest part of Kenya.  The preserve is hundreds of square miles in size and is home to all sorts of animals: wildbeests, zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, hippos, and more.  The team was excited to see as many animals as possible and also meet the Maasai.

The drive out to Maasai Mara is abut 150 miles, but takes between five and six hours.  Part of the reason is simply traffic – there is more of it in Kenya than one might expect!  But part of the reason is the roads, too.  There are no true freeways in Kenya, and the last 50 miles of the trip is traversed over a bumpy, very unforgiving dirt road. In fact, our driver indicated there had recently been a strike by several safari drivers over the condition of the road leading to Maasai Mara.  Thankfully, the team bought dust masks for the trip over the dirt road, as we had heard stories of people in previous years getting sick after the safari due to all the dust getting there and back.  We think the masks worked, because only one person on the team got ill!

The van the McKnight family (Mike, Cindy, Cassie, and Jamie) was in developed a fuel leak on the way to Maasai Mara, so it was doubly good they had masks.  On the way, we stopped to have the van repaired and they piled into the other two vans.  Amazingly, the van was quickly repaired and arrived at camp only a few hours later than we did!

After we arrived in Maasai Mara on Friday, we had a few hours and went out looking for animals.  Even that first day, we saw an amazing variety of animals: lots of wildebeest and zebra, and even a lion!

Saturday was the day we were able to go farthest in the the park.  God blessed us with many sightings of big game, some up really close.  We stopped at a river near the border with Tanzania and were able to see hippos and crocodiles.  There were armed rangers at that locations, because hippos are among the most dangerous animals in Kenya.  Even at a distance and in what seemed a relatively docile mood, they were surprisingly loud, even from across the river.

Just a few minutes away from the hippos, we crossed the river again and stopped at a picnic-type area and had lunch.  This area also marked the border between the Maasai Mara preserve and the Transmara District, another area where lots of wildlife is found.  From here, we could also see the Serengeti in the distance too.

After lunch, we briefly crossed into Tanzania and didn’t realize it, until we came a cross a huge border marker.  We had fun taking photos there, and then headed back toward our camp near the Maasai village.

It was then that the McKnight’s van had more problems, though.  It got stuck just a few minutes after we left the border.  Worse, that caused an electrical problem with the van and it simply wouldn’t start.  John and Peter, our drivers, didn’t bat an eye.  They simply hooked up a strap and chain, and after several attempts were able to pull the broken van out from being stuck.  But it still would not start.  So, they hooked up the chain and we towed the van all the way back to the entrance to Maasai Mara.  Mike, Cindy, Cassie, and Jamie took it all in stride and we all enjoyed the ride back regardless.  It took over an hour to get back, and not only did we get to see a giraffe up close along the way, we even were lucky enough to spot a cheetah!

Once we returned to camp, we went to see the nearby Maasai village.  They were a welcoming, open people, and invited us to ask questions and take photos.  The men welcomed the team with a dance they do when they are courting wives: the higher you can jump, the less cows you have to pay for your wife.  Several of the Cornerstone guys were invited to jump, too, and it looked like we all would have had to pay many cows for a wife.  Cows are highly valued by the Maasai, and their entire village is set up around being able to protect them at night.  The women shared a tribal song with us also.

We got to see a pen in which the Maasai herd their goats into at night from protection from wild animals.  Their village is laid out with the houses on the outside, facing an open center.  The cows are herded into the village center at night and guarded by all, for they too are vulnerable to animals such as lions and cheetahs.  The Maasai also explained the the center of the village is an area used for tribal ceremonies.  They also demonstrated how they make fire by friction.

We were then invited into the Maasai homes.  They are constructed of sticks, mud, and cow dung, and can last up to nine years.  They are built by the women and take about two months each to construct.  We were escorted in through a very narrow door, and inside it was very dark, but they did have a fire going and after a few minutes our eyes adjusted.  Each house has a room where they keep the youngest cows (calves) inside each house.  The main area of the home has a place for a fire and cooking, and off of that room are several sleeping areas – usually one for the husband and wife, and one for the children.  The sleeping areas utilized cow hides to help soften them.  The houses also had a strategically placed hole for smoke from the fire to escape.  Very little time was spent inside the houses.  The team agreed that the Maasai are ingenious in their culture, to live off the land the way they do.

After making some purchases from the Maasai, we walked back to camp and were all happy to get sleep Saturday night!  Amen!

Sunday morning we woke very early to try and get a few more hours on Safari.   The highlight of the morning was seeing two male lions together up close.  Close, as in right outside the van close.  Wow!  We also got to see a herd of elephants with their babies, including one not fifty feet from our vans.

We left Maasai Mara all amazed at the beauty and diversity of God’s creation, full of memories that our photos just can’t convey.  The safari was an experience we will all treasure for the rest of our lives.  After many hours of driving, we finally made it back to Huruma late Sunday afternoon, ready for the work projects to start the next morning!

August 16 & 17 – Championship Day, Shoes, and Shopping

Today was the big event – the game to determine which team had the most points, and thus won the championship!

The teams all scored points from the previous day based on sports, spirit, the team cheers, and the team flag.  However, with the lessons on forgiveness, several Bible verses talking about how we as Christians should forgive were distributed to the kids, and they were encouraged to memorize them for team points also.  There were almost a dozen kids who memorized all the verses, and they got the most points of all.  More points were awarded for memorizing the verses than were made available for all the other events that day.  The points awarded for the Bible verses changed the order in which the teams placed; in the end, it came down to the Purple and Red teams.

Purple and Red then squared off in a great football (soccer) match.  The kids are really great footballers… they played their hearts out, while most of the rest of us sat on the sidelines and cheered them on.  After 30 minutes, the teams had played to a 1-1 tie.  So a five minute overtime period was played, but again the score wound up still at 1-1.  Thus, the teams went to penalty kicks – per the rules of football, each team got five kicks each.  After all those kicks, the score was tied at 2-2!  So the penalty kicks continued in sudden death.  It took the teams to nine penalty kicks each, when a girl on the Purple team finally made the winning kick.  The Purple Team were the Camp champions!

It was then time to clean up from the Camp.  We distributed comment cards to all the kids, and encouraged them to openly and honestly share their feelings about the Camp and what they had learned.

Friday, we took things slower.  There was not set plan of anything, and although we had all enjoyed hosting the Camp for the kids, it was a welcome change of pace.  However, that morning we got to do one of the things we had great expectations for: handing out all the shoes we had brought over for the kids!

 

It may as well have been Christmas, only this time in August!  The kids were thrilled to get new footwear – many of them had shoes that were pretty worn out, didn’t match, or just plain broken.  It was so cool to see their reaction and thankfulness for the shoes!

The only other event for the day was the team shopping at the Village Marketplace, a shopping mall on the northwest side of Nairobi.  Traffic was actually petty bad on the way up there, so we decided to eat first.  The food court had all types of food, from African, Persian, Italian, German, and so on.  We all got various types of food and ate together as a team, and enjoyed it all.

After lunch, the team went to the upper level, where the Maasai market takes place every Friday.  The Maasai come in with their ware, and are pushy yet very polite salespeople.  There was plenty of negotiating going on, and we were glad to have some of the older kids from Huruma to help us out!  We bought things ranging from ebony carved statues, blankets, bookends, wooden bowls, and lion’s teeth, but the big item everyone seemed to want was spears.

We all had a good time shopping, and realized all the events of camp were beginning to catch up to us – we were pretty tired and more than one person conked out on the way back to Huruma.  After arriving back and having dinner, we got to read the comment cards.  Over and over, the kids shared how much the loved the camp, and how many of them felt better prepared to forgive.  Some even swore to change their life behaviors, or forgive people they had sworn to never forgive – even family members – who had treated them badly.  A good number of the kids also said they recommitted their lives to Christ, or better understood that relationship.  Even better, some said they had accepted Jesus as their Saviour at Camp!  It was moving – and very humbling – to read their comments and thankfulness they had for the camp, and for us as a team.