Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kitopia Akuj Iyong

For those of you in or near the Birmingham area, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to speak at Riverchase United Methodist Church this Sunday, August 14th, at 9:45 AM about my internship this summer & the work God is doing in Turkana district of Kenya.  Coffee and snacks will be provided.  If you are in the area and are interested, then please know that you are welcome to come.  We will be meeting in the church gymnasium (where SonDay Live meets) & the address is listed below: 

1953 Old Montgomery Highway
Hoover, AL 35244

Sitting here in Destin, FL, looking out at the ocean, it’s hard to believe that less than 2 weeks ago I was eating beans & maize & sleeping in a mosquito net in the Turkana bush.  It’s crazy to think that less than a month ago I was watching similar waves crash into the shore of the Kenyan coast in Malindi.  This summer flew by, and part of me still wonders if it was only a dream.  Gene (my host missionary) warned me about this before I left.  He said I’d probably get back to the States & start thinking, “Was I really in Africa this summer?”  He was right!

It’s been nice to get a few days to relax with my family here in Destin before getting back into the grind of school. I always enjoy just sitting on the beach & watching the waves crash into the shore.  There’s something about staring into something so vast, something so much bigger than me.  It always helps put things in perspective & remind me just how BIG God truly is.  As a kid, I always viewed the Gulf of Mexico as this endless body of water, completely unaware that there were people on the other side staring at a similar stretch of scenery.  In a way, the Gulf of Mexico was a border to my own little world, my “American Island.”  

But as I look into the ocean now, I realize that beyond the horizon, there are people on another coast also being reminded of the grandness of God as they stare at a similar ocean horizon.  On the other side of the ocean, there are people—real people—carrying out lives very similar to you & me.  Right now, off the coast of Kenya, there are families relaxing & swimming in the Indian Ocean, enjoying a vacation at the beach just like my family.  But I also know that the lives of many people beyond the horizon are anything but a vacation.  While there may be people along the Eastern Coast of Kenya enjoying a relaxing “holiday” at the beach, the Turkana of Northwest Kenya are in the midst of a three year drought & severe famine.  People like my friend Sammy and his family are struggling to gather enough money together to buy food.  And while it breaks my heart to even think about Sammy having to go hungry, I know that there are people in Turkana that have it even worse off than him.  There are families—people just like you and me—literally starving to death.  And these people need our prayers, and they need our help.  

It’s easy to stare the ocean and think that we live on an island.  We live in self-seeking culture that tells us that the world revolves around us.  However, my experience in Turkana taught me otherwise.  I learned more than ever that there are suffering people in the world that are in desperate need of help.  I no longer see the ocean as this giant divider of “us” & “them”.  It’s more of a connection, a link reminding us that we’re all in this together, that we are all God’s children.  And that link also reminds me that people aren’t only suffering beyond the horizon.  There are people going hungry & thirsty—both physically & spiritually—here  in the States as well.  

We live in a world full of broken people, and the suffering in the world can sometimes seem overwhelming.  Like the ocean horizon, the problems in Turkana, Mathare Valley, & other parts of the world can seem endless.  But when the waves seem too fierce & the water too dangerous, let’s not forget that we serve a Savior who calmed the seas & walked across the waves.  As I’ve been reminded time and time again by my Turkana friends this summer, “Nothing is impossible with God!”

Thank you so much for joining me in this adventure this past summer.   I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my stories & sharing in these experiences.  Though my “adventure” in Kenya has ended, the ministry I was blessed to briefly be a part of continues, & God is doing some amazing things through it.  God’s using missionaries like Gene & Melba to tell His love story to the world, & it’s an adventure far better than anything we could fabricate on our own.

What part is he asking you to play in His story?  We each have a unique role to play.  Maybe he’s calling you to Northwest Kenya?  Maybe he’s calling you somewhere else in the world?  Or maybe he’s calling you to stay in the States?  In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, providing for the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, visiting those in prison.  And in verse 40, he says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

You don’t have to go halfway around the world to serve in God’s kingdom.  There are needs all around us & we are all called to serve.  If you are interested in learning more about how you can help play a part in the work God’s doing in Turkana, please let me know.   

What part is God asking you to play in His story?  Maybe it starts with something simple.  Maybe it starts with… a cup of cold water.

Thanks for sharing in this experience this past summer.  Please continue to pray for the work God is doing in Turkana.  

Kitopia Akuj Iyong! (God Bless You!)


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Last Week In Africa

This last week flew by & was filled with many hugs & goodbyes.  Got to spend some time in Nairobi  & check out Nairobi Game Park.  Tried to post a lot of cool pictures.

Day 52: Saying Goodbye
Sylvester took us to the airport this morning along w/ Sammy.  Ekai wasn’t there, but he eventually met up w/ us at the airport.  It was tough driving through town.  I started having to hold back the tears right about the time we crossed the river.  It started to sink in that I wasn’t coming back next week like when we went to the coast.  This was seriously goodbyeOur flight ended up getting delayed about an hour, which made it even tougher to leave.  I hate goodbyes, so I was ready to just go ahead & go.  I always never know what to say & feel like I should say something sentimental or important, but it’s tough to say much w/o getting emotional.  I usually end up choking-up like a little girl.  We mostly just stood around & made small talk.  I tried not to think that I might not see these guys again.  These guys are no longer “these guys”; they’re my friends.  

But we eventually hugged & said our goodbyes & I kept it together pretty good.  All I could do was smile and say “Thank you.”… Boarding the plane, I was reminded of Vincent Donovan talking about leaving the Masai in his book Christianity Rediscovered.  We had to read it for my missions class last fall & it’s one of the things that sparked my interest in this internship—I highly recommend the book!  I remember him talking about wishing he had more time, wishing he had been able to do more.  I sat on the plane thinking about all the memories from the summer, & it didn’t seem like it was time for the internship to end.  I all went by too fast!...There was a French reporter on our flight who had been over here doing a story on the drought & famine in Turkana.  We’d seen another Spanish reporter covering the same issue the other week when we left for Malindi.  It’s crazy b/c I feel like the starvation problem over here has been hidden from us.  We’ve been going to places where they’ve had gardens & access to wells, but not all Turkana have that luxury.  CMF has installed around 80 wells & 20 irrigated farm plots, but there’s still so many people who are struggling to survive.  Gene said they need to install around 2,200 more wells!  I think 4 were completed while we were here this summer, & while that’s definitely helping some, there’s still so much work that needs to be done.  Gene said there’s really 2 reasons for the famine: 1) drought & 2) the price of corn has skyrocketed.  It never rains very often in Turkana, so the drought’s not too uncommon, but the increased price of corn has really hurt lots of people.  Since people are trying to use ethanol as a fuel source, the price soared & that affected the price of other food too.  So the Turkana can’t afford to eat.  And the relief food that’s being sent isn’t getting distributed properly b/c the gov’t officials are hoarding it for their own families.  These are their own people & their keeping them from getting the food they so desperately need.  They’re killing their own kind!  Melba even told us stories about how mother’s are boiling rocks at night when they’re kids complain about being hungry.  And when the kid’s ask about the “food”, they tell them it’s not ready until the kids eventually fall asleep, never getting anything to eat.  It’s horrible—one story apparently even showed footage of babies feeding off their dead mother’s breast.  It’s one thing to hear about these things & them seem distant, something happening across the world, but this is happening to people I’ve met & it really bothers me.  I can’t get the image of Sammy & his family starving out of my mind.  It’s not fair & it’s just not right.  Something’s got to be done over here, & CMF is currently in the process of figuring out a way to get food to these people.  There’s a huge need over here, so if you feel led to help, please take a step of faith & do so.  And please be praying for the Turkana during this crisis.  Below is a video about the famine if you want to hear more.  And it's from February & things have only gotten worse:

And if you feel led to give, you can do so by clicking the link below (Account #712000 for Turkana relief):

I stepped on the scale today & weighed 150 lbs. 150 lbs! I haven’t weighed that little since I was in like 10th grade!  And I’m pretty sure I weighed aroung 170 before I left!  And I’ve been getting fed, so imagine the effects the famine is having on the people going without.  They are seriously starving to death.  I can’t erase that image from my mind, & it messes with you when you get to pig out like I did at lunch today.  Why am I so lucky as to have this luxury?  What makes me any better than these children who are falling asleep w/ empty stomachs to the sound of boiling rocks?...We went to Java House for dinner & it was awesome.  It’s kind of like Africa’s version of Starbucks except w/ more food.  They are everywhere over here.  I got a burger & fries & it seriously tasted like something from the States.  And me & Kyle both got t-shirts there too, which we need b/c we both only have one shirt left since we gave the drilling crew the rest of our clothes.  Problem is that the shirt we have left is the REACH shirt we got at PDO, which Melba was wearing today too.  So all 3 of us had on the same shirt.  We looked like one of those Spring Break missions groups you see walking through the airport

—nothing screams “tourist” like matching t-shirts ;)  So now we have the same REACH shirt plus Java House shirts of different colors.

Hopefully, we can alternate who wears which, otherwise we’re gonna be matching for the next week!

Day 53:
Went back to Vineyard church this morning, & it was awesome once again.  The pastor spoke on the Pharisee & the Tax Collector from Luke 18, one of my favorite parables.  He talked a lot about the difference between religion & the Good News & he had some great points.  He emphasized how we are reconciled through grace, not works & talked about how there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore or any less—he loves us unconditionally!  It was good stuff & he talked about how our understanding of God’s love for us determines how we go through life.  At one point, he discussed how people who live by religion determine their self-worth based on their work ethic & their performance.  And I had to ask myself if I’m not falling into the trap of the Pharisee, pursuing my own self-righteousness.  I judge myself a lot of times based on my success in life.  But the Good News is that God loves us despite our success or failure.  We find life in His grace, in his unconditional love for us!  The Bible says that His love never fails; we just have to receive it.  We have to love ourselves as the tax collector that we are, & know that we are the children of a Heavenly Father that delights in our every breathAfter church we went to an Ethiopian place for lunch.  The food was good but definitely a little different.  They bring out your food on this spongy bread & it’s basically a bunch of different meats spread out & some veggies.   

Then you get some of the spongy bread (I can’t remember what it’s called) & grab the food w/ pieces of it.  It’s similar to how Turkana use chipote, only this stuff doesn’t taste like chipote.  It’s got a strange flavor that I didn’t particularly like.  But the other stuff was great, so I just opted to get my hands a little more messy & not use the bread.  I also got some Ethiopian coffee which was awesome.  It’s got a really strong flavor, but it’s really good!... Went to another Masai Market today, & this one was huge!   

It’s pretty crazy going there b/c people are hitting you up left & right to come check out the stuff they’re selling.  And they’re super sneaky about it.  They’ll put out their hand for you to shake it, & then once you shake their hand, they drag you to their area to look at everything they’re selling.  And they don’t really take no for an answer.  And if you don’t shake their hand, they’ll say that you’re being rude.  A couple of guys even tried to act interested in my beard just to sucker me into buying something.  One guy even asked how much it cost me to maintain my beard, I guess hoping I’d say a lot so I’d be admitting to having money.  I don’t think he realized that most people w/ beards like mine in America live under bridges & eat out of trash cans!  But eventually, I learned to just avoid making eye contact & pretend I didn’t hear anything.  It’s funny how much they’ll try & rip you off too.  They’ll start around a couple of thousand ksh & you can usually work them down to a couple of hundred, especially if you just walk away like you’re not interested.  When they see mzungus (white people), they assume you’ve got money & are looking to spend it.  But one lady told me I was a “bad person” after I worked the price down for a shirt & didn’t give her money for a Coca-Cola, not for me but for her.  Why would I want to buy her  a Coca-Cola?  But later another guy told me he’d give me a good deal b/c I looked like an “honest man,” so at least someone didn’t think I was a bad guy ;)

Day 54: Where The Wild Things Are
Went to Nairobi Game Park today.  Interns normally go on a safari at the end of their internship, but since we got to go to the coast, we went to the Game Park instead, which is pretty much a safari.  So we basically lucked out & got the best of both worlds!  The Game Park is pretty awesome, & we got to see a ton of animals.  And what’s crazy is you just drive through it in your own vehicle—no tour guide, no waivers, nothing!  You’re supposed to just stay on the paths & in your vehicles except in designated areas where there are armed guards.  But everyone knows that you’re not really having a good time unless you bend a few rules ;)  Gene & Melba have been several times before, so they knew all the good spots to check out.  When we first entered, it seemed like the park might not live up to their hype.  We didn’t really see much of anything at first, & the things we did see were way off the path, too far away to get a good picture.  And then things took a turn for the better!  We saw some vehicles stopped & couldn’t figure out why b/c we were trying to get around them.  So Gene tried to maneuver around to see what the problem was, & that’s when we saw the lion strolling down the path ahead of the cars!


We followed it for a little ways to where it met up w/ two female lions.  They all just laid down & chilled right on the side of the path.  And let’s just say it’s a little frightening sitting halfway out the window trying to get a good picture of a group of lions giving you the death stare!   

 There was a group of giraffes & zebras further up, so we waited for a little while by the lions, hoping to see them try & attack their prey, but they just stayed there & napped.  And now I can't get the Nard Dawg singing, “What Do Tigers Dream Of?” out of my head as I writing about them napping right now!

... We got some pictures of giraffes, but eventually the park rangers got onto us for veering off the path.  And we got a few zebra pictures too.  We didn’t get that close to them, & I figured we’d been lucky just to see them, but I had no idea just how many we would end up seeing. 


They were everywhere, & a couple of times we almost got close enough to touch them! ... Gene took us to the “hyena dam” to see if there were any hippos.  Seemed odd to go there instead of the “hippo pool” but he said to trust him.  I doubted him at first, until I saw the ripples in the water.  I had gotten out to use the bathroom, which is a little scary after you’ve just seen lions up the road!  And I really wasn’t wanting to die with my zipper down!  Gene told us to throw rocks in the pond & see if we could get the hippos riled up.  After heaving a few, we saw more than 5 of their heads pop up!  A couple snorted & a few even opened their mouths above the water.  We never saw more than their heads  but it was still pretty cool.  And we had to look pretty ridiculous throwing rocks & yelling insults at the hippos to try & get them to come out of the water!  And once again—the rangers had to come get onto us!Throughout the day, we saw all sorts of stuff.  I’m not even gonna try and spell half of them but here’s a bunch of pictures:




We were planning on going to some picnic tables in the park to eat lunch, but it had been taken over by the baboons.  We drove past a bunch of them, & you’ve got to drive by pretty fast or else they’ll jump in your vehicle.  And when we actually got to the picnic tables, there was the “King Kong” of baboons sitting on top of it. 


It was seriously so fat that I halfway expected it to roll off the table instead of jumping.  But jump it did & it headed right for the car.  And all our windows were down!  We all started panicking & Gene yelled for us to roll our windows up & we sped off.  It was hilarious & yet another moment I wish we had caught on video! ... We eventually found another spot to get out & eat.  There was another group leaving when we pulled up & they ask if we’d seen the female lion & her cubs yet.  They told us they had spotted them about half a kilometer away earlier—talk about comforting while you’re standing outside eating!  But we survived our lunch break unscathed & never did end up finding the lioness & her cubsThe only animal we had trouble finding in the park was the rhino.  It sounded like it’s just luck whether or not you see them or lions.  So I figured we’d lucked out just to see the lions earlier.  We drove around for a while searching for one, & our eyes were getting tired from looking.  I figured it was a lost cause, & that’s when Abe stepped up & saw a group of four across the way.  We tried to get as close as we could w/o disturbing them b/c they’ll charge at your vehicle.  They were huge! … Can’t believe what all we got to see today!  And really can’t believe my time in Africa is coming to an end.  I’m too exhausted right now to really even think about it.

Day 55: Good Bye Africa
Ended up sleeping in the t.v. room last night.  Couldn’t figure out how to work the t.v., so I ended up just watching the news, which was all about the U.S. raising the debt ceiling.  It’s a little different to hear other countries talk about the problems in America.  I’m used to hearing people on the news talk about the problems in other countries, but it’s weird to be somewhere else & actually be that “other country”We headed to MOHI this morning, & it was definitely another eye-opening experience.  I finally learned that MOHI stands for “Missions of Hope International”—Kyle wasn’t too impressed w/ this revelation & couldn’t believe it took me this long to figure it out. 

We got to see the CMF offices there, & they gave us a tour of the MOHI offices & the slums in Area 1 of Mathare Valley.  Mathare Valley is one of the most densely populated slums in the world—over 1 million people within 4 kilometers!

Missions of Hope was basically started by Wallace & Mary who we had met a couple weeks ago in Malindi.  God has definitely blessed the work they are doing & it’s pretty incredible.  Mary basically started some schools in the slums & now they’ve grown to reach so many kids, providing them education through primary school.  They raise money & people sponsor kids for these programs as well as for high school & college.  It’s pretty amazing to see the power education has against poverty.  And they’ve also brought so much more to this community—medical clinics, pharmacies, libraries, & programs for women to teach sewing & craftmaking.  It’s crazy to hear how much this ministry has grown.  But there’s still a HUGE need in Mathari Valley.  In Area 1 alone (there’s 10 total areas)—where we walked around—there are roughly 80,000 people living in tiny shanti’s (little shacks).

And there are only 4 toilets available for all of these people. 4 toilets! There’s over a hundred toilets in Jordan-Hare stadium & it seats about the same amount of people.  And those toilets are free; the ones in the slums actually cost money!  It’s hard to believe that people in such an impoverished area are actually having to pay to use a toilet.  It’s a different kind of poverty here than in Turkana.  These people have access to food & clean water (a luxury available to only a few Turkana), but the sanitation issue is much more extreme here.  It’s just a really dirt place—run down shanti’s, terrible smells, & trash everywhere. 

Turkana is more rural poverty, & I think in my mind I tried to avoid accepting that the Turkana were really suffering.  I really wanted to believe that they were always eating, even when I wasn’t around.  But in the slums, there’s no way to avoid the poverty around you.  It’s really sad.  You don’t really want to believe that people actually live in these conditionsWe got to go into one of the nicer shantis & sit & talk w/ the lady who lived there.  Her name was Mary & she’s got a huge heart.  She’s been living  in the same shanti since 1967!  We learned that she’s HIV positive, but has been doing great thanks to MOHI’s clinics.  Since Abe is Turkana, she said she was his African grandmother, & she wanted to spoil her new grandson.  She gave him a whole bunch of bananas & it was pretty cool to see the joy on her face to be able to bless him with a gift.  It’s been amazing this summer to see the generosity & big hearts  of these people who have so little.

They may not have much, but they’ve got a lot of love!...Really glad we got to see Mathari Valley.  It hit me once again how much people are suffering in the world.  I was tempted to say that I was “starving” today when we didn’t eat lunch until about 3 PM, but now that word takes on a whole new meaning.  I’m not starving.  These people are literally starving; they’re fighting just to survive.  It’s tough to think about the poverty over in Kenya sometimes b/c it all seems hopeless.  But that’s what Satan wants us to think.  He wants us to think that these situations are too big, too impossible to change.  But we serve a God who brings hope to the hopeless, & that’s what’s happening in Turkana & Mathari Valley through people like Gene, Melba, Wallace, & Mary (& so many others!)… Met up w/ Nairobi interns tonight for the first time since June.  It was really good to get to see them again & share stories from the summer… Had to say goodbye to Gene, Melba, & Abe tonight.  I gave all of them a big hug & couldn’t thank them enough.  They’ve been awesome to get to know this summer, & they are amazing people.  I know God’s using them in amazing ways, & I’m excited to see how he continues to use them in Turkana.  I have no doubts that they’ll continue to speak truth & life into the interns that God brings their way each summer, just as they did for me this summer.  Definitely going to miss them.

Currently in Chicago right now still working my way to Indianapolis for Debrief for a few days.  There's still so much to reflect on these next few days.  This summer went by so fast that it feels like it was just a dream.  I'll probably post one last blog sometime next week with some final thoughts.  Hard to believe that this adventure has come to an end.  

Get to come home on Saturday, which is my birthday--the big 25!  Coming home on my birthday & getting to spend it with my family--couldn't ask for a better bday present!  Perfect way to end a great summer!


Friday, July 29, 2011

10th Time's A Charm

It took 10 tries at this new site & a whole summer of work to actually see a well get finished, but it finally happened this past week.  And it was awesome!

Day 45: The Goodbyes Begin
…Sammy knocked on the door to let us know that Danger was outside wanting to see us.  Since the crew is closer to town this week, he won’t be working with us.  So today started the first of many good-byes.  Apparently 2nd to Last Born won’t be working with us either.  Danger said he would come by, but he never did.  It was sad saying bye to Danger knowing that there’s a good chance I’ll probably never see him again.  I showed him a bunch of pictures of my family, Malindi, & the summer.  He couldn’t believe how much different I looked w/o my beard.  And he thought a lot of the pictures & videos were hilarious.  We gave him a bunch of gifts—shirts, including an Auburn one that says “Champions” since Danger’s always claiming to be the Ekedwangan (Champion), 

some shorts, & underwear, bug spray, & he asked if he could have a picture of me & my family to remember me.  I told him God bless him, & he told me that God would always provide for me & to greet my family for him when I see them.  It’s gonna be weird w/o him out there this week…At one point today, Albert knocked asking me for computer help.  And that’s saying something b/c I’m a technological moron!  He wanted me to show him how to make tables in Word, and luckily I know how to do that.  And I really blew his mind when I started using the keyboard shortcuts for copy & paste!

Day 46: Ejoka Noi (Thank you)
Went to TBTI this morning for our last church service in town.  Will I miss the 3-hour church service in a foreign language when I return home?  Probably not!  But man I’m gonna miss the people.   There’s a part in the service for testimonies, & visitors will usually introduce themselves or people will lift up praises or prayer requests.  I decided to get up & say good-bye & get Sammy to translate.  Didn’t expect to get choked up, but I probably didn’t make it 2 sentences before I was having to cough to hold back the tears.  Luckily, with Sammy translating, I bought a little bit of time between sentences to regroup & hold it together.  I basically just told them thank you for loving us well & to know that we would always be praying for them.  And usually the testimony speakers lead them in a song, so I got “Ejoka noi Yesu! (Thank you Jesus!” going one last time!... I brought 2 pens & a book to give to Ekamais & Kelvin, but when we got to church, Ekamaias wasn’t there.  He’s usually waiting to greet me smiling & saying, “Todd Lion (b/c of my beard!)”.  I asked Kelvin if he were coming & he said no.  Kelvin really doesn’t pay attention during church & they live like 5 min. away, so I told him to go get his brother b/c I wanted to see him one last time.  I don’t know what took him so long but he came back w/ his brother about 45 min. later.  Ekamais was looking through the book I brought—Stephen James’ Story (I haven’t actually read but I hear good things & figure I’ll get another copy in Johnson City)—so I figured I’d go ahead & give it to him.   

I wrote him & Kelvin a note in the front telling them that it was a gift & to share it.  They’re both really sharp kids.  Ekamais wrote me a note inside the back cover:

I didn’t have the heart to tell him he misspelled “thaks”; I was just glad he was happy to have the book.  I really do hope he reads it & as many other books as he can…After the service everyone came to tell us goodbye.  So many people told us to have safe travels & to greet our brothers, sisters, parents, & even entire congregations in America for them.  It was tough to leave.  These were many of the people I met my first day.  People like Peter & Esther, who invited me into their homes & treated me like family.  All I could say was, “Ejoka noi (Thank you)”I asked Sammy where the supermodel girls on t.v were in Kenya when we were eating in town, & of course he said, “I think down country.”  Basically we’ve learned that anything good we ever hear about is from “down country”.  Sammy said those girls were “crazy”, I asked him why, expecting him to say they were promiscuous, or drunk, or “sinful”.  But what was Sammy’s reasoning—they were expensive!  Man, dating sure is different over here.  But maybe the Turkana are the smart ones; at least they’re saying some money ;) … Driving through town we actually ran into 2nd to Last Born.  We told him we had gifts for him back at Gene’s house, so he hopped in the car & went around town with us.  We spent most of the afternoon entertaining him & Sammy.  Like Danger yesterday, we hooked him up with w/ shirts, shorts, & underwear.  

 And I grabbed him a soda for my boy Mike as well.  I showed him some pictures & let him keep one of the ones he wanted.  And we showed him pictures on facebook, & that’s when we decided, “Why not make these guys a facebook?”  Well, first we had to create an email for both of them & then we got their facebook accounts set up.  I seriously felt like we’d just struck the first match in front of a caveman.  They were fascinated & thought it was awesome to see their name & pictures & be able to see our pictures.  So feel free to add “Lowoyakaru Sammy Ekitela” & “Lodio Michael Eremon” to your friends list!  We wrote down all their log-in information & step-by-step instructions for the whole process.  Hopefully someone over here can help them figure it out after we leave.  And that’s the thing; there are people over here who are really up-to-date with technology.  Some even have facebook on their phone—I don’t even have internet on my phone in the States!  There’s internet caf├ęs around, so they should be able to get internet access for pretty cheap.  It would be pretty cool if they can figure it out b/c we’ve got a ton of pictures we can send them & we’d be able to keep in touch … After getting facebook accounts created & finishing our tutorial sessions, we put in “Alvin & the Chipmunks” (we’re really running out of movies—Kyle even put in “Sweet Home Alabama” yesterday).  Sammy couldn’t believe the chipmunks were talking & he said it was “personification.”  Both of them thought the talking animals were hilarious & couldn’t stop laughing.

Day 47:
…We left around 10 AM for the bush this morning & stopped on the way to grab some sodas for the crew, compliments of our old teammate Mike.  We are only about 30 minutes from town, so it was nice to not have to drive 3 hours on Turkana roads like previously.  It’s a cool drive the first time out, but it gets old pretty quick…We finally got what we asked for & are drilling a well in a place that does not already have one.  There’s no garden here, & they have to cross the river to get clean water & food.  So hopefully this well will allow them to have clean water nearby and possibly a farm one day.  But we may have gotten more than we bargained for.  In the other places, we could get clean water to drink from the pre-existing well, but here we don’t have that luxury.  I realized that right about the time Sylvester drove away.  I asked Ekai where we get water for us to drink & he told me from the river.  They pump from below the river, but the water’s not really filtered & it’s still brown.  I bathed w/ it tonight, & let’s just say it’s not something I would want to drink.  We might could drink it, but it just doesn’t seem worth the risk of having diarrhea all week.  And diarrhea in the bush is no picnic—trust me!  We filter the water we get in town & it’s clear, so I have a hard time imagining that this brown water is really safe for us to drink.  Today, we got by thanks to some guys going across the river to fill up a jug for us from the hand pump over there…They’ve had some tough luck here & were on the 9th hole when we arrived.  But we eventually hit rock and had to start #10.  I’m really hoping we get to finish a well this week.  Gave out gifts to Ekai, 1st Peter, & Paulo. 


You might have noticed a pattern in most of my gifts—gotta keep spreading the good news-WAR EAGLE!...Most people use their ikichilong (small wooden stool) as a pillow out here.  I’m not much of a napper, but for some I’m out cold after a couple of minutes lying on my mat & ikichilong—it’s weird.  I think it’s b/c there’s nothing else really to do & I’m not really stressed about anything, just completely relaxed…After dinner, I gave Sammy the “mosquito spray” to share w/ the crew.  He asked if he could be the “boss” of the spray & I said yes as long as he shared.  So what does the “boss” of the spray immediately do?  Spray himself right in the eyes!  Luckily, not too much got in there, but it was hilarious.  I had to show him how it worked & eventually he got the hang of it.  But he used enough for a whole week in about 30 seconds!

Day 48: Sammy the Prophet
Last night, Sammy started predicting our futures for us, & saying when we would come back to Turkana.  So at approximately  9:15 PM, Sammy “prophesied” about my life.  He said that I would be married at age 30 to a smart woman who looks like me (white skin) w/ black hair, & that I will have 2 kids & return to Turkana by age 32 (Apparently we’re gonna be popping out babies immediately!).  And he said that my kids will be friends with his kids.  I started to figure out how to manipulate Sammy’s prophecy by how you asked him questions, & it ends up my wife is also going to be slim, Italian, & a great cook!  So if you meet the criteria & are looking to get married in about 5 years, have 2 boys, & move to Turkana, then give me a shout!  But you might want to wait a few years b/c I supposedly get rich at age 29 ;)  Kyle’s prophecy wasn’t quite as encouraging as mine.  He doesn’t get married until 35, & since he’s only 19, that means around 2027.  After getting married, he’ll move to Turkana w/ his 4 kids.  He kept asking Sammy to bump the date up some years, but Sammy & I agreed that you can’t change prophecy!  So while Kyle tossed & turned thinking about his lifetime of being single, I slept peacefully dreaming about my smoking hot Italian wife cooking me lasagna & cannoli in a few years! 


We must have been talking pretty late though b/c Ekai eventually told us to be quiet & “have a sleep”Our REACH devotional had a pretty strong quote from David Platt today: “I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today & ask ‘How could they drive such nice cars & wear such nice clothes?  How could they live in such affluence while thousands of children were dying b/c they didn’t have food & water?  How could they go on w/ their lives as though the billions of poor didn’t even exist?’”  Pretty powerful quote!  In Luke 3:11, John the Baptist says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; & whoever has food must do likewise.”  What if we actually listened to him?  I hope I return to the States changed—not super hippie “if it’s yellow let it mellow” kind of changed, but changed nonetheless, more aware of the needs around me.  I really hope I never forget what I’ve seen here, & I hope this experience changes me for the better… Went through Esther & Phillipians today for Bible Study.  The reading plan is great for them except when it involves multiple chapters.  They get confused & think it’s saying to read only 2 verses instead of “Esther 3:13-4:17.”  So we spent about 10-15 min. arguing about it.  They finally gave in & read all of it, but they told us they would double check w/ their bible teachers.  We got sidetracked even more talking about & explaining the eunuchs in the story…We’re out of tea leaves, so chai is just hot milk & sugar.  And the soccer ball popped yesterday on the thorns, so it seems like tomorrow will be a good time for us to finish up here.  It’s weird to think tonight could be my last night in the bush

Day 49: 10th Time's A Charm
Found out from Ekai that we were not going back to town as we had planned.  Instead we were moving up the river to a new spot…We spent a good bit of the morning waiting on Sylvester to bring the handpump.  I tried read for a little bit & ended up trying to help Paulo with his homework.  One of the assignments was to find certain words used in scripture, & I searched everywhere looking for “proof” & “prove” & couldn’t find either anywhere.  It's for a class he's taking to learn English, so if I can't find it & I'm fluent in English, then that either means I'm an idiot or it's pretty difficult (not sure if I want to know the answer to that one!) … Once Sylvester showed up, we got to work finishing the well.  We got the hand pump level & put a small concrete pad around it.  I felt like I was back at Maxus Construction floating footers again!  We got everything installed & got to see the well in action—first one we’ve actually gotten to see get finished b/c we usually end up leaving before the well is completed.

It was pretty cool to see how excited all the people were once we started pumping out water.  Some women came over & filled up jugs, & people kept getting handfuls to drink or wash off.  


Considering the other hand pump is across the river, this could be one of the few—if not the first—times these people have bathed with clean water. 


And we all gathered around to pray over the well. 


 It was awesome to see & be a part of…We made it to the new spot just in time for Bible Study.  It’s been fun going through the Old Testament with these guys & talking about these stories.  I know God has really spoken to me through these texts, & it’s always interesting to see where the discussion goes each day… We’re really close to the river again at the new spot & the scenery is awesome.  There are more hills here & there’s a huge rock wall bordering the river.  


It looks like something you’d see out of a movie or magazine… There’s another Ekatorot (my Turkana name) here, so it’s good that I’m now known as Baba Ekai (Ekai’s Daddy). 


The smack talk got lost in translation b/c he just accepted me as his father & seems happy with the name.  He even calls me Dad!

Day 50: Last Day of Work
Today was weird b/c it seemed like we shouldn’t be working.  We finished a well yesterday, so it seemed like today would be the perfect day to return to town.  But we still had one last day of work.  I really wasn’t feeling it today, but I tried to suck it up & put the nose to the grindstone one last time.  After about 20 ft. digging without hitting water, we ran into some clay & started a new spot…Got a pretty good sized blister on my hand today working, and I ended up popping it so I could put liquid band-aid over it & keep working.  There are thorns everywhere in Turkana, so I used one of them to pop it.  These thorns are HUGE!  Probably 1-2 inches in length.

 It got me thinking about the crown of thorns Jesus was forced to wear.  It really puts it in perspective.  Having one poked in a blister wasn’t bad, but having multiple crammed into your head as it crashes against the ground; that’s something I can’t imagine trying to endure.  We serve a mighty Savior!

Day 51: Just Walking Through the Desert

Woke up this morning to Ekai saying, “Dad, get up!” at about 5:30 AM.  Our decision to walk back into town wasn’t seeming as appealing early this morning.  We decided to end our last trip in the bush by walking through the desert back into town.  They’d told us it was about an hour walk, so we thought it would be pretty cool, a manly way to end our summer in Turkana.  But Sammy warned us that the walk was closer to 3 hours—should have listened to Sammy!  We started our journey around 6 AM, & by 8, I was realizing we still had a long ways to go.  We arrived at Gene’s house a little after 9 AM completely exhausted.  It was a little over 3 hours, & we hadn’t been strolling either.  But despite my feet hurting right now & being really tired, I’ve got to admit that it was worth it.  It was cool to walk the road many of the Turkana walk into town & really experience what it’s like to “walk in their shoes” (cheesy, I know)…We got to see some cool stuff.  It was awesome to experience an African sunrise as you’re walking through the desert.   


And we came across a group of donkeys.  It was pretty cool to walk through the villages & hear kids yelling, “Mzungu” one last time.  And in one village we came across a huge termite mound (notice the size compared to the kid in the picture!).   


And it was awesome to watch the mountains slowly creep closer & closer along the way.   


The trip was tiring, but I feel it was the appropriate way to end an awesome summerGot to have some time to talk to Sammy along the way too.  I learned that he wouldn’t be able to work in August b/c we were returning home & the schools were out until September.  Sammy volunteers at the primary school & teaches math & science to the kids there.  He doesn’t get paid for the work, but he gets fed, & that really meets the bigger need.  Sadly, he told me that it will be difficult for him to get food this next month.  He’s been giving all his money to his family each week this summer so that they can buy food, but now he has no income or source of food.  He told me they just have to go without eating for awhile.  That wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  That’s not how you want to return home, eating complimentary food on the plane & knowing that your friend & his family are starving.  And what’s worse is that I know they’re not in the minority.  We gripe about missing a meal (I know I do) in the States, & we forget there are people actually starving in the world.  It breaks my heart, & I’m hoping we can give Sammy some money for this next month, not as charity, but as a friendGot our spears and everything packed up.  We ducked taped some sugar bags together, & it seriously looks like something straight out of Tommy Boy!

Can't believe we're leaving tomorrow.  I'm too exhausted from walking today for it to really sink in.  Ekai & Sammy are coming with us to the airport in the morning to say goodbye & "push us off".  I'm definitely ready to be home & see my family & friends, but I'm not ready to say goodbye to these guys.  

Please pray for our travels over this next week.  We'll be in Nairobi for a couple days before heading back, so I'll probably update the blog again sometime next week.  Sad to think this summer is coming to an end.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Conquering the Impossible

Attached is a copy of my latest supporter email:

Ejoka! (Hello!)

This summer has flown by, and I can hardly believe that I only have one more week with the drilling crew.  The past few weeks have consisted of lots of drilling, teaching, laughing, & learning.  This summer has been humbling in realizing my purpose for coming to Africa.  I expected to come here to be the “muscle” (some of you are probably laughing right now!)—doing the grunt work of the drilling crew, showing the Turkana what hard work looks like.  And God has found ways to reveal my own arrogance to me countless times.  I expected to come to Turkana and find broken people, pagan people lacking proper nutrition both physically and spiritually.  But what I have found has been the opposite.  I’ve worked alongside guys on the drilling crew that outwork me each and every week.  And when I come into town on the weekends, they stay out there turning that drill!  I’ve sat next to people in Bible Studies, who know stories from the Old Testament that I’ve never even read!  I’ve taught classes on spiritual warfare, only to discover that there’s a spiritual battle going on that’s so much bigger than I ever wanted to imagine!  And I’ve listened to people pray prayers & tell stories of faith that resonate the Gospel in ways more beautiful than I could begin to express.  I would be arrogant in saying that I’ve made significant changes in these peoples’ lives.  If anything, it’s been the opposite.  And I’ve been blessed to have learned so much from God through these people the past several weeks.

We serve an awesome God, and this past week he really brought things together from this summer.  Our host missionaries invited us to come to the coast with them for a Spiritual Retreat.  I of course agreed, but I think all I heard them say was “Coast.”  But I feel like God really spoke to my heart over the past week.  We went to church in Nairobi last Sunday, & the preacher raised a deep question:  “What are you involved in that will outlast you?”  And for some reason, God really spoke to me through that question and his sermon.  All our work this summer suddenly made sense.  Through all of my “learning” this summer, it’s been difficult to see how I’m really being used.  And I think it’s because I’m involved in something that will outlast me.  I’m not vital to the work that’s happening over here; these guys on the drilling crew will continue drilling wells when we’re back in the States, and I think they’ll do just fine.  Please don’t think I’m saying I’m not being used over here.  I know God’s using me; I am just being continually reminded that He’s using me for His kingdom, not mine!

Over the past weeks, I’ve heard three different people talk about how nothing is impossible for God.  At the retreat, one of the speakers talked about how we serve a God who has the power to resurrect life.  At church last Sunday, one of the ladies leading the service talked about how God answered a huge prayer request in her life the past week.  Both of them somehow touched on God’s ability to overcome the impossible.  And last week with the drilling crew, when my stomach was messed up and I felt weak and tired, Danger (check out the blog to learn about his name) told me, “Don’t worry Ekatarot (my Turkana name).  Nothing is impossible for God!”  This was coming from one of the guys who had just drilled the 6th unsuccessful well in the last 2 weeks.  That means lots of work for no results—just 6 holes in the ground!  But it shows the kind of work God’s doing in the hearts of the people over here.  These guys who have very little, who are surviving on maize, beans, cornmeal, & occasional goats; these guys who rarely see their families because they’re always out here working; these guys who have never been on a plane or seen the coast—Danger, one of “these guys” was ministering to me!  These aren’t pagan people; they know God & they trust in His word.  We might say it with our mouths, “Nothing is impossible for God,” but they believe it with their hearts!

There’s interesting symbolism involved with digging wells.  So many times in my life, I’m consumed with things that will not outlast me.  I’ve either created things to be dependent upon me in order to ensure my own success, or I’ve filled my life with earthly things that simply will not last.  And when I remove myself from these things, they fade away; they become just another hole in the ground.  But this work I’m doing now involves so much more.  And I can find peace in knowing that these wells will continue bringing light to people’s lives even after I return home. 

The Bible has lots of metaphors about gardening, and in Galatians 6:7-8, Paul talks a lot about planting and says that we will reap what we sow.  I pray that we would seek to plant seeds that will bring glory that abounds for all eternity.  Someone planted that seed in Danger’s heart years ago, & I’m blessed to have him plant that same seed in mine.  I pray that all of us might lose sight of the empty holes that sometimes consume our lives, and that we would instead find joy as gardeners for God’s kingdom.

What are you involved in that will outlast you?  I hope you know that you are involved in an incredible ministry in the Turkana district of Kenya.  You are involved in God doing the impossible, providing water and irrigated farming in the middle of the African desert! And the Gospel is being shared in one of the most remote regions of Kenya!  And I cannot thank you enough for being involved in my life.  Thank you for the prayers and words of encouragement.  Know that every message you send my parents about my blog gets sent my way, & I am extremely grateful for each of those emails.  I hope God uses my words to plant seeds in your own lives, words like Danger planted in mine.

Please continue to pray for God’s work in the lives of the Turkana people.  Pray that he will bring a bountiful harvest & that these wells will overflow with His abundant life. 
Thank you again!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

This past week was incredible!  The coast lived up to it's reputation--amazing food, beautiful beaches, & did I mention amazing food!  Not only was the resort kind of like a taste of Heaven, I feel like God really spoke to my heart this past week about that phrase "On Earth As It Is In Heaven!"  This post is a little lengthy, but I tried to include more pictures to give you an idea of life on the coast.  A picture really is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately, I don't have many pictures to bring to life the words I heard from the Spiritual Retreat--I only have my notes.  But God was really speaking through the guest speakers, & I tried to include the things He was speaking to my heart.

Many of you may be wandering if the coast was a little "European".  Wouldn't that be difficult to battle that sort of temptation on a Spiritual Retreat?  Were the bathing suits revealing? Yes!  Below should basically sum up the sort of temptation I was facing this past week ;)

Yeah, that's about the extent of the "European-ness" at the resort.  For some reason, the requirements for "skimpy" bathing suits--like this man's speedo--seemed to be old, overweight, & male!

Day 38: A Whole New World
Left from the “Lodwar Airport” this morning to Nairobi.  I noticed the check-in counter by the landing strip this time, but I still wouldn’t consider it an airport.  It was pretty crowded & we heard that a flight had been delayed the day before.  We were talking to some people & learned that the plane had crashed upon landing--really comforting to hear right before taking off!  But we later learned that the plane had been full of goats (who knew they liked to travel!), & no goats were harmed in the process.  Ends up the plane didn’t actually crash; the tires just blew out & it almost ran into the giant pile of rocks at the end of the landing strip.

…Gene picked us up at the airport in his CMF Cruiser.  I can’t believe they drove all the way from Lodwar earlier in the week.  I asked Gene how the drive was & he said terrible!  Gene looked like he was ready for a blizzard.  He was wearing long pants, a sweater, & a vest.  And it was probably mid 70s!  But it really did feel cold getting off the plane in Nairobi compared to Lodwar…Driving in Nairobi is a whole different ballgame.  I thought Atlanta was crazy; Nairobi is insane!  You’ve got people cutting each other off left & right, bicycles driving between cars, people in the middle of the road selling newspapers & bananas, & we even saw one of the Matatus (their taxi vans) driving on the sidewalk to weave around traffic!   

And Gene’s like a madman behind the wheel.  At one point some guy was trying to cut him off, so Gene said, “Look, this guy’s trying to ace me!”  His window was down & the guy heard Gene & just told him to go ahead.  He gets competitive & it’s really funny…We drove by some of the embassies over here, including the U.S. Embassy.  At the front is a sign that says not to take pictures, but we thought what the heck, why not?  Little did we know they take those words of warning pretty seriously.  One of the guards saw Kyle & my cameras through the windows & tried to flag us down but Gene kept driving until another guard stood in the middle of the road to make us stop.  A whole team of guards, including a couple w/ AK-47s came up to the window asking to see the pictures.  Kyle was sitting up front so they saw his camera in his hand, but I decided to just slip mine in the backseat pocket & not mention it.  Kyle had been videoing the drive, & when he turned off his camera, it didn’t save any video from the embassy.  Nevertheless, they looked at his camera, made him get out of the car, & took pictures of him, his passport, & the car.  If only I could have gotten a picture of all of it!  Of course all my pictures were respectfully deleted ;)

Day 39: Words of Life
Didn’t sleep well last night.  I actually got really cold; they said probably in the mid 50s.  In the states I would have loved it, but I wasn’t used to sleeping with so many covers on top of me after the past few weeks in Lodwar…Church this morning was awesome.  And when we pulled up, there were monkeys on top of the building!   

The sermon today was awesome, probably one of the best sermons I’ve heard in a long time.  The preacher at the church was great, & you could tell he knew his stuff academically & didn’t shy away about things, but he also knew the practical side too, a tough balance to find.  He preached on Luke 17: 20-37 & talked about the coming Kingdom.  He discussed how so many of us are sitting around waiting on Heaven, & we forget that God put us on this earth to work for his kingdom NOW!  It was a great sermon, & he asked a question that really struck me: “What are you involved in that will outlast you?”  What works am I doing for eternal glory?  And that’s tough b/c we want to feel important—I  know I do—so I want to feel like I’m needed in order for the things I’m involved in to succeed.  But if my ministry is dependent upon me, then who’s kingdom am I working for?  The preacher talked about how the glory is not for us; it’s for God.  And this world was created by God, so when Jesus returns, he will be coming to reclaim His creation.  God invites us to be a part of bringing “on earth as it is in Heaven” to practice.  And he made a great point; he said we can’t be overwhelmed by all the problems in the world.  We have to take it day by day & just keep moving forward.  And all of the sudden all of the work we’ve been doing started to make sense.  These wells, these Bible studies, the work that’s going on in Turkana—it’s all bigger than me, & it will outlast me when I’m gone.  And for the first time this summer, I really started to ask God if he was calling me to the mission field.  I hadn’t felt like he was b/c I didn’t feel that useful over here.  But it’s b/c the work over here is for a kingdom so much bigger than the world that I sometimes try & make revolve around me.  Being a missionary—that’s giving your life to something that will outlast me.  But I also know that you don’t have to travel across the world to be a missionaryAt the end of the service, the pastor had people raise their hands if they really wanted discernment.  And I figured, what the heck & raised my hand along with many others.  And people from the congregration actually moved around & prayed over one another.  Kyle & I prayed for each other & it was pretty cool.  And behind me was a friend of mine from the States who is having to return briefly b/c of some medical issues.  During the prayer time, it was powerful to look behind me & see her not with her hand raised, but praying over the lady next to her.  The girl who’s having to return home wasn’t asking for prayer, but praying for people.  Tells you something about her heart—I think she’s involved in something that will outlast her, she’s working for His kingdom.

Day 40: Mother, Mother Ocean
We got here at 11:30 PM last night, just in time for the end of the Women’s World Cup-what a heartbreaker!  This place is unreal!  It reminds me of the resort from Forgetting Sarah Marshall & I keep waiting to see Aldous Snow pop out singing his hit song, “African Child!”

…We’d heard we were going to be sharing the room w/ some other missionaries teenage sons, so I figured we’d either be sharing beds or sleeping on the floor.  Which was okay w/ me—I’ve been sleeping on the ground most of the summer.  But we walk in the room & discover bunk beds, a twin bed, & a king size bed.  And the teenage guys picked the bunk beds, so guess who got the King size bed since Kyle got the futon in Nairobi—this guy!...Slept in & hit the all you can eat breakfast buffet--Omellette & French toast stations, sausage, & even watermelon juice!  It’s all inclusive, so it’s a lot like a cruise (minus the boat) & the food is even better!...After breakfast we went to check out the beach.  There were some tour guides that showed us around.  They were cool guys and sounded Jamaican.  We walked along the beach which is nice but covered in seaweed at this time of year.  But the seaweed is dead, so it doesn’t stick all over you & just feels like you’re walking on dead leaves.  They explained to us why the resort is called Turtle Bay.  It’s b/c theirs a huge rock in the ocean here that looks a lot like a turtle.  We took kayaks out there later & the other side looks like it even more.   

Yeah, that’s another thing—free kayaking, windsurfing, & who knows what else here.  We saw some cool stuff walking around with these guys.  There’s dead coral near the shore so you can walk on that, 

& there’s tons of stuff living in there.  We saw starfish, 

crabs, &eels.  The kept trying to get one of the eels to come out far enough by teasing it with some crab on the end of a stick so that they could grab it, but they couldn’t quite get it to come all the way out.  

 The said the biggest one, which they call “King George,” is about 1.5 meters long!...Made it back just in time for water polo in the pool.  It’s a pretty cool resort in the fact that they have tons of activities going on & they really try to get their guests involved.  Water Polo was awesome!  It was in the shallow end, which messes with you b/c I would try & run, but between being in the water & the slick floor, I probably looked more like a cartoon character.  It gets pretty physical since it’s tackle, so you’re exhausted afterwards

...Dinner was awesome—pork tenderloin, beef brisket, these cabbage rolls that were amazing, & banana foster… After dinner was our first session for the Spiritual Retreat.  Before the session, I didn’t really understand why we were coming here.  “Spiritual Retreat”—that must be code for vacation to the coast!  It definitely is a chance for these missionaries in Africa to relax, but it’s about much more than that.  It’s much more similar to a campus ministry Beach Retreat.  It’s a time for these missionaries to reconnect & fellowship w/ one another, maybe not feel like an outsider for a change.  And it’s about having someone pour into them for a few days.  

A group from Heritage Christian Church in Georgia is here to lead the sessions.  The session tonight paved the way for the rest of the week.  Doug, their head minister, talked about how we are more than sinners saved by grace.  We definitely are that, but we are so much more.  We’re not just misfits God decided to tolerate.  God created us & we are his prized possession.  B/c of sin, we’ve become “junk”, but that’s not what we were intended to be, & b/c of Christ, we can return to our Creator, w/o blemishes or burns.  It’s awesome stuff we’re talking about, & it’s a lot of stuff that’s really been on my heart lately.  I came here feeling a guilty (but obviously not too guilty since I came!) that we were getting an “off-week.”  But I feel like God brought me here for a reason, to learn something from these missionaries & the guest speakers.  I feel like God’s after my heart, & I’m being continually reminded that I am a child of His.  And that means I’m loved more than I can possibly imagineThe Disco was a little cheasy, which I kind of expected.  I’m pretty sure they arrest guys w/ beards like mine who are doing the YMCA with teenagers, so I decided it was probably time for bed!

Day 41:
Another great breakfast this morning & then we started our sessions for the Retreat until lunch.  The sessions were awesome—seriously, if you’re looking for a church in the Atlanta area, then check out Heritage Christian Church in Fayetteville.  And I feel good promoting them b/c they’re a church plant of Southwest Christian Church, who supports ACF & GT CCFThis morning Doug dove into a pretty thick question: “Why did God even bother to create us in the first place?”  It’s a tough question, & it actually ties into a lot of the stuff Mike, Kyle, & I have been wrestling w/ this summer regarding freewill, Satan, sin, & salvation (we’ve argued about just about everything you can think of!)  It’s pretty cool b/c Doug went to KCU (Kyle’s undergrad) & Emmanuel (my seminary) b/c it seems like our professors are on opposite ends of the theological spectrum.  Doug talked a lot about Satan & his rebellion & he raised some good questions.  I respect the way he teaches too b/c he prefaces by stating that he doesn’t know everything & a lot is merely his speculation (a good quality he probably learned at Emmanuel!)  He discussed stuff like “Why didn’t God just destroy Satan?”, “What’s really our purpose?”, & “Do we worship God b/c we love Him, or b/c we’re trying to get something out of him?”  Good stuff!  And he had an awesome definition for “glory”.  He described glory as our returning to the image of God, what we were originally created to resemble.  And he talked about suffering.  We worship an all-powerful God that has the ability to stop suffering, but he doesn’t; that’s tough to swallow.  He talked about how suffering allows God to mold us, shape us, refine us.  But he gave an awesome illustration.  He told a story about a silversmith putting a blade into the fire.  Someone asked the silversmith how he knew when it was ready to be taken out, & he told him, “When I can see my reflection in it.”  I thought that was powerful!  When does God see His reflection in me?  And Doug closed with another great question:  “What is it you really want from God: comfort or glory?”… After the session, got some some lamb kabobs & fries & headed to the beach to try to windsurf.  We get one free 30 minute trial since we’re staying at the resort, so we figured we gotta try it.  They won’t let you go out very far out & part of the time is training, but it was still pretty cool.  It’s basically like snowboarding/wakeboarding except you have to switch your feet position on the turns.  

We eventually got it figured out & hopefully Kara’s pictures make us look like experts!...This place kind of has a Caribbean feel to it, especially since a lot of the locals sound Jamaican.  But when I saw a camel on the beach, I was reminded that I’m in Africa. 

I had to get some pictures, which the guy who owned it hated since I wasn't paying to ride it.  But when he started using some choice profanity involving words that start with “F”, among others, I felt like I was back in America ;) … Doug’s voice was about gone for the night session, so Steve, Heritage’s associate pastor, took the reigns.  He made a great point that really stuck with me: “Love the Hell out of people”.  He said you can’t convince people to Christ, you gotta love them.  And he touched on what the pastor talked about Sunday—creating things that will outlast us, being willing to let someone else get the glory…We ended up playing cards after the session down by the disco floor.  We didn’t start until after 10 PM, & Gene & Melba still stayed up & joined us.  They really are awesome people.  I couldn’t ask for better host missionaries.  They put the nose to the grindstone when it’s time to work, but they also know when to cut loose & have fun.  

And they really know how to love people.  I’m honored to get to be a part of their ministry this summer.  Gene even pulled Melba out on the dance floor for a slow song—they’ve still got it.  Looked like a couple of teenagers out there!

Day 42:
We actually turned the air conditioner off & I still woke up w/ 2 blankets on.  Turkana’s rubbing off on me!...Doug had another great session today.  He talked about the spirit that lives inside of us & he made some awesome points.  He really wanted to focus on what it is that sustains us through tough times, b/c they will happen.  And he talked about how we have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead living inside of us.  He made an awesome illustration of what it must have been like when Jesus took on the sins of the world.  He asked us to think about the worst thing we’ve ever done & think about the guilt associated with it.  And then he said to imagine the guilt of all of the worst things we’ve done in our life combined.  Then he said to imagine taking on the guilt of the person next to you, the whole room, the whole country—you get where it’s going.  Imagine taking on the guilt of the whole world.  And while I was trying to play out this scenario, I got a sick feeling in my stomach.  “I don’t want this God!”  I’d never thought about Jesus having to deal with all the guilt of our sins when he died on the cross, but that’s what happened.  It’s tough to imagine the pain he endured.  Luckily for us, it doesn’t stop there.  B/c Christ didn’t just die, he was resurrected.  Doug made another awesome point about Rev. 3:20, which talks about Christ knocking at the door of our hearts.  He discussed how many of us have Christ in our hearts, but he’s not really operating in our lives.  He said that perhaps Christ isn’t trying to get in our hearts; perhaps, he’s knocking trying to get into our lives, from the inside out!  And he discussed how Satan’s lies prevent us from being healed by the Spirit.  And he posed another great question (this guy’s the king of great questions!): “Are you going to believe God’s truth or the lies of Satan?”… I definitely think God’s bringing clarity in my life about the reality of spiritual warfare.  Doug mentioned that we’re in a spiritual war & when we stop believing Satan’s lies, it doesn’t mean things are going to be easy.  We just picked a fight w/ the devil!  But we serve a God who gives us the strength to stand firm in our battles…We didn’t have a night session, but Steve did a comedy routine.  He used to be a stand-up comedian, & this guy is hilarious.  And he’s got a gift for finding ways to preach through his jokesChecked out the snake show for the resort.  They had all sorts of snakes in cages, including pythons, vipers, & spitting cobras.  The guy would talk about the snakes, making sure to highlight how dangerous they were & then take them out of their cage.  The guy was really funny, but also nuts to handle deadly snakes for a living.  They even “milked” (drained the venom) the Viper & got the cobra to spit at this paper owl cut-out.  Pretty crazy!

Day 43:
It was a little sad today knowing that our dream vacation was finally coming to an end…In the session today Doug talked about the power of persistent prayer.  His questions for the day were, “Who have you stopped praying for?” & “How do you know when you’ve prayed enough?”  He had us write the name of someone we wanted to commit to never stop praying for & I wrote down a name.  And I hope to never give up praying for him, & I hope one day he will know just how much God loves Him.  But I think you gotta take Steve’s approach: “Love the Hell out of people!”… The second morning session was really good.  Doug talked about having “A heart open to God & hands that are open to others.”  And he talked a lot about the symbolism of hands in the Bible.  He said that when we “lift our hands” to God, we’re symbolically inviting God to inspect our hands.  Kind of made me wander if I really want to lift mine.  Do I really want to pray that prayer?  And Doug talked about how we need “clean hands” to go before God.  It gave new meaning to the song, “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts.”  And Doug made a great point saying that we need to make sure our hands are open—open to receive God’s grace & His blessings & open to love His children.  We need to make sure that are hands are being used.  It made me think a lot about my life in Johnson City.  Yeah, I’m studying the Bible in seminary, but what am I actually doing for the kingdom?  Are my hands open?...After the session we ate pretty quickly & headed to the glass-bottom boat Gene rented for us.  It was awesome!  

There’s a strip of glass down the middle so you can see the fish & coral under the boat.  And it’s covered & you can chill on top & soak in some rays.  We went out a good ways & did some snorkeling.  The coral was gorgeous & there were a ton of cool fish, including some that looked like the blue one in Finding Nemo.   

I’ve been snorkeling before, & trust me, I’m no expert.  The beard made it a little difficult to seal the mask over my nose, but my main problem comes into play with the snorkel.  For some reason, I get this feeling like this thing works like gills, & before I know it I’m drinking water instead of breathing. 

But I got the breathing somewhat under control & got some cool pictures with Kyle’s underwater cameraPassed on water polo today, & decided to channel my energy into eating & playing cards.  So I ordered some steak & fries & played some cards.  And then a burger & fries.  And we were still playing cards, so why not more steak & fries!  Needless to say, I wasn’t too hungry for dinner, but considering my food options in Turkana, I still managed to scarf down some filet & fresh fruit … Got packed up before dinner & had to tell everyone bye.  These people are awesome—the missionaries & the guest speakers.  I’m blessed to have gotten to be a part of their Spiritual Retreat.  It was definitely cool getting to hang-out with a lot of the people here.  Words can’t express the admiration I have for the work they are doing for the Kingdom.  One lady even adopted quadruplets—yeah, adopted!  Their mom died during childbirth, & she chose to adopt them.  When I first heard about these four 5-year olds, I joked that if my wife got pregnant with quads, it would be my nightmare. 

I had no idea she voluntarily chose to bring these children into her life.  Tells you just how big her heart is.  And I’m getting to see more & more just how big of hearts Gene & Melba have.  When we were leaving, they told us they’d miss us this next week, & you could tell they meant it.  They genuinely love people, including me, & for that I am grateful.  I’ll miss them too next week—along with steak, the ocean, water polo, & an endless supply of food!

Back in Lodwar & getting ready for my last week with the Turkana.  Please pray that God will help us finish strong!