Monday, December 19, 2011

There he lay, badly beaten while others walked by

I got up this morning wondering what adventures today would bring.  I took a leisurely walk into town and it was beautiful.  I made my way down near Khetia's where I usually can find my kids I hang out with.  I stood outside on the sidewalk and shortly a young man, probably about 16 or 17 years old ran up to me.  He spoke very little English so another man walking by helped interpret.  I wasn't sure what he was asking but I gathered that it was for his friend that he said was beaten up and he needed help.  I've heard this kind of scam around town before and honestly, I thought that's what this was.  I said that I could not help.  Something was different next.  As I watched him hang his head and run off I could see fear in his eyes.  I saw a genuine concern that I've never seen when someone is trying to pull a scam.  As I stood there I knew I had to find him.  In the 30-45 seconds that passed, he was out of sight.  I circled the block a bit and finally caught up to him.  I asked him to take me to his friend.

We walked up the street and there he was.  There was this other young man about the same age.  His name is Peter Lojore.  Peter could barely open his eyes and was very weak.  So weak that when I felt for his pulse I could barely find one.  Something looked bad about his leg.  The smallest touch on his knee caused intense pain.  I've seen people faking pain before - he was not.  Another of his friends that was there cut his pant legs so I could look at his knees.  His left knee had a deep cut that was still fresh and bloody.  His right knee was swollen bigger than a softball.  I got bit and pieces of the story from a few other people around.  What I can put together is this:

Peter and his friends have a push cart job.  Basically, the have a big, wooden cart that they push around town and carry things for people.  He must have been hired by someone and took his cart down a street that some other street boys work.  Last night those other guys were drunk and came to Peter and beat him up.  I believe that a metal pipe was used, though I'm not positive.

At this point, I knew that I couldn't just walk away doing nothing.  Peter very obviously needed medical attention.  I managed to get him to the Kitale District Hospital and left a deposit that should cover his bills there.  The initial doctor to look at him suspects at least 3 fractured bones in Peter.  The entire time that I was taking him to the hospital on lookers stopped and laughed.  They would crack jokes and laugh about Peter.  They could laugh, but no one would stop to help.  I full out yelled at a crowd of men in the back of a pickup truck for laughing while we were trying to get Peter onto a motorcycle.  

What I saw today was upsetting.  And I don't just mean the beaten young man.  It was upsetting to see the attitudes of so many through town.  To them, Peter and his friends are nothing more than street boys and nuisances.  I saw something different in them.  I saw two of Peter's friends desperately seeking out help for him.  I saw these two walk away from their push carts to come sit with Peter in the hospital.  One of them looked at me and said that he has spent most of his life now with Peter and others on the streets.  He said, "these guys are my brothers".  I left the hospital after a while and promised to return tomorrow with lunch for them and to be sure that the doctors are treating him well.  Peter's friend walked out with me saying that because I helped it was his job to make sure I got out of the hospital safely.  Once I was outside the gate, he went back in to be with Peter.  It's totally safe there, but the fact that he walked me out was amazing.  What I saw in these street boys today was so precious.  I saw in them what I wish I could see in so many of the other locals:  concern for other people.

When push comes to shove, who are you?  Are you the one to stick by your friends - or even a stranger - or just an onlooker making jokes?  Are you in too much of a hurry to stop and show compassion?  Or will you push aside your schedule and time to do the right thing?  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas miracle full of Christmas cheer??

Christmas is in 11 days.  For the first time in a very long time, I can't find any of that Christmas cheer.  I just finished watching the Christmas episode of NCIS (yes, I enjoy that show!).  I'm sitting here listening to Christmas music and it all seems empty.

I think that my favorite Christmas memory was in 10th grade.  That was the year that I got to meet my biological family.  Before this year I had spent Christmas with my adopted family.  And I love them so very much.  I always loved the feeling of being included into their family; I never felt left out in any way.  I still enjoy spending time around Christmas with them to this day.  They mean the world to me.  But this particular year was different.  I spent years wondering about my biological family.  I was filled with so many lies about them.  In 10th grade my great grandmother (Nanny) finally came clean with me and told me the truth.  That truth was that this family missed me and wanted to know me.  She finally stopped hiding me from them and them from me.  I met with my grandparents earlier and they invited me to spend Christmas with them in Reading.  I was nervous!  My Uncle Joe, Aunt Donna, sister Krissy, and cousins Kelly and Amanda would be there.  I only had a small memory of them; I think that I blocked much out from so many other wounds.  My mom drove me there that morning.  The last thing she said was that if I felt uncomfortable to call and she would come pick me up right away.  That didn't happen.  In fact, leaving at the end of the night was hard.  I walked into my grandparents home for the first time in so many years and it felt strangely familiar.  I looked at photos on the wall of Krissy, Kelly and Amanda.  Right along side were the few pictures of me that they had.  Around that time my grandparents had put in a pool in tieback yard.  In the cement next to the pool was a penny from the year of all of our births.  The fact that I was included in that felt so good.  My grandfather took me to the basement to show me something.  Each of the girls were given a bottle of champagne when they were born for their wedding day.  Right next to it was my gift from when I was born.  The bought me a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey for my wedding day.  When they had no way to know where I was or if they would ever see me again they saved this bottle for me.  These things made me feel so loved.  That day I was reunited with a family that I thought to have been lost.  I remember feeling so loved and cared for.  I don't think that I will ever forget that day.  I've spent every Christmas except for one with them since.

For years I have been the guy to start listening to Christmas music by Thanksgiving.  I had my desk at work decorated with lights and whatever small trinkets I could find.  I have always loved this time of year.  I love going to evening services on Christmas Eve.  I love decorating the house.  I love spending time with both of my families and my friends.

Right now, I'm finding it hard to find that Christmas cheer.  I can't seem to enjoy Christmas music, no matter how much I try.  Thanksgiving away from home was hard and Christmas is proving to be worse.  It's compounded with a decision that I recently made (I'll go into that later).  Sufficient to say, I'm struggling much more than I anticipated.  I sat outside tonight and starting to wonder why I'm here right now.  Why am I not at home with family.  Right away I thought of my day today.  I went to town and played a card game with a street boy named Sammy for a while.  It was a boring game to be honest.  But it was his favorite and he wanted to play so I played.  I've had so many experiences like this.  I know that I'm here for that reason.  I think to the conmen outside the Posta and how I've been standing up to them despite their threats.  I think to the dozens of kids and adults that I've talked to about that and how I'm slowly showing them what it is to stand up to evil.  I know that what I'm doing here matters and it is making a difference.  Still, I'm struggling so much more that I thought I would.

It's funny; this is the first Christmas in nearly a decade where I'm not working 16+ hour days or traveling all over the country.  I can actually relax and enjoy a fairly stress free December.  And a small part of me almost longs for that because it means I'd be with my family on December 25th.  I keep think to 11 days from now.  I'm going to spend Christmas Even with some boys on the street before going out to dinner with my family here in Kenya.  Christmas morning I think that I'm going out to a home that Transformed International runs to spend time with the kids there.  After that, we're having Christmas dinner at our compound.  I'm excited for these things.  At the same time, I'm dreading it.  I'm dreading that lonely feeling that is already beginning.  The feeling of not sitting at the dinner table with family.

Maybe a Christmas miracle will bring an extra dose of Christmas cheer?  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Appearance aren't everything

I've been thinking about this for a little while and I now think that I have a few thoughts in order.

Last week we were in Nairobi as the TI interns headed back home.  I really don't care for Nairobi.  In fact, I'm not fond of most major cities.  But there were a few things that stood out to me in Nairobi.  It kind of hit at once as we were taking a taxi to the shuttle stage to catch a ride back to Kitale.  We left the Parkside Hotel (which I now refer to as "the Darkside Hotel") around 7AM.  What stood out to me was how so many shops had people outside cleaning the ground of debris, washing windows and inside mopping floors.  Even the Darkside does the same.  What I began to think is "why?".  Why do they make so much an effort to clean the outside of the place when the inside is filthy and disgusting.  The Darkside has a nice lobby with a big flatscreen TV.  They fold the towels and make the bed really nice.  But when you stay there, it's not the best.  Toilets don't flush.  Sinks don't always work and the service isn't always the best.  But at first glance it appears to be a nice place.  The shops are the same.  They have someone outside sweeping up trash and washing windows.  But when you walk in, they are not a friendly place.  Goods are cluttered and dusty.

What I thought of is how many Kenyans do the same with their own appearance.  They dress as nicely as possible and put on a front of being wealthy but on the inside they are not the same.  Then, the most interesting thought I had was how we in America are the exact same.  How often do we use Facebook to brag about how good our lives are when in truth we're really struggling.  How many have bought homes, cars or gadgets that push them further and further into debt just to keep up appearances.

I think that with all of our toys and gadgets it has become easy to put up a good front.  Even here in Africa it's easy to put on the front by posting amazing pictures of everything.  But I don't want to pretend either.  I love being here.  It's so much fun and I love what I am doing.  I love the kids I hang out with.  I love the community here.  But it's hard too.  It's sometimes difficult to see corruption and poverty daily.  Christmas is in 12 days.  This is the first Christmas in nearly a decade that I am able to relax and I'm not bogged down with travel and extra work.  At the same time, it doesn't even feel like Christmas.  It's a sad feeling to know that I won't be with my family on Christmas, not will I see any of them for a little while.  I'll enjoy every moment I have left here, but it's still strange.

I guess the question is why do we as a people feel the need to appear to be perfect and happy beings all the time?  Why are we so afraid to let people know that we don't always have everything in order?  Why has being anything less than perfect all the time become so shameful?  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My first death threat: It IS my business...

I haven't blogged in a while.  I guess I've been waiting for something to stand out.  This morning, that something happened when a group of con artists told me that they would kill me.

Ever since I arrived in Kitale in September there have been a group of con artists that are outside the local Posta (post office).  They used to "give" away toothbrushes.  They have since upgraded to cell phone batteries.  The way that the scam works is that they give you the battery and you have to pay money to remove a sticker on the back.  They give you a list of 10 prizes that could be under the sticker.  You pay 500 shillings to have the sticker removed.  To be clear, there is only one prize: nothing.  In fact, if you ask to see the phones that they list as prizes, they don't have them.  They have no vehicles nor any bags that even could have anything in them.  They also claim a "free" t-shirt if you don't get a prize.  The same is true - they have no shirts.  This is a very clear scam.  These guys pay off the police with a mere 20 shillings a day a piece (that's about .25 US cents - it costs more to park your car in town for the day) to not be bothered.

One thing I can't stand is people ripping off others.  Unfortunately, it happens more often than not here in Kenya.  These guys refuse to admit that they are doing anything wrong at all; they will tell you that they are "marketing officials" doing a "legitimate job".  If it was legitimate, why do they have to pay a bribe to the police?  Why do they not have a business license that everyone else is required to have?  If it is legitimate, why are there no prizes?  I've had a few encounters with these guys.  I've debated back and forth with them on numerous occasions.

Yesterday, I was walking into the Posta when I saw them scamming a local Kenyan, an elderly man.  I couldn't do nothing.  I walked up to him and told the man about the scam before he wasted his money.  He understood and walked away.  This was the start...I picked up some stamps to send some cards home and only way out, they were at it again with another man.  I walked right over to them and did the same thing.  They lost another "sale".  Now, they were beyond angry.  The guys proceeded to argue with me.  They made the comment that it's none of my business because they only steal (they actually used the word steal) from Kenyans, not the Muzungos (white people) here.  They tried to scare me by yelling.  They told me that they will "meet me in the US one day; another idle threat.  I made it a point to walk by them a few more times during the day to show that I'm not afraid of them; and I'm not afraid of them at all.  Not one bit.  

Today I was walking in town and the leader (he wasn't there yesterday) of the group yelled to me.  I need to point this out:  this man is a local pastor!  I was told that I should just go back to my own country and leave them alone.  He also told me that this is none of my business.  I told him that when he is stealing from people it is my business.  I said that I am here for a while and anytime I walk by and see them scamming someone I will warm them.  That's when he got really angry.  His exact words were, "if you keep it up we will smash your face and end your life".  Again, an idle threat.  I told him to try.  The second he lays a finger on me, that'll be the last thing that finger ever touches.  He yelled some more but refused to come close to me.  He even followed me down the street threatening to beat me and kill me.  There were some street boys walking with me at the time.  They seemed concerned.  It was a great opportunity to teach them to stand up for themselves and others.  They asked why I wasn't afraid of this group of me.  I told them that it's because those guys are cowards.  They yell idle threats while being sure to stay a few yards away.  The boys seemed to begin to understand.

There was a time in my life where I would have walked away afraid.  There was a time when I would walk a different path in fear of the bullies.  Not anymore.  They say it's not my business, but it is.  It's my business because it's wrong and they are too used to people not standing up to them.  They're too used to getting away with it because they paid a bribe.  I won't be bought off, nor will I be scared off.  Not by this group of corrupt thieves.  I will not chose a different walking path to avoid them.  Not because I am looking for trouble, though I won't run from it in fear.  That walking path is one of the most direct paths and I will keep using it.  And I will continue to warn others before they waste their money.  To most Americans 500 shillings (just over $5) may not seem like much.  But to the average Kenyan, that's a lot of money.  And to be lured into a scam thinking you have the chance to win a brand new smart phone is not acceptable to me.

That said, I do not walk near them blindly.  I am very aware of who they are and where in the street they are.  I walk ready.

So, that's my adventure that I thought worth sharing.  It's kind of a good feeling.  The fact that they are this angry at me shows that I've done something right.  When you stand up against evil, the evildoers take notice.  That doesn't mean you back down.  It means you keep doing what you know is right.  You pick and chose your fights.  I've chosen this one.  What is yours?  What are you willing to stand up for?  WHO are you willing to stand up for that no one else will?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

PB&J with a side of love

 Back in March I wrote a second part to a blog on poverty that can be found By clicking here.  In this blog is also a link to a previous blog on the same topic.  In this blog I made the point that:
...lack of resources is NOT poverty!  It is the result of an impoverished mindset!  Look, when I lived with my biological mother before my adoption we lived in poverty.  We spent nights on the streets.  What changed when I was adopted?  It was not just that I was given "things".  What changed was that people showed that they cared.  My MIND started to be renewed.  I began to feel that I mattered.  And here is the simple, point blank, cannot be clearer truth:  PEOPLE MATTER!
The very first blog I wrote concerning poverty was a result of an interaction with a homeless woman I met in Camden, NJ while on a work trip.  Here's quick blurb:
...As I reflect on my encounter with this woman in Camden, I wonder what else I could have done. I could have bought 2 sandwiches and shared a meal with her. Why didn’t I? Perhaps because I too fell into a common feeling with poverty - fear. I think that because we don’t fully understand poverty, we fear it (again, myself included). What was I afraid of? Maybe she would have asked me for more.

These two points relate to today's adventure.  I've been enjoying my time with the street boys so much.  I love every moment being on the streets with them.  The other day Daniel gave me the idea to make some PB&J sandwiches and share them with the boys in town.  I immediately began to think about the second blurb above.  I wish that I would have sat down and shared a meal with the woman in Camden, but I can't change the past.  I didn't eat with her; I stayed in fear.  Not today.  

Yesterday I bought two loafs of bread, some peanut butter, jelly and some cheese doodles.  I put them in my bag this morning and walked to town with two of the TI interns.  We made it as far as the train tracks when I heard my friend Alex-Juma yell, "the Muzungu!!" as he jumped up and ran to me.  Quick pause for a moment - I love this kid!  He is probably one of my favorite street boys.  What upsets me is that I'm positive that he has a family.  This kid is smart, funny and a blast to be around.  He recently chipped his front tooth, wears no shoes and ratty, old clothing.  I can't imagine how as a parent you can allow your child to live this way, and in fact enforce that he does so he can beg all day and bring home drinking money.  - Okay, back to today...I stayed there on the train tracks and hung out with the kids.  We played different games and just sat down.  The boys taught me a new game played with some coins.  Every time I sit with them, I'm amazed at how they seem to have adopted me into their culture.  Today they offered more of their small food and some water to me.  

After about an hour or so some older kids showed up.  I got a really bad vibe from them from their actions and talk.  Not long after, Alex-Juma and two others got up to leave.  I picked up the games and left with them.  We walked closer to town and sat down in the grass where we ate some PB&J and cheese doodles.  I think that this was probably one of my favorite meals I've had in a really long time.  After this we walked through town a bit.  The kids wanted to cross the street near Khetias because they were afraid of the security guard.  They said that he hits them.  If you know me at all, you know that this does not sit well with me.  He and I exchanged some words along with a manager sitting inside while the kids stood in the street watching.  I love standing up for these kids.  They need someone to protect them.  Someone to show them that they matter.  Go back to the first blurb:  "What changed when I was adopted?  It was not just that I was given "things".  What changed was that people showed that they cared."

That's my day of PB&J with a  side of love.  

PS - You can see pictures of this on my Facebook page.  Sorry, they take way too long to upload onto here right now...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The power of a ball...

Before I was adopted there was one thing that I wanted more than anything else.  I wanted my biological dad to take me outside and play catch; I wanted to throw a ball.  I remember one time he got a ball out and we got into his truck.  We drove to the park.  He stopped and then turned around and we went back home.  I remember feeling so hurt and crushed.  I thought that we were actually going to have a catch.  The power of a ball crushed me.    

After I was adopted, my new dad took me into the yard and taught me how to throw a ball.  We would go to the park sometimes and throw there.  I remember feeling so loved by the act of throwing a ball.  It was awesome!  The power of a ball showed me love.

For some reason this morning, I was thinking of this.  So on my way into town this morning I stopped and picked up a few balls like the one pictured here.  I made my way down near the Khetias where the street boys I've made friends with hang out.  I sat down and bounced a tennis ball on the ground.  I sat there for a few minutes; maybe 10 or so waiting for the kids to show up.  I looked to my left and saw two of the boys walking.  They saw me and yelled my name and came running down the street to me.  Let me say, the looks on the faces of the others in town was priceless!  It was great!  I showed them the ball and asked if they wanted to play.  They said yes and we threw the ball around for a little while.  Right there, just off the dirt road and only somewhat out of the not-so-busy intersection, we played catch.  In short time, other boys joined us.  The boys were all smiles as they began to throw the ball back and forth.  We played a volleyball-like game with a squishy ball.  The people walking had all kinds of reactions.  Most of them just stared at us as they walked by, usually with a smile on their face.  It was seriously like these kids were at a park.  For a few hours today, they may have even forgotten that they were street boys.  For a few hours today, these boys were just that - boys.  They were able to be kids.  I pulled out the checkers board and a deck of cards and it was like play time.  Some played more ball, some played checkers and others played cards.  

The Khetias across the street was getting a delivery early on in the day.  The truck driver came over and played with us for a bit.  He actually picked up three of the balls and juggled, which the kids really loved!  I tried to juggle, but it wasn't nearly as impressive.  

What I love about these boys is that they call me friend - and they mean it.  They spend time with me because they enjoy it, not because I give them things.  In fact, they know that I won't.  Most won't even ask.  There was a new boy today who wanted to keep one of the balls.  Another boy got it from him and gave it back to me and said, "put this back in your bag".  Honestly, there have been more adults asking me to buy them things than these boys.  Today, a grown man handed me a letter, that appeared to be from the government (probably a fake), that gave him permission to solicit funds from strangers in order to get to Lodwar.  Grown men will boldly ask for a few hundred shillings and then walk away when I tell them that I have no money.  Yet these kids hang around and talk to me.  They teach me Swahili words and expect no money in return.  They hang out and just have fun, like kids are supposed to do.  They know that they are protected when I'm there; they know that they are safe.  In fact, the number one thing that they have asked for is me to take their pictures.    

I know that the power is not in the actual ball but instead in the act of playing a game.  But what power there is!  It's so easy to show these kids love.  Many consider them a nuisance.  But when you get to know them a little bit, they're a ton of fun to be around!  I look forward to the days that I can spend sitting on the street with them.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What do you do when you see an injustice?

The other day I posted about a card game with some street boys and the adventure that that turned into (you can Read it here.  Yesterday, I went back to the same area to play some more games.  I took a small, magnetic checkers game with me.  I sat down across the street from the Khetias (which I told the manager that I will never shop at again after the other day).  There was a cement piece sticking out of the dirt, so I sat down there and opened up my checkers board onto my lap.  Before any kids came up, two adults came up and asked about it.  One of them ended up asking to play.  My first thought was to say no because I was there to be with street kids, not the adults, but I thought it best to go with it.  I'm glad that I did, for a reason that will show soon.  As he beat me pretty badly at a game, a few kids wandered over.  This man came and went a few times; he runs a little shop behind where I was.

The past few weeks I have been having some back pain and after a little while of sitting on this cement slab, my back was begging for a back rest.  I took my little group over to a sidewalk so I could sit against the shops.  Some of the kids played some more checkers, while the rest tried to teach me some Swahili words.  After a bit, a guard came over and asked us to leave.  This guy was different than the previous one though.  He was polite, for starters.  And he wasn't allowing anyone to be sitting on the sidewalk; he didn't single me or the kids out.  I told him that I will respect that and we would move back to the dirt.  I only wanted to know why it was a problem (don't worry, I asked politely).  He was kind and explained that this street has a bank on and he didn't want people idling (loitering, back home) near the bank.  Satisfied with his explanation, we moved back.

Remember that first man that played checkers?  Well, he came back out and brought us all outside of his shop to a table and told us that we could sit on the table and carry on.  I was sure glad that I didn't ignore him earlier!  We carried on for a while longer.  Then, the shop owner from next door came out carrying a long pipe.  The kids ran to the corner right away and huddled behind each other.  He started after them, shaking this pipe.  I yelled at him and asked what he was doing; was he going to hit these boys?  His answer was that he was going to "discipline" them with the pipe.

Okay, stop for a minute.  If you know my background, you may understand why this would set me off.  I have zero tolerance for anyone who abuses a child.  I'm not talking about a spanking.  I'm talking about abuse.  I consider hitting a child with a pipe abuse.  By this time I was pretty ticked at him.  I told him, "if you want to hit someone with that pipe, you come and hit me, not these boys.  But I promise you, I'll hit back.  And I'll hit you much harder".  He went on to explain that these kids have run away from their parents and need to be beaten.  I again told him that it isn't his job to discipline them and that if he hit them, he and I would have a fight.  He was shocked that I would fight him over these street boys.  But I would have had he not backed down.  I was seconds away from pulling the baton out of my bag and going after him.  I will NOT sit by while someone abuses a child.  I'm sorry, I just won't stand for that.  Not here, not back in the States.  Nobody has the right to abuse a child and no child deserves to be abused.  We argued for about a minute or two before he told me that these kids bother him because "they smell bad".  I'll admit, they did smell bad.  A few of them reeked of glue and bad BO.  But I still sat with them and played games and hugged them.  I told this man to go back in his shop and he wouldn't have to smell them anymore.  He realized that I was serious.  I told him one last time that if I ever find out he hit one of these boys I would come into his shop and he and I would have a big problem.

When he finally backed down and went back to his shop, the kids came back with such thankfulness on their faces.  This may very well have been the first time ever that someone has stood up for them.  That's a shame.  There were other adults sitting around that gave me looks of approval.  That's great, but they still just sat there as this man was about to beat these kids.  They saw the injustice and were going to just allow it to happen.  That's unacceptable to me.  I'm not some big, macho guy that doesn't feel pain.  I know full well that had this man hit me with that pipe, it was going to hurt.  I also know that it would have been well worth it.  That pipe would have done a lot more damage to these kids (some were barely 9 or 10 years old).

The question now becomes what will you do when you see an injustice?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's okay to treat these boys like human beings

Today was an awesome adventure.  I made my way into town around 9:30 this morning. I found  couple of decks of cards and headed to Khetia's, which is a grocery store here in town.  It's also where a number of street boys hang out.  I walked up and there was what appeared to be a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk playing the guitar.  He had a small bowl out for people to put money in - no different than we ften see back in the States.  I walked just past him, set my bag down and pulled out a deck of cards.  A street boy sat down a few yards away and watched.  As I shuffled the cards I invited him over and asked if he wanted to play a game.  He was very eager.  In fact, 2 more of his friends came with him then.  We were all sitting next to the building, not in the way of foot traffic at all.  There was me, Alex-Juma, Bryan and I honestly cannot remember the other boy's name.  I started by showing them one of the 2 magic tricks that I know; they thought it was col, but most people do :).  I give credit to Jim Vomero for showing me the trick.

I showed the 3 boys how to play the game War.  They picked it up pretty quickly and were smiling and having a good time.  We were probably sitting there for about 10 minutes playing the game.  A few people stopped and starred - it's not every day a white guy is here playing cards on the street like this.  Then a security guard came over and told me that I had to leave.  I told him no.  I said that I am playing a game of cards with my new friends and if the other guy can play his guitar here, then I can play cards.  He wasn't going for it.  he insisted that I am not allowed on the property or on the sidewalk.  After about a minute of debate I looked at the boys and told them, "we have to go play over there in the dirt because this guy's a jerk".  They laughed a bit and followed me across the street.  I must have dropped my sunglasses in that short time because as one of them followed me, he handed them back to me.  First, that's crazy!  I wouldn't have been at all surprised if one of them had kept my glasses without me knowing it.  I felt truly honored by this child's honesty; it really is a rare occurrence here.

We finished our game of war a few minutes later.  The boys taught me a card game next.  I think that this is huge.  Sure, I could have sat there and taught them another game, maybe Go-Fish or something.  But I wanted to learn from them.  Yes, that's right!  It's not just about what I can teach, but what I can learn too.  Personally, I think that far too many of our Christian Ministries focus solely on the church being the hero and teaching everything.  But very rarely are those ministries able to learn from those that they are helping. Sure, this was just a card game.  I get that.  But it's also a focus for me to learn from these boys.  Not just cards.  I want to learn whatever I can from them; it just started with cards today.

During this whole time, many others stopped and starred.  These boys never once asked me for a single thing.  I loved that!  The one boy was sniffing some glue.  I pointed at the bottle and told him that it was bad for him.  That was it.  I wasn't going to make a big deal out of it.  Yes, it's wrong and they shouldn't do it.  But I wanted to meet these kids right where they were.  I wanted to show them and the others around that I care about and love these kids regardless of what they are doing.

Eventually, it was time for me to leave.  The boys handed me the cards back and we said goodbye.  I told them that I'd be back tomorrow and we can play more cards.  I walked back over to the security guard.  I had planned on just asking him some questions.  But then he glared at me, and with an attitude in his voice said, "are you finally done now?".  There went my nice, calm questions...I walked closer to him and told him, "you know, you sit on your butt all day in that chair and don't pay attention to these kids at all.  i had to come all the way here from another country to pay attention to them while you just sit there.  You let this man play guitar on the sidewalk, but won't allow me to play a game of cards.  No body was being disturbed at all.  You should be ashamed of yourself!".  After that, I turned and walked away.  Feeling a bit more like a man for standing up for these boys.

By no means am I saying that this guard should be taking care of the street boys, or feeding them or anything.  But, seriously, he sits on a chair outside of a back entrance.  There are street kids all around him.  The least he could do is say some kind words to them.  It's such an injustice to see so many kids - young kids! - ignored and rejected every day.  Yes, there is a lifestyle that plays into why some of them are on the streets.  I get that.  I really do.  But, these are kids!  They need to be shown that people care about them.  They need to be loved by someone, not rejected by everyone.  So, I'm going back to the same place tomorrow.  I'm taking my deck of cards and a checkers board.  I'm sitting down with these kids again.  And we're going to play some games.  People need to see that it's okay to talk with these boys.  It's okay to shake their hand.

It's okay to treat these boys like human beings.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

My heart in a thousand pieces

This morning started around 7:30AM with some devotional time as a group.  After we ended I asked John if he wanted to walk around town with me and talk to some kids.  We took some bodas (bicycle taxis) into town.  We walked towards Khetias, which is where many street boys hang out.  Nearly right away we met a boy named Alex.  He was definitely high on glue.  I thought that I was going to get high from the smell coming from him!  We talked for a while anyway.  John met another boy, an older boy, and was talking to him.  He was also high and spoke very little English.  Another town local helped translate.  As I talked to Alex, he spoke pretty good English.  We talked about why he likes to be on the street and sniff glue.  I refused to buy him anything at all, but I did make him a deal that I'd be back in town on Thursday.  I told him if he is sober and not high I'd take him to a place in town and get him a Coke and talk with him.  I hate to say it, but I have strong doubts that he will take me up on that offer.  I hope I'm wrong though.  We walked around some side streets for a little while, and then talked to some local con artists.  They are a fun crowd!  But, different story.

After lunch in town we walked some more.  We prayed for a divine appointment and meeting.  We walked up a side street near the Transmat, a local grocery store.  There, we met a boy on the street.  His name is David and he is 13 years old.  He was sniffing a little glue, but his bottle was very low and he didn't smell too bad of the glue.  He was actually pretty sober and clear headed.  I asked if we could sit down and talk.  John met another little boy named Lavin.  As I talked to David, he shared with me that his parents died when he was 5 years old.  We talked for a few minutes and I shared with him some of my story.  I told him of how I lived on the street with my birth mother.  But a family took me in and made me part of their family.  I told him that there is a better life than the glue and streets if he wants it.

Now, most street boys have heard of and been to Oasis of Hope.  It's a local street boys ministry.  David really never heard of it, nor has he been there.  Lavin was afraid to go to Oasis, but we convinced him that we'd keep him safe.  As we walked to get some pikis (motorcycle taxis), David looked at me and asked if he could throw his remaining glue on the ground.  I told him it was okay and without hesitation, he threw don the bottle and kept walking.  John and Lavin hopped on one piki while David and I got on the other.  Lavin had probably never been on a piki before.  He was so happy and giggling the whole ride!  We got to Oasis and Lavin had been there off an on before.  They welcomed him back.  Oasis is a day program and was soon closing.  Lavin stayed and they asked David to return at 8:30 tomorrow morning to get things started for his education there.  We rode the pikis back to The Coffee Shop, which is more of a touristy place to go eat.  I bought David a Coca Cola and John got him a samosa. We sat there and enjoyed a soda and talked for a bit.  I began to share with David the story of Joseph from the bible.  He knew most of the story and actually told it to us!  He is smarter than anyone would credit him for.  It turns out that he used to be a part of a home close to here but he let because they were over crowded and he was old enough to find work.  Unfortunately, he ended up on the streets of Kitale instead.  Normally, I would be cautious to believe the stories.  What helped confirm it was that the girl working at the Coffee Shop recognized him because she used to be in the same home.

As we left, I made plans to meet David there at the Coffee Shop tomorrow at 8AM and I'll take him back to Oasis and stay with him while he gets started there.  Here's where it sucks though.  David still has to be on the streets.  It just got done raining; he was outside in it.  David can go to Oasis tomorrow, but when they close for the day, he still goes back to the street.  In time, they may be able to find him a home.  But for now, he's stuck on the street.  As I rode back home my heart broke into a thousand pieces for David.  Here is a boy who appears to really want a change.  Here's a boy who felt loved today for maybe the first time in a long time.  And here is a boy who is still going to sleep on a cold ground tonight.  It's just not right.  It really sucks.  And my heart weeps for him.  I hope and pray that I see him waiting for me tomorrow.  I hope and pray that he is truly committed to a new life.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

God is my judge

I've been thinking about a new tattoo...maybe that will be it?  Probably not in English, and not sure where, but I really like that phrase right about now.  Maybe it won't end up as a tattoo, but who's why I really appreciate it right now:

For quite a while now I have seen some pretty negative Facebook comments regarding "the church", I now know without doubt that these comments have been directly targeted at my home church, Providence.  Finally, I had to question something, as I know this person.  I have sat down with him on several occasions, loved his heart for ministry and his passion for the less fortunate.  I've prayed over him as a member of Providence's prayer ministry team.  I've sat at a bible study and had deep conversations with him.  I thought that I could have a rational conversation regarding a comment that basically stated that bar tenders cannot lead a bible study.  Through the conversation Providence was again attacked, as was my "moral compass".  I was told that I am not a Godly man, nor do I know what one looks like because Providence doesn't have a single one.  Because of some recent history I have in prayer ministry I was able to see through the comments and see that he has a deep wound.  I was able to maintain what I thought was a conversation.  Until one comment was made, followed by what I consider a false prophecy about my family.  

The comment that ended the conversation for me was telling me that I am working with satan.  Now, I know of course that this is certainly not true at all.  But I was still pretty ticked off.  I fully expect that my Christian brothers and sisters will judge my actions.  If I am doing something that is hindering the ministry I am a part of, I would expect them to call it out.  At the same time, there is only one that can judge my heart, and that's God.  If someone has an issue with the way I act, I welcome them to tell me.  It may be an issue I am not even aware of that is hurting another.  But when someone lumps me in the category of working with the devil, I cannot continue to have a dialogue.  

I have been attacked by others before for my actions.  Not everyone was thrilled that I am spending 4 months in Kenya and they were not always quiet about it.  My grandparents told me often since they knew that they think I shouldn't do this.  In essence, they judged my actions.  And I'm okay with that.  They did so out of fear of what could happen, fear of losing me and a true and pure love for me.  But as much as they vocalized their opinions on the subject, they also told me how proud they were.  They never once judged my heart or my motives.  

I was talking with my friend Daniel the other morning about this.  I had a very long and sleepless night.  Truthfully, I felt powerless for some reason.  In the little sleep I got, I had dreams of being weak and unable to do anything.  Somehow, the very fact that my character was now attacked really tore me down.  Daniel said something profound to me:  "the fact that your character has been attacked means that you're doing something right.  And that scares people".  Another friend, Clint, sent me some passages from Romans 8 that reaffirmed who I am.  A verse that stood out to me so much was verse 33:  "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ...".  Again, God is my judge.  He and He alone has the right and authority to judge my heart.  And I am 100% confident that when I reach the end of my life, it is He who will say "well done my good and faithful servant".  

God is my judge.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A man's heart

I love that I can write this blog while on a new adventure in Kenya.  As the men on the compound we are going through the book Wild At Heart, by John Eldredge.  I read this book for the 1st time after my first trip to Kenya.  It changed my way of thinking and behaving greatly then.  Going back through it is amazing now.  It's awesome to see so many changes and even more neat to see new things that I missed the first time.  I think that the first time I read it was good as a "first step".  Now that I have grown in different areas of my life, I am able to look a little bit deeper and begin to answer some other questions.

Early on in the book Eldredge makes a point that "a man has to get his heart back".  I paused for a moment on those words.  Okay, for many moments actually.  And I've been thinking about that phrase for a few days now.  The first question that I asked is if a man has to get his heart back, who took it in the first place?  Then, I got to thinking some more.  If I have to get my heart back, who took my heart in the first place?

Before that question can be answered, I guess one must ask "what is my heart?".  In order to get something back, we need to first know what it is.  I think that the heart of a man is lacking in our culture.  I won't start stealing all of Eldredge's book (though I do highly recommend it to all men), but I will say that I think that a man was designed with purpose.  We were created for adventure, and that is in the very core of all men.  We are designed to desire to protect others, especially women.  One thing that I love about being in Kenya is that very opportunity.  Walking around town as a man I have had men offer to buy the women in the group to be their wife.  Now, I'll admit that us men over here have been joking that if someone offers us 2 elephants, or one lion, we're totally going for it!  Obviously that is nothing more than a joke.  It actually speaks to a man's very being to, with no romantic thoughts at all, stand up for and protect the women.  My friend Daniel once said that "Kenya is a place that allows a man to be a man".  I think that this is one of the reasons why.  Our sense of adventure is found in most of what we do.  It was an interesting bus ride from Nairobi to Kitale as a few of the women in the group were talking about different hobbies and such and the men talked about ours.  Most of the "men hobbies" involved flames, explosions, or something considered "extreme".  At one point one of the women said that "boys just like anything that has to do with guns and explosions".  While certainly not every man enjoys going to the shooting range or standing around a bonfire, that sense of adventure and excitement is in us.  It may be buried deep, but it's there!  It's why after the hurricane came through camp I so badly wanted to go kayaking down the DE river when it was so flooded.  It's why I enjoy going camping, watch action movies, love to go biking.  It's why when at one point in West Chester a storm knocked the power out and I was home alone.  Do you know the first thing I did?  I took my Smith & Wesson .40cal out of the gun case, popped in a magazine, grabbed a flash light and did a search of my house.  I knew without a doubt that it was the storm.  I didn't really think that someone cut my power and broke into my house.  But you know what?  It was fun!  It gave me an adrenaline boost!

At a later chapter in the book Eldredge talks about how his first grade son got pushed by a school bully the first time.  Eldredge looked at his son and gave him permission to,the next time it happens, get back up and hit the kid as hard as he can.  Awesome advice!  I know, some disagree.  My mom was one to disagree.  When I was bullied my mom told me to "turn the other cheek".  Yes, this is also good advice but it's so often not the right advice.  Yes, Jesus did teach that.  But he also taught us to take a stand.  There are times to man up and fight back.  After all, isn't that what Jesus did on the cross?  he fought back.  I had it in me to want to fight back.  But I wasn't given the permission.  I wanted to take karate lessons and learn to fight back, but my mom wouldn't approve.  Rather than giving me permission to be a man, she instilled to back down.  Not to take a stand.  I think that if that young middle school kid who was bullied came to Africa right now, he wouldn't have a clue how to stand up to anything.  Standing up for the women of the group? Forget it.  Bargaining to get the fair price?  Definitely not.  It took a long time to get over that.  To finally learn what a real man is, and that I can be that man.

The man's heart is brave and adventurous.  But it's also so fragile.  How many other men are out there afraid to live out their dreams?  I made a decision last October that I was going to quit my job and come to Kenya for a few months and see where it leads.  Since then, I heard so many comments like "I wish I had what it takes to do that too".  I saw my mom before I got on the plane and she made a similar comment.  Let me respond to these comments, especially to men, all at once:  SHUT UP!  You do have what it takes!  but men have been so badly wounded that they refuse to believe this.  It would have been so much easier to stay in West Chester and keep working my job.  Financially, that probably would have made sense.  But it wasn't the adventure I was looking for.  There was a lot of fear.  There still is.  The heart of a man is not one that doesn't feel fear.  Every time I stare at a cop on the road taking a bribe, there is a little fear in me that he could smash my face with his night stick.  Every time I get on the back of a bicycle taxi I feel my life flash before my eyes multiple times.  But it isn't about being afraid.  The heart of a man feels fear.  But the heart of man doesn't let the fear hold him back.

So, I've been slowly taking back that heart.  Since I got here I've realized a few areas that I need to be more bold in and take more of a risk.  And I'm doing that.  And it's not because I have some magical gift that you don't.  That heart is out there, waiting to be taken back.  You just need to want it bad enough to fight for it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I sat slightly ashamed...

Warning:  This may offend you.  There, you've been warned...

A few months ago I wrote this blog about "the value of a dime".  In it I wrote about a man in Kenya named Daniel Juma.  And, yes, I do still have that dime!

Today, we went out to Juma's place to see how and where we can help him in his ministry with orphans.  Juma recently purchased a new farm about 15-20 minutes from here.  He now has about a 5 acre plot of land where he can farm to fund his mission of taking in orphans.  I love this man and am so encouraged by him and all that he does.

As we sat at his kitchen table this morning I was kind of ashamed.  He thanked all of us for coming to help him out with some free manual labor.  He started by saying how so many in Kenya see America as the land of opportunity.  He said, "I don't see America as the land of opportunity.  More so, I see America as the land of God".  He went on to say how we even have the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money.  He told us how he sees Americans as unlike any other country in that we will give up our time and come to Africa to help those in need.  Another Kenyan present told us how we as Americans, even though our economy is bad, are taking what we have and offering it to others.  He said that we are basically taking food from our own tables and coming to Africa to share it with orphans here.  Together they painted such a beautiful picture of Americans.  They were not talking about the government aid that is sent.  They were speaking about us as individuals.

But I sat there nearly in tears, a bit ashamed.  Ashamed because I don't know that he was right.  First, we are becoming a nation that is taking "God" in any sense out of the public.  There is even a push to have it removed from our money.  We take God out of our schools in every way possible but allow other religions the freedom to practice their believes.  All because God may be offensive.  I am by NO MEANS saying that we need to be pushing Christianity on everyone in school!  But I am saying that it offends ME that schools are saying that a Christian cannot even have a time of prayer but someone of another faith can.  Then, when something bad happens, we are the first to blame God for it; "why didn't God stop...from happening?".

Then I wondered is he right about us as a whole?  For much of my life I had no desire to come to Africa.  Nor did I have the desire to know about conditions over here.  Yes, I understand that we have poverty too. But, seriously!  Look around the US and you will not find even close to the level of poverty over here!  I have never once walked through an area of the US and seen raw sewage floating in the streets be the norm.  I'm not talking about the aftermath of a disaster; I'm talking about real life.  Face it:  America is NOT as impoverished as so many other places in the world.  And so many of us in the US don't even want to know about it.  It's far easier to live in ignorance to it.  Some years ago a college friend of mine wrote a blog about how he and his wife lived in Mozambique, South Africa.  There was a hold in their fence and behind it was a garbage heap where street kids would scrounge for food.  They wanted to cover the hole but ended up leaving it as a reminder of why they were there.  You see, so many times we want to cover it up and pretend it doesn't exist.  We do the same in the US too.  We see the homeless person and we want to turn away and pretend to look at a poster, street sign, or our phone.  Please, know that I include myself in this mix.

I'm not saying that everyone should jump on the next plane and go to another country.  And I know that there are some that do.  Many, in fact.  But I also know that as a whole, our nation doesn't want to know.  You can call me a liar if you want.  But I've seen it.  Each time I've been back from Kenya I'm met with many of the exact same questions:  How was the food?  What animals did you see?  How was the weather?  very rarely have I been asked about the people; the relationships formed.  In more cases than not, when I tried to talk about the conditions that some live in here, it's met with resistance.

So, yes, I felt a bit ashamed today.  I am by no means ashamed to be an American.  In fact, I'm very proud to be one.  Extremely proud.  But I don't want to look at people as some being Kenyan, some being Afghan, some being American.  I think that it's time we understand that we're all in this together.  We may be from different parts of the world, but our hearts are so similar.  We all have the same basic needs.  And sadly, there are parts of the world where those basic needs are far from being met.  I'm not asking anyone to necessarily change how you live or to give money or anything.  But let's at the very least be willing to learn.

While I may have felt a bit ashamed, I also felt encouraged that right now there are 9 of us Americans living at this compound who are living out what Juma talked about.  Right now, we're all here in Kenya.  In a few months some will be in India, others will be back in the US and others may be anywhere.  It is awesome to walk in town and see so many that have given up far more than me to do what they felt in their hearts to be right.  Yes, shame.  But also joy.  A strange mixture of both.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I've traded up

I left the US on Sept 5th and arrived in Kenya on the 7th.  By the 8th I was at my new home in Kitale.  This morning I took a bicycle taxi into town and have been sitting at The Coffee Shop for a while.  

On the ride into town I put thought into what I traded.  I traded my nice 3 story home in West Chester with my attic bedroom and then at camp for a small man shack that sleeps two.  I traded my nice showers that have hot water on demand for an outdoor shower surrounded by bamboo pieces.  A shower where the hot water is lucky to be warm.  And I sure don't want to shower outside in the morning when it is cold outside!!  I traded my nice porcelain toilet that flushes for another bamboo room outside that has a 30 foot hole in the ground (okay, I'll be bold and admit that I actually prefer this!).  I traded my car for overcrowded town taxis and matatus and boda bodas (bicycle taxi) and piki pikis (motorcycle taxi).  I traded the comfort of walking safely around town at night with the need to be vigilant of my surroundings in the day time as well.  I traded the crossing of a street knowing cars will stop for know that here, the larger the vehicle, the more right of way they have.  I traded in a set salary that I could depend on for having to raise support and live on more of a faith.  I traded in reliable internet for one that works best after 10PM.  I traded in safe drinking water out of the sink for bottled or boiled water.    

Yet, I still say that I traded up.  As I sat on the boda boda this morning I was at peace with where I am.  Not so much peace on the ride itself though!  This is the cheapest transportation into town (other than walking) but it's weird.  Imagine sitting on a cushion on the back of a street bike.  You have a small piece of rubber or metal under the rider's seat to hold onto that barely fit your hands IF you an get on it under the seat.  This morning, I had my thumbs and two fingers on each hand around it.  I think that I'll take a piki back.  

But what I saw and heard was beautiful.  I woke up this morning to tons of birds singing.  The air was a bit chilled still.  The sun so bright and warm when you walk into it.  I had a cup of coffee on the gazebo with the sun to my back as I checked my email and spent some quiet time.  The ride into town was intense as motorcycles, cars and trucks flew by my boda boda.  Yet there was peace knowing that I am where I'm supposed to be at this moment.  As I sit here in The Coffee Shop sipping my coffee and eating my breakfast I feel at peace as town is slowly getting busier and I will very soon venture out into it to walk around.  

I spent yesterday at the Veronica Home, a home that Transformed International runs for children with HIV/AIDS.  We spent the morning and early afternoon there.  I gave my camera to one of the kids, Asha, and she took photos for the day.  One photo that I love is in this blog.  It's just of the sky and a tree in.  Yet this photo screams peace to me.  I've learned over and over again contentment in this place.  I showered last night and it was getting a bit chilly.  The cool night air made the water feel that much warmer.  As I turned off the water I was met with an instant chill.  Still, it was so good to have a shower!  I had to be careful not to swallow water as I brushed my teeth this morning, but how great it was to wake up and be able to clean my face and brush my teeth.  So, yes, I've traded up because I can be content in what is here.  I can't even begin to describe just how beautiful it is to just allow yourself to exist.  Sure, those things back home are great.  And I enjoyed them.  But I don't NEED them.  I can be just as happy with little.  I guess it comes back to relationship over materialism.  I know that when I go back home in January I will not have all that I had before (I sold many things).  But what is important is not what I sold or gave away.  What is important are the friends and family waiting to greet me.  What's important are friendships like Liz whom I cannot wait to see and hug.  Friendships like Chris at camp who are eagerly waiting to sit in silence and listen to stories for hours when I get home.  When relationships become the center of our lives instead of what we own, life becomes more beautiful.  We can learn to take pleasure in the small things.  We can go back to childhood and lay under the clouds looking at the shapes they make.    

Monday, September 5, 2011

The journey begins

I'm sitting here in the Newark Airport in NJ waiting to board my flight.  I managed to get everything washed and packed in time before leaving camp.  I even managed an extra trip to West Chester to pick things up from church and see my friend Liz one last time.  Then, I was able to squeeze one more trip in on Sunday morning to spend some time with my church family.  What a blessing it was to be sent off by this family!  My heart was just overflowing with joy as I was blessed by this family.

ALL of my support that I needed came in, and then some!  So, praise God for that!  There were a couple of issues with some last minute prescriptions that I couldn't get filled, but nothing major to worry about.  I should be able to get what I need in Kenya.  My bags are packed to the brim!  My one bag was 47 pounds and the other was 53 pounds.  They were okay with it as I checked in and let my bags on with no extra charge.  My one carry on is actually developing a hole near the zipper; I'm really praying that it makes the trip.  I did end up spending $50 to upgrade my seat to get a 3 inches of extra leg room.  It doesn't sound like much, but i have long legs so three more inches will be lovely!

I intentionally stayed up late last night and got up early this morning.  My plan was that by the flight tonight I will be so tired that I can fall right asleep on the plane.  So far, that plan is working.  I'm having trouble keeping awake already and I still have 20 minutes until we board.

I killed some time in the airport with dinner and Skypeing with Liz.  Now, just juicing up my laptop and I'm ready!  People keep asking if I'm excited, scared, nervous, etc...truth is, the answer is all of the above.  But overall, I feel extremely excited for this new season of my life.  I will greatly miss so many people, but even Skypeing with Liz tonight reminded me again of just how small the world has become.  I'll be fine.  My relationships will be better than fine.

So, I'm off!  See most of you in 4 months!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Processing goodbyes (I'm not leaving. I'm just going away on an adventure for a little while. )

Sorry...this one's a bit longer...

I feel like I've been saying a lot of goodbyes since May.  I left West Chester on May 31st.  That time was a lot of goodbyes to friends and coworkers.  Many of these friends have become family to me over the past few years.  When I came to camp I was able to make so many new and awesome relationships with staff here.  Old friendships were renewed and strengthened.  A few weeks ago we said goodbye to our summer staff as they parted ways to go head back to their lives away from camp.  This summer I got close to some of these guys.  I was blessed to know guys like Jared Reed and get to spend time chatting with him.  We were able to hang out one night after the staff left and had a real heart to heart.  At the end of the night we said our goodbyes as he was leaving for his first year of college.  Guys like Chris Gigiel were difficult to say goodbye to.  He is one of the very few staff guys that was here at camp the last time I worked here.  As we spent a summer reconnecting I was so often encouraged by him.

Last weekend I had dinner with some family in Reading.  As I watched my little niece Olivia run around, I was hit hard with knowing how much I will miss her along with the rest of my family.  As I drove to the restaurant with my cousin Amanda and her fiancĂ©, Nick, I was encouraged by her comments.  As we sat through dinner I could see how proud she was of me.  As my uncle introduced me to the owner of the restaurant (he's a regular there) there was joy and pride in his voice as he announced that I was about to leave for Africa to work with street kids.  Even after dinner I was encouraged by our conversation as I drove back to his house with him.  Aunt Shelly and Uncle Neil had so many kind words that I hold so dear to me.  As I hugged my cousin Kelly goodbye I didn't want to let go because I love being around this family so much.  Saying goodbye to Olivia and Landen brought tears to my eyes.  Saying goodbye to my grummom was really hard.  I know that she loves me and wants what is best for me.  But at the same time, she is really not happy that I'm going away for 4 months.  I wish she could see Kenya and understand why I'm so passionate about being there.  I pray that as I'm away we will be intentional about our communication.  I pray that she knows I'm not running away from her but that I AM coming home in a few months.

This week was more of these goodbyes.  I drove down to West Chester yesterday to spend some time with Liz.  She is one of my very closest and safest friends.  I love that we can sit and talk for hours or sometimes sit in silence and enjoy being around one another.  I was so blessed by the offer of her family to allow me to spend the night in their guest room.  We spent this morning and part of afternoon with each other.  Saying goodbye to her was difficult.  Possibly one of the most difficult goodbyes I've had.  Yet, at the same time, also one of the easiest.  I say that because I know that I know that I know that we will continue to grow in relationship as we are apart.  We made it through 2 years that she was in CA and grew so much closer as our communication was more intentional.  Still, it was a very difficult goodbye for me.  A goodbye that I would rather not have to say.

I had to leave Liz this afternoon because Chris and Jay from camp wanted to take me out to an early dinner before Chris left for the poconos for the weekend.  A few moments go Chris headed out.  He has been a good friend for years.  He was the camp program director when I first met him.  Now he is the camp director.  And he is the main reason that I started coming back to camp again after I left 5 years ago.

I know that this is far from everyone.  The list could go on and on much longer, and more are yet to come.  More family members, more friends like the Gyza's, the Reigners, the Atkins, the Roche's, so many many more.

I'm not good at goodbyes.  I hate them.  So I'm trying to look at this as an opportunity to grow.  Just like Liz and I grew and strengthened our relationship, I now have the same opportunity with her again and with so many others.  Will it be as easy as a phone call and setting up a time to go for dinner?  No.  No it won't. Communication will need to be very intentional and it will take some work.  But I'm willing to put in the effort because it's important.

I'm not leaving.  I'm just going away on an adventure for a little while.  

I will be back in four months.  Approximately 120 days.  I will miss Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years' in the States.  It's going to suck.  I know that.  But I'll be back right after.  And this is a great opportunity.  Liz made the comment to me recently that I look happy.  And I am.  I'm chasing after a passion and seeing where it leads.  I have other passions too.  And I have options for what to do when I come home.  I've put some very serious thought into some serious decisions.  I was given some half serious/half joking advice from a long time mentor of what I should do when I get back (Mrs. Dallmann...that's you!) that I'm taking pretty seriously.  Right now, the options are limitless.

I'm excited beyond belief right now for this adventure!  At the same time, I'll be honest and say that I'm also scarred of the unknown.  But as Pastor Phil said a few months ago, it's not about being afraid.  It's about what you do with that fear.  I'm am choosing to push that fear aside and to receive the blessings that await me on this new journey.  I can't wait to share these new blessings and lessons with you all when i return in January.  So please, do not say a final goodbye to me.  Save that for when I'm in the casket!  Instead wish me well, pray with me, encourage me.  But don't you dare speak negativity into me.  Do not ask me to let fear hold me back.  Because it won't.  I refuse to allow it to.

I'm not leaving.  I'm just going away on an adventure for a little while.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Update letter before I leave

Hello friends,

Back in October, I thought that this time would never arrive! At this time next week I will be packed and ready to leave. My departure date is set for September 5th with a return date of January 5th.

Serving at camp this summer has been amazing! I saw God do some really incredible things for His Kingdom as I was over and over reminded that I am His and He is mine. I was so blessed to build new relationships with the staff this summer. Being back here at camp has been a true adventure and an amazing journey. Thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me to take this step to be at camp.

As I prepare to leave in the next several days, please continue to partner with me in prayer in a few areas:

  1. Please continue to pray over the campers that I listed in my previous letter, Michael and Ethan.
  2. Please pray for certain members of my family as this is difficult for them. Pray that they would not allow the fear to continue to overtake them but that they will learn to trust in the Father's provision for me. Rejoice with me over the family members who are so very encouraging and supportive.
  3. Pray for the interns that will be on their way to Kenya until November and for the community that we will have at the Transformed International compound. There will be a good mix of individuals with different talents and gifts; pray that we all learn to work together to glorify God.
  4. Pray for specific interactions with people that I meet as I travel. I will have the opportunity to tour London during my 12 hour layover. Pray that as I go from airport to airport and city to city that I will go as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Again I want to thank you all for your support during this new adventure. Please let me know how I can be praying for and rejoicing with you.

Blessings friends,


Sunday, August 14, 2011

10 lessons from the summer

It's been a great summer!  There have been some challenges, but things all worked out.  And I've learned a lot this summer.  Below are some of the things I've learned.  Some may be a bit deeper than others:

1.  I learned how to drive a tractor.  Yes!  It's been pretty cool.  I even learned how to back up with a trailer on the tractor.  I'm FAR from perfect at it, but I enjoy trying.  And it may take a while, but I finally get it where it needs to go most of the time.

2.  I learned that I know who I am.  I realized that I've stopped looking so desperately for everyone else's approval.  I realized that I am confident in the man that I am.  My identity is not placed in a job or any material possessions.  My identity comes from my passions and my faith in Christ.

3.  I've learned to look at my passions closely.  I have a strong passion to see the broken hearted healed.  I desire to see the lost be found.  I desire to see people set free from their pasts.

4.  I learned that it is NOT a good idea to shoot a 12 gauge, break action shotgun from the hip with one hand.  Seriously, that thing kicked back and the trigger guard hit me square in the knuckles!  The other guy running the range with me tried it and the barrel came up and hit him the forehead.  BAD IDEA.  But still a fun thing to try.  Don't worry, no kids were nearby at this time.

5.  I learned that even though I may not like conflict, I can handle it.  I know the difference between petty conflict that really will resolve on its own and something that needs to be dealt with.  I used to be far more quick to speak and get angry.  I've learned that I can be level headed and think about things.  I can sit down and explain my position and listen to the other side.  And if I am wrong, I can admit that.

6.  The summer staff at camp will take you literally with what you say.  It's fairly well know that at the dinner table you DON'T ask someone to "pass everything".  You ask for each individual item of food at a time.  Only one person made that mistake this summer.  Within a few moments quite literally everything from that table was in front of this guy.  Then everything from other tables was added.  Also, the last week of camp I asked the staff to build a big bonfire for the last night of camp.  I said that I want the flames to be seen by the martians.  The guys went out and cut down a dead tree.  The fire was about 15-20 feet high before it was lit.  I don't even want to venture a guess as to how high the flames were.  We dumped about 50 gallons of water on it at the end of the night and by morning it was still smoking.  The giant logs that made up the log cabin were still full sized at the end of the night.  By morning they were gone.

7.  I'm think I know where home is.  I was thinking of this Friday night as I was driving down to West Chester for the weekend.  I haven't thought of my mom's place as home since I graduated high school.  Where ever I lived in college was home and I spent summers at camp.  I never lived at dad's house that he is in now.  Not that I'm unwelcome, I just haven't.  I lived in West Chester since 2002 with the exception of summers and a few months here or there.  The house I called home for the last three years caught fire a couple of weeks ago (no one was hurt).  I also moved from West Chester.  I've called camp home this summer but I leave in three weeks.  I will probably call the TI compound in Kenya home while I'm there.  But come January when I get home, I don't know where I will go.  As I thought about this, my iPod was on shuffle play and "I feel Home" by OAR came on.  These words summed it up for me:  "Cause to me throughout eternity there's somewhere where you're welcome to go.  I said it's something free that means a lot to me when I'm with my friends I feel home".  I may not have a true physical home right now and I'm okay with that.  But as I spent time with friends from church on Friday night, I felt home.  I spent Friday night at a dear friend's house.  I looked at my friend at one point and realized that I was in fact HOME.  I had one of my best friends with me and that's home.  I spent last night with my friends the Gyza's.  I woke up this morning and as I held their baby Annie and she smiled and laughed as Dave said, "Uncle Ray is here!".  I was at home there.  Home truly isn't a physical location.  It's an emotion location.  When I'm with my friends I feel home.

8.  What I need verses what I want.  This started back when I was packing to move to camp.  I started to sell and give things away to raise funds for Kenya.  Also, if I end up going for longer than this trip, I really have no reason to keep things like my kayak.  Still, it was interesting parting with some of those things.  I sold my kayak to my friend Chris at camp.  As I watched him load it to the top of his car before driving back to Colorado I was happy that it would be going to good use.  At the same time, I knew that I'd miss it.  It was a strange feeling watching it be carried away.  But I have no regrets at all.

9.  All you need for a good movie are some nerf dart guns, pool noodles, a crazy costume and 4 unsuspecting individuals.  My friend at camp, Jared, and I made a short film called Saints and Sinners.  We shot most of it in one afternoon and the last part that same night.  We spent a week editing it and came out with a 6 minute movie that rivals The Godfather!  Okay, maybe not, but we still managed to sell a few copies to staff.  That means that we are paid producers, directors and actors!  And our movie is a limited edition, individually numbered and autographed masterpiece!  If IMDB wasn't so specific in what films it lists, we'd be up on it by now.

10.  Just have fun!  This hit me one day when we celebrated Christmas in July.  I spent my entire day doing nothing but decorating the dining hall for Christmas dinner.  I started after breakfast as I made my way to the attic to pull out and sort decorations.  After lunch I started hanging them.  Dinner was at 6PM.  By 6:45Pm I was taking down the decorations.  It was almost depressing that I spent so much time just to make a 45 minute dinner different.  Then it hit me that people had fun.  That's what matters.  So I may have spent an entire day just to make dinner exciting.  It was worth it because the kids had fun.  The had a new memory.  What if we all just learned to have some more fun?

There are plenty more, but that's it for now.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"he came early so he could leave early"

On most Thursdays at camp Willard comes to volunteer.  He often drives the backhoe and fills in pot holes in the road, drives things around on the tractor and does a ton of other manual labor.  This summer he dug a 4 foot deep trench around on of our bathrooms because we needed to find a water pipe that was leaking (still looking for it...).  Willard came up and for a few days dug around with the backhoe and by hand.  He sits on the backhoe in the sweltering heat, wearing jeans and a work shirt.  He made the comment during the week where it was a hundred plus degrees outside that it had to be another 20 degrees hotter on top of the backhoe.  Yet he still did it willingly.  In fact, when asked if he would rather do something else inside, he said no because that project was important to get done.  I went with Willard and another staff member Jay to pick up some logs from a home near here.  A gentleman had cut down some cedar trees from his property and was donating them.  We needed to cut them into smaller pieces and load them into the back of a van and on a trailer.  I thought that Willard would come out with us and use the chainsaw to cut the logs. No.  Willard went straight for the pieces that were already cut and told me to hop on the other end to start carrying them with him.

I went up to breakfast this morning and saw that Willard was here already.  I made the comment to Jay (also the maintenance guy) that Willard is here early.  He told me that Willard came early so he could leave a bit early today.  Here's the cool part.  Willard is into his 80's!  He's lived life and is retired.  He doesn't have to come to camp to do all this manual labor.  He just does it.  He does it because he cares about this place and the ministry happening here.  He does it because he believes in what this camp is.  He's a wonderful man who is giving up his Thursdays to help out with manual labor.  And because he needs to leave early today, he showed up early so that he could give the same amount of time as he usually does.

This was really inspiring to me!  He could have just as easily taken the day off or just left early anyway.  Instead, he showed up an hour or two before he usually would and got right to work.  Right now, I can hear him out on the tractor taking stuff to the burn pit with Jay.  I hope that when I am in my 80's I can still be half as active and half the man that Willard is!  The guy is a true champion!  He's a man of very few words but when he does talk, he's inspiring.  A man of few words, but lots of action.  A man whose actions can teach so much.

Thank you Willard!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Update letter!

Hi Everyone!
Well, summer has come and nearly gone as the first part of my new adventure is nears an end. This summer at camp has seen a lot! We started the summer off with about 50 girls showing up for girls week. We brought in a female program director along with an all female staff. The girls did all of the regular camp activities that the boys do, including skeet shooting and rock climbing!
In my last update letter I asked for prayer in a few areas. At the time of my last update letter we had 160 kids signed up for the summer. My prayer was that that number would be doubled. Praise God that we ended the summer with somewhere around 300 kids! Out of that 300, 44 boys and girls made decissions to follow Jesus or to grow deeper in relationship!  While we praise God for those kids, would you also pray over two very specific kids. Ethan came to camp while his older brother stayed home this summer. Their father is not in their lives and their mother is dying of advanced cancer. Ethan and his family decided that he needed to be away with other boys for the week. He did very well at camp but will very soon feel a hurt that is like no other.
Would you please also pray over Mike. I wrote a blog about Mike that you can check out at my blog site (  The specific blog is here: 
Mike came to camp and had to be sent home half way through the week due to behavioral issues. As his story unfolded we learned that he was adopted from an orphanage and is dealing with a lot of hurt. Please pray for him to find true peace.
I asked for prayer in guidance for Kenya as well. About two weeks ago I had enough money set aside and courage to finally book my plane ticket. I fly out of Newark, NJ on September 5th. It will get to Nairobi, Kenya on September 7th in the morning. Please continue to pray as I am still a little short on the support I need to raise. Also, please pray that I remain open to the Lord's calling as I go to be a learner. There are a lot of decissions to be made in the next 5 months, but pray that I remain in the moment and not spend too much time worrying about the future.
A final prayer request is for my family as we learn new ways to communicate and are not on the same continent during the holidays this year. I am very blessed to have two beautiful families. I am confident that our relationships can and will grow stronger during this time as communication becomes more and more intentional.
Thank you all for your support during this new season of my life. I love you all and would love to hear how your life is going. What is God doing in your world?

Be blessed my friends,
Ray Smith

Tax deductible donations can be sent to:

Payable to Sequoia International
ATTN: Faith Wise
PO Box 56
Exton, PA 19341
Memo: Kenya, Ray Smith