Thursday, March 22, 2012

How was Africa?

Tomorrow I will be back in the US for 3 weeks.  I still haven't really unpacked.  Seriously, my passport is still in my laptop bag.  I have a few dollars in US currency, a few thousand shillings (sounds more impressive than it really is) and a few Euro all in the same bag.

A question that so many seem to keep asking is "How was Africa?"  I wish that there was a simple answer but there isn't.  Africa was great.  It was an incredible experience to live there for 6 months.  Seriously, I never expected that I would spend so much time overseas.  I always imagined possibly going to Germany one day but I always had an irrational fear of flying over the ocean.  I wasn't afraid of the plane crashing in the ocean.  No, even crazier (do you expect anything else from me?) - I was afraid that the plane would crash and I'd live and get eaten by a shark.  I know, crazy.  But the point is that I never dreamed of living overseas for any amount of time.

Being back now has been...difficult.  I think that I'm going through more culture shock coming back to the US than I did going to Kenya.  I keep having to remind myself not to judge people for their actions because they haven't had the same experiences that I had.  I started a part time job with the last company I worked for.  It's strange.  I haven't had a job in 6 months.  Now I'm back to working.  It feels so...well, dull and lifeless.  There are no orphans to hang out with.  There are no street kids to play checkers with.  There are no random power outages to deal with.  I guess it's more than work that seems dull.  To be honest, most things do.  I mean, I love begin around people back here.  It's been great to see so many awesome people.  At the same time, I find myself longing for home back in Kenya (I promise to post more about this soon...).  I was talking to my friend Ryan yesterday and he asked me when it comes to day-to-day life and culture, which do I prefer.  I said Kenya.  It may not have a choice of 5 Starbucks within 10 miles of me to choose from.  But when I do get that good cup of coffee from somewhere, I love it!  Things seem to slow down and become a more restful pace in Kenya.  Things seem to really make sense there.  Even when they don't really make sense, it does my the simple phrase "this is Africa".

I'm feeling lately that people expect me to be over joyed to be back and full of laughter all the time.  And I am joyful to be with people here.  But lately I feel like I'm wearing a mask and pretending to be more enthused than I really am.  But on the inside, I'm homesick now.

I don't know if this makes any sense at all.  Thank you Wegmans for your free wifi in your marketplace!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A few favorite photos from Kenya

I was going through some photos and thought I'd share a few favorites and why...

This is from the time I went to talk to the local glue dealer.  The conversation he and I had was one of the most enlightening conversations I had the entire 6 months.  It's so easy to judge from a distance.  It's harder to judge him when you hear his story.  When you make time to spend with him you realize that he's looking for someone to show him compassion too.

This is my friend Alex.  He is 15 years old and he sleeps on the ground behind this building we're standing on.  Alex is a great kid to talk to and lots of fun.  He tells me that "one day" he'll quit glue.  I certainly hope that "one day" comes soon.  He spends about 50 shillings a day on glue - that's 350 shillings a week.  To give you an idea on this, you can rent a cheap apartment for 600 shillings a month...

This is Martin.  Martin is a walking, talking, breathing miracle!  I first met Martin three ago at his sister's funeral.  Martin is HIV positive and lives at Transformed International's children's home called the Veronica Home (names after his sister).  Three years ago when I was first to Kenya and only a few days after his sister was buried Martin got sick.  The doctors said that he wouldn't live through the night.  The team that I was in Kenya with didn't agree and we got together and prayed over this young boy's life.  Imagine the surprise of the doctors to come in to work the next day and not only see Martin still alive but moving around!  Go ahead, look at this picture for a while - this picture that was taken a few months ago, three years after Martin was supposed to die - and tell me that God isn't in the miracle business.

I love this picture!  First, you should note that I'm IN the who took it?  Another of the street boys took this picture on my camera.  I love this because it represents the relationship that I had with some of these boys.  These are boys had a deep trust for me and I trusted them.  They never tried to steal anything from me.  One day I left my sunglasses on the ground and one of them came running up to me and handed me my glasses.  These kids knew that I cared for them and they reciprocated.
Okay, this was just awesome!  In Kitale street boys are considered a nuisance.  It's not very common to see someone taking the time to talk with a street boy.  It's even less common to see what you see here.  This man runs a small shop just down the street from here.  After a few days of seeing me with the kids he finally came up to us and asked if he could play a game of checkers.

Something else about this photo is the boy he is playing checkers with.  Notice how his shorts aren't yet ripped and his shirt is rather clean?  I saw this young boy on what was likely his first day in town as a street boy.  As the days turned into weeks his appearance changed.  The shirt that was once buttoned all the way to the top became undone.  The clean clothing soon became ripped and dirty.  It was sad to see his transition.

Alex-Juma.  I'll go ahead and say it.  Alex-Juma was my favorite to spend time with.  He loved playing with that little red ball.  Alex-Juma is one of the many street boys that have families back at home.  His family forces him into this lifestyle to earn money for the family.  A child that young should not be the one making money for his family.  He should be a kid.  He should be outside playing.  He should be in school learning.  For a short time during the day, Alex-Juma played.  He was a kid again.

 I can't recall his name.  But this photo represents life to these boys.  "Life" is found in a bottle of glue.  Yet again, we can sit and judge while looking at photos like this on our laptops.  But let's be honest for a bit - I'll start...If I was wearing as little clothing as these boys wear, walking barefooted and hungry.  If I was beaten by security guards and rejected by everyone that should love me.  If I lived like that and then had to sleep on a dirt or cement ground at night and someone gave me a bottle of glue to help me sleep and numb the pain of my heart...I'd probably do it too.  I'd like to say that I wouldn't, but I can't.  After a few days - a few weeks maybe? - in that life, I'd probably do it too.  That doesn't make it right by any means.  But it does shed some light on things.

My attempt to be artsy with a shot from above.

This was a fun day!  After spending weeks with these boys I decided that it was time to do something new.  I bought some bread and make PB&J sandwiches.  We spend a few hours hanging out that morning and by lunch time I sat down and gave them all some PB&J.  And I sat there, on the ground next to the main street, ate lunch with them.  I showed them that I wasn't ashamed to be seen with them at all.  And when town locals asked for a sandwich, I told them no, this was food for my friends here.

These two pictures are special for a reason that will come in another blog soon.  I have it written, but before I put it here I want to talk to some family first.

How can you say no to that face?  This is Regan and he is the son of Virginia and Ben, the house parents at the Veronice Home.  Regan is an awesome little guy!  He's cute and he knows it too!  He's a mischievous one and loves to goof around and have fun.

This is Peter Lojore.  I've talked about him a lot in my blogs.  This was shortly after I had him discharged from the hospital.  They wanted him to stay there for 6-8 weeks to let the bone heal.  The doctors there treated him poorly and were already not giving him his medicine.  When I discharged him they made it clear that they wouldn't be held responsible if anything happened to him (they even made me sign a waiver).  My reply:  "you haven't been responsible with him since the day I brought him in so what's the difference?"

Hard to believe that this is the same man, isn't it?  This was after Peter had taken his first bath in a long time (he actually forgot how to bathe, it had been that long).  Sadly, 3 days after this picture was taken Peter went back to the first picture.  He chose street life over the home we got him into.

This guy was a fun guy!  He is one of the conmen that threaded to kill me many times.  He and another man that is a pastor were in charge of the group.  They had a scam and made off with tons of money each day.  Finally, I had enough and I started warning everybody that I saw them scamming.  After a few people walked away from them these guys began to shout threats about cutting my head off with a machete.  The old me may have run away scared.  But I didn't.  I made it my goal to walk by them a few times every day. And I began to teach the kids in this photo and the locals in the area about standing up against evil.  The locals who worked around here would always thank me for standing up to these guys.  I told them that they need to do the same if they want a chance.  In December this man here told me that they will "never be arrested" and that they "are bigger than the government".  I told him that one day his bribes to the police won't be enough anymore and he'll be in jail.  And I'll be laughing.  Just before Christmas the police finally stopped taking the bribes and arrested the whole gang.  And I laughed.  A lot.  I still laugh thinking about it!  :)

Some things were really fun!  I rode a camel.  It was a short ride at a local fair type thing.  But it was a great time.

Speaking of fun, this was awesome!  This was a few of us from the day we went snorkeling.  Kenya sits along the coast of the Indian Ocean so we went there for Thanksgiving.  What a great time!  This was my first time snorkeling and I loved every minute of it!  And the people in this picture are really amazing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why do we do it?

A while ago I learned to stop asking the question "why God.  Why did this happen?" and start asking "what am I to learn from this?".  A few weeks before I left Kenya the resolve to ask these types of questions was put to the test.

It felt so good to help Peter.  I watched as he went from a street boy who probably would have died when i first met him, to a boy with a future and a  hope. No longer was he an orphan but he was a member of a family.  Then, 3 days later I watched him choose to go back to being a street boy.  It was a devastating and crushing blow.  I felt like helping Peter gave me a purpose for this trip.  When he ran away I felt as though he took my sense of purpose with him.  I cannot even begin to describe just how much that hurt me.  How badly I was crushed and brought to tears over it.

Last night was my first night back to my home church - Providence of West Chester (Check them out - we love visitors and it's a no judgement zone!).  A few months ago they had me make a video in which I talked about helping Peter on the streets.  A few weeks ago was Global Missions Sunday and the story of Peter getting off of the streets was told.  I listened to that podcast forcing back tears of disappointment.  I wished that it was still true but the hard truth was that before that message was preached, Peter was gone.  But not everyone at Providence knew this and last night was hard.  I was met with many people asking about Peter and so many pleasant remarks towards Peter and that story.  A few said how it touched them and they were so proud of that story.  Do you know how difficult it is to look people in the eyes after that and tell them it didn't work out?  Well, neither do I.  At least not the looking in the eyes part.  I started to feel a bit ashamed of how everything turned out.

I was talking to the lead pastor, Phil Carnuccio.  I told him that I was still trying to figure out the lesson here.  Then he told me what my heart knew but my mind needed to hear.  In a few seconds, in a few short words, he told me the lesson.  Actually, one word sums it up.  Obedience.  We help others because we're being obedient to God.  We do not help others because we hope that they will show gratitude or because we desire a set outcome.  We help others because in Matthew 25:40 Jesus says that "whatever you have done to the least of these you have done to me...".  We help because we're being obedient.

Do I wish that there was a different outcome here?  Of course I do!  Would I do the whole thing over again?  YES!  I would do it all over again because it was the right thing to do.  It was obedient.  Maybe the whole process was for me to learn that?  Maybe there was something planted in Peter that will stay with him for a long time.  I may never see the end result.  There may still be a great ending to the story of Peter Lojore and I may not have the honor of seeing it.  And that's okay!  Because I was obedient in helping him when I did, Peter saw hope where there was none before.  That hope will always linger in him.  And one day he may cling back to that hope with his very last breath.  For now, I'll keep enough hope for the two of us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I have no regrets

I've been avoiding writing this blog for a little while now.  Sitting on my flight back to the US seems as good a time as any.  

Some of you have been following the story of Peter Lojore, a street boy that I took to the hospital just before Christmas.  When I first met Peter I knew that I had to do something for him.  He was really in bad shape and no one else around cared enough to do anything.  As the weeks went by I began to spend more time with Peter.  I looked forward to my visits with Peter in town.  

During those times I thought about more ways to help him.  Peter seemed like he really wanted to get off of the streets.  So a few weeks ago I began talking with my friend Daniel Juma who runs a children's home.  Juma often takes in street boys and does very well with them.  

Because Peter is a bit older we decided that it would be best to get Peter his own place just around the corner from Juma.  We found a place that was in the right in our price range and got it set up.  I needed a sponsor from back in the States to sponsor Peter monthly, at least until his leg was healed and he could begin to work again.  I posted something on Facebook and within a day I had a sponsor for Peter.  I got a hold of a bed for Peter and a few essential items and we moved him into his new home.  It was such a joy to see Peter in a home and off of the streets.  

About 3 days later my phone rang; it was Juma with some disappointing news.  Peter ran away.  After 3 days of living in a home, sleeping in a bed and eating food he had had enough and ran off.  Peter took the sugar that he was bought and sold it to pay for transport back to town.  I went to see him the next morning and he had so many excuses for running away.  He began to tell me that Juma was conning me and ripping me off.  Here's where I got really upset with Peter.  I've known Juma for years now and he is one of the most honorable men I've ever met.  I gave Juma some money to pick things up and without me asking, he always presented me a receipt.  There is no way he was conning me.  Not Daniel Juma.  

Peter's now been back on the streets for a couple of weeks.  His leg is getting worse all the time.  Juma found a doctor that wanted to treat his wounds free of charge.  Peter has a very deep cut on his ankle (on the same leg that is broken).  This doctor said that if it isn't treated properly, Peter will lose his leg.  It's evident that it's already infected.  My piki driver friends in town tell me that Peter can no longer walk across the street and he has to be pushed on a bicycle. 

I haven't seen Peter in town now for a few days.  I worry about what may have happened to him.  To be honest, part of me wonders if he's still alive now.  As disappointing of an ending as this is to this story, I have no regrets at all.  Not a single one.  From the moment I first met Peter I knew that I had to do something.  I couldn't just leave him there.  had I ignored him I am convinced that he would have died that day.  I do not regret at all getting him into a home.  That too was the right thing to do based on the circumstances.  Maybe I was fooled by his attitude.  Maybe I still use don't have a clear enough grasp on how tight a grip the street life culture can have on these guys.  No matter what, helping his was still the right thing to do.  No, scratch that.  It was the human thing to do.  And i'd do it over again without a second thought.