Jun 16, 2010

Remembering my mom

These are some thoughts I began putting down about a week after my sweet mom passed away. I've done a lot more grieving and a lot more processing since, but I wanted to go ahead and post these thoughts before I write anything else...

How do you even begin to put words down about the most amazing woman you've ever known?

My mother was so much more than a mom to my sister and me. She was our best friend. Liz and I were talking a few nights ago and she said, "Whenever I wanted to hang out with someone, I wouldn't call my friends, I would call mom." It's so true. She was the first person I called about anything, big or small.

Ten years ago, my dad passed away, and ever since then...mom, Liz and I were three peas in a pod. The experience was definitely a marker in our lives that connected us with a super-glue-like bond. From the moment we found out about dad, we literally felt God all over us. There were just so many ways we could see His protection and preparation for that sudden loss.

Two years after dad died, mom called to give me the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember being so scared, but just knowing that we were going to make it through. I had several conversations with God where I would cry out and tell him that losing dad was hard, but losing mom would be unthinkable. I begged Him to bring her through it...and He did. 

After walking the road of cancer with mom, Liz and I watched her turn into a woman full of life. I always worried about her living on her own, but let me tell you something- that woman was NEVER home! She stayed busy. She was always out to dinner with friends, playing bunco, playing her flute at church or in the orchestra, burning up the pavement between Jackson and Birmingham to visit us, or flying to Chicago to see Liz and David.

Last fall, she went on a trip to Europe with Liz and David. When they called to talk to her about it, she didn't even hesitate. She said, let's get my ticket! I'm so glad she went with them. They had a fantastic time!

I remember the moment in college I realized that not everyone had an awesome mom...I mean, I just assumed everyone loved their mom like I did. Boy, was I wrong! There are some mean mamas out there! Thankfully, my mom had room in her heart to love my friends (and Liz's) like her own. So many of my friends confided in mom, and she loved them well. Mom and dad always said, "if you love my child, I love you."

And then there's Abby, my 3-year-old. Oh, how mom loved her, and how Abby loved her Mimi! This has truly been one of the hardest things to deal with. We have been very honest with Abby about what happened to her Mimi. We told her that Mimi got very sick and couldn't get better. She died and is now in heaven with God. He's taking care of her, and while we are very sad and will miss her, she's all better now and is very happy. We cry in front of her and show her our grief. It took a week, but she finally had a good cry and asked some great questions.

This is all I can write for now. If I could put into a word what I'm feeling, it would be devastated. Completely and utterly devastated. 

Feb 24, 2010

Maasai Village

Friday, we traveled about 2 hours outside of Nairobi to a Maasai village. Sharp contrast to the slum in Kibera. The Maasai people hold tight to tribal traditions, and live on an abundance of land. (And let me just say that if you ever travel here...do NOT take your neck pillow because you think you will be able to take a nap on the early morning drive...you will be sorely disappointed...I was airborne most of the ride...)

When we first arrived, we went straight to the church where the Compassion project meets. We were greeted by the Project Director and other staff members. I can't tell you how excited they were to have guests. It's very humbling to sit as honored visitors and have them pour blessings over us.

Next, the children of the project paraded in, singing songs:

We divided into groups and headed out for home visits while some of the tribe prepared our lunch. They slaughtered a goat for us. Learned that they never eat their goats unless there are honored guests visiting.

Roger, Graham, Beth Ann, Brooke (LDP) and I headed to Simon's home. He's the one in pink:

Simon and his family used to live in a mud hut, no taller than 4 feet. But through Compassion, they were able to build this home:

As a group, we participated in what we called "a day in the life ," where we walked through what a typical day would hold for Simon.

The first thing we did was to herd his goats and sheep. They take the goats out to feed several times a day. And that sums up what the men do...

They told us that the majority of the daily responsibilities belong to the women. It's their job to cook, clean, fetch water, raise children and do whatever else may come up. The men are there to tend to the animals and be manly. Oh, and if you are a Maasai man who is out being manly and you come home and see another manly Maasai man's walking stick outside your hut...it means that someone else has decided to "borrow" your wife for the afternoon. Wow. Good thing they still practice polygamy.

In all seriousness, we had a conversation over lunch the day before about these practices. What happens when you are a Maasai man with three wives and many children who becomes a believer? Do you divorce all but the first wife? Stick with it because it seems the right thing to do? Quit having "relations" with all but one wife? It's a real problem they face.

Back to the daily chores...

The next thing we did was fetch water. Sounds nice and lovely. Looks easy, right?
Just look at Beth Ann and me with our cute little headband-looking water-toting contraptions:


Boy, if I could just tell you how much we did NOT know what we were about to do! 
We walked for a bit to the water source for Simon's family. It is basically a large pond full of brown, nasty water that people and animals share. They go here 2 to 3 times a day to get water.

I could not believe this man filled my water jug for me. He had to check with one of the women to make sure he was doing it right. I was sure it was the first time he had ever assisted in water-fetching. 

Graham and Roger also carried water jugs, which we found out was not the case for the other men in our group. The other home visits stuck to the "girls only" rule.

Graham was really thrilled about this part:

Do you know that when you go through customs on your way back to your home country, they ask you if you were near or handled livestock? Just sayin...

After herding goats and fetching water, we headed back to the church where we were to partake in eating the slaughtered goat. I wasn't so much nervous about trying the goat as I was concerned about catching some random Kenyan parasite. Ask Andy about that (and also, go to his blog-he's a much better writer than I am!)

Anywho, I don't have any pictures of the lunch they prepared for us, but it was actually pretty good. They made a stew with potatoes, and there was rice and chapati (picture.) Chapati is Y.U.M.M.Y.

The last thing we did with the Maasai was to go on one more home visit. We divided into groups again and headed out to meet moms who participate in the Child Survival Program. This is a relatively new program being implemented by Compassion. They realized that while child sponsorship is an amazing thing having great impact...there are hundreds of thousands of children dying before reaching sponsorship age. And they are dying from PREVENTABLE DISEASES AND LACK OF BASIC KNOWLEDGE.

Compassion takes pregnant women and new moms and provides education in these areas:
  • Growth Monitoring — steady growth is a good sign of adequate nutrition
  • Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) — restores fluids lost to diarrhea
  • Breast-feeding — promotes infant growth, facilitates bonding with the mother, and reduces incidence of illness
  • Immunization — an effective way to reduce or eliminate many diseases that cause childhood death and disability
  • Female Literacy — the mother's level of education is directly tied to child survival
  • Food — food or supplements fight off malnourishment
  • Family Planning — greater spacing between births allows the mother's body to be better prepared for the rigors of pregnancy and to provide greater attention to each child's needs
Meet Elizabeth and her twins, Ruth and Naomi:

Well, part of Ruth and Naomi. They were extremely shy, and honestly a little scared. Pretty sure we were the first mzungus (Swahili for "white peeps") these baby girls had ever seen!

Elizabeth told us about being pregnant with twins and how, without the Child Survival Program which paid all her medical expenses and made sure she delivered in a hospital (can't imagine the bumpy ride to the hospital while pregnant,) her twins would not have survived. She was alive with joy and hope, and was so happy to share her story.

She told us the things she learned in CSP, like how important it is to make sure your kids eat their veggies. She had even grown a vegetable garden behind her house with spinach, potatoes, carrots and several other things. She also learned the importance of washing and drying dishes to avoid contamination. And hydration. In the past, these moms thought that diarrhea meant their children needed to stop drinking.

And let me just tell you about the twins. ADORABLE, I tell you! They reminded me so much of my little bit. They were doing all the things 2-year olds do. No evidence of poverty in them. Just normal toddlers doing toddler things. They are even a little bit chunky! No swollen bellies here, no mam!

One more thing about the CSP that is just amazing. There is a limit to the number of moms who can participate in the program. So what about the pregnant mom in the hut next to Elizabeth who is not in the CSP? Well, don't worry about her because this program fosters discipleship to the max. We were driving back to the church and noticed several other drying racks at the surrounding huts. Oh yes, they are teaching all the moms what they have learned. AMAZING, just AMAZING.

And then she went and melted my heart by taking off one of her necklaces and putting it around my neck. I. WAS. DONE. This woman is amazing.

At each home visit, we always brought a large bag full of food to leave behind. Here is V, giving Elizabeth her bag of food. Sorry it's blurry.

So there you have it...our day in the life of the Maasai. I say that very loosely. They definitely did more than we did and had their fair share of laughs at our attempts to do the things they do every day...but fun was had by all. And if you ever find yourself on a trip to Kenya, which I hope you do, DO NOT FORGET TO PUT ON YOUR SUNSCREEN. I mean it...even if it's overcast and feels amazing. You WILL burn and look like a lobster...really...I am such a mzungu.

The hope and joy we continue to see in the faces of those impacted by Compassion is truly phenomenal. Blessed beyond measure to be along for this ride.


Feb 5, 2010

Kibera Slum

 This is one of the three projects located in the Kibera slum. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa and has become somewhat "popular" among humanitarian relief groups. If you saw "Idol Gives Back" a couple of years ago...this is the featured slum. The people are used to visitors. We couldn't take pictures out in the streets because they would have expected pay.

The children in this Compassion project were able to get out of school early to come greet us. They sang, rapped, quoted poems and marched for us. The look in their eyes showed they were very happy to be sharing these things with us:

Roger, Leigh and Andy were all able to meet sponsored children today. Here is Roger with his mother's sponsored child, Leigh with her mother's sponsored child, and Andy with his sponsored child. What an amazing experience. Can't wait to meet our child on Saturday!



Next, we broke into groups and went on home visits. 

Les, Virginia, Roger and I went to Edwin's house. Getting there was quite an adventure. We walked along the main road for a bit, then turned down an alley with a ditch of raw sewage running through. There were clotheslines everywhere and it was difficult to stand up straight. We mostly ducked and walked to avoid the clotheslines. The other thing we had to be careful about were the roofs. They are made of corrugated metal and are very sharp. They're so close together that it's difficult to avoid scraping them. Oh, and the baby chicks. Definitely almost stepped on one. 

Edwin lives in a one bedroom shack with his Father, Mother and 3 siblings. His mother wasn't home, so we visited with Edwin, his father and his sister, Lillian. They are very proud of their house. It recently burned to the ground when a neighbor's house caught fire. They lived outside for 20 days. Peter, Edwin's father showed us a Bible that survived the fire with only some faint singes and told us it meant that "God was with us."

Simon works for a security company and makes about $100 a month. Their rent is $20 a month.

Edwin was extremely quiet, but Lillian was so excited to see us. She kept her hands clasped the whole time and just beamed. She asked us questions about our families and lives in America and then begged us not to forget them and to please keep helping. I was struck by the fact that while Edwin is the sponsored child in their family (there can only be one child per household in the program,) she too is given an opportunity to succeed and break the cycle of poverty. Edwin's sponsorship is her hope as well.

Les prayed over the family and Lilian wept. She was just overcome by our visit. Precious family. 

Lillian, Les and Edwin:


Virginia and Lillian:

Here are a few more images from Kibera. I wish I had more, but it was just not appropriate to take photos out in the slum.


Visit to the Country Office in Nairobi

 After an amazing breakfast at our hotel this morning (passion fruit juice anyone? Yes, please!), we loaded up in the van/bus and headed to the CI Country Office. I literally got chills as we drove up the driveway. They have 75 employees, 5 of which were sponsored as children. These people are amazing...really. Passion for conquering poverty permeates everything they do.

There are 287 Compassion projects in Kenya, representing 70,000 children. Here is a map with pinpoints marking each project. I didn't get all the little pinpoints, but you can see the strings leading to the farther regions (not the best photographer!) 
This guy told me to take his picture.
This is the office of the PF's, or Project Facilitators. They each manage an average of 12 church relationships. Each Compassion project is run through a local church. They work directly with churches, teaching and empowering them to break the cycles of poverty. The PF's visit their churches each month, traveling great distances to many locations. (And we thought our traveling summers were difficult!)
Do you write your sponsored child? If you do...these are the boxes your letters are filed in as they come in the mail. The bottom box represents the project where my friend, Amy Harlan's sponsored child lives. 

And after you write your child and their letter makes it to the office, gets sorted by project and placed in the mail slots...it makes it way upstairs to these fine folks. They manage sponsor relations. New packets, translations, case files.  You name it, they do it.

And since I mentioned Amy earlier, here she is with our friend...oh my, I can't read my handwriting! I'll have to come back and update his name :)  He works with the LDP students. They had 158 applications come in for this program last year. 58 were accepted. These students are sponsored through college, as well as mentored in servant leadership. We will have 4 LDP graduates come over for the summer to travel on our teams and speak from stage about child sponsorship.

Curriculum is developed and written in the office and distributed to the projects.
  Susan's desk. What an amazing woman! She is our host, along with Martin. They go everywhere with us and take very good care of their guests. Hospitality at it's finest!
Child Survival Program: works with mothers and babies to provide prenatal care, safe deliveries, and basic education in nutrition and hygiene (more later-just got back from the home of a mom who's babies are alive because of the CSP-yeah, that's right. Awesome!)

Child Sponsorship Program: this is the 287 projects, 70,000 kids.

Leadership Development Program: College Sponsorship. We are spending this week getting to know the LDP graduates who will be with us this summer. They are some amazing people. More later.

Whoop whoop if you made it this far! Next up: Visit to the Kibera slum.

Feb 3, 2010

Thursday Morning

So it's 6:00am here in Kenya. Virginia and I have been up since about 4:30. We're sleeping with our balcony door open b/c our air conditioner consists of an oscillating fan. Actually feels very nice out. I think we'd still be asleep if a loud car hadn't so rudely awakened us!

I don't have much to post yet in the way of experience, but I'm up so here I go. We arrived last night and went straight to our hotel to check in and eat.

I keep reminding myself that I'm in Africa. We were talking last night about the similarities among large cities. Downtown Nairobi looks much like any other large city...at least in the dark. I honestly never thought I would get the chance to go to Africa. Still a little surreal.

Today we will head to the Compassion International office here in Nairobi. Susan, our "tour guide" if you will, is coming to pick us up this morning. She will go with us to each location. She is a native Kenyan who works for Compassion International. Looking forward to getting to know her a bit more and hear her story.

At the Compassion office, we will be dropping off several bags full of backpacks for Kenyan children our friends and family sponsor. Since most of them live outside the city, they will make sure the bags get to the different projects.

From there, we will head out to the Kibera slum. It's said to be the largest slum in Africa. Read this little snippet on Wikipedia this morning. Almost one million people living in less than 1 square mile...wow. My mind can't comprehend right now. I think we are doing a couple of home visits as well, where we will go to homes of sponsored Compassion children to meet them and their families.

Tonight is dinner with some LDP students. Definitely looking forward to meeting these University graduates who grew up as sponsored kids, then were further sponsored through college.

Ready to get this day rolling. Feeling super blessed to be here. Not wanting to miss a moment. 

Feb 2, 2010

This is it...

Today's the big day! Sixteen of us are headed out for Kenya this afternoon. I'm thankful for a good night's rest (even though Jared pulled an all-nighter to get ready for the time difference.)

I'm so ready to be there. The anticipation is wearing me out! We had such a great time packing Kelvin's backpack. Can't wait to see his precious little face. Abby keeps telling me things I need to put in his bag. She wasn't thrilled that she couldn't have his stickers, but she understood they were for him. Ha.

Hate leaving my family, but I know there is much in store. I am really going to try to blog at least a little bit while I'm there. I know I need to capture the experience before I forget the details.

Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity. Help me to see people through your eyes. Please don't let me get in the way!

Jan 28, 2010

T-Minus 5 days!!

So, I'm headed to Kenya in 5 days with Compassion International.

The company I work for has a partnership with this amazing ministry. During the summer months, we work very hard to get as many children sponsored as we possibly can (we hit 3000 sponsorships last summer alone!) Part of this mission includes a Vision Trip each year.

This trip serves several purposes.
  • One, it allows the Ministry Event Directors and Coordinators see Compassion in action first-hand. We visit the country field office and get a better understanding of how things work.We will also visit several Compassion Projects where we will meet kids and families of sponsored children to see first-hand how Compassion has changed their life.
  • Two, many of us get to actually meet our sponsored kids. Have I mentioned how excited I am about this? I'll be meeting Kelvin, a precious 8-year old that my family sponsors (the day after his birthday...can you say PARTY!!), and Alexander, an LDP student that about 22 of us sponsor. (LDP stands for Leadership Development Program. Alexander is a college student who went through the Compassion program as a child and was then selected to attend college through further sponsorship.)
  • Three, we will meet the LDP students that will come to the states in May to travel with our summer teams. This will be the first time any of them have been to the states. Culture shock is a reality for them! Meeting them ahead of time helps them with their transition. Seeing familiar faces when they arrive is invaluable to them. 
  • Four, we take several members of our production staff on the trips to capture video and pictures to be shown during the summer. We have some amazingly talented people who have the ability to film and portray stories in ways that help people get a better grasp of the mission of Compassion. 
In addition to these things...the experience of the trip itself is something that cannot be measured.

This will be my first Compassion trip. While I work directly with the department who goes on these trips, I took a non-traveling position the very year we started the relationship with Compassion. To be honest, I've always been excited for the team to go on these trips, but have also REALLY wanted to go myself. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to finally go.

I'm hoping to be able to post about the trip daily. We have internet capabilities at our hotel, but it can be sketchy.