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February 2018

Entries from January 2018

Money Lessons

Many things happened in 2005, which was when we moved to Kenya thirteen years ago. 
 
 
It was one of those years that thirteen years later seems to have been o.k., but during that year it was pretty rough. Actually, it was mostly hard work and upheaval for us. We decided to move because we felt that was what God wanted for our lives, and we also felt that we should abandon traditional fundraising methods. This proved easier said than done. We sent out a letter and that was about it. The response was great but slow. 
 
We were still deciding where we fit in the Christian religion, and well, folks tend to give to missionaries who believe like them and follow all their religious rules. We came from a charismatic background, and our church was relatively conservative in it's theology. Personally, I (Johnny) was more theologically liberal back then and did not feel that my voice was appreciated. I also felt it necessary to challenge and raise difficult questions, often. Not the best case scenario for fundraising. 
 
Despite this, and sometimes because of this, we did attract a few donors. The church we helped to plant came on board along with several members and family members. We had no money for a car, no money for traveling, no money for furniture. Yet we knew we should make the sacrifice. 
 
We learned how the poor in Kenya survive. You grow your own vegetables and harvest wild weeds for food. (Once when digging around the garden in 2005, we came across a number of small potatoes. That night we partied with fried potatoes.) No air conditioning meant much lower electricity bill. No car meant no money needed for maintenance, insurance, and petrol. No electronics stores meant no new computers, phones, DVD players, nor really any entertainment at all. We learned to live on much less and to work around or with lack. 
 
We learned to relate. We learned what it means to rely on someone else to get to the hospital with a sick child, who was not breathing due to a feveral seizure. (Our landlord lived next door and felt that she needed to stay home that morning. She found out why when Kate ran over to see if she was home and if she would drive us to the hospital. Butterfly was the child and had malaria and pneumonia.) We learned to rely on our community to help feed our children and theirs. (I went around preaching in that first year that we should take care of each other. That the first church had no needs not because of miracles but because they took care of each other. A few congregations took me seriously and helped us out from time to time.)
 
Thirteen years later we still have to work hard to raise money and have to budget very carefully most months. Yet the donors have grown in number, and we have learned new means of raising money. I think my biggest lesson has been to just trust. If myself or Kate feels that we should do something, then I have learned to trust that the budget will be met. Often times in creative ways, but the money will come to accomplish the project. We have learned that it is o.k. to ask for help, because people really want to help. You guys are great. 

Bumpy Road

When we arrived in Nairobi in 2005 with our three children in tow we were full of adventurous spirit and had high hopes of getting a lot of work done from the get go. Before leaving Texas we, of course, had set in place a plan. We knew where we were living and also where we would base the work out of. Since we had been to Kenya before, in 1996 and 1997, we knew people and had arranged everything with them.
 
Stepping off the plane I (Johnny) felt like I was home. This was the place that I wanted to be, that I felt God wanted me to be, and I was looking forward to the reception. That reception turned out to be less than anticipated. Weeks before the big move we made arrangements to be picked up at the airport by our hosts, the folks we had stayed with back in 1996 and 1997. A bishop and one of his pastors were to pick us up and drive us to his place in Molo, a few hours from Nairobi. He did meet us at the airport, but without a vehicle nor plans to hire one. In fact, he was a couple of hours late, leaving us with all our luggage and three young children sitting on the curb outside the airport.
 
We hired a vehicle using half of the cash we had on hand and set off for Molo. Only on the way the bishop tells us he is embroiled in a dispute over land ownership with his former denomination. In fact, pastors were fighting each other on the property with knives. Sigh. So we were going to his house in Nakuru instead. Nakuru an entirely different place than we had planned for with all new circumstances.
 
He then tried to rent us half of his house for several times the normal market rate of the area. A house he was sharing with his mistress, possibly more than one. We decided to find our own place. 
 
We did find a nice place to rent. We stayed there for slightly more than a year. Here is a video of a young Makena giving a house tour.
 


Thirteen Years

In a few days we will have lived in Kenya for thirteen years. We landed in Nairobi as a family on January 17, 2005, and have been living out our adventure ever since. We have undergone quite a few changes and grown tremendously since that day. I suppose the biggest change has been the additions. When we deplaned we touched Kenyan soil with three little Americans. There are now three more biological children (who are both American and Kenyan) and nine Kenyan girls that have been added to our "little" family. Three plus three and nine more equals, a whole bunch. 
 
Kate and I have grown as individuals and as a couple. In fact, I believe that that personal growth makes the marriage possible. Stagnation in one or both parties cannot be a good thing. We will celebrate our twenty-third wedding anniversary next month, and speaking for myself I look forward to many more to come. 
 
Over the next few days I will take us back to see where we have come from then look at where we are and finish with where we are going. In the meantime let us look at a few photos and a video or two of the first month in Kenya:
 
I did not find many pictures of Kate and myself but did find this cute one of Kate on the phone in the George Bush Intercontinental Airport
 
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She was negotiating luggage prices with our travel agent and British Air. Thankfully she managed to get them to honor their original agreement and saved us several hundreds of dollars.
 
Here is Makena and Butterfly playing in the airport:
 
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Butterfly was eighteen months old but pretty big. She filled out the baby cot in the airplane pretty well.
 
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Andrew enjoyed trying out all the amenities on offer and always knew the location and condition of the toilet. 
 
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Upon arrival immediately the children found all the animals so amazing and wonderful.
 
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Love Andrew's boots in the above picture.
 
There were many struggles that the children either did not know about or just were not as concerned about as much as mom and dad were. Thankfully we made it through them and these children have grown up into beautiful young people. 
 

From Butterfly

A message from our 14-year-old daughter Butterfly:

"A child in a classroom is taught many things. Sit still. Pay attention. Make good grades. But what are they really learning?

They are being taught that learning something is a chore, and therefore unenjoyable. This sort of mentality could later prove difficult to overcome.

Horse therapy takes that bored, disinterested child and puts them outside, gets them moving and happy. Horses are amazing! Games are fun! and learning becomes a delight.

This is especially helpful when it comes to children with learning disabilities. The horses and games encourage them to work hard, and the desire to participate is furthered by helpful peer pressure.

Yes, some children thrive in the classroom setting, but horse therapy provides an option for those children that do not."


Dreaming of the Future

11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

 
Kate and I found this passage from Jeremiah inspirational. Leave alone the context for now and just focus on the words. We felt everyone deserved a hopeful future or at least the chance for one. Hope is a powerful thing and can accomplish almost anything.
 
Children without hope, or who cannot look beyond today, struggle to accomplish anything in their lives. They have to spend all their energy on surviving. Looking for food for the day, caring for a sick mom, or being abused occupies the space that hope would take. There is no looking forward to tomorrow because tomorrow brings more of the same pain and suffering. If you can break in with a little hope suddenly everything changes.
 
Next thing you know that child is planning to finish primary school and hopes to do well enough to get into a good high school. She might even be able to look beyond finishing high school to higher education or a decent job. This hopeful future is possible because space was created for hope in this child's life. Helping with food, medication, or paying school fees, frees her up to act beyond the moment. When you get a child to a place where she can dream of the future, well that is the sweet spot. 
 
Most of us reading this take that situation for granted. Our biological children spend huge chunks of time thinking, planning and dreaming of the future. They have a safe environment where they do not have to worry about food, security, etc. The Kenyan children we took in also have that space to dream of the future, they are not as prolific in their dreaming as the others, but the fact that they can dream of the future at all is a huge accomplishment. Of course, they do have futures thanks to being in school, and for four of them now having finished school.
 
This little thing called hope is enough to bring about miracles in these children's lives. 

Sent Home

Education. Something I took for granted as a child. I started kindergarten and went all the way through high school without any danger of not finishing. It never even occurred to me that there were children not going to school or being sent home because they could not pay.  I had not even heard of homeschooling back then.  Unfortunately not being able to go to school is a way too common occurrence here in Kenya. Too many children are aware of the fact that they can be sent home at any moment, and often for the most trivial of circumstances. 

Imagine if you will that you are headed back to school. You are starting class eight this January, a crucial year as at the end of it there is a test that will determine what high school you can go to. It is your chance to get into a good school that could even help you qualify for university or look good on your resume as you apply for that all important first job. It is a big year. The end of primary school and you can begin to see the shape of things to come in your future. 

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Now imagine if you will that your mom gets sick. She is out of work say for two weeks and has to spend money she cannot afford on medication. Consequently, she is unable to afford to pay your school lunch fee, which is not that much, but when you make two hundred or so Kenyan shillings a day (about two U.S. dollars) that lunch fee can seem insurmountable. Or maybe you rip your school uniform and are sent home to replace it. (Currently, we need to buy a second uniform for B.T. which altogether will be 6,900 Kenyan shillings.) Perhaps this is multiplied over two or three siblings. Tough.

We want to be there for these children. We believe in education as a way to escape the slum, poverty, and a host of other social ills affecting Kenya. The system in Kenya is not perfect, in fact, it is far from it. Yet it is the system one has to navigate, and the more children we keep on that journey through school the more bright futures we create. These futures are not just for the kids, but for us as well. These are the future scientist, politicians, mechanics, astronauts, and so on. They are necessary for our future.

I took school for granted and luckily ended up with a decent education. I do not want to take these children's educations for granted. I will fight for them to stay in school.


Happy New Year!

Goodbye 2017 and howdy 2018. 

 

We spent 2017 digging deeper into The Shire (our almost twelve-acre piece of land here in Kasambara, Kenya.) We did some learning on permaculture and have begun to implement some of it's methods here on the farm. Farming is not easy, but not too difficult either. Growing food is something that I feel is innate in most people and does not take much effort to learn and experiment with. We are working towards drought proofing the land and growing more and more food for ourselves and others. 

Our lives took a giant leap forward with the acquisition of a solar freezer. We now have ice and can keep meat for longer than a couple of days. Already we have put some of our own chickens, rabbits, and pigs in the freezer. More rabbits will go in this first week of 2018 if all goes according to plan, and about half of a piglet (or whatever is left over after the birthday celebration.)
 
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We ended 2017 by giving a pig to a good friend who throws a party on Christmas Day for his neighborhood. We try and distribute as much meat as possible from what we produce here on the farm, and it sure was fun to be able to give an entire animal at the end of the year.
 
So much happened in 2017 and more is in store for 2018. As our children get older and require less and less from us as far as daily care goes the more time we can dedicate to alleviating the pain and suffering of folks here in Kenya. Kate will continue to expand the horse therapy program. The systems in place for creating the space for the children to have success in the therapy have to be worked out and fine-tuned constantly. Horses need to be fed, exercised, monitored, and groomed all the time. Kate feels the work is worth the results she achieves with the children. I will continue to expand our program to keep as many children in school as possible. Often times here in Kenya children are sent home for minor things such as shoes, uniform, not paying the lunch fee, books, etc. Little things too many of us reading this, but to the child's family it can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. We will also continue in 2018 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick and oppressed. 
 

Praying-hands-2539580_960_720I, (Johnny) have also ended my sabbatical of all things spiritual. So I will begin speaking again in Kenyan churches and sharing with groups. I think primarily I will focus on; God is not mad at you and living a peaceful life. Two things I believe are desperately needed here in Kenya.
 
 
Thank you to everyone who walked with us in 2017. Here's to another leg of the journey in 2018.