My stomach ached.
Tears and anxiety filled my night.
Would photos ever remind me of my past 3 years in Kenya?
Would I ever get those memories back? My faith was tested.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe.
I just didn’t know if God really was all that concerned about a digital
camera, memory cards, journals, medication, or a jar of Jiffy Peanut Butter.
Mum Bonny walked in confidence. I could barely sleep that first night. When I woke Sunday morning
I was informed of her dream. She was given an image of Migori Teacher’s College. She assured me I would have the bag in my hand that week.
I couldn’t keep focused on the task I was given with her class eight students. I was angry with
God. I had been forsaken by him. Here I had sacrificed all the comforts of America to share a room with strangers and eat foreign food. Why did I have to give up everything? Did God not care about my happiness?
I was so sick over my bag that I found myself traveling back to Kisumu to be with family. During
this visit I found four ill children. I went back and forth to the hospital caring for them. One had such an awful condition that I cried out to God on her behalf. I no longer was concerned about my bag. It meant nothing to me in comparison to my baby girl. I would trade any comfort so she could have a life of ease.
Just when I gave up, I received a phone call. I was with my host and these children in the doctor’s office.
Mum Bonny was screaming over top the noise of traffic and wind, "I found it. I know where your bag is. I see the vehicle now and I’m tracking them down.”
I nearly cried but still harbored disbelief. It couldn’t be. How on earth do you leave a bag with expensive equipment in a stranger’s vehicle, in a foreign country and get it back? My heart beat like a Kalengin drum during a rites of passage ceremony.
My phone rang once more. Her voice had come off the side of the train. “I had a dream last night. I was shown a police officer who escorted me to the owners of the vehicle.” She woke up Saturday morning from the dream determined the bag would be in her hands by afternoon. She took a vehicle some thirty minutes to Migori. She explained the story of the missing bag to the officer from her dream. Just as she spoke to him the vehicle where we’d forgotten the bag drove past the station. She jumped on a motorbike following the driver over the bridge demanding she pull over. The driver feared this mad woman on the motorbike. Mum Bonny managed to memorize the license plate number.
She travelled back to the station with the number. Instead of waiting on the officer, she travelled to the learners’ school near Migori Teacher’s College, remembering the “L” on the vehicle. She was given information about the driver. Within no time she obtained the phone number of the driver. The driver led her to the man who had given us the lift. He handed her the bag with everything, including my Jiffy Peanut Butter still intact.
Mum Bonny was so thrilled to return the bag to me. I couldn’t help but cry.
God really did care about the small things.
God really was concerned about my happiness.
Faith believes there’s a way even when there’s no clear path ahead. God used this experience and Mum Bonny
to strengthen my faith.
Living out of a suitcase seems to be my way of life. I feel like a vagabond at times moving from place to place. I have been so stretched this time around and my mind has traveled all over the place. After a well needed rest in Nairobi, I head off to Isebania, Kenya right near the border of Tanzania to spend a little over a month with Madam Bonny Anganya. Madam Bonny was first introduced to me while on the World Race under Adventures in Missions. My team traveled to Isebania after a bit of a downfall in Mwanza Tanzania. This audacious woman quickly took me under her wing declaring that I was a younger version of herself. Mum Bonny comes from a family of bold women. Her grandmother ran to the home of missionaries when young in order to refuse undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM). It is this woman who gave Mum the courage to fight strongly against FGM in her area. Each December she holds a camp for young girls to teach them the complications of this dangerous
circumcision. She boldly stands against the culture of the people and has helped save the lives of many young
women because of this confidence.
I was ecstatic to be seeing her once again. Traveling through the night my mind was lost and I fought hard to keep my eyes awake. We arrived on the border around four in the morning. Mum and two of her girls walked on foot to pick me. Thankfully enough as I exited the bus there was a gentleman there with a car who remembered me. He offered to give us a lift to Mum’s home. I put my large hot pink suitcase and navy blue google backpack into the trunk and took a seat with the three others in the back. A woman drove in the front rushing the man along so we could go. Mum had them drop us on the street instead of taking us all the way to her home. I got out seeing my sisters had already grabbed my suitcase. Walking down the rocky path Mum grabbed my hand talking about how happy she was to have her daughter home.
No sooner did we get in her compound I rushed to sleep. It wasn’t until several hours later when I wanted to show a photo to my sister that I realized my camera wasn’t there. Wait. My navy blue google backpack was missing. “Please tell me its in your closet,” I begged Janet. I wasn’t there. Tears started to stroll down my cheeks. I wanted to throw myself on the floor to kick and scream like a two year old in training. I tried best to remain calm but my camera, photos dating back to 2010, 6 brand new 16gb memory cards, international converter and adapter, rechargeable batteries and charger, two life journals, jar of Jiffy smooth peanut butter, first aid kit, sweet tea mix, prescription medication. My life flashed before my eyes. I was hyperventilating. I need my things back. Oh no. Wait. “That person who was gave us a ride, he was from your church right? Can you just give him a call.” “No. I don’t know who he was. He just offered to give us a lift. He said he knew you.” “I thought he only knew me because he remembered me from your church.” “No. We had never met him before that day.” I was seriously in a panic by this time. We had not only ridden in the car with strangers but we didn’t even ask their names and there my bag is in the trunk.
Mum Bonny came home to see me so distraught. She came and sat with me on the bed, “It’s okay my dota.
It will be here by Tuesday. Just have faith.” Faith. How could I have faith in a time like this. I was pissed. Here I am on a mission trip, my bag with my most treasured items are taken and you’re telling me to
have faith? You have lost your mind. I cried in anger. I updated my facebook status and I cried again. But amidst those tears I began to believe Mum Bonny. I started to believe that I would get my bag back.
Surely its not difficult for you to recall the story I told of my precious Sophie last year. I searched for Sophie until I found her because I loved her too much to leave her lost. That story is not meant to be true for only Sophie. Sophie was my start. There are many more Sophies that I have come to search for, to defend, to cherish, to embrace, to nurture. It was because of my relationship with Mama and Baba from Deliverance Church that I was given the opportunity to build such a bond with Sophie. And it was through my love for Sophie that I was led to Nora and Raphael, her caretakers.
Each day after working with my girls last year they would escort me towards Mama and Baba’s home. I was persistent on walking. In addition to exercise, I enjoyed the bonding time. Teresa and Susan would teach me new words in Kiswahili and laugh when I repeated the words in my country Kentucky accent. As we walked on the road just past the church towards carwash, a brownskinned woman with straight long hair dressed smart as ever would approach me. “Did Sophie come?” she’d ask. After a few days of seeing her, she stopped me one day and invited me to her home. She encouraged me to continue my work with the girls. She commented on how just in a short time Sophie had become more loving towards her siblings, helping out in the home and having a more pleasant attitude. She felt that change was because I had become friends with Sophie.
One day Sophie took me to her home. An extremely tall skinny business man met me at the door. He immediately welcomed me into his home, offering me tea. It wasn’t long before his wife came home. She was so excited I had come to visit. We chatted long. They asked questions about American life and shared the differences between that and Kenyan life. It was an instant bond. For once I felt like I had friends, not parents but friends. I was longing for friends in Kenya, people I could relate to and be myself around. Raphael and Nora invited me into their lives that day through a simple cup of tea. I didn’t want to leave their home. Through that simple conversation I knew these were the people who should host my team.
They don’t live in a fancy home. They don’t even have a guard at their gate nor do they live in the safest environment. They aren’t prominent members of the church. They haven’t been Christians their entire lives. They don’t have silver spoons in their mouths nor do they have exotic meals at their tables. What they do have is humility and love. They have encouraged me beyond measure.
I had no words to explain why I wanted my team to stay in this home. I only knew I could not get the picture of this family out of my head. I knew my team’s mission was not only to love the orphans in our program or the girls in the school but to build deep relationships with our hosts.
As we exited customs in Kisumu, we saw Nora yards away. She ran to me and embraced me. A week didn’t go by that she hadn’t communicated with me. For the past eleven months she had called, texted, emailed every week. And now here we were in one anothers arms. I held her as she cried with joy.
I walked with Nora through tough times: when she felt misunderstood, alone, grief-stricken over the loss of her big sister. When my team came, she fell in love with each member. Every morning Lynette could be found having tea and long conversations and laughs with Nora. In the afternoons she smiled from ear to ear watching Elizabeth, Jeanne and Christian entertain her girls. She even removed the vehicle from the driveway to spin in circles with Mariah, dancing cares away. Every dinner she and Raphael gained the wisdom of Mama Cal. Overnights she and I shared stories until the wee hours of the morning.
It was no mistake for my team to come to this home. Nora encouraged devotions in the morning and prayers before bed. We sang, prayed and cried together. It was meant for us to come and rebuild the confidence in Nora, what had been torn down by others. It was meant for us to come and show her that singing in the choir, ushering or teaching Sunday school are not the only ways we can serve God. As a teacher she can serve him each day by showing love and grace to her students instead of treating them like animals the way other teachers do. As a mother she can encourage and motivate her children instead of ridicule them and abuse them the way other parents are doing. Nora is such a giver. She reaches out to the community, helping those who are unfortunate.
Kenyans believe that visitors are a blessing. While I know that our team blessed her family, I also know that it was Nora and her family who blessed our team.
The chief couldn’t help but laugh as my team of such beautiful women stepped outside fiercely ready to conquer this mud filled land. Let’s just say most of the team was ready. My birthday shoes were steadily wondering why I chose them instead of the brand new cute black and white rain boots I had bought for the rainy season. Nevertheless I pushed forward attempting to glide through the mud like the waitresses on skates bringing food to cars at Sonic. My shoes kept playing footsie with the mud. My feet slid through the shoes over and again. Even my teammates struggled as the mud kissed the soles of their shoes
unwilling to unlatch. We provided great entertainment for our Kenyan friends who were quickly guiding us through this mud wearing proper shoes to visit the children in our program.
For two days we struggled through the mud, sometimes walking miles in between each home just to see the children you and I agreed to sponsor. Ashamed to walk into
the village homes with our muddy shoes, we stood in what little grass we could find to try and remove the mud. The guardians didn’t mind one bit for they had been awaiting our arrival. To have a guest in their home was an honor,
especially a guest who came to offer hope for the next generation of their family. These homes, no matter how small, were kept so neat. Even with dirt floors, trash was not found. Lace material covered mud walls and old furniture. The children were clean, unlike those you see on television with flies around their faces and bellies popping out for lack of nourishment. It was like the guardians had oiled their children’s faces so we wouldn’t notice they had been fasting.
We entered each home mentioning nothing of the sponsorship, for at this time not even half of our children had been sponsored. We only told them we had come to partner with the guardians to see that each student would be encouraged throughout their years of school. Though we moved to many homes, we took time to ask questions about each child. It was important to really know the living conditions of our children.
While I will not tell you about every child in our program, there is one child who stood out amongst the rest. When we entered his home, he appeared to be so shy. He didn’t even want to show his face at first. His mother, very feeble, made sure to greet us and answer questions about her son. In addition to telling us about her son, she shared her own story of being HIV+. As she spoke about the hardships she has suffered, I saw her son begin to cry. She told us that the father already passed from this condition and her older son has not been around to help. This middle son in our program has the weight on his shoulders. He loves the mother so much and doesn’t want to leave her side. He is aware his mother may not live long and it scares him for he doesn’t really have anyone left. I fought back tears trying to remain strong.
My muddy birthday shoes were no longer an issue. Here I was staring at a strong Christian woman who may
not even have a chance to have a new pair of shoes or even see her next birthday. I was staring at a son young enough to belong to me, crying because he knows his mother may not even see his next birthday. In the midst of my devastation I had hope. I reached in my bag and pulled out the navy blue folder this young boy’s sponsor had sent to him. Only two of our children had letters from their sponsors and I was grateful he was able to receive a letter in such a devastating period of life. I saw him grin from ear to ear as he pulled out the large family photo of his sponsor and looked at the envelope holding his personal letter. Tears filled my eyes once more, only these were tears of joy and hope. This child may not have his mother come next year, but he will have his sponsor to give him hope.
It must be said that after leaving this mother’s home, her son escorted us to many other homes. He laughed and cut up with us. Seeing him each week, he is the entertainment of the group. He brings smiles to the faces of those around. He is a light to darkness.
Walking in the mud for two days was challenging but the celebrations erased the challenge. We were able to visit thirty-five of our fifty children in their homes. We did not bring them to a meeting place sheltered from us getting dirty. We went to them in their territories of comfort to be invited into their lives.
The rains came.
The wind blew.
The mud thickened trying
to capture us like quick sand.
We prevailed because it
was the chief who gave us the opportunity to enter those gates!
Since arrival the rains were coming strong. From carwash to gudka (the home of our hosts) floods covered the pathway. The weight of our team pushed the tires closer to the holes in the ground causing the bottom of the car to scratch the surface of the unpaved road. If we weren’t aware of our heaviness before, we were certainly made aware of it every time we were given a ride.
“Big ones in this car; small ones in the other.” “Big ones in the front
and small ones in the back.” For those of us who were returning it was even no surprise to hear, “You’ve really
added weight” or “you’re so big now.”
That small three letter word,
B-I-G, can really cause a roar inside
forcing you to forget why you even came to serve such people. Praise God for growth and experience in this country for I was able to encourage my team to move forward through the horrendous tornados that
maneuvered our way so that we would be given the greatest entrance by the chief.
The rains had ceased and it happened to be my birthday. Yet another year of celebrating my birthday away from home. I wore my cute black and tan platform sandals with a blue and green dress. I had saved this outfit for such an occasion. I even made time to put on makeup and style my hair differently. Due to the holidays, it would be the first day our team was really able to do what we had come to do. We were headed to minister to our orphans and I was so excited. Our Kenyan partners rang the bell to our gate anxious for us to load the matatu and head to Rabbour. It was nice for once to have a matatu all to ourselves. We were actually able to sit comfortably without five to a three-seater, or the money boy’s elbow in our necks. We could open the windows and feel the cool breeze for our thirty minute ride.
As we pulled into this beautiful countryside children screamed, “Mzungu” excited to see a vehicle full of us white people (Americans). The gate to Father Joshua’s was opened and the matatu stopped long enough for the last person to hop off and be welcomed indoors. White laced material with cross designs covered two sofas, four large sofa chairs, and tables in this large living room. A wise man, the uncle of Joshua (Intreach Founder), reached out his hand towards me to welcome our team into his home. We all sat hearing story after story of the rich history of Kenya until his wife entered the room. She grasped our attention and we couldn’t help but stand to greet this divine woman. “You may call me Diana, Dianne, or Deanna.” We were never given the correct pronunciation of her name; we were just made to feel comfortable by this milk chocolate woman with defined bone structure, bright smile and kind eyes.
Shortly after our arrival a plump mid height man entered the gate wearing tall plain black rain boots. He was sure to slip them off before entering the home. He was filled with jolly, like an African Santa Claus, as he shook each of our hands. He never sat. He stood proudly as he introduced himself as the chief. He explained the shape of the city and how devastating it has been to see the future of the children in this poverty. With great humility he thanked us for the work we had come to do with Intreach, our Kenyan partners.
On behalf of the entire city he welcomed us and gave his blessing for us to build up this city.
I stood in astonishment as this chief opened the gate for my team and I, Americans, to serve alongside his people, Kenyans.
From L to R: Mama Cal, Christian, Elizabeth, Lynette, Mariah, CHIEF, Conrad, Reuben, Beatrice, Me, Josh's sis, Mama Josh, Father Joshua, Joshua
When I traveled to Kenya in 2010 on The World Race, I never anticipated the relationships that would lead me to form an organization. My heart longed to see the girls captivated by a loving Father. I longed to see redemption in each of their lives. I could not explain why I was drawn in such a way to these Kenyan girls rather than the girls in my own hometown. I just knew I had to do something.
REDEEM With God was organized in order to bring about awareness of the world to my own back yard. It was developed so that the eyes of my people would be open to the atrocities of not only their neighbors near but their neighbors far. It began in an effort to wake up the church of America to not just preach but act; to leave the pulpit and pews and reach out to the people. The vision of this organization was to equip missionaries to serve the world; empowering daughters and sons across the nation to utilize their gifts for the purpose of liberation from bondage. And I knew the first nation we would serve would be in Kenya.
After returning from a one month journey in Kenya in January of 2012, I immediately began training six women to effectively minister to those in Kenya. Mariah and Elizabeth, fellow colleagues from Asbury Seminary, had ever served overseas in the past; Elizabeth studying to be an evangelist and Mariah a professor of Intercultural Studies. The other four members were made up of my mother,Calvonia; sister, Christian; church member, Lynette; and best friend, Pam. Each of these women, including our photographer and former World Race team member, Jeanne Bensch, were carefully selected to be a part of the first team to serve the orphans of Intreach.
I was a witness to these women developing close-knit relationships with one another. They encouraged one another as if they had been friends for years. This bond was like that of the early church that formed amongst this group. They shared common ground and made sure that one did not go without. The love I saw on this team far surpassed any team I had ever served alongside. It was as if this team was a divine gift. You can imagine our dismay when our sister, Pam was forced to postpone her journey to May. The team shared everything, even struggles.
The greatest struggle for missionaries is raising support. It can become extremely difficult, frustrating and discouraging when you know you are doing what God has called you to do and you do not see where the finances are coming from. I watched as this team took on extra work, sacrificed luxuries so that they could use their money to serve people they had never interacted with. They used their gifts to organize a program to raise support. Each of them kept the faith when even after great advertisement the program was poorly attended. I interceded for them when they still had hundreds of dollars to produce and had no clue where it would come from. And then it happened. Right at the end, a grandfather of a friend sent a love offering that covered the remainder of the team’s needed amount.
You know that old adage that says, “When you give it will be given back to you”? I truly saw that come to pass. Though my heart is in Kenya, I continue to give back right in my own backyard. I had just given of my time to a girls group in the area. I had given of my resources to friends. I even gave money and time to seminary for two years with the sole purpose of bettering my girls in Kenya. When you are selfish with your time and money, you fail to experience the beauty that comes from giving. Some of that beauty was not seen until we arrived to Kenya and visited the homes of our beautiful sponsored children.
The eleven months that passed before returning to Kenya were extremely long at times and far too short at other times. There was so much to do in preparation and work and school kept me overly occupied. It was around March that I received an email from Joshua Orawo, a law student concerned for the welfare of orphan children. It was this letter that provided confirmation I was to work in Kenya. Through relationship with school officials in Rabbour, Joshua was given a list of fifty children who were in dire need of sponsorship. With hardly any money in the REDEEM With God account, I blindly assured Joshua we would partner with him and be able to sponsor those children by the end of the year. I had no idea how the money would come, I just knew it would. God surely provided. Churches began inviting me to speak about my dear ones from Intreach. I had only seen pictures of these children; I was yet to look into their eyes and really know their hearts.
I look back and cannot help but laugh at how God chose to unfold things. It was not until after my team walked through thick mud to reach the homes of thirty-five out of fifty children that money began to pour in. Still all the children were not sponsored and the day reached for us to purchase their shoes. Once again I walked blindly. I told the Intreach Team to go ahead and get shoes for all the children. I knew the money would come. And sure enough by the weekend all 50 of our children were sponsored.
I love these humble beginnings for they give us room to see God work. While it was a pleasure to see the children’s faces as they received shoes, books, feminine products, school supplies, and dental hygiene supplies, I was much more grateful for what it meant to each of them for us to visit their homes. Some had one parent living and others were being raised by grandmothers or aunts. These women welcomed us with open arms and bright smiles on their faces that we would come all the way to their home to meet the child they were responsible for.
I have always kept a journal and written many pages on mission trips. This has been very different. This is the first time I have written since being in Kenya. I have had so many rich experiences and valuable lessons that I have been too overwhelmed to write. These children are my world. They are my reason for being here. There are so many other things I can be doing but for these next five months, my sole purpose is to build relationships with each of our sponsored children and the Intreach Team. Each of them has a story that needs to be told and I want to tell it. This is not a mission trip; it is a continuation of life.
I can still remember my first day as a teacher. It was in the Hebei province of China: Cangzhou. I walked into my classroom and looked upon each Chinese face. My immediate thought, "There's no way I'm gonna be able to say their names." Before I even asked the children their names, I thought of English names for them. On my second day teaching, I came with a list of names and gave one to each child. Sadly looking at the children now, there is only about one whose name I can remember and that is the cute little boy in blue giving me bunny ears. Why do I remember his name? Because he went out of his way to make sure I knew the name he had already chosen for himself. He called himself Sam. It wasn't until my third week there that he was brave enough to tell me, "I already have an English name. It's Sam. Would you mind calling me that?" I was so embarrassed. I automatically assumed they all had unpronounceable names.
After serving as a missionary to thirteen countries since China, I have learned the importance of building relationships. It's so easy as Americans to go into another country expecting the people to be what you have always known. What is challenging is losing expectations and becoming like them so that you can be more relational. I should have gone into China as a learner, not as a teacher.
I had a great experience in China with my students. By the sixth week, we were very close but sadly it took me until it was nearly time to go to finally appreciate my students for who God made them to be. It took me a while to notice that God had already identified them as His. He had already given them a name. It wasn't my place to change it.
The look in her eyes. The shame in her step. The growl of her stomach. The secret she kept. She was always taught to be silent. Only shed silent tears. Never spoke silent fears. Music, Art and drama gave her permission to be someone else, to step away from the imprisonment she felt. For once she was freed to choose for herself. A great liberation leaped from heart to soul. She could finally trust and be bold. The overwhelming pressure of the rape and molestation burst out. It was no longer a secret. She no longer bore the guilt and shame inside but could shout. It was not her fault yet school officials said, "You have no where else to go." For three months she held tightly in this painful limbo. FREEDOM stepped in the way of a kinsmen redeemer. Her childhood was returned to her and she no longer had to remember to be silent!
Help our daughters and sons receive freedom physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Help us REDEEM With God. Sponsor a Child Today for only $72 a year!
*This photo is not of our young girl and her name has been hidden for her protection*
I've been evaluating my life for quite some time now. I keep looking back thinking, "Wow! What if I had never..." I seriously never imagined at age seventeen that more than ten years later I would be planning to move to another country. I always dreamed of being a writer. I always dreamed of being known for what I could do. I never thought God would make Himself known through me.
So here I am twenty-eight years old. I have no biological children. I have no boyfriend. I have no husband. I have no house. I have no ladder-climbing job. But what I do have are girls in Kenya that I cannot seem to stop thinking about. This life that I have said yes to has not been an easy road for I have had to say no to a lot of meaningful things. I haven't been able to invest in the lives of my nephews and niece the way I've wanted. I haven't been able to pour into one of my best friend's daughters the way I would have liked to. I've missed birthdays and all kinds of celebrations. And most recently I missed saying goodbye to my grandfather.
But this is what has become my reality. I will continue to miss birthday celebrations. I will continue to miss special events. I will continue to miss seeing the growth of my family members because I choose to continually say Yes to God. It's a sacrifice that I'm willing to take because I want others to know of the greatest sacrifice He made. Majority of my girls in Kenya don't even know when their birthday is because it has never been celebrated. Most of their parents will not be there for their special events because they have already died of HIV or AIDS. Some of my girls will never grow up because they are dying of diseases that could have been cured if treated properly.
When you've seen the world, it's quite impossible to come back unchanged. My heart tells me to help these girls, to give them hope, to empower, to educate, to embark on a journey with them, to love them in ways they have never been loved before. I cannot leave them as orphans. I must be a mother to the motherless.
I watched this past January as children found hope, light was brought to darkness, laughter replaced sadness. God used me and the arts to bring about transformation in the lives of not only these three girls but about 63 more. I came home super exhilarated. My best friend got on board, my mother, sister and before I knew it I had 7 women who wanted to go along to empower the daughters of Kenya.
You know, I can't explain to you why I keep going back to Kenya or any other country for that matter. I have no sad pictures of malnourished children or children with flies around their dirt-filled faces. I don't have photos of poor living conditions. There are such cases but I refuse to exploit them. The faces I show you are of children I have built relationships with, children I have poured into, wept with, rejoiced with, children I have celebrated. I want to show you more of these pictures but I can't do so without your help.
Partner With Us Today! www.REDEEMWithGod.org.
It was on the World Race with Adventures in Missions that Casondra's heart broke for the girls of Kenya. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Intercultural Studies to help her more effectively reach the people of Kenya.
'I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.' John 14:18 NIV http://www.facebook.com/Repurchase