While in Kenya, we were blessed to visit a village called Isinon. The “road” to Isinon was very different than what I’ve seen here in the US. It was rocky and dusty and Isinon was very remote. I don’t know how we didn’t blow a tire during our two (or was it three?) hour drive. We made it to the village and immediately people started coming from every direction to greet us.

isinonThe first thing that we did when we got there was walk a little way to their watering hole. The watering hole really is indescribable. As I’ve said, Kenya is in the dry season so this watering hole has about 2 weeks worth of water in it. This water is used for the livestock as well as the people. It was heartbreaking to see a little girl scoop up a jug of water to take back to the village and later drink. I saw another child with a sippy cup full of brown, dirty water.

IMG_9197 IMG_9211The encouraging part about our visit was that we got to see the spot that they will drill a well at very soon. All 100+ of us circled around the post in the ground at the location of the well and prayed to God for clean water to be found and also that the village would have the Living Water in their life. We all held hands and the language barrier no longer mattered, we all prayed with the same purpose and goal in mind.

IMG_9222After we prayed over the spot for the well we walked back and were honored to have singing and dancing by the village school children and also the ladies at the church. Their singing and dancing is so sweet to watch and listen to. I love hearing the jingle of their accessories and the bright colors of their village dress. Every place we went the singing was my favorite part.

IMG_9231 IMG_9233The few hours that we were at Isinon were so incredibly full. Full of seeing new things, praying, singing, dancing, going into a home (like the one below), hearing Bishop James preach, passing out jump ropes & jerseys to the kids.

IMG_9190 IMG_9251One of my favorite memories of Isinon was when we left the spot for the well and we all scattered to walk back up to sit under a shade tree for the performances. I was walking by myself (without another team member) and a little girl came up and grabbed my hand. I couldn’t speak to her, but I could hold her hand and smile at her. A moment later another girl came up and grabbed my other hand and we walked to the tree. It was a sweet moment that I’ll never forget. Remembering those children and the joy on their faces is priceless.

isinon2How Can I Help?
A huge, tangible need for villages like Isinon is prayer for water. Being in the dry season water is scarce and they walk for miles and miles to find a dirty watering hole. The day after we left Isinon we saw a rainbow in the direction of the village and we spent time praying and thanking God that somewhere in the vicinity there was rain. We found out yesterday that there wasn’t significant rainfall in Isinon, but we were still encouraged by the promise that we saw through the rainbow that day. Please pray that the well would be dug soon so that Isinon can have clean, fresh water for their village. Then, if you feel so inclined to do more and raise funds to buy a well in another village please let me know and I’ll connect you to the appropriate organization to do so.

IMG_8991The main reasons our team was in Kenya was threefold: teacher training, pastor conference and school evangelism. I was on the school team & had a great time interacting with the kids in the village schools. Some of the kids walk for an hour each way in the heat to get to school. It’s so amazingly different from the world that we live in.

1382017_588607804653_61657813_n The first day at the schools was as to be expected – full of uncertainty: of how we’d be received, of what we’d do with the kids all day, of what the language barrier would be, etc. Thankfully, the kids were excited to see us come and some of the kids spoke English. English is taught and spoken in the schools, but we could tell that not everyone understood when we spoke, especially the younger kids. The kids were constantly touching my hair and skin, it was so different for them. I eventually just took my hair out of the ponytail and let them touch it. They thought it was so funny to see the veins on the inside of my arms because of my light skin – something I would have never thought about before our visit.

airplanesIMG_9025We did so many fun things with the kids at the schools – at some we made necklaces, taught them how to make paper airplanes, gave them coloring sheets and acted out Bible stories. Needless to say, the kids loved getting things that they don’t normally have like crayons, beads & balls. I loved doing sidewalk chalk with this sweet little girl. I’d draw something and then she’d color it in. An older girl would follow behind and spell out what it was in English – she was quite good at spelling in English!

1392072_588614700833_1972682957_n 9263_588615219793_1060372860_nThe kids also loved when we sang to them – Father Abraham was a favorite and they just laughed & laughed at us singing and doing the hand motions. My favorite parts of the days at the school was when they sang to us. Their voices are so sweet and pure and even though I didn’t know what they were saying because it was in another language, I could tell they were singing about God because of the joy in their faces.

IMG_9093 IMG_9067 1381582_588613627983_1094521753_n The last school we visited we taught them all about water balloons. I was hesitant at first because Kenya is in the dry season right now and I didn’t want to be disrespectful “wasting” water. But Bishop James told us that the kids would love it so we filled up the balloons at the compound where we stayed and walked across the street to the school. We did our normal schedule of singing, telling them about Jesus and passing out games, balls, & jump ropes.

IMG_8997 IMG_9066 Then we took them all outside and put them in a line. We explained water balloons to the teachers, who had never heard about them either, and they jumped right in to help us launch the balloons to the kids. I loved seeing the joy on the teachers faces as they launched the balloons and how one male teacher broke a balloon all over himself and laughed more than I’ve ever seen. It was such a great end to our time at the schools. The Head Master (Principal) even got in on the action (below right) and he didn’t want to give up the catapult to anyone else. He was having so much fun launching balloons. It’s the little things.

balloonsBeing with the kids was so fun. The first day was tiring being there for the entire school day, but oh so rewarding being paid with smiles and laughs.

How Can I Help?
There are so many children that need to go to school but haven’t yet been sponsored. Help them get a hot meal in their belly and an education. There are also children who are on the list but the school’s don’t have room for them. Your sponsorship will also help build more rooms at the schools. Change a life! (dreaming bigger? what about raising funds to build a school? CMF can help with that too and direct you to where you need to go!)

nairobi boysI’m so excited to be back and to be able to share my experience in Kenya with you. For the next few posts, I’m going to do a little Kenya mini-series to share what the team did while we were in Kenya and to share some of my heart from my daily journal. I didn’t know what to expect in Africa and the last day I finally felt like I was getting used to being there and then we headed home. I am so grateful for the experience and look forward to going back someday. I honestly feel like I’m forever changed by my time in Kenya and look forward to how God will use this experience through me to bring lasting change to the issue of poverty in Africa. Thanks for joining me as I share about my journey!

Kenya Team Nairobi slumThe first day in Kenya we visited Missions of Hope and walked through the slums of Nairobi. Can I just be really honest with you right now? I think that many Americans don’t really know what poverty is. Yes, some of us do, but I don’t think I could really grasp what poverty was until I walked through the slums of the Mathare valley, smelled and saw with my own eyes the sewage running through the streets. The kids there were precious – loving to get their pictures taken and excited to see their faces on the digital screen. The adults were doing various things. Some cooking food to sell. Some doing laundry. Some simply sitting watching the white people walk by.

IMG_8900 beautiful nairobi girlI have to admit I felt bad walking through the slums, taking pictures. I asked a case worker what the people thought and she told me that they like visitors (but I’m not entirely sure I believed her). We were invited into one of the shanty’s and so six of us piled into a very small house made of tin. There were no windows so it was dark and very hot inside. They had a small couch and some chairs, and we sat and listened to the gentleman talk to the caseworker about his child who was at the Missions of Hope school. He voiced concerns and the case workers attempted to ease them. After their talk back and forth the man asked us to pray for him, as he wanted to record his music and sell the CD’s. I prayed for him and we all shook hands and then left to continue our tour of the slum.

slum chefIMG_8860Later we got to visit the school, Missions of Hope, and learn about their ministry there. They’re seeking to change the face of the slums through education. The children are sponsored and then given an education and food through the school to try to give the children a hope for the future. The thing that I love about Missions of Hope is that it doesn’t stop there – they also have classes for the parents to learn a skill like sewing or jewelry making so that they can start their own businesses and make money for their families. I love ministries like this – they’re not just giving away fish, they’re teaching people HOW to fish, creating lasting change in terms of poverty.

holding hands loving kidsMy day in the slums was surreal – I don’t know if it’s mostly because it was my first day ever in Africa and I didn’t know what to expect or if it was something else. I was timid and quiet, not really interacting much with the locals and for that I regret. I wish I could have been more like my teammate Rebekah who loved those kids well – she hugged them and touched their hands and smiled genuine smiles at them. As the week went on, I learned to do better with this but the way I was in the slums still disappoints me. I pray that the people didn’t feel that distance and only saw my smile.

I was pouring through my notes just now and thought it important to add what one of the workers said to me as we were leaving that day. She (unprompted) said “thank you for coming. It encourages us so much to keep on going when you come.” Sometimes all you need to give is your presence.

Untitled-1Inevitably there will be people who are thinking “what can I do?” in this grand scheme of millions living in the slums of Nairobi (or some of the other places that I’ll share later on). So at the end of each Kenya post I want to do a How Can I Help section with tips on little (or big) things that you can help do to change just one person’s life. And in case anyone is wondering, I’m not getting paid for these posts nor was I asked to blog about these organizations. I’m simply sharing from my heart from the things that God allowed me to see while in Kenya.

How Can I Help?
There are so many things that you can do to help those living in poverty in the Mathare Valley. The first is to sponsor a child for just $35 a month. That is equivalent to just one night out to eat as a family – most of us in the US are able to sacrifice that. Another wonderful option is to support Big Dent, which provides micro-loans to people wanting to start a business in the slums. The business owners aren’t just given the money, they are giving tools to start their business and are held accountable to paying the loans back to the organization so that they can help others start more businesses. Lastly, and most importantly, is to pray for the people in Mathare who are living in poverty and also for Missions of Hope as they reach out to the children & parents.

At the end of 2012 I was contacted by sweet Katie, whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and then a little while later her husband was as well. She asked if I’d consider doing a Make the Difference campaign to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and I was happy to say “yes!!”.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world and provides free information and support services.

LLSThis month I’m proud to have a custom design to benefit LLS – with 20% of the sales price going to this organization. The “hope is the key” necklace is a design that Katie and I came up with together. Katie said, “We have a phrase that my husband (who is still living with leukemia) uses when he speaks to groups that says ‘you are the answer to curing cancer.’ It really speaks to people that the only barrier that we have for a cure is dollars to fund research.”

The hope is the key necklace is only available in May, so be sure to get yours NOW and help fund research to cure blood cancers. You can customize your crystal color and two “hope” charm shapes are available.

photoThese bracelets are made by mudlove, an organization that was started with a plan to give 20% of each sale to clean water in Africa. Mudlove items are handmade in Indiana (but not by me!) and they give the portion of their sales to ICDI, a company committed to providing, equipping and empowering people in the central African republic with tools and knowledge to survive and thrive in their country.

In connection with the donation for clean water, 100% of the proceeds of each bracelet will go to the Troxel family, who are adoption a boy and girl (siblings) from the Congo. Quantities are limited, but if we sell out of the bracelets we will be able to provide the Troxel family with over $350 to help with their adoption. Every little bit helps!

About the bracelets – the plaques are made of clay and the straps are stretchy, making them one size fits all (including children). They are a great reminder of giving back and also the inspirational words/phrases that are stamped on them. They will be available until we sell out, which hopefully will be SOON!

Update: so I’m blown away. I listed the bracelets last night and sold 70 of the 75 in three hours. WOW. I’ll be getting more but they’ll take a few weeks to arrive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting this family and their adoption! The power of a supportive community is amazing!