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Being Thankful In Every Moment

After a long day of serving our widows and orphans in Kenya, we all sit around the table to talk about our day. I have been amazed about how much each of us mzungus “white people” mean to each widow and widow group. We are received with amazing dancing, beautiful songs, and shouts of praise to the Lord. These ladies are an inspiration of what it means to be thankful. These ladies are a clear definition of the lyrics It Is Well In My Soul. They have learned to be joyful despite all that is against them, they have continued to thrive even in the midst of the culture.

If there is one thing I want to learn about all these ladies is to be thankful in all moments; to realize that I can glorify God despite all circumstances. That God is our provider, and that there is hope and grace in Jesus.

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Mungu awa bariki wote.

Greetings from Kenya. May this post inform you that God is at work on the mission field here, and also to assure you that we are not yet dead.

Maizakha Friends Widows Group

On Friday night, we landed in Nairobi after 22 hours of continous flights and layovers from Wichita, to Denver, to Frankfurt, to our destination. Despite our shared exhaustion, we arrived in Kenya on time with no complications, and we rested well at the Amani Gardens Inn (formerly the Mennonite Guest House) before driving to Kaimosi the next morning for 10 hours. Again, we arrived safely and without incident at the Rural Service Programme Guest House next to the Friends Theological College campus.

In rural Kenya, widows possess the lowest status in society and are often considered to be cursed by their communities — somehow responsible for the death of their husbands. They are subject to much abuse and shunning. Through farming, many earn an income as little as USD $0.50 per day. The Friends Church has a very prominent presence in Kenya and sponsors many widows groups of women who financially and spiritually support each other.

Since Monday, we have visited four widows’ groups throughout western Kenya even as far as Mt. Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. We have assisted in the building of mud-houses for three of these groups and delivered goats to the fourth.

When we had arrived at the meeting place in the village of each widows group, we were greeted jubilantly by the ladies as they danced and sang beautiful call-and-response praises to God. We then would don our work gloves and assist in construction of the house. After this, we the JG team, the RSP staff, and the widows would sit together and enter into a time of introduction. In Kenya, to be known by name is a dignity denied to these widows, and the opportunity to introduce oneself in front of a group is reserved for “big people”. By engaging in this ritual of introduction, the widows’ status is greatly elevated and gives them the dignity that they are too often denied. After we all introduce ourselves to each other, we exchange gifts — from us, clothing, sandals, food, candy, calendars, crayons, medicines, etc. — from the widows, hens and fruit. We then share a meal, typically of tea, chicken, kale, bread, and ugali (corn mush) that the widows had eagerly prepared.

Our assistance in building the house has been almost entirely ceremonial. The widows had only handed us each a few mud heaps to apply to the walls of the building before inviting us to their table after thirty minutes of work at the most. At first, we were a little anxious to have been led away from labor after so little time and felt guilty that these poor women would lavish their food on us during the time of year known as “the time of hunger”. It all seemed so one-sided. We were supposed to serve them.

We came to realize, however, that most of the money we paid to go on this trip was used by RSP to purchase the wood, the nails, and the sheet metal used to build the homes and the goats, chickens, and other livestock given to the widows to assist in their income production. Besides, if the widows invited us to visit them, it would not primarily be so that they would totally entrust the building of their homes to some clumsy white kids.

The seemingly disproportionate response of these women was not because of our labor or our gifts, It was because of our presence. Whereas their very neighbors despise them and heap abuse upon them, a few comparatively very rich American college students spent several thousand dollars and traveled 4,000 miles merely to share a meal with them. We had communion with them.

Wherever we travel in rural Kenya, George, Shauntel, Amber, and I are greeted with excited cries of “Mzungu!” (“white person”) from the local people. We are perceived to be opulent and are immediately treated with respect merely due to the fact that we are Americans and because of the color of our skin. It’s a very uncomfortable fact, and it’s entirely unfair. But this unfair, unearned, and undeserved status the culture ascribes to us we use to demonstrate Christ’s love, and utterly confound the local people, when they find that the rich white Americans didn’t come to their market or their village to be treated like royalty but to share a simple meal with those considered to be unpersons. How much greater, then, is the love of Jesus — whose praise, adoration, and respect is entirely fair, entirely earned, and entirely deserved — when he left his opulence and status behind as King of the Universe to break his body, the bread, and pour out his blood, the wine, for us — the people who hated him and hung him. Our response to God should be like that of these Kenyan widows — joyous singing, dancing, and thanksgiving — every single day.

So, yes, we are still very much alive.


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Ireland and Kenya 2019

We currently have three teams oversees: Ireland, Kenya, and Greece. Please keep them in your prayers. They will be updating us with blogs throughout their trip. Here are a couple of pictures from our prayer sendoff for Team Ireland, led by Josh Bunce, and Team Kenya, led by Nate Perrin. We did not snap a picture of Team Greece, led by Ryan Haase, the night before. Team India, led by Dave Williams, will be leaving later in the summer.


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Seeing the country!

The first thing that comes to mind on what to write about on this trip, was “travel”. On the way here to Kaimosi, Kenya, we spent about 30 hours altogether travel time. The first two airplanes, culture didn’t seem to change much. By the last flight from Switzerland to Nairobi, Kenya however, there was a realization between Shawn, Katy and I that we were all of a sudden the minority. English had gone from the first spoken language to the 3rd or 4th. And that is when the charismatic attempts to get people to understand you and you them, began. As we arrived in Kenya, and began our travel to Kaimosi and within the surrounding “towns” and cities, life we had seen in America drastically became but a memory! Looking around as we weave in and out of different “lanes”(there’s actually no lines) to pass slower vehicles, the sides of the roads were crammed with small hut like structures for selling produce and merchandise. Early in the morning and then coming back to where we stay in Kaimosi, we often see the same people in the same spot selling the same things. I asked myself to “imagine sitting in the hot sun all day only to get a fraction of what you have worked so hard to feed/provide for your family.”

The sight of a “mzungu” or a white person, brings big smiles and waves especially if we wave back. Kids often yell “Mzungu!!! How are you!?!?!?” In which Kevin then yells back, “I am fine!!” We are easily the center of attention a lot because again, we are the minority. Kenya is such a beautiful country, and the people are just as beautiful! They love Americans! As we travel also, they love to teach us their language which has been amazing and really interesting at the same time because there are 43 tribes who all speak different dialects. Fortunately for us Mzungu’s, Swahili is a commonly understood language here so knowing the basics like “hi, how are you?” of “What’s your name?” “My name is…” and “thank you”, has helped a lot. They find it very funny when we speak their language which is just one more way to make them smile. This experience in Kenya has been eye opening and has allowed me to eat up every bit of culture I can, which is so beautiful. Overall our travel time has been quite long, every mile we traveled has been well worth it<3

 

P.s. We were gifted another Chicken!!! We named this one “Maria” and three hours into our drive back to  our temporary home, it she pooped on Katy.

Katy and Maria

Katy and Maria Sleeping on the way back home:)


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Who is The Greatest?

Greetings from Kenya!

A lot has happened this past weekand a half, Lots of traveling, eating, seeing animals, learning and experiencing a different culture. One thing that we have done practically everyday (and sometimes a couple times a day) is visiting widow groups. The widow groups are always located on the outskirts of the community and they are always ostracized and overlooked by the community. It is believed that these women are now cursed by their recently deceased husband or other bad spirits. These women are very poor and don’t have jobs, they often are living with AIDs and are learning to live “positively” with the disease while raising children. Their children are considered orphans and often cannot go to school because there mother cannot afford to send them and/or they are needed to work to help support the family.

Friends Bring Hope and Rural Service Programme have a field officer stationed in different areas of western Kenya. They identify widow groups that are most in need and report back to the home office to give us assignments to visit, bring gifts and blessings, and the resources to build a home for a single widow they find who is most in need. When we go to help “mutope” or mud a house, we are greeted by the widow group singing and dancing around our vehicle. To have American “muzungus” come to your home is a great honor and one that will elevate their status in the community and will lift the curse off of them and their home.

Because these women have literally less in their home than I can pack in my suitcase, the greatest gift they can muster to bless us back is sharing a meal. To American standards it is a humble snack, but to them it is a feast, a thanksgiving dinner. It is important for us to accept their gift(s) because according to the culture you shouldn’t let anyone enter your home without treating them hospitably, also if you are given a gift the standard of reciprocity is strongly upheld. If we are lucky we might also be given a chicken (Paco Paulita will forever be remembered in our hearts) or have a tinsel garland placed around our necks. These may seem like small gifts but to these women, and to us, they are worth their weight in gold

Another important aspect of meeting the widow groups along side giving and receiving gifts and helping mud the new house is introductions. This entails us all (visitors and widows) to say our name title and where we are from. For me this looks like, “Merembe! (shalom) My name is Katy Vanderploeg I am a nongraduating senior at Barclay college and I study Elementary Education. I live in Haviland Kansas with my husband but my parents are missionaries in Belize Central America.” Listening to the widows share is very meaningful and a personal way that expresses that they are people worthy of an American “muzungo” coming to their home and listening to them. This not only honors them as humans and peers to us, whom we and God loves and sees, but also elevates them within their community as a human again worthy of friendship and respect.

Visiting with these widows and orphans and showing them love and respect and empowering them to be self reliant, strong, and to feel human again is really teaching me how much more God knows and loves me. How much He wants me to grow in faith and maturity. These widow have also taught me, when we go to visit them, how much more God celebrates us and welcomes us into presence and community with Him.

When I go to these widows and orphans in their place of suffering and destitute I see Christ. When I am welcomed into their communities and homes and lavished upon so generously I see Christ. When my spirit weeps for the unfair treatment of women and children Christ weeps with me. When I look into the wondering and amazed eyes of an orphan child I see the wondrous love and innocence of Christ. When I see the faithfulness of the old mamas to her grandchildren and children I see the faithfulness of Christ.

I pray that my eyes will continue to be open and willing to see God at work and in Kenya. I pray that my heart will be soft and moldable for god to continue His work in me. And I pray that God will ever bless the people and ministries here in Kenya and around the world.

Mungu Abarete Wote.

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Our dear chicken friend Paulita


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The Greatest of these is “Love” By: Shawn Richardson

“The only sound being heard is a loud pounding as the rain hits the ground producing puddles, and turning the clay like dirt into a muddy swamp. In the middle of the muddy mess is a house made from the substance that it is standing on, torn grass roof, half the house flooding with rain, and reflecting a hundred year old forsaken house that was lit on fire and was hit by a bulldozer. Walking closer and closer to the house you can start to hear a faint noise, and the noise gets harder and harder to bear. In one corner on the shivering mud floor of the house is a widowed mama hugging tightly her two crying kids, sheltering them from the rain, using her own body heat to warm her kids for the night.”

This was the first widowed mama’s circumstance when we built our first mud house for the start of the trip. Her living circumstances where so hard to bear that the mama and the kids were starting to have physiological problems. Building her new mud house (which wasn’t much), and seeing other widowed mamas helping her, seeing them all smile, shout and dance with joy, gave me a greater understanding of loving the forgotten and the neglected. I can’t even comprehend what that mother was going through, and the daily fight that these widowed mothers and orphaned children go through every day.

What does it mean to love and what does it look like? But what does it mean to love through the eyes of Jesus Christ? When you see a mother with her kids, fighting daily for another day, how do you show and reflect the love of Christ to them? This is when you start to see love as not as an emotion or feeling but it is an action as well. Going through these couple of weeks and seeing the daily life of these mamas and orphaned children has given me a new understanding of being the feet and hand of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13 it talks about love, and as a believer we are called to love. That everything else will start to cease or end but love will not. When walking in love with the eyes of Jesus, will reflect God to them through you, planting seeds in the person’s life, and letting God take control.

        13:“And now abide faith, hope and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.”

 


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The Word as a Gift

Last Christmas, I received a gift that was almost against my entire Quaker testimony of simplicity: a $75 chronological study Bible in the New King James Version – complete with full color pages and golden edges. That Bible has helped me in my preaching more than any other book. I never realized how blessed I was to have something like that until today.

Our housekeeper and cook is a Sunday school teacher who has not had the easiest life, but her testimony and faith is extremely evident. We were at lunch today and I brought out a Bible that had dual languages: Swahili and English. She looked at that Bible and said that she  was going to save up for something like that.

The Bible itself was $16 American dollars, which is a lot for someone in her position. I suddenly felt compassion that I’m convinced was from God and I went up to my team member, Faith, and we both decided to split the cost of buying her a new Bible. Here’s the crazier part: I had exactly eight American dollars left in my wallet. I don’t travel with much cash because I am paranoid it will be stolen. As it turns out, that money in that wallet was specifically for our housekeeper who needed a Bible for her ministry. What was later revealed after she got her gift was that she felt God was calling her into some type of ministry and she was waiting for some type of sign that she was being pushed in this direction. We had no clue that she was going through this with God. It ultimately added to the crazy synchronicity that God loves to work with.

I disagree with the theology that says that God doesn’t care about our happiness. He does care. It doesn’t mean that our feelings have the final say in what He does with our lives. He knows more than we could ever know and I imagine it breaks His heart when He has to do something that will hurt us in any way. Ultimately though, it is to help us get closer to Him. Occasionally though, God will shower us with a big physical blessing that we didn’t expect. That Bible was our housekeeper’s blessing and I feel incredibly joyful to have been a part of that. The look of happiness on her face gave me a great glimpse into what it will be like when I cross over to the other side after I’ve passed on.

To echo Jesus’s own words: “Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven.”