Tag Archives: Children’s Home

Reactions

Hardly anything surprises me any more—not finding two bones in my slice of chicken pizza, not the fact that the lady in front of me on the bus is holding a bag with a live chicken’s head popping out of it, not the feeling when the bus we’re in slides completely sideways in the mud as we drive up the mountain. Things like that used  to cause a reaction, but now I barely blink. This is Kenya, you just have to go with it. Like when you’re told you are getting two four year-old girls and two six year old girls come instead. You just stick the clothes that you had pulled out for them back and try to find some new ones. Or, when you realize that you ruined the days milk supply by adding some old milk (which had apparently soured over night) to the new milk oops! Some day we’ll get electricity and then a fridge. When that happens, you just head to the duka (shop) to buy more and then realize when you get there that you should have brought a container with to carry the milk home in. Fortunately, the shopkeeper let me borrow his.

Life is eventful. Like on New Years when we waited for over an hour and a half for the bus that was hired to come and pick us up to attend some New Years field events in a town about an hour away only to find that the bus was stuck in the mud about a half a mile away. So, I grabbed a stack of baby wipes, changed shoes, and our small tribe headed down the road to help push the bus out of the mud. We finally arrived (a little muddy) and just as the majority of the games were finishing, but what is life without a little excitement.

Sometimes a healthy dose of excitement turns into too much, and I end up asking God “why,” and “how in the world do I handle all of this.” Like tonight when one of our boys flipped out over something small and punched his brother—hard. I separated them, sat on the floor in front of the door to the boy’s common area so that he was contained, and tried to talk to him while he screamed in Kykuyu. After about 45 minutes, he finally calmed down. I rubbed his back, told him that I loved him, and prayed one of those desperate “God, help” prayers. By devotions he had finally clamed down, and by bed time he had almost returned to his smiling self.

It’s during those moments that I’m reminded that the kids I help take care of aren’t exactly normal kids. They all have painful pasts, come from broken families, and sometimes don’t have the words to express what is hurting them. Sometimes they over react, get angry over something small, or cry for no apparent reason. I’m not a perfect parent. We’re not a perfect family, but God works even through our brokenness, and His perfect love always shine through.

I’ve been reminded of that so much this week as our kids welcomed their two newest sisters to our family. The transition has been amazingly smooth. No tears, only smiles hugs and laughter as Elizabeth and Ruthie have been taking in their new surroundings and enjoying playing with their new siblings. Yesterday as I was mixing up a pineapple upside down cake for John’s birthday. Ruthie came in the kitchen, ran straight at me, and gave me a huge hug. I just held her and thanked God for smooth transitions. It’s amazing what just a little bit of love can do in a child’s life.

About 15 minutes later our elderly neighbor came over to get her daily jug of milk and lectured me in Kiswahili about how I hold the children too much. I smiled inside and hugged Michelle just a little bit tighter as she rested her head on my shoulder. I don’t think there is such a thing as too much love. Some days these kids from broken homes just want to be held, and I’m happy to do just that.

So far 2014 (all two days of it) has been a year of surprises good and bad. I’m learning to react and take each situation and surprise as it comes. It’s a messy, confusing, heartbreaking, scary life at times, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it because God is moving in these kids lives, and it is a beautiful thing just being involved in that.

Richelle with one of our newest girls Elizabeth

On top Richelle with one of our newest girls Elizabeth and our other new girl Ruthie on the bottom

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Since writing this blog. My small world has been shattered. Yesterday we had to give up two of our children and return them to their biological relatives who suddenly demanded them back. Sometimes you love so much that it hurts. Yesterday was one of those days. I feel helpless, and my heart hurts so much that I can’t wrap my mind around what happened. It this point as a family we are surviving but very shaken, so a blog of those evens will have to wait for another day. In the mean time everyone at Abba’s House would appreciate your prayers.

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Brown Paper Packages

Stockings

The stockings are hung on the windows. Popcorn chains wrap the tree. There’s a roll of brown paper just waiting to wrap the carefully sorted out presents. Christmas eve—the count down chain finally says one day remaining until Christmas. It’s finally here the day to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Apparently we are going to grill a goat and enjoy some nyama choma, that and lasagna to get a little taste of America at Christmas as well.

The kids are excited. They keep calling the homemade stockings socks and ask what goes inside of them. They are excited about the tree. When I came home last week from taking a day off the first thing George told me was, “our tree has torches that light up.” Good job Richelle for finding Christmas lights in Kenya. I didn’t have as much luck finding wrapping paper. The only paper I found was very shinny and had pink hearts all over it. Not very Christmasy, so we’ll have to do the brown paper packages tied up in strings look. But, no worries it’s Christmas and that is all that matters.

I love Christmas the music, the presents, the time together as a family everything just seems extra beautiful at Christmas. This will be my first Christmas away from my family, which will be hard, but I’m excited about spending my favorite holiday with my kids and the other volunteers here at the children’s home. It’s going to be a day of memories, laughter, and love. What more could you ask for on Christmas.

Some of the kids around the Christmas tree

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He’s Got Me

I was getting ready to exchange my last 100 dollar bill. I’d tried to get money out of the ATM but for some reason it declined my card, and I was left lamenting once again the fact that my bank in the US is so secure that I can’t even get to my money. Oh, the problems that come with traveling more than the average person. I am constantly getting locked out of my email (yes, that was me trying to access my account from Uganda) and my bank card gets declined more than it gets accepted.

So there I was, running low on options. I had a kid with a dentist appointment and not enough Kenyan shillings to pay the bill. I knew I’d stuck my last 100 in a pocket in my journal during my recent trip to Uganda to get my VISA renewed, but instead of just grabbing my journal and sticking it in my bag, I reached for the book where I used to keep an envelope of American cash (back when I had American cash). I flipped through the pages and saw just an old bank receipt. As I went to put the book back on the shelf, something fell out. 3100 Kenya shillings ($38.00) 3000 exactly the amount I needed for the dentist and 100 for transportation into town.

Some days working at a children’s home can be emotionally and financially draining. I love it, but some days I just feel spent after dealing with a child whose having a panic attack when a repressed memory suddenly surfaces, or when I’m straightening out the same bookshelf for the third time in the same day. It’s easy to get frustrated when you find one of the kid’s brand new sweatshirts outside soaking in the rain, or when your computer battery dies in the middle of a movie because the generator wasn’t on for very long the night before. It’s usually little things, but those little things add up and it’s easy to wonder some days when you find yourself picking tennis shoes out of the mud if anything you are doing is actually making a difference. But, it’s on those days when I really wonder if I can handle it that God has a tendency to show up. Like yesterday when I was struggling with dealing with a staff member who wasn’t doing her job properly and causing a lot of stress. I stewed over the problem as I attempted to tidy up the living room before one of our volunteer’s parents arrived from America. I was on my knees straightening out the bookshelf and mourning the death of yet another hard covered book (these kids have a talent for destroying even the most sturdy of books) when our youngest boy came running through the living room. As he raced past me he stopped ducked his head back out from the doorway of his room and said, “hi, I love you.” I almost cried.

God has a way of bringing little bits of encouragement to those days when you feel like you are about to lose it. He’s got me. He sees me. He knows and even if no one else at the time seems to notice or is too busy with their own problems to fix yours God is never too busy. He takes care of even the little things like making sure there is enough money for the dentist and making sure that you get enough smiles during the day to keep you going.

The smiles keep me here

The smiles keep me here

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To the Unsung Kates

“And she’s only 24,” I asked for about the third time as I stood in the kitchen of Serving His Children a malnutrition clinic that reaches out to children in Uganda suffering from malnutrition. I didn’t get to meet Renee while visiting my cousin who is volunteering at the clinic Renee started. But I didn’t have to meet her to know that she is an incredible woman. I looked at the walls and walls of pictures showing what the children looked like when they came and what they looked like when they left. It’s hard to argue against pictures. Renee’s organization (which she first had a vision for when she was 18) educates mothers and relatives about proper nutrition, gets kids back to a healthy weight, seeks to meet families spiritual needs, and checks up on the children once they have returned home to ensure that they stay healthy.

 

Just a few of the children whose lives have been saved by Serving His Children

Just a few of the children whose lives have been saved by Serving His Children

It’s facebook trend at the moment to post the story of Kate Davis author of Kisses from Kate. An incredible story of a young girl who came to Uganda and ended up adopting 13 girls. I haven’t read Kate’s book. I intend to. I’m sure I’ll be able to relate to a lot of her experiences. The longer I’ve lived in Kenya the more I’ve discovered that there are many, many “Kates” maybe not as celebrated but they are definitely making a difference in this crazy world that we call home.

People like Reah whose husband died suddenly leaving her to take care of their young daughter and over 30 children who live at Morning Star Children’s Home. She’s dealt with no money coming in to pay for food, the government threatening to take away her kids, and too many other stories to tell. At the end of the day she trusts in God, and He has brought her through each day.

Or people like Ruthann who manages Abba’s House the children’s home where I work. She’s 24 as well and has been here from the beginning when the youngest boy (who was around 5 at the time) thought it was ok to go to the bathroom in the middle of the living room floor, or when one of our girls thought that taking a shower meant dumping a huge bucket of water over her head flooding the bathroom just before everyone arrived for the grand opening. She’s had to go after a child who ran away because he didn’t want to eat cabbage for dinner and has had to break up fights in the beginning when the kids thought it was ok to settle their differences using physical means.

I could go on and on telling more stories of more people (young people) who are quietly making a big difference in the midst of difficult circumstances. Not to take anything away from Kate Davis, my cousin has met her and she sounds like an incredible, down to earth person who really should be celebrated. I guess my point is that there are a lot of “Kates.” They may not have time to write a book at the moment, but they all have incredible stories. They may not have their story passed around on facebook, but that doesn’t make their story any less inspiring. They make me stop and ask what more can I be doing with my life because they are all younger than me and are living so close to God that’s it’s hard not to feel changed just by knowing a piece of their story. So thank you to everyone who is quietly making a difference in life no matter your age, no matter how celebrated or uncelebrated you are. The world does not appreciate you enough, but your reward in heaven will be great.

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Atypical

A month after I got to Kenya I considered writing a blog about what a typical day of working in a children’s home looked like for me. I think I gave up the idea of writing that blog when I was standing in the grocery store that day trying to buy food for a family of seventeen kids and the power went out. That was seven months ago, and I don’t think I’ve had a typical day yet.

So what is typical? Nothing really when you help take care of seventeen kids everyday but some things become slightly more typical, well, at least for the most part. So, I’ve decided to stop waiting for a “typical” day and just write about today. Today was anything but typical. The kids are off school until Friday. Two of our staff members were gone over the weekend saying bye to a friend who was leaving for America.

The day started at 5 am when one of the kids woke up with a headache. We’ve been waiting weeks for his glasses to come in, but we’re still waiting. After giving him some Tylenol and a glass of water I went back to bed for a couple of hours. The one nice thing about the kids being off school today is that I was able to set my alarm for seven instead of 5:30.

Breakfast was easy. I made chai and Richelle, our newest staff member, got out jam and bread that had been cooked earlier in the week. After breakfast the group assigned to dishes started to clean up and Alyssa, Richelle, and I came up with a schedule for the day. We told the kids they had free time until 9am which gave me a small window to wash my hair in the girl’s bathroom sink and then try to scrub the paint off my arms from the weekend’s operation paint the wooden play ground structure before the slides arrive. Only two interruptions later, I even had time to brush my teeth before making it back to the living room by 8:59.

The three of us divided up the kids and the chores in order to make the day run fairly smoothly. Richelle took the youngest kids out to weed around the carrots, I worked on tutoring three of the middle boys in English all while working on braiding one of the younger girl’s hair. Alyssa worked on composition with the oldest three and a second group of middle aged kids worked on finishing up a landscaping project that they had started on Saturday.

As lunch approached, I heated up left over rice and gathari (beans and maze) from Sunday’s dinner. Alyssa cooked up some cornmeal porridge for when the leftovers finished. Once the kids were full, we saved the rest for afternoon snack. Vicky, who cooks for us on weekdays, showed up right before lunch. We chatted for awhile, and then I got chai and a plate of food for two of the people who work for us.

After lunch it started to pour. I mean really pour. It let up for awhile but then started to pour again. The kids did a fairly good job of entertaining themselves. I finished up braiding one girl’s hair and then helped a different girl take her braids out. Sometimes taking tiny braids out takes as long as putting them in. After playing for awhile the younger kids went down for a nap. We worked on a shopping list while the kids played or helped Vicky roll out chapattis (a nice treat). After that we, hung out with the older kids until dinner.

Since there is no school tomorrow, the kids asked if they could watch a movie promising that if they did they would sleep in until 8am. We took a vote for which move to watch and the second Chronicles of Narnia movie won. After family devotions, I left the kids watching the movie with Richelle and snuck away to try to get this blog written so that when we head into town tomorrow to do grocery shopping I can quickly post it while I have good Internet access.

Half way through the movie I heard the generator make its, “I’m almost out of gas noise.” Since there is no way to get more gas before tomorrow, we paused the movie and had the kids quickly get ready for bed before the lights went out completely. After giving out some cough medicine and praying with the kids they were all safely tucked in bed. Now I’ll probably stay up and watch a movie until 11pm so that I can wake up our bed wetter one more time before going to bed so that she can make it through the night without having to change her sheets.

Just a typical day rolling with what life brings and making memories along the way. Life is never boring when you live with 17 kids, and it is usually anything but typical.

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Starry, Starry Night

The kids were inside eating s’mores for the first time. It had been a crazy day so while our guests from the US (one of our volunteer’s parents) entertained the kids with sticky marshmallows the rest of us retreated to the front porch to steal some sweet silence out under the stars.

The generator had run out of gas so we watched the fading sunset in untainted silence and broke into the Reese cups that my parents had sent out. “It’s the little things,” Jason said as he enjoyed his chocolate. He was up visiting for the weekend and with 17 kids to take care of we always welcome having an extra set of hands to help out around the house.

I leaned my head back against one of the porch pillars and watched the stars appear. The kids were squealing in the background as they enjoyed their sticky treats. They brought us marshmallows toasted over the jico, and I thanked God that nothing had caught on fire.

Our semi-silence didn’t last long as the kids (now on a sugar high) joined us outside. They raced each other in the darkness, sang at the top of their lungs, and Zippi started telling us a story about how she was going to fly us all in a rocket up to the moon. Michelle climbed up on my lap with her fuzzy red blanket. She twisted her fingers in mine and as I looked down at those little fingers and then back up at the sky I thought, “this is life, and I won’t trade it for anything.”

Even with the sticky messes and problems that come with working with kids from difficult backgrounds, it’s so rewarding—seeing them grow, seeing them learn, seeing them realize that this is a stable home and it’s ok to just be yourself, seeing them take care of each other, seeing them understand the heart of God. Every minute is precious. Every day so full of purpose. I’ve found my place, my heart, my home. God creates everyone with a purpose a reason to be on this earth and when you find that purpose complete and fulfilled in the middle of a starry night it’s a beautiful thing. I know He has even more for me. I know this is a path, a journey with even more stories to write, but for now I’m content just to be where He has me. To wrap my fingers in His and to take in each moment one starry night at a time.

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Encounter

How do you describe the indescribable? I’ve been asking myself this for a week now attempting to write this blog post but feeling a loss for words. It was Saturday. We’d had an amazing day working with the kids in the garden, doing laundry, and taking them to play football (soccer) at a nearby field. I know laundry and gardening may not sound like loads of fun to some people, but when I’m with my kids the most mundane tasks can turn into a memorable experience. One of the best parts about working at a children’s home is that you get to enjoy having teenage children while you still have the energy to keep up with them (well mostly keep up with them).

“Here’s how this works,” Dickson told me as he showed me how to harvest the row of beans that had just been picked and were spread out on long black tarp. “You run from one end of the tarp to the other or jump up and down on the bean pods and at the end if you don’t have sweat it means you didn’t work.”

I laughed and started racing back and forth with the kids jumping on the dried bean pods and then sorting the beans from their pods. The younger kids helped pick up the beans that slipped off the tarp and the older kids got sticks and started to beat the pile of pods until every bean was loose from its pod.

We filled a sack full of beans before coming in for dinner, and after dinner is when the encounter took place shifting my worldview in a way and leaving me with so much to process that I am just now able to attempt to put the experience into words.

We had been talking about prayer and the responsibility Christians have to pray for those around the world who are being persecuted. Earlier in the morning Ruthann had had a breakthrough during her own prayer time in which she felt led to place this prayer need, along with other prayer needs, into the hands of our kids. With the dinner dishes done, we did our regular devotions, and then Ruthann told the kids that today we would be doing something a little different. We started with prayer requests—persecuted Christians around the world, financial needs of the children’s home, prayer for future kids who would be coming to live here, and so on. After prayer request time each child was given something to pray for and then Ruthann announced that we would pray for one hour. When she said one hour I thought, “oh my goodness, I’d be surprised if the kids last twenty minutes, but here goes.”

Ruthann put on some background music and then the kids started to pray all at once. It was a beautiful sound, a mix of Swahili and Kikuyu, earnest prayers from sincere hearts. I prayed for the request that I had been given for awhile and then I started praying individually for each of the kids starting with the oldest and going to the youngest. As I prayed, the room got quieter as the kids finished up their prayers. Soon one of the middle aged boys started dancing in the middle of the room and tried to pull in other kids to dance with him. He got Veronica to dance for a little bit, but the other kids just watched and laughed.

Seeing that attention levels were starting to deteriorate Ruthann switched up the playlist to a song that the kids knew well. It’s a song that I’d never heard before coming to Kenya entitled “Break Every Chain.” Every time I hear the kids sing it I am moved. The kids started to sing and Ruthann started to pray hard. She was so wrapped up in prayer that tears ran down her cheeks. When a few of the younger kids noticed her crying they crawled up on Alyssa and my lap and started crying as well. I tried to explain to the little boy that I was holding that people cry for different reasons sometimes because they are happy or because they are feeling a lot of emotion, but that didn’t stop him from crying. To my right Veronica started to pray again, and she started to pray hard. All of the sudden she began holding her hands out straight and calling out, “Baba, Baba, Baba,” which means father. Ruthann noticed as well and took her into anther room. Now several of the younger children really became upset worried that something bad was happening to Veronica. The little girl that Alyssa was holding began wailing saying that she missed her mom, and I started to wonder, “what in the world have we started. These kids emotional health can be so fragile.”

After calming several of the kids down, I went to check on Ruthann and Veronica. They were seated on the floor Veronica’s eyes had a glazed over appearance like she was in another place. She was rocking back and forth and say “Jesus” and “Baba” over and over. Ruthann told me that Veronica had just seen a vision of children being persecuted for their faith. Veronica had become frightened by what she saw but then excited as she said that she saw angels coming to protect the children. While I was in the room Veronica began to yell. “Jesus is the winner. Jesus is the winner.”

The next three hours were a blur as Ruthann, Alyssa, and I took turns holding Veronica. Sometimes she said she felt weak, once she asked for water, other times she would just praise God, or rock back and forth seeming lost for words and lost in the presence of God, a couple times I softly sang worship songs that she knew and Veronica joined in when I sang.

I kept going in and out of the room taking care of the mundane problems of the other kids while trying to be with Veronica as much as possible. I popped a movie in for the kids still waiting in the living room, went and got Nicholas new cloths when our kitten decided to poop all other him, and got milk for some of the younger kids who where asking for something to drink. All the while my head was spinning. I’d heard about experiences like this, but I’d never been apart of one. At times I felt like a helpless observer as after a couple hours had passed I wondered if Veronica would come back to us. I held her and prayed for her excited that God was giving her this experience yet a little afraid of the unknown.

At one point Veronica became restless again and called for Jane one of our older girls. I went to get her and when she came Ruthann began to pray for Jane while I held Veronica. At first Jane look scared. She’s always been one of our most reserved girls. A girl with a lot of attitude but a girl who shuts down when you begin asking her about her past. As Ruthann prayed louder and louder Jane began to cry and then she began to weep. Veronica became restless again, and I asked her what she saw. She told me she saw a black cat with red eyes and a very big snake. Veronica asked to touch Jane, so I helped her over to Jane and she held on to Jane’s arm and prayed. She prayed in Kiswahili so I wasn’t able to understand everything she said, but Jane did and she cried some more. Then Jane began pointing to something which she appeared to be seeing in the room. She shook her finger at it and said, “No, no.” Ruthann continued to pray for her telling Jane to forgive and let go. After while Jane seemed to experience a release. Her breathing slowed, and she said she felt good again.

Ruthann asked me to get my Bible and read something. I read several Psalms and then the girls both seemed to relax. Ruthann asked them if they wanted to go to bed, and they both said yes.

To be honest. I was blown away. I reacted and acted, but it was as if I was observing everything taking things in but staying on the sidelines. I was blown away that God had given one of our 13 year old girls a vision. I was blown away by the fact that God’s presence was so near.

The next morning I got up to get the kids breakfast, and I saw Veronica outside walking around with her hands together in prayer. I called her and gave her a big hug happy to have her back in a way but thankful for the experience that she had just been through. Ruthann asked her if she would like to journal about the experience and she said yes. She journalled about the vision and about how the Holy Spirit had visited her. She ended her entry by saying that she  hoped He would visit her again sometime.

When Jane woke up she asked me to call Veronica for her. I did, and she and Veronica prayed together. Veronica later explained to me that Jane had a friend at school who has a demon and Veronica told Jane not to walk to school with that friend any more.

Jane also journalled, but her entry consisted mostly of a dream she had after going to bed. She said she remembered little of the experience the night before but her dream involved the girl from school who Veronica said has a demon.

So that was a week ago Saturday. I don’t know how to end this post except to say that God is real. He is a living and active God who speaks to his children. Just being a small part of that experience blew me away and reminded me that I serve a living God who loves and protects his children.

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