Posts filed under africa

dichotomy of comforts [a repost]

Over the next few days, I’ll be reposting some of my favorites from the past year. Some highlight the good things – others wade through the darkest moments. All of them really capture exactly how far God’s brought Russ & me this year. We are so thankful for His provision – so amazed at how He works. From June 30, 2010:

The day after our first walk into Kibera dawned cloudy and slow – almost taunting my own emotions. One of the hardest parts of this trip were the mornings. The dogs start first – barking incessantly as traffic picks up outside the gate of our guesthouse. Then comes the roosters – urging those around them to wake up and begin the day. But perhaps the most difficult sound, the most haunting – was the call to prayer. Every morning, before the sun even had a chance to streak across the night sky, you could hear the prayer echo off the walls. It permeates everything. The morning after the first walk, with the sounds of dogs and roosters and prayers spoken city-wide, I threw my blankets over my head and wept.

I didn’t want this life. I forgot – for a split second – about my plea for God to give me stories to share. I forgot – for a split second – my prayer for Him to use me and break me. I forgot. And for those few minutes where I basked in absolute self-pity and tried to hide from the scenes flashing through my mind from the previous day,  I was done.

It was our second full day in Nairobi and I was already wanting to come home. Again, I was fighting my flesh against what I knew my heart needed. I wrote in my journal that morning:

yesterday was tough…emotional…overwhelming. this morning? i’m done. when i woke up, i didn’t want to be here anymore. the eyes of the children haunt me and i just want to get away. this happened all before the sun rose, and all i could do was cry about my lost comforts, and then cry about my selfishness. i finally got up to face the day, but my Spirit is still so heavy. these faces cloud my vision, the weight of suffering leans heavy on my chest. oh how i want to run away from this emotion! to not be responsible for what i see & touch & feel & love (because yes – I’m falling in love with these people…this country) it’s so much easier to close my eyes and look away. it’s so much less pain to push away these thoughts – to deal with them later.

but i know i can’t.

the pictures of dirty, calloused feet running through the fields (and later the slums) fill my senses. my heart turns away from these images – almost out of a defense mechanism. “please. don’t make me see this. don’t make me dwell in extreme poverty. don’t make me feel this weight – because if you do, i’ll have to react.” Father, make me sensitive to Your leadings. Make my heart soft to Your touch.

Later that day, I felt the caress of my Savior.

We got to Langata (the high school New Hope feeds into) and began working with the kids. I saw Russ walk off to the side with David and wondered what they were talking about. Both were leaning close together, their heads almost touching. About fifteen minutes later, Russ came up to me with tears in his eyes.

“David brought me bread.”

“He brought you bread?”

“Yeah. He brought me bread. He wanted to make sure I had breakfast.”

My mind reverted back to the conversation Russ & I had the day before about this boy – this boy who received 10 shillings and didn’t know whether to save it (because he never knew when he would go without food) or spend it (because he knew it would probably get stolen). Finally, he decided to give it away to his younger brother because, “Christ takes care of my every need.” And now this same kid was bringing breakfast for my husband – it was almost too much to comprehend. Russ and I stared at each other, unable to find words.

I still haven’t.

Throughout my stay in Kibera, I fought the push and pull of my flesh. I’d wake up hesitant to go through the emotions, to look into the eyes of those living in these desolate conditions. I’d crinkle my nose at the breakfast offered – or silently wish for ice water instead of the lukewarm bottles so graciously given to us. And then moments like the one with David would happen – moments where God would open my eyes to the richness of these people. Children fifteen years younger than me holding tight to a faith stronger than I’ve ever claimed.

Looking into their eyes, hearing their stories, this is where I felt truly alive. This is where I realized the dichotomy of comfort is more than just battling your flesh – more than just taking one step in front of another on a dusty path filled with trash and sewage. It’s allowing yourself to be broken all over again. And that is where the beauty comes – that is where my heart found rest.

Posted on December 30, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

give clean water.

it was hot that day. i sat outside the church with adah and rose, their laughter ricocheting off the steel walls of the school. i was showing them pictures of russ' cooking from my iPhone and they were tickled that a man did the cooking in my household.

my mind was elsewhere.

on the way up the hill, i noticed a woman doing laundry. nothing too out of the ordinary, except the water she was using.

it was dirty....no, it was filthy.

she sat there confidently, immersing each piece of cloth in the tiny stream running through the slum. the same stream i saw little kids use the restroom. the same stream i saw animals walk around and drink out of, bathe and rest. the same stream that stained my tennis burnt colors of browns and yellows.

the same stream most of these people in kibera got their water. 

i started talking to rose & adah about the water issue. i asked where they got their water - and they told me they fetched it every night. i asked where. eyes wide, they told me it was far enough to take a few hours - and sometimes this put them home after dark.

my heart flinched at the thought of these two precious girls walking the streets of kibera at night.

i asked if it were easier to just get water from kibera, and they nodded their heads. there are cleaner water stations - but those are sometimes too far. most often, the girls are required to fetch water after returning from school. most often, these girls are raped or beaten on the road. sometimes there's no water left when they reach the well.

this seems serious. and it's really easy to close our eyes and focus only on what we see and hear now. i have a glass of clean water in front of me. i only need to walk down the hall and get ice out of a filtered machine and fill my cup with water from a brita. my own hypocrisy is burdensome.

i'm close to tears just thinking about it. the injustice can be gripping at times - i complain about the temperature of my clean water. i complain about the taste of my clean water. i live in a society where companies design water bottles made of diamonds...and then fill the bottle with clean water.

something needs to be done.

the truth: americans will spend 450 billion dollars on christmas gifts this year.

it only takes 10 billion to provide the world with clean water.

our excess means their need.

today, we can change this.

a couple months ago, my friend Prudence contacted me about an idea. she wanted to blog for water - and i thought it was brilliant. water is something we all use - and any donation can be significant in the lives of those who don't have access to clean water. reading her e-mail, i couldn't help but think of my girls in the slum. the same time i'm walking down a lit hallway towards filtered water, they are braving the sun sinking below the horizon before they return from their daily walk for water.

a little can go a really long way.

you can give water - clean water - for Christmas.

will you join us?

go here to donate. what's amazing about charity:water is that 100% of your donations goes directly to building a well in a community with no access to clean water. AND...charity:water works with the community - training them to be as sustainable as possible - which ensures the longevity of the project.

want to help spread the word? use the hashtag #PrudyChickH20 on twitter.

my dream: walking the hills of kibera and seeing the women experience what it's like to use clean water for their daily chores. it may be farfetched. but i like to believe in the impossible.

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want to check out the other ladies writing with me today?

Prudence

Jenny Rain

Amy Sullivan

Mary Hess

Laura Leigh Parker

Kim Whitten

last place on earth (pt.2)

I met Whitney in Kibera. Spending the summer in Africa, she flew in from Uganda and joined us at New Hope to work with Manna for a couple weeks. We quickly became friends. One of my favorite memories is sharing stories over Ethiopian food. It's obvious to anyone who comes in contact with Whitney that she's directly in the middle of where God wants her. Her story she shares is unbelievable. [Read the first part to this post here.]

The following summer, God told me to go to Africa.

He set everything up. The door was open and all I had to do was walk through it. Scared as I was, I timidly obeyed.  And, a funny thing happened... I fell in love. 

I know it sounds a bit strange, but it’s the truth. I listened to these people’s stories. I rocked their babies to sleep. I looked AIDS straight in the face. We laughed together, and we cried together. Sometimes, the realities of my friends' lives were ugly and hard to look at. Many times, it was painful. But it was also beautiful.

No, I didn’t come with a solution to fix the government corruption. I had no cure for every illness or disease. I could not take home each orphaned child. But I came with an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. I taught the skills I had, and most importantly, I shared God’s story of redemption in my life, and watched it overflow into others.

I watched myself come alive.

Three years after my first experience in Africa, I found myself in that slum in Uganda. I was working for a Christian organization where a large part of my focus was on community development, working mainly with widows and orphans. We had several projects across Uganda I was able to visit and check up on. A big part of that involved me sitting down with our different partners and listening. I loved learning about how their families were doing and getting an education on Ugandan culture and customs.

But, as one of the women began to tell her story on this day, I felt myself wanting to back away. It was all I could do to not plug up my ears.

She was from the Acholi tribe. Ten years ago, a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army attacked her village. Most of the men - husbands and fathers - were brutally killed, while the women(including herself) were raped and tortured in front of their kids. Many of the children were taken hostage to become child soldiers, but not all of their lives were spared.

Her nephew was one of the unfortunate ones. He was boiled alive, while they were forced to watch. As if that weren’t traumatic enough, they were told they had two options- “Eat this boy’s boiled flesh, or be killed”.

Many of the women from her village escaped the violence and moved south to the slum where we were now gathered. A local ministry who we partnered with was teaching them how to make jewelry from recycled paper, and helping them create their own businesses. I’d come that day to see their progress first hand, but I was not prepared for stories like this one.

As I sat in stunned silence, trying to think of something worth saying, the woman spoke for me. Placing her hand on my knee she said, “I am so thankful to God because he brought you, a mzungu (white woman) all the way from the United States! What are the chances of that? You came today to simply listen to our stories, and remind us that we are not forgotten. It has meant so much to us. Thank you.”

I am fully aware not everyone shares the same burden as me, and I’ve learned to be ok with this. But, if you are a follower of Jesus, the fact of the matter is that you are called to respond to this hurting world.

Each one of us has an “Africa”.

The thing sitting heavy on your heart - it’s the burden you can’t shake, the thing your hands are clinging to that you know God is asking you to surrender. It will require all of you.  It scares you to death. I get it. Trust me, I understand. I’ve been there, and I still find myself there quite often, if not daily!

But, I’m realizing that the things in my life I thought I would despise the most, have become my greatest treasures. The things I thought I didn’t want, I now wonder how I would live without. I’m beginning to understand I do not know what I really want or need. The One who created me knows me far better than myself!

I now see the moments of rejoicing are all the more sweet after sharing the painful moments with others. Often, we can’t appreciate the beauty without first experiencing the ugliness. So, I’m learning to feel the hard feelings, to engage, to be real with people. Through it all, I can confidentially say the trails He is blazing are far better than any route I drew on my life’s map. While it’s a little messier than I envisioned, the life He offers is so much better than the one I was clinging to.

Posted on November 3, 2010 and filed under africa.

last place on earth (pt.1)

I met Whitney in Kibera. Spending the summer in Africa, she flew in from Uganda and joined us at New Hope to work with Manna for a couple weeks. We quickly became friends. One of my favorite memories is sharing stories over Ethiopian food. It's obvious to anyone who comes in contact with Whitney that she's directly in the middle of where God wants her. Her story of God calling her to the one place she feared is unbelievable. To say it was hot would be an understatement.

Unlike the brisk winters in Virginia where I spent the last four years of my life, January in Uganda reminded me of the summers of my childhood. The only difference?  In humid and sticky Houston, we had swimming pools and air conditioning to comfort us.  In Banda (a slum sitting on a hillside just outside of Kampala, Uganda), luxuries such as these are laughable. In fact, I don’t even know how I would begin explaining a swimming pool to this group of women from the Acholi quarter, and I wouldn’t have dared to complain about the sweat that was ever so slowly trickling down my back…

While the lady with the baby tied tightly to her back shooed away the neighbor’s chicken, another got busy wiping off the dusty stool for me to sit on. She used part of her threadbare skirt to clear the surface, and gave a small smile of satisfaction as I settled into the seat of honor. The rest of them joined us. There were fourteen women in all, and I didn’t even begin to count the number of children playing in the dirt nearby, or napping cozily against their mother’s breasts. I had to smile to myself. Even though I’d been working across East Africa in slums and villages just like this for over eight months, the irony still crept up on me in unexpected moments.

I never planned on doing this.

In fact, I used to say emphatically Africa was the very last place I would ever go. When I was a kid, I was terrified of the naked tribal men who carried spears and ate human flesh. There was also an apprehension towards lions. And black mambas. And witch doctors with demons and potions. As I got a little older, however, I began to realize that all of Africa wasn’t necessarily like the pictures I’dseen on the Discovery Channel.

In high school, I saw an infomercial from an organization trying to get donations to “feed Africa’s children”. The narrator’s deep, sad voice accompanied the most disturbing images I had ever seen: a baby with flies in his eyes, a bloated belly, and dirty tear tracks running down his cheeks. It bothered me no one would pick him up. He just lay there screaming.

Why wouldn’t someone pick him up?

A little girl dressed in a ratty men’s tee shirt was digging for food in a dumpster, her malnourished siblings close behind...

I remember being haunted by those pictures. This was a side of Africa I had not seen before. Even bigger than that - this was a side of humanity I had never encountered. How could people let this happen? Where were these children’s parents? And what of the government systems in these places- wasn’t it their job to take care of their hurting people?

By the time the phone number was flashing on the bottom of the screen, my entire understanding ofthe world around me had collapsed. Children belonged in school, not knee deep in rotting dumpsters. Little girls wore pink dresses and hair bows, they didn’t walk around barefoot in filthy, soiled rags. I couldn’t get those faces out of my mind. I knew someone needed to do something about their situation, but what could someone like me do? I tried to tell myself  it was all an exaggeration- there is no way things could be that terrible.

No, I did not want to ever visit a place like Africa. At this point, it had nothing to do with spears or lions or witch doctors… it was the little girl digging in the dumpster. It was the flies and the hunger. And, while I may not have recognized it at that point in my life, I now believe the root of my fear camedown to one, lone fact -

I knew once I saw the struggle with my own eyes, once I held that cryingbaby in my own arms… something more would be required of me.

I knew my life and future would eternally be altered. I knew I would be wrecked. Now that terrified me! So, as many of us have been conditioned to do, I tried to busy myself with other things and forget about it.

But a seed of curiosity had been planted.

By the time I was in college, I picked up a book about “The Lost Boys of Sudan”. Once again, I was dumbfounded as I read about the genocide taking place in Sudan for much of my life… How had I never heard about this before? I would get lost in libraries, buried for days in books and documentaries, familiarizing myself with rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and The National Forces of Liberation in Burundi. I read about the throngs of people starving in Ethiopia, and the genocide in Rwanda. My friends tried to be as understanding as they knew to be, but on more than one occasion I got confused looks.

I could tell some people didn’t know what to do with me.

Even I didn’t know what to do with me! No matter how much I tried to ignore all of this newfound information, it was still there. The faces from every Time magazine waited patiently at the back of my mind as if to say We're still here. We are real. Please, do something to help us. In a sense, I was tormented.

Around this time, I had a serious “spiritual awakening”. Even though I grew up in a very strong Christian home, my faith was small -  my heart divided. There had never been that moment Andrew Murray talks about, the moment of “absolute surrender”. During this season, Jesus Christ became more than just my Savior- he became my Lord.  I handed over the map I’d drawn for my life and watched him erase everything. He asked me to trust Him to lead and direct from that moment on, and I agreed to follow.

Jesus doesn’t always ask us to follow him to safe and pretty places (it’s probably a good thing I didn’t realize that at the time, or I might have hesitated a little). Sometimes He asks us to walk through “the valley of the Shadow of Death”.

The following summer, God told me to go to Africa...

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Come back tomorrow to read the rest of Whitney's story - I promise you won't want to miss it.

Posted on November 2, 2010 and filed under africa.

an invitation

I'm pretty excited about what I'm presenting today - but I'm also a little nervous. No, I'm a lot nervous. Not because I don't believe in what I will present, but because I've never done this before. I'm afraid (to be honest) of what you may think. But, I decided it's time to act out on my own admonishment. Story speaks. And I believe this story needs to be told... I heard the other day a good story doesn't ask you to come alongside it - it invites you to become a part of the plot. Monday, as I watched our kids brainstorm fundraisers and thought about what would get people to come out vs. what would be lame, I remembered this statement.

And then I realized how all too often we forget.

We forget the power of our stories - the pull of flesh & blood words living in between adventure and struggle. We tend to rely on bells & whistles instead of the sweat & tears poured into a calling.

This is where you come in - and just in case you may be confused, this is where I invite you to join a story.

For those of you who may be new, and for those who have forgotten, this past summer I boarded a plane and entered a story far bigger than myself. Make no mistake. This story exuded "willing not able" - twelve students. Twelve adults.

Africa.

We never would have stepped foot on that red soil had it not been for the inciting moment - the beginning of one's story where a simple decision catapults them into a greater narrative than they ever imagined or anticipated.

Meet Candice.

Candice is a teacher at a local high school in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Austin. Two years ago, Reagan High faced closure because of student performance. Needless to say, morale was low. Despite continued efforts, students' motivation was no easy task.

She aimed to change that and in the summer of 2009 traveled to Kenya where she worked at New Hope School in Kibera - one of the largest slums in the world. Inspired by the students' resilience and determination to complete their education, she recorded them sending messages to her own students in Austin.

The message was clear: we love you. Come to Kibera.

She showed the video on the first day of class the following year.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF24fI-ANCU&fs=1&hl=en_US]

She expected encouragement. She anticipated motivation.

What she received was something even she couldn't have planned.

Without any hesitation, these students who lacked most resources, answered the call.

What happened next is a whirlwind.

In a world where people most likely thought they were crazy, these Reagan students stood tall. In a world where most kids their age started saving money for a new car, prom tickets or the latest fashions, these kids brainstormed ways to get to Africa. Their goal was seemingly impossible - raise enough money in less than six months for twelve students to travel across the world to spend two weeks in a slum.

And they did - they raised 30,000+ dollars in a little over two months, simply telling their story.

Two stories were merging into one powerful example of redemption and grace and God's incredible promise.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSnZY_p3Yq4&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Africa came quickly.

And it took about .5 seconds for our kids to fall in love.

For two weeks, their world juxtaposed with ours in a beautiful, chaotic and humbling way. We laughed with them. Cried with them. Listened to the stories of political unrest and for brief moments, shared their fear of corruption. Most of all, they challenged our comfort at neck-breaking speeds. What resulted were nights filled with tension as we wrestled with what we saw and experienced during the day. No amount of training could prepare us for what Kibera did to our hearts. Whether we were running around a field or squeezing into a tiny classroom with 50 other students, the breaking came swift.

Ashley met Christine - and was the first to receive the cherished notes from the kids.

Devyne met Isaac - and quickly realized distance means nothing when it comes to a fellow brother and sister in Christ and their dreams. Future photographers and writers and filmmakers exist in even the darkest of places. And these individuals may be the ones who bring the light to their country.

Bri met Rose - a spunky teenager who echoed her American counterpart's exuberance for life and laughter. And was equally as feisty.

Nijalon met Daniel. No one could have planned this collision of brothers. I do not exaggerate when I say from the minute we stepped off the bus these two were inseparable. And in through a course of events one can only attribute to Christ's provision and leading, these two wrote a rap song and recorded a music video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtkhCeQesVc&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Within moments of entering Kibera, Reagan kids began dreaming about better facilities. Classrooms with solid benches - enough for every student. Supplies. New buildings with stairs that aren't rotted with decay and won't bend with every step.

New latrines.

These students began dreaming - planning - accepting yet another challenge without any hesitation. Upon returning to America, one of our girls said: "Our goal - 40,000 dollars in two months. Our plan - shutup & let God do the work."

And I think that's a really, really good idea.

Since we've returned, the excitement continually builds about providing something for our brothers and sisters in Kibera. We plan. We conspire. We erase. We start over. We brainstorm.

We forget about the story.

The story of twelve students who answered the call. The story of twelve students falling in love with an Africa they never anticipated. The story of hope. Redemption.

And finding beauty amongst the ashes of this world.

In Kibera -

  • 1 in 5 children will not see their 5th birthday.
  • 50% of the population is school-aged
  • 66% of girls will trade sex for food by age six.
  • Common living arrangements consist of 8-10 people living in a 12x12 shack

Yet we believe in restoration.

Stories are powerful, but only when shared. And lately we've been noticing and remembering the power of this story.

Others are noticing too.

Construction on a new school & church are currently underway.

And this is where we need your help.

What can you do? Join us. Kibera changed us - and we believe wholeheartedly in the calling to share our story in order to bring hope to our brothers and sisters.

Here are some ways you can join our story:

1. Donate!! Go to Manna Worldwide and set up an account. Once you are registered, donate towards Kibera New Hope building project. You will see a "Where it's Needed Most!" dropbox. If you click "other" and fill in project number 76137, all proceeds will go to Kibera. Manna will take no administration cost out of your donation.

2. Share this with a friend. Link it on twitter, post it on facebook, e-mail it to some family members....the possibilities are endless. But don't let the story end here. We understand not everyone can give money - but anyone can share a story about teenagers who gave up their summer, spent hours in community service and became forever connected to their peers across the world.

I look at my living room now, and it's empty. The kids have long gone home. But the thoughts remain. This week Nijalon's been swapping photos via facebook with Daniel. Daniel says hello. Nijalon, clad with suitcases and his African tunic, says he's coming as soon as he can get on a plane.

Devonte mentions this year will be the year he goes to Africa. No matter what.

Ebony quotes statistics of children in Kibera on her profile.

Devyne reminisces about Isaac.

A good story doesn't ask you to come alongside it - it invites you to become a part of the plot. We do not know how the story of Kibera will end. Her story is just starting - and the characters are still fighting for the place in her history.

This is your invitation.

If you do decide to join - please leave a comment letting us know. We'd love to thank you for your support and want to keep you updated on developments in Kibera. For more information, contact me at eloranicole[at]gmail.com

Posted on October 27, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.