Sick transit, inglorious Monday

There is a matatu strike in Kenya. This is huge news.
Matatus are white vans, with a yellow stripe down the side, which are used as public transit throughout the country. A matatu strike would, I’m guessing, have an enormous impact.
Apparently, the matatu drivers are protesting a police safety crackdown. That gives me an opening to retell one of my matatu stories; one day in 2006, when we were working at a church in Keumbu but staying at a hotel in Kisii, our scheduled rental van failed to arrive and Pastor Abel had to flag us down a couple of matatus. I was sitting in the front passenger seat (which is on the left, since Kenya drives on the left side of the road, in British fashion). When we arrived at the hotel, Bob Willems came up to me and said something like, “Let me show you what kind of tire you’ve been riding on.” Sure enough, the tire directly under my seat was as bald as Yul Brynner.
I smiled at Bob.
“God is my co-pilot,” I said.
While I’m repeating myself, I’ll retell another favorite matatu story. The year before, in 2005, we had finished work in Ndonyo. Our cross-country transportation had dropped us off at Nakumatt, the Kenyan equivalent of Walmart, but from there we had to find a way back to our nearby hotel. Our two oldest team members, one of whom suffered from fibromyalgia, and our two mission-trip rookies had all been stressed by the cross-country trip, and so Pastor Paul Mbithi (now a bishop) took them in his car in order to get them back to the hotel as quickly as possible. Paul left “Mama Church” — his wife Grace — to find transportation for the rest of us. We figured that process would take a while, but Grace strode out to the curb, extended her hand, and immediately, as if by magic, the only empty matatu I’ve ever seen pulled up. What Mama Church wants, Mama Church gets. We pulled away in a different direction and ended up back at the hotel two or three minutes before Paul. We stood out front and made a big show of looking at our watches as he pulled up.

Trip planning

I had dinner with LEAMIS executive director Debra Snellen tonight at Applebee’s in Tullahoma to talk about the Kenya trip. I’m a little more reassured that I can do this, but I’m a little more overwhelmed at how much is involved.

Debra will be talking to our primary contact in Kenya soon to tie down the dates I’ve requested and to determine exactly where in Kenya we’ll be working. (It will be someplace we haven’t been before.)

Then, I’ll have to start working on a million little details, not the least of which is putting together a budget for the trip so that we can determine how much to request from participants.

I’ll let you know more about the specifics of the trip once I have them.

Kenya 2010

Well, after some hemming and hawing, I have agreed to lead a LEAMIS team to Kenya — by myself, perhaps with an assistant team leader to be named later — next summer.

This is a scary thing. On paper, I was the co-leader of this year’s team, but for various reasons, most of which could not have been avoided, I sometimes felt like I was on the sidelines, not contributing very much — and, more to the point, not learning very much. I will not be on the sidelines this time around.

We’re still trying to track down the dates, as well as the exact location within Kenya. (For those of you who get the LEAMIS e-mail newsletter, the item about the trip in the most recent issue lists an incorrect destination.) I’ll have more information for you soon.

Who knows? Maybe God is calling you to be a part of this trip.

Drought in Kenya

Grace, Gail, Paul and me

Grace Mbithi, Gail Drake, Paul Mbithi and some other guy during the 2009 Kenya trip.

I wanted to pass along this e-mail from Bishop Paul Mbithi, our primary contact in Kenya:

Dear Friend,

We do hope and trust that this e-mail note finds you and yours doing wonderfuly well in the Lord our God !!!
As for us here in Kenya, we are absolutely thankful to the LORD for His mercy and grace which has kept us going on uptil now.
Our family, the local church body, the school and indeed all the “church-sponsored” projects including the orphanage home for the needy children,
both boys and girls are doing great by the grace of God.

As we write you this message, here in Kenya we are faced with a serious life-threatening drought and famine at the moment owing to lack of
sufficient rain for the last 3-years or so. Water reservoirs including dams, wells and rivers are drying up fast as the heat rages, a situation that has
led to massive electricity power cuts everywhere in the republic as the Government issues power rationing instructions countrywide.
This is mainly due to the fact that a large percentage of our electricity is hydro-generated from water dams.
This move to ration power has adversely effected our already crippled economy even further causing the price for foodstuffs and other basic
commodities for domestic use to rise to unattainable levels. It is indeed a sad affair seeing livestock especially cows, goats and carmels
dying of hunger on daily basis in their hundreds for lack of grass and/or leaves in the field and water for drinking as rivers have dried up.

The Kenya government in conjunction with donor countries such as U.S.A and European Union is trying hard to reach out into the interior parts of the
country where people largely depend on maize and beans for survival. Several deaths have since been reported in the worst hit areas as farms have not
yielded enough crop as expected for the last 3 planting seasons. This is indeed a national crisis that calls for urgent attention and action where possible to avert a
more serious situation in the nearest future.

It is estimated that as of now, close to 10 million Kenyans are at a great risk of dying of hunger as food supplies get more scarce as the hot and dry
climatic conditions continue persisting. We do therefore request you to share this information with others out there for the sake of
prayer-networking as we trust God to intervene and save the situation. For your info, within this week only we’ve witnessed hundreds of dead
livestock mainly cows getting burried enmasse as the situation gets out of hand.
It’s rather sad to note that both humans as well as cattle in the fields and indeed other living creatures are threatened with extinction.
We hereby urge you to join us in prayer for rain supply from above as well as food provision for all the affected familes, especially women and children.

Lastly, our main church (headquarters) here in the Kibera slums is doing well and all the branch churches countrywide and across the borders are
reporting good progress. Just keep us in your prayers for there is much more we desire to see accomplished here.
The school & the orphanage home needs expansion rather urgently inorder to accomodate more needy children.
For instance, our school is so over-stretched at the moment and hence the need to build more classrooms as well as acquire more school supplies.

Thanks for your prayers & let’s keep in touch … be blessed.

Yours in the Lord’s service,

Bsp. Paul & Grace Mbithi
www.nlrministries.com

PFO

This weekend will be pre-field orientation, or “PFO,” for the Kenya team. As a co-leader of the team, I’ll be one of the people leading the PFO, along with LEAMIS co-founders Gail Drake and Debra Snellen. The team won’t gather until Saturday morning, but (since I have Friday off work) I’ll be heading to the mountain after I get off work Thursday to help prepare.

I feel completely unprepared. It’s been a crazy week, for reasons previously discussed, and Gail (who is snowed under in her day job as well) didn’t send me the PFO schedule until Monday.

It will all work out, I know, but right now I don’t feel ready.

A productive meeting

Planning for Kenya

Frank Schroer, Gail Drake and I had dinner tonight in Tullahoma with the Rev. Paul Mbithi, who will be our host in Nairobi later this summer. “Pastor Paul” comes to the States from time to time to visit his brother and to solicit contributions for his work in Nairobi. We had a great dinner and a productive meeting, and I can’t wait for the trip.

We could still call him “Pastor Paul” tonight, but by the time of our trip this summer that won’t be completely accurate. We will have to call him … wait for it … Bishop Paul.

By the way, I apologize for the poor reproduction of Pastor Paul’s facial features; he is dark-skinned and the walls at Red Lobster are light, and it was difficult to get a good shot.

The tourist

The fact that my airline tickets were booked this week has caused me to blog — and, I have to admit, think — more like a tourist than a missionary for the past few days.

I take what I do on these trips seriously, and I hope I do them justice. But I would be lying, to myself and to you, if I denied that I love to travel, to see new places, to experience different cultures. We always try, on LEAMIS trips, to do our debrief at the end of the trip in a pleasant location, and in Africa that means getting to see wildlife.

It’s been busy and stressful in the mundane parts of my life lately, and I’ve had the letdown of the play ending, so this week I’ve escaped a little by being obsessed with frequent flyer miles and power adapters and trying to figure out where I’ve stashed my foreign currency.

I’ve kept a few bills and coins from most of the places where I’ve been; a few months ago I decided to cash them all in, figuring I’d always have the chance to get more on the next trip. But that turned out to be hard to do here in Shelbyville. So I still have the money. I decided this week to check how many Euros and Kenyan shillings are in my collection; I can take those with me in July and use them during our layover at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam and at the airport in Nairobi on arrival. (We generally don’t change any significant amount of money at the airport, since you can get a better rate at the Forex bureaus in downtown Nairobi.)

But I can’t find the money anywhere. I know it’s here somewhere, and will turn up some time between now and July. It’s silly to even look for it this early.

Mission trip fundraising

Here’s an e-mail I just sent out to the mission trip partners for whom I have e-mail addresses:

Dear Mission Trip Partners,

I’ll be sending out a new newsletter some time soon, but I wanted to give you a quick update on my fund-raising.

Thanks to many generous contributions, I have now raised a total of $1,832. I have turned $1,750 of this over to LEAMIS towards my $3,000 goal (that includes one check which I will drop off during the LEAMIS board meeting tomorrow), while the remaining $82 was used for expenses related to my Kenyan visa application and a couple of other trip-related costs. I now have a Kenyan visa stamp in my passport, so I’m ready to go!

The money raised puts me more than half way to my goal. It includes approximately $360 from the youth of First United Methodist Church, who selflessly decided to give me their tips from waiting on tables at our church’s annual steak dinner. It also includes $375 from a luncheon held today on my behalf by my co-workers at the Times-Gazette.

I am incredibly gratified by the response so far, especially given the economy. I recognize that not everyone who normally supports me can do so this year, or in the same amount. But I am trusting God to get me the rest of the way to my goal.

I consider all of you receiving this message to be my mission trip partners, regardless of your financial participation. I solicit your prayers and encouragement as we get ready for the trip. The dates of the trip will be July 22-August 4.

Visa’s here

My passport got back from its Washington trip today, none the worse for wear and containing a brand new visa which gives me permission to enter Kenya some time within the next six months — say, July 23?

I noted in an earlier post that my previous Kenyan visas were rubber stamps taking up a full page of the passport, instead of the quarter-page stamps that most other countries seem to use and for which passports are designed.

No longer. Now the Kenyan visa is … an engraved label taking up a full page of the passport, with a rubber stamp overlapping one end of it to verify its authenticity.

It looks cool, frankly, and adds to my world traveler cred. But it also uses up the passport pages faster. I believe that you can apply for new pages if you fill a passport up before it is time for renewal. At my current pace of a trip a year, I should be OK, however.

Mission trip update

Well, my passport is now winging its way to the Kenyan embassy in Washington D.C., where it will be stamped with a visa for the trip this summer.

You can, technically, wait and get a visa approved once you arrive in Kenya. But that’s a slow process, and it comes at the end of a 24 to 30 hour air journey. So it’s simpler to get the visa in advance of the trip, and that’s what we’ve told the team members to do. (You still have to go through an immigration line at the Nairobi airport, so that they can put a little date stamp on top of your pre-approved visa stamp. But it’s a much faster line than the one for people who don’t have their visas yet.)

I had to send my passport, two passport-sized photos, a $50 money order (no personal checks) and a return postage envelope along with the application form.

The visa pages of my passport are starting to fill up — it already contains various visa, entry and exit stamps from six trips over the past six years. And (unless they’ve changed it since 2006) the Kenyan visa stamp is oversized, so it really takes up a whole page as opposed to the quarter-page stamps for which the passports are designed.

So far, we have 10 confirmed team members, including Gail and myself as team leaders, and we have eight more people on the fence who are receiving information about the trip but haven’t yet given us a firm commitment. Given the economy, I’m thrilled. You can accomplish more with more people. After being part of a two-person trip to Bolivia in 2007 and a three-person trip to Costa Rica in 2008, I’m ready to try a team trip again.

We’ll have a training weekend in June; the actual trip starts July 22. Keep us in prayer.