Take My Hand

Day Six began at an area mall to meet up with friends from Georgia. Donna and Steve moved to Kenya in July and started a marriage ministry program. Their organization, Kweli Moyo, was created out of their lifelong love for God, each other, and their strong desire to share the life-changing power of a strong, Godly marriage.

Our visit with them was way too brief, but their energy, passion and overwhelming love for the people of Kenya filled my heart with the hope and confidence of being in the right place at the right time. Feeling strong and self-sufficient, I forgot my daily prayer for God’s guidance and strength.

Good Friends - Together Again!
Good Friends – Together Again!

Next we met with Hannah, a young Kenyan woman, who is the founder of The Badili Centre. Sacrificing the security of steady pay and benefits, Hannah left her career as a church minister, answering God’s call to help the women of Kenya. We met her at Deliverance Church-Solid Rock, a small church and primary school in the heart of one of Nairobi’s many slums. Because we arrived early, they allowed us to tour the school while we waited for Hannah. The children were overjoyed by our visit.

Deliverance Church - A peaceful haven in a hurting world
Deliverance Church – A peaceful haven in a hurting world

We had left Donna and Steve at a quiet, clean, middle-class shopping center with well-dressed adults milling around. Now it was chaos, mayhem and rampant joy, as the children’s happy chattering and laughter filled our ears and their jumping feet filled our lungs with dust. I was having difficulty adjusting to this abrupt shift in environment. Just a few blocks away from the mall, we were now surrounded by smiling little faces smudged with dirt, dressed in tattered uniforms, running through a bare dirt yard, surrounded by delipidated buildings–with the smells of bougainvillae, dust, earth, leftover lunch, urine and garbage filling the midday air.

Bougainvillea

the slum schoolyard in the shadow of a middle class high rise.
the slum schoolyard in the shadow of a middle class high rise.

The paradox that is Kenya was dragging me down like an anchor in an ocean of despair, my confidence and self-sufficiency gone. The harsh reality of the world outside my safe little Georgia home was suffocating.

The children rinse their lunch plates
The children rinse their lunch plates

In the midst of the children’s carefree mayhem I was desperately trying to hide behind my camera so that no one could see the agony on my face–the agony in my heart. I silently cried out to God to save me from this school filled with more travesties of humanity than I wanted to face. It was a late and pitiful prayer for the strength I should have been leaning on all along. Then the voice of one tiny girl, crying in frustration and sorrow, touched my ears and pulled me out.

copyright 2013 Trading HopeShe was only two years old, the smallest child I had seen at the school; most of the other small ones were still inside with their teachers. She was following a large group of older children, trying to join in the frenzy that ensued every time one of our group tried to capture their lovely faces on camera. A mad flurry of arms and legs and laughter, shoving and jostling for position, made photographing these incredible innocents next to impossible. This one tiny girl bravely followed the bigger kids, just trying to be a part of it all–and was continually pushed to the back or knocked to the ground.

copyright 2013 Trading HopeFinally, her frustration at a fever pitch, she just sat in the dirt and cried. Rubbing her eyes with dusty little fists, she wailed–a forlorn and pitiful sight, all alone in the middle of a churchyard filled with people. I, too, felt all alone in my despair and was wailing silently, deep within my soul.

Despite my desire to hide behind the camera lens–to remain unaffected by my surroundings–her lament reached my mother-ears and broke my mother-heart. I just couldn’t leave her sitting there, crying all alone. It simply was not–is not–in me. So when this precious, innocent child of the living God cried out in heartache and frustration, my heart leaped past my own desire to run away and reached out to her need. Forgetting my despair, forgetting my sadness, I simply did what God gave me a heart to do–I held a crying child.

In that quiet act of maternal love for a grieving child, it occurred to me that God must desperately want us to open our eyes and our hearts to the wider world around us, to overlook our own weakness and fear, and just hold one crying child…just take one hand in our own…just share our own small skills with one who needs a little guidance…just be a helping hand in a hurting world.

copyright Trading Hope 2013When she stopped crying, I gently placed her down and turned to walk away. I felt her tiny little hand slip timidly into my own; so I continued my journey around the churchyard, hand in hand with my new friend. With my larger hand in hers, she was safe to join the group, safe to face the onslaught of the big kids, leaning into my stronger legs if they got too close. With her tiny, helpless hand in mine, I felt the love and power of the Creator of the Universe enfolding us both in His strong, protecting arms.

copyright Trading Hope 2013Finally I had to walk away from this precious child. Placing her in the pastor’s care, I entered the church to meet Hannah and some of the people who work with her. It was time to learn more about Hannah, The Badili Centre, and their work with the widows of Kenya.

view from the schoolyard gate
view from the schoolyard gate

Widows are often treated like second-class citizens in Kenya. They are frequently blamed for the death of their husbands, no matter how they have died. Their homes and belongings taken by the husband’s family, they are left with nothing and no means to care for their children. The Badili Centre offers a unique, six-month business training program which spends much of its time transforming the mindset of these women. The result is that these women will begin to see and believe in their own worth to God and society, and can then make a better living for their families.

Heading Home
Heading Home

My day was filled with the paradox of Kenya: poverty and pain in the shadow of wealth and comfort; loving friends from Georgia, restoring broken marriages in Kenya; a young middle-class Kenyan woman bringing hope to the hopeless widows of the slum; and the eager, happy faces of children not understanding–or caring–that these strangers were from a world so different from their own. They just wanted to hold a hand (and have their pictures taken)!

There are no easy answers, no easy fixes for the injustices of this world. After all the contradictions of that day, I know we can’t just stand by and allow the injustices continue. The widows are worthy of hope. The marriages are worth a second chance. Those beautiful, innocent children are worth our kneeling down in the dirt and taking their hand in love.

Take My Hand
Take My Hand

 

Finding Home, in a World Not Your Own

We left Maasai Mara on Monday, so our first day back in high gear was Tuesday the 10th–the day my mother’s home, way across the world in Texas, was to be sold. I awoke with a sense of homelessness, a sense of wanting to belong somewhere but not having anywhere to belong. I felt adrift and alone.

I knew there had been nothing left of my parents in that home for most of the year. She had been gone since March; all her special belongings had been sorted and shared with family and friends; and the rest had been sold in an estate sale months before. But her home represented family to me, life, love, hope. a place of belonging.

My mother had come from a very poor childhood and would have cried to see the signs of extreme poverty I was seeing all over Kenya. I woke up with my heart broken for the people of Kenya; because I was lost and alone without a mother; because I had no home. This was how I began our first morning back in Nairobi.

DSCN4790That day we visited Amani ya Juu, a “sewing and economic development program for marginalized women.” In Swahili, Amani ya Juu means higher peace. We were greeted by Maggie, an effusively warm and loving Kenyan woman, one of the original four women who were the beginning of Amani back in 1996. Although Maggie and Michelle were connected through mutual friends, ours was not a pre-arranged visit, nor did Michelle know that Maggie would be at the shop that day. Maggie never dreamed that someone she “knew” would simply walk into Amani one day, with six other friends, all the way from America. We were welcomed in like family–something Maggie does with every visitor, but ours especially welcoming–and later given the grand tour of both the shop and the work center.

10040791916_6d69a06675_oOne by one, Maggie wrapped each of us in a deep embrace, filled with love and warmth and the feeling you had just arrived home after a long journey away. She was simply that kind of generous-hearted person, and that kind of maternal love was what I desperately needed that day; and I basked in the glow of her hopeful exuberance. Worlds away from my own home in Georgia, worlds away from my mother’s home in Texas–in a place I had never even been before–I had come home.

The women of Amani greeted us with warmth and compassion, singing us a beautiful song of praise as we entered the workshop. Everywhere we turned we were greeted by smiling faces–some filled with energy and excitement, some more tentative and shy; but all of them filled with love and hope…and a sense of belonging.

hand-dyed batik left in the air to dry
hand-dyed batik left in the air to dry

The women of Amani use their sewing and creativity as a way to make a living. Their workshop that day was filled with smiles; contentment; and the quiet, enduring spirit of family. A family woven of women from all areas of Africa, rescued from all kinds of tragedy, brought together to heal and grow and love…and provide a better future for their own families.

There is a chapel in the Amani workshop, where the women begin their day in prayer; because as our tour guide, Grace, told us, “The night is long and much can happen since last we met.” They pray for concerns, clearing their hearts of worry before they begin work, and also give praise for the blessings which have occurred overnight. A simple act of clearing the heart of stress and filling with gratitude that makes the day much brighter and more filled with joy–oh that all of us could learn to follow this practice more diligently!

Then their work day begins. Sometimes one of the women will need to bring her small infant, and the women will take turns watching the baby as they work. If a woman has much to attend to at home, or if bus fare becomes too much of a financial burden, she can take work home and return on the day it is finished. Like a family working together to complete a task, these women come together, sharing the load to make it lighter for all.

10040847283_64a3d7b439_oAt 3:30, they all attend chapel to close their work day in praise for another fruitful day, as well as to fill their hearts with God’s higher peace as they head home to be the Amani Watoto (children of peace) in their own homes and communities.

In the chapel, there is a quilt and one of the squares shows Africa’s countries broken apart. Grace explained that this signifies the brokenness of Africa. Most people worldwide realize this brokenness exists, but too few take action to correct. The women at Amani–the children of peace–are striving to repair this brokenness, one beautifully crafted item at a time, weaving together a family and a community along with the threads of their work.

The brokenness of Africa
The brokenness of Africa

Without knowing they had done anything more than a normal day’s work, the women of Amani ya Juu helped heal the brokenness in me that day; they filled my grieving heart with the peace of belonging–belonging to God’s family. Despite the grief I felt for the loss of my family home and the realization that my mother was truly and totally gone, I felt loved and at peace in the midst of these beautiful women who had found their place, far away from their own families of origin.

Windows to let in the light and the fresh air of a brand new day
Windows to let in the light and the fresh air of a brand new day

In a world far removed from my own, I was reminded that it isn’t about location or even how many blood relatives you have around you, but a sense of God’s worth for your life filling your heart, filling you with a higher peace–His higher peace–a higher, truer sense of what it means to belong, what it means to be home.

Slowing Down and Letting the Glue Gel

IMG_9488 Our short time in the Maasai Mara gave us all time to relax and focus on the beauty of Kenya. We were able to spend quality time sharing stories of our family and our lives back home, getting to know each other, while creating new memories together. I have never bonded so quickly or so intensely with anyone as I did with those six incredible women; and from the fact that everyone we met thought we had been lifelong companions, I believe the bonding experience was the same for everyone. Maybe we just needed a little time to slow down and let the glue gel.

View out the window of our van
View out the window of our van

The day we headed out of Nairobi, the weather turned dreary, wet and chilly. There was a drizzling mist, not quite heavy enough to be falling, just making the air and all the surrounding landscape damp and cold. As we travelled, the beautiful rich, dark red-brown clay of Nairobi gradually changed to a grayer dirt which covered everything in a light film. There was not enough rain to wash things clean, just enough moisture to cover everything in a thin coating of mud. A very dreary day, good for nothing much besides resting and riding. In other words, a perfect day to head to the Maasai Mara.

Souvenir shop on the road to Maasai Mara, one of many.
Souvenir shop on the road to Maasai Mara, one of many.

Our driver and soon-to-be safari guide, Paul, had a slingshot hanging from his rearview mirror. Sheri asked him why and he told us that he keeps it in case baboons attack the van for any food that might be inside. Shortly after this conversation, we passed baboons on the roadside, just a mile or so past a souvenir booth–a sobering reminder to just how wild and untamed Kenya is.

IMG_9057As we travelled, the land leveled off and the terrain became more arid than Nairobi; the sky cleared and the temperatures rose. Everyone was quiet; we were all still very tired from our travels and this long, bumpy trip was a great excuse to rest. I looked out the window as we passed yet another small village, and I saw a mother and her two small children standing in the shelter of a wall–not a building, just a wall standing next to a hut. The children, who were standing behind the wall, peeped through the window opening and waved shyly at us as our van passed by.

IMG_9624Everywhere we went, even out in the miles of seemingly uninhabited brush and farmland, people were walking. People walking with arms empty; people with arms full; people pulling carts; people leading donkeys pulling carts; people with large baskets filled with produce on their heads; people with large plastic containers of drinking water on their heads; people in suits; people in t-shirts…just people.

Although traffic in the cities of Kenya (and on the highways outside the cities) is quite congested (think New York City at rush hour, all day long), most Kenyans cannot afford to own a car, and many cannot afford public transportation, either. The highways and cities are filled to overflowing with matutus–mini-buses and vans used for public transportation–and these matutus are often filled to overflowing with people. Despite this, the streets and highways and byways of Kenya are filled with people walking. Often half their day is spent in getting to and from wherever they need to be.

IMG_9748I saw children walking, as well. Walking to school; walking from school. Many children, sometimes very small, very young children–were walking with burros hauling water barrels. During our trip the The Mara, I saw three different pairs of very small children watching herds of goats and cattle. Heartbreaking that children so small should be required to handle such a big task; and yet, in our country sometimes we ask far too little of our children, even the ones much older than those in the fields of Kenya. Somewhere, I thought, must be a balance of the two extremes.

About two hours or so before reaching the Maasai Mara, the paved road gives out and becomes a dirt highway. This dirt highway changes structure and layout as the rainy seasons wash it away and create new and adventurous gullies across it. At one point, the nicely paved bridge had been washed away and had never been rebuilt; so traffic simply rerouted around it, through the now dried creek bed the bridge was meant to cover. Kenyans seem to be not only resourceful, but very adaptable, too. Not sure what happens during the next rainy season, however…

IMG_9621After we had been on the dirt road for maybe half an hour, a noise–that had begun shortly after we started on the bumpy road–turned into a very loud clanging sound too loud to ignore. The springs on the struts of our van had given out. Out in the middle of nowhere. Miles from the nearest village. Seven white American women and one Kenyan driver. Hmmm…now how does that work out?

10040851286_04960f74a8_oActually, in Kenya, on the road to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, that works out quite well; or at least it did for us. Paul called his safari guide friends, who were also traveling somewhere along that same road, explained his situation and one offered to help bring the necessary parts from a nearby town. As he was assessing the damage, several other guides stopped and offered to help. One incredibly kind driver even offered the unused seats in his van so that we could continue our journey to the camp while Paul and his other friends fixed the vehicle and caught up with us later.

IMG_8987So after a brief break to look at the giraffes eating in a field on the side of the road, all seven of us piled into a van already holding the driver and four passengers and drove the remaining hour and a half or so into the Rhino Tourist Camp. What a tight fit that was! We were, however, incredibly touched by the generosity not only of the driver, but of the passengers, as well, in allowing us to squeeze into their van and turning what had been a comfortable drive for them into quite a tight and miserable ride.

DSCN4719The Rhino Tourist Camp was rugged, but comfortable for most of us. Some of us were without hot water, some of us had no shower nozzle, some of us were without water at all. Despite these setbacks, we got settled in and rested for a couple of hours and then Paul arrived to take us on a mini-safari before the reserve closed for the night. We were amazed at how quickly he repaired the van on the side of the road using only a few tools and the help of a friend or two.

DSCN4718That first night I got very little sleep as the baboons decided to dance on the tin roof of our tent-cabin and then pick at the side of the tent and keep me awake with fears of him entering to get the snacks we had brought along–and me without a slingshot!

IMG_9229During the rest of our safari, we saw multiple examples of the incredible camaraderie of the safari guides, including their willingness to share a great sighting of one of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, hippopotamus, and the ever-elusive rhinoceros) with their friends, so that all could catch a glimpse of all the incredible inhabitants of The Mara. At several points along the way, we passed our previous “savior” and his passengers. Waving and shouting greetings across the trail through the windows of the safari vans, it was like multiple mini-reunions among eleven virtual strangers, bonded by a common experience and the air of friendship exuded by the guides.

IMG_9121Throughout our trip, all of our drivers in Kenya were friendly and helpful, offering insight about our surroundings along the way. Paul, however, took friendly, helpful service to a totally different level. He was knowledgeable, outgoing, and personable. He was resourceful and witty. Most importantly, he didn’t hold a grudge!

IMG_8904When I dropped my phone out of the van while trying to capture the “perfect shot” of the pride of lions that were only a few feet away, he only faltered for an instant before working out a plan with one of his friends to circle the phone with the vans and then snatch it before the lions realized what had happened. And I know he didn’t hold a grudge, because he gave me my phone back! (Yes, I know–having my phone in my shirt pocket was a dumb thing to do, but I can guarantee, it did NOT happen twice!)

My view as my phone fell out of my pocket.
My view as my phone fell out of my pocket.

Our time in the Maasai Mara was for rest and friendship building. The friendships formed during those first few days came to define our entire journey through Kenya. Our ability to grow our little group of strangers into a band of tightly woven friends so quickly made building relationships with others so much easier than it would have otherwise been.

IMG_9368Our time spent enjoying the sights of The Mara helped create an anticipation for the things to come. Our time spent getting to know Paul helped create an anticipation for the many other people we would meet, and a desire to know each of them better and more completely than just saying “hi,” and “how are you.” Our time in Maasai Mara was for bonding–not only with each other, but in learning how to bond with the land of Kenya and her people. Like a glue that takes time to gel, it is in slowing down and taking time that you learn to grow in relationship with others; this is something Kenyans understand.

IMG_9193It was in our act of slowing down to enjoy the sights and sounds around us, that we were able to learn more about each other and about the land around us. And there was so much more learning and bonding to come…

IMG_9616

The Journey through Kenya Begins–Hope Rises

Our first few days in-country were spent simply allowing us to get our bearings on why we were in Kenya and what we were going to be doing and seeing, as well as a little time spent in getting better acquainted with our fellow travellers.

Our first daytime view of our home away from home, Kijiji Guest House @ African International University.
Our first daytime view of our home away from home, Kijiji Guest House @ African International University.

The first day we paid a quick visit to a local organization that trains women to sew, so that they can better provide for their families. We also visited Heshima Children’s Center, an organization that provides care and education for disabled children and their mothers. The center was on holiday–while the physical, speech, and occupational therapists attended a training seminar–but we were shown around the grounds and told a little bit more about their program and the world they serve.

Widows and single mothers are taught to sew and then given a sewing machine upon graduation from the class.
Widows and single mothers are taught to sew and then given a sewing machine upon graduation from the class.

Children with special needs and disabilities are often cast out of a community along with their mothers. They are often believed to be cursed or bewitched. The fathers believe the mother to be cursed, as well, and often abandon them; leaving the mother to attend to these needy children on their own. They must provide the necessities of life for them and the rest of the family on their own. No one in their extended families or community will aid them because they are considered tainted or evil. The mothers often have no idea how to help their child and often have no money for treatment even if they could find a doctor qualified to treat them.

Heshima Children's Center in Karen, Nairobi, Kenya
Heshima Children’s Center in Karen, Nairobi, Kenya

Heshima is a Swahili word for dignity. Dignity is what the world has stolen from these families and dignity is what Heshima Children’s Center restores to them.

The Heshima motto
The Heshima motto

Heshima takes these children in and provides healthcare, therapy and education for them, while providing the mothers with job training and a job to provide for their needs. The center also drilled a clean water well and provides water to the community in order to show the people that the children are not cursed or bewitched. Although the neighbors of Heshima were hesitant to purchase the water at first, they have decided that Heshima water is sweeter than other water and prefer to get their water at the Heshima well. I’m sure the fact that their water is less expensive is also an incentive.

Views of the neighborhood outside Heshima Children's Center.
Views of the neighborhood outside Heshima Children’s Center.

The rest of the day was spent on a trip into town (the locals’ phrase for a visit into Nairobi city center); an afternoon respite at Java House, one of the local cafes; a visit to a local market; and dinner with Tracey & Erick Hagman, the owners of Heshima.

Our evening with the Hagmans was relaxing and enjoyable. We sat outside on their patio, letting the evening sun set in a beautiful exhibition of deepening color, as we got to know our hosts, and each other, better. The heady scent of jasmine filled the air, intoxicating our already exhausted senses. We were all still very tired from the 27-hour flight across the globe, and there were moments in the lulls of conversation when I would find myself beginning to doze, despite the desire to be fully present in my surroundings.

One of the many machines used in leather sewing.
One of the many machines used in leather sewing.

The second day, we spent visiting with the owners of two small businesses–one a leather goods company and the other a glass art studio. We had travelled to Kenya as representatives of a company called Trading Hope and most of the trip would be spent getting to know budding entrepreneurs. Trading Hope is a young company trying to make a difference in the world through business. To use their own words: “Trading Hope is all about job creation. Jobs here and jobs there. Through job creation, we are able to meet tangible needs of individuals all over the world. Our partners are engaged on the ground, daily to meet these goals. Trading Hope participates in the story by providing a market for their goods and development assistance through business, product and opportunity consulting.

An ornate outdoor chandelier graces the beautiful exterior of this hot glass art studio
An ornate outdoor chandelier graces the beautiful exterior of this hot glass art studio

Trading Hope partners with small businesses throughout the world, providing quality products, which are then marketed and sold in the U.S. through direct sales representatives; thus creating jobs both here and there. They also provide these businesses with pro bono consulting services from top executives in the United States willing to offer their expertise for the growth and expansion of these budding global entrepreneurs.

The glass studio uses only recycled glass for their work. This man is shaping the hot glass using only his bare hand and a pad made of old newspaper, continually sprinkled with water to keep it cool.
The glass studio uses only recycled glass for their work. This man is shaping the hot glass using only his bare hand and a pad made of old newspaper, continually sprinkled with water to keep it cool.

Hope is a commodity in short supply in most poverty-stricken cultures. Without hope, a human soul withers. No solution to the devestating conditions one lives in can be found without the hope that things could improve; without the hope that life can be better. Hope is a lot like yeast in bread dough. A tiny little bit goes a really long way. Just a little bit of hope can season an entire community with the strength to continue fighting for a better life.

The views in Kenya were magnificent!
The views in Kenya were magnificent!

Obviously there is much more than hope involved in the destruction and the building up of a community; but somewhere in the center of the desire to find a better life lies the kernel of hope. That tiny speck, often found in the creative vision of one person, can rise to the surface and grow an entire community, just like a few tiny specks of yeast will grow an entire batch of bread. You just need the right combination of ingredients to create the rising process. This is what Trading Hope is all about–providing those ingredients to grow these budding global entrepreneurs–and this was why we were in Kenya. To find these kernels of hope and help provide the beginning ingredients to rise up a few new businesses in a world needing a little bit of yeast.

A personal favorite--the giraffes!
A personal favorite–the giraffes!

After our brief introduction to what our trip was all about, we spent the next few days on safari in Masai Mara, in order to relax from our flight and to build relationship with each other. What a better way to build friendships than to share quality (and quantity!) time enjoying the incredible world God created! Words cannot adequately express the beauties and wonders we were exposed to while on safari. And even though a picture paints a thousand words, there simply are no photographs or videos that can do ample justice to the incredible world we witnessed those three days. I will share some photos we took on the trip and say that if ever there was a doubt in my mind that there is an Intelligent Creator at work in this universe, that incredibly beautiful place has laid those doubts to rest for me. No accidental combination of cells or universal explosions could have created such perfection. But I leave that up to you to decide; for now, just enjoy the beauty! Next stop on our journey…a few tidbits of fun times in the Masai Mara! Be back soon…

One of the first animals we saw on our visit to the Masai Mara...a water buffalo.
One of the first animals we saw on our visit to the Masai Mara…a water buffalo.
We saw several prides of lions during our safari. So impressive!
We saw several prides of lions during our safari. So impressive!
Even the vultures were magnificent.
Even the vultures were magnificent.
Big brother (cousin?) and little one heading back to the pride.
Big brother (cousin?) and little one heading back to the pride.
Oh my gosh, isn't he adorable?
Oh my gosh, isn’t he adorable?
Sunset as we head back to camp...our first day of safari at an end.
Sunset as we head back to camp…our first day of safari at an end.

Live Life Like You Mean It–Even If It Gets Messy

2013-09-27handsI’m a crowd watcher. As a rather introverted individual, I find crowd watching much preferable to actually drawing people into open conversation–much less threatening to my quiet and mundane existence, I guess. It also entails a lot less energy and allows you to stay comfortably in the middle of your comfort zone; no messy entanglements involved.

On my studio wall, I have a card, signed by dozens of friends and given to me after my cancer treatment. The card reads: “Life–live like you mean it,” and was given to me by a very dear friend–the only known-by-me person who went on my recent adventure to Kenya–my dear friend, Jenn. It was the motto I wanted to live by after facing down death, in the form of cancer, almost four years ago.  And yet, somehow, I’m still just watching crowds.

Jenn and I left the Atlanta airport around 1pm, and then landed in Newark to connect with four of the other women on the trip–our leader was already in Kenya awaiting our arrival.

After we met up with Sheri, she and Jenn carried on a lively getting-to-know-you kind of conversation as we ate lunch–and I watched the crowds. I conversed only enough to not seem too distant, rude or uninterested; after all, as a crowd watcher, Jenn and Sheri were definitely part of the overall observation experience and I was quite interested in their conversation as well as the crowds around us. Just not to the point of entering their sphere of intimacy, I guess.

Besides, I was thrilled with the crowd I was watching. Still in my own country, just a few hundred miles from where I live, I was watching a tiny microcosm of the greater world. People from all walks of life, in all kinds of costume, with all kinds of interesting behaviors had gathered in this place to travel to and from–anywhere, everywhere. People from Europe; people from the Middle East; Orthodox Jews dressed all in black; women in Amish attire–people, quite frankly, from everywhere.

One woman, dressed all in pink from her head to her shoes, clearly one of my Pink Sisters (fellow breast cancer survivor)–either still going through chemo or newly released to the world of treatment-free living as her head was covered in a very attractive bright pink turban–was rather slowly walking down the hall; a tired but satisfied smile on her face. Two elderly people, side by side, in old, worn clothes, carrying old, worn vintage suitcases–the kind from the early 50s–bent and slow and very care-worn, travelling from who knows where to who knows where. All types of people.

2013-09-27vintage-suitcaseAs I watched all these people converging in a tiny mass of humanity within the walls of the Newark Liberty International Airport, I thought about the group of women I would be spending the next two weeks with, while in Kenya–a world away from home. We were seven women, from all parts of the country, from various generations of life. Three in their 20s, three in their 40s, and one in her early 60s. Some married, some single. Some with children grown, one with a baby, some with no children at all. Career women, students, retired women and stay-at-home moms.

2013-09-27IMG_8495Seven different women with seven different lives coming together to spend time in a country not our own, to learn and grow and create relationship–with each other and with the people we would meet along the way. People who also were from all walks of life. Missionaries, ministers, businessmen. Widows, orphans, school children. Women, men and children. Talking, sharing, learning, growing. Beginning as strangers. Leaving as friends.

2013-09-27children2This was the journey I was on–the journey all seven of us were on. To find community half a world away from our own. To make strangers into friends. A messy and somewhat intimidating experience for a very introverted lifelong crowd watcher; but so much richer and rewarding, don’t you think?2013-09-27bombolulu1

When Heaven and Earth Collide

Heaven touches EarthOn September 18, twenty-three years ago, my oldest son was born. He was small, beautiful, and intense. He did everything full throttle. If he needed food or changing or sleep; was cold or hot, uncomfortable or bored, he didn’t cry or moan or whimper he screamed. A loud, piercing scream for every need or desire, no matter how large or small. He had four hours of colicky screaming every night for four full months. He was awake all day, refused naps in any format at any time of day, from birth onward; and when he finally fell asleep in the evenings, it was usually to pass out rather abruptly in his mashed potatoes at the dinner table. When he learned to kiss at three months of age, those were the most intensely wonderful open-mouthed, sloppy, wet kisses any baby could possibly perform.

With his little hands planted firmly on either side of your head, fingers twined through your hair for better leverage, he managed to swallow your entire face in his otherwise tiny mouth–wide open and smiling, laughing and enjoying every minute of his dominion over your life for that moment in time. You always came away overwhelmed, thrilled, laughing…and soaking wet. Becoming a mother opened up a tiny view of heaven into my earthly life, and his big wet kisses were the point of a very messy collision.

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The day before my son’s 23rd birthday, I returned from the experience of a lifetime. I spent twelve incredible days in Kenya with six absolutely terrific women, on a “get-to-know the country and its people” exploration trip. That beautiful country touched me in a way I never thought possible. As I sat in my jet lag stupor, reminiscing about my handsome son’s birth, I realized my time in Africa had hit me just like my son’s sloppy wet kisses–profoundly messy; breathtaking; staggering and powerful in the force of passion, joy and innocent expectation. Once again, heaven and earth collided and again I was shaken to the core.

2013-09-22IMG_9417Yes, Kenya is an earthly place. An earthly country with earthly inhabitants, living very earthly lives. Like other places in the world, there is dirt and filth and corruption; and beauty and innocence and hope. There are good people with good motives doing good things; and bad people with bad motives doing very bad things; and some people with no motives at all, doing very little if anything most of the time. But my time there was marked by the moments when good and bad, earthly and divine came together in a breathtaking instant, filled with surprise and wonder. And most of all, my trip was one of relationship, a building of community and friendship, that I am praying will last for years. Relationship with the beautiful women I shared the journey with, relationship with the incredible people we met along the way. Relationship with a country and a culture that I now long to know better.

My twelve-day adventure to Kenya cannot be told in a few short paragraphs, so you’ll have to bear with me over the next several weeks while I process all that I have seen and experienced on this trip. I promise to share the good and the bad, as well as a little eye candy–the photographs of the amazing landscape and wildlife seen along the way.

2013-09-22IMG_8708Like my son’s incredible, baby kisses, my journey simply cannot impact you the way it did me. It is not in the tellling, but in the living, that our lives are changed. But maybe, in the telling of my journey, you too will choose to step out and discover the wonder of people different from you, to see the worth and the beauty in a culture not your own. Join me on a journey where heaven and earth collide, and may you, too, be changed to the very core of your being.

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As I ready this post for publishing, there has been a tragedy in Nairobi–over 60 people have been killed and dozens more injured in a tragic and senseless shooting. My heart breaks for those involved and grieving, and my prayers go out to the families of those lost.

 

The Great Adventure!

Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Africa! Can’t wait! Check out Trading Hope‘s Facebook page and keep up with the happenings along the way! Should be a really great adventure!

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