Friday, August 31, 2012

God's Story

One of the things I have learned and grown to love over the last few years is how God is writing His story across generations, nations and cultures in the lives of people.  I mentioned yesterday about how I fell in love with so many of the people I met on my trip.  During the retreat we were each part of a discussion group.  We ate together, we prayed together and we discussed what we were learning during our time together.  Being a relational person I loved all this togetherness.  Sharing the pictures of my family at home, trying to learn some Swahili, finding out about their families, friends, schooling and ministry.  I was touched deeply by the people in my group.

Ann, me, Dorthy, Chrissy, Leah, Ochieng (Fredrick)

God used the people in my group (and so many other leaders I met) to encourage me, challenge me and strengthen my faith.  This retreat was not attended by the faint of heart, it was attended by people who are serious about their faith, about their ministry and about their nation coming to know Christ as Lord.  Each person I encountered was open, honest and vulnerable about what God means to them and what He is doing in their lives.  There were no false pretenses, no emotional guards, no surface niceties.  I have never experienced the depth of connection and vulnerability in such a short time as I did with these people.  It truly was an amazing experience and I am blessed to have been a part of it.

We enjoyed moments of fun, relaxation, reflection, challenge, praise, worship encouragement and unity.  During one worship time we took time to reflect on who God is.  We spent a period of time just saying out loud "God Is...." Worshiping, honoring and glorifying God together.  We ended that time of worship by singing 10.000 Reasons (Matt Redman).

 "Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name"

We also learned to praise and worship African style.  Of course I had to bring some of that home and share it with you.

The last part of the retreat was for each person in attendance to trace their hand on a piece of paper and write down their prayer requests.  After writing down the requests we took time to walk around and pray over every persons requests.  I was able to place my hand on the hand of my Kenyan brothers and sisters and pray to God on their behalf.  And they did the same for me!  Let me just tell you I was blown away by the passion, the vulnerability, the depth and the fervor that happened that day.  It was a truly sacred time.  I felt the heartbeat for the country of Kenya, the passion for their families and friends and their ministry mindset for the students they work with.

There were so many great moments on the retreat, moments God ordained for each person who was present and many that will go unspoken. The take home for me (and possibly you) is that God is working in people's lives. He is willing to write His story of redemption on every heart that is open to Him.  When we take time to understand someone else's story and when we take time to share our story with others, then we can see life transformation happen.  Transformation starts with me; with my face to face relationship with my Savior and with my willingness to be in face to face relationships with others.  I am blessed to have learned and been a part of so many other people's stories and pray that all of us would engage in life together.  It is both the beauty and the mess that makes a story complete.  Let us not forget to share with one another.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Spirtual Retreat

After club on Friday night (Aug. 10th if you are tracking with me) we walked to James' house then went to a restaurant to eat dinner. We ate the buffet they offered and had our first taste of the most common Kenyan dish - ugali.  It is a thick, polenta-style cornmeal porridge.  We enjoyed eating outside just after a huge rainstorm. One thing I have failed to mention so far is that the weather in Kenya at this time of year is much colder than I was expecting. I sure was glad to have packed a jacket.  I even borrowed a polar fleece from another girl on the trip. After eating we headed back to the hotel to get a good night's rest.

We needed to be up and ready by 8am but I found myself up around 5:30am.  I just couldn't sleep even though my body really needed it.  I stayed in bed and prayed for awhile then headed out to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  I looked over the scripture and notes that I was going to share at the leadership retreat later that day and prayed that God would use me to encourage these men and women who work so hard for the advancement of the gospel among Kenyan high school students. To say that I was feeling inadequate to the task is over simplifying it.  I am passionate about God's Word, I love to teach but I was a bit overwhelmed by this.  I knew I had to trust in and rely on God completely and really, is there anything I do in life that this shouldn't be the the case!?! Lesson learned God.  Lesson learned.

We traveled many broken down and bumpy roads to the retreat center that would be our home for the next day and a half and got right to work when we arrived.  We decorated the meeting/eating area and tried to make the atmosphere of the camp one of excitement, refreshment and rejuvenation for those who would attend.  Soon after we got the camp set up YL leaders started to arrive.  Some of our team members taught the leaders how to play four square and just about everyone got in on at least 1 good game.  So fun to enjoy laughing together and bonding over a simple game.  We got to see the larger than life personalities of some of these leaders and really just fell in love with the people we met.  

Where all the meals and many small group discussions happened.

Large group area

Bed for the night,

James (on looking) Ernest, Matt, Courtney and Zach

Zach teaching the leaders some games they could use in club

Little Sally Walker and Jackie Chan anyone?

The format of the retreat was about the same for each session. 1. Games (both American and African) 2. Worship and Praise (American team then African leaders) 3. Teaching. 4. Group discussion 5. Break

Really though, it didn't feel to me like there were American leaders and African leaders.  For me it felt like we were all just worshipers of God who love Jesus and want others to know about Him.  I am still amazed at the depth and maturity of the leaders we met.  They came to the retreat ready to learn, grow and apply what they heard to their lives.  Tomorrow I will share more about the spiritual journey on the retreat and how amazed I am at God's story being written on the lives of so many of my Kenyan brothers and sisters. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Young Life Club in Africa

After resting and eating our team spent some time reading and discussing Proverbs 3:5-6 and then praying.   It was an encouraging time and helped us prepare for the spiritual retreat we would be leading for Young Life leaders the next day.  James (a Young Life Director) picked us up to take us to Young Life Club.  We all packed in our matatu and headed to club.  Not having had time to meet and prepare the music for the retreat ahead of time the guitar and our voices were heard belting out different worship songs in a van on the streets of Nairobi.  Fun times!

We arrived at club and jumped right in to meet local YL leaders and students.  We spent some time meeting and talking to the students who showed up.  The students were interested in knowing everything about us and about America so conversations were easy to start.  Club kicked off with a few games and antics.  "Nyama, Nyama, Nyama" (meat, meat, meat) was a soon to be favorite.  We also learned a few other dances & songs that would resurface again and again during our time in Kenya.

Ernest (a YL leader) shared about what God was doing in his life and offered a prayer.  Then our team was asked to sing.  Another team member led the group in the song Trading my Sorrows which the students joined in singing.  We taught the students the "Let's Go, Mountaineers" cheer and attempted to sing Country Roads.  I say attempted because I was leading it and messed up the lyrics and when we started over again we started too high for most of the team.  Oh well. Noting like laughter to make closer friends.

Getting to know students

Picture of the club building with students

I know the quality of the video is absolutely horrible but thought some of you may enjoy it anyway.  Let's Go...Mountaineers!

Club was great and from what I was told it is run very much like YL club in America.  Amazing to see God working throughout the world in so many different ways and in so many different people's lives.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Africa Bound

After our walking tour of Amsterdam we boarded our plane for Nairobi, Kenya.  This was another overnight flight and I actually did sleep off and on for most of the flight.  Though the sleep was not continuous or as restful as in my own bed it did help me feel a bit more human.  When we arrived in Nairobi it took us 2 hours plus to go through customs, get our visas and collect our luggage but we were all so grateful and excited to be in Africa.  For 10 years I had wanted to place my feet on the ground on the continent that had stolen part of my heart and once I did, it felt great.

The first thing that surprised me was just how African it felt to me.  Nairobi is significantly larger than Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and so I was expecting that it would be far more developed and less like what I had experienced 10 years prior but there were so many similarities.  The streets, houses, buildings and people lived in a similar environment and I felt at home.  The one nice difference was that Kenya's national language is English so there was very little language barrier.  As we drove from the airport to our hotel we were easily able to converse with the driver and ask about the sights we were taking in.  I enjoyed that drive and loved seeing the deep red clay streets, tin roofs and miscellaneous goats and chickens along the streets.

I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our hotel.  It was so nice! The accommodations were great as we had access to bottled/clean water, hot showers, nice cushy beds, flushing toilets and even had WiFi in the hotel lobby.  Our team decided to shower and take a nap before eating and having a team meeting.  This was both a good and a bad idea.  It felt great to take a nap but it was so incredibly hard to get up!  While my roommate set an alarm for us to get up we were the first and only ones who did get up.  In fact, we ended up waking everyone else up as they all over slept.  This was the first indication that we were now living on "African time".  As the trip progressed we all learned that time is relative to relationships as relationships take precedence over any time constraints.

First sign I saw after leaving the airport.

Our bedroom at the hotel in Nairobi.

Breakfast we ate before taking our nap.

Random goat roaming the streets.

Nice view of houses.

Hotel lobby.

A van (Matatu) is what drives people where they need to go.

Street shot.

Another view out our window while driving.

City Streets.
Tomorrow I will share about our first night in Kenya.  We attended a Young Life Club and it was great.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Journeys and Traveling

In the past 3 weeks I have traveled by car, van, plane, bus, train and matatu (more on that later) to 3 different continents.  I'll be the first to admit that traveling is both exciting and exhausting.  When you spend hours in an airport for a layover, when the urge to find a perpendicular position to sleep in overwhelms you and when you are pretty sure you smell and look as bad as you think you do the romanticism of being a world traveler has a tendency to wear off. But...the journey is worth it.  Over the next several posts I will share not only some funny and interesting stories about the trip I took to Kenya but also the spiritual and emotional journey that took place.

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." -- Miriam Beard  

I began this journey with a team of 9 other people from West Virginia.   I had met everyone just once but for me that's part of the fun.  I like the challenge and excitement of forming new relationships and friendships. As the rest of the team is from the southern part of the state they traveled through Fairmont to pick me up on the way to Washington Dulles International Airport.  Easy conversations, strange text messages and a quick stop for some Chick-fil-a made the time pass easily enough.

When we arrived at the airport we unloaded our luggage (all 20 pieces plus carry-on's) and headed towards the check in counter. Now I know that not everyone may care about every little detail concerning this trip but I make mention of the luggage because it was the first answer to prayer.  We were under the impression that we could only check one piece of luggage.  When we found out that we could in fact check 2 pieces we were relieved because our luggage was full of cases of bible's that we were taking.  Every one of the small carry-on suitcases would have been overweight so being able to check them saved us a lot of money.  The young man who was checking our baggage also let some overweight luggage through as he asked if what we were taking was for charity. Yes, the soccer balls, frisbees, ropes and other misc. items were definitely going to be put to good use.

Our first flight from Dulles to Amsterdam was on time and relatively uneventful.  Though I had taken a Tylenol PM to help me sleep, my excitement, nervousness and desire to catch up on some pretty cool in-flight movies {grins} kept me awake most of the flight.  We arrived in Amsterdam with about 12 hours to see the sights so we exchanged some money and set out to conquer the sights of the city.  We took the train to central station and then set out walking through the streets.  It was pretty early when we got there so we were able to see Amsterdam wake up. 

I wish I had some really great photos of Amsterdam or some other great story to share about how cool this layover was but I don't.  I was so tired and so incredibly ready for Kenya that the "cool factor" of Amsterdam was completely lost on me.  I felt awful all day long and the walk through the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam made my heart very heavy.  (I am still processing through that experience.)  I am however happy to share that other team members had a very enjoyable time there and that they would have high endorsements for the city.

More to come tomorrow!