2016 Kenya Mission Trip
In August of 2016 eleven members of First Presbyterian Church headed to Kenya to work with the Outreach Foundation to complete adding two classrooms to a school and to finish the construction of a mission church. The members of this team were John Judson, Bethany Peerbolte, David Breeden, Margaret Breeden, Alex Breeden, Chris Breeden, Mary Aho, Jennifer Schlafhauser, Tracy Jo Kaye, Carla Jordan and Katie Blair. What follows is a brief account of the trip.
Wednesday and Thursday, August 3-4: Most of us met at the church at 3:30 am, with everyone ready to go. We loaded our bags and Carl Fischer drove us to the airport. The drive to DTW was uneventful, though we understand that the bus had issues on the way home (sorry about that Carl). Once at the airport, we found Mary who had been dropped off and then we saw a very long line, which it turned out was for several Spirit Airline flights. Ours was much shorter and we quickly made it to the line for group check-in. Even so, when they tried to check us in even though they saw our names on the flight manifest to Dulles, the system would not give us boarding passes. The agent then got on the phone with the help center that diagnosed the problem and we were given our boarding passes. When we arrived at Dulles we once again stood in line to get new boarding passes from Ethiopian Airlines, this time with no issues. The flight to Addis Ababa was about 15 hours. The plane was huge- nine seats across, 12 rows back for each section and at 3 least sections and first class. On each of our seats were a pillow, a blanket, and a pair of headphones. Each seat had a mini tv screen so we could watch movies or play games. We were served at least 3 meals- not just peanuts- and there was free beer and wine! It was a great flight considering how long it was.
While in the Addis Ababa airport Margaret and David Breeden bought some bottles of water and passed them out. Fortunately, we decided to go to our departure gate early because Ethiopian Air had booked us on an earlier flight. The agents hustled us to the right gate where we were assigned new seat numbers…which as it turned out were already taken. Regardless, there were seats and we were on our way to Nairobi. Sadly, David and Katie had to move to first class for the flight. We were all feeling sorry for them! Not! As Carla said often, we just have to love them through it!
The flight to Nairobi was only about an hour and a half. Once on the ground we filled out our entry forms, went through the entry process and then waited for bags. The bags arrived and then it was through customs and on to call Stu Ross, who runs the Outreach Foundation program in Kenya. Unfortunately, Stu had left a number out of the phone number he had given John and so we could not get in touch with him. With the help of a lovely agent at Safaricom (a Kenyan mobile phone company) kiosk in the pick-up area, we got the number for the Presbyterian Church in East Africa (PCEA) headquarters, where the phone operator got us Stu’s phone number. We contacted him and less than 20 minutes later he picked us up. There were two vans and two cars to take us to the compound where we were to stay.
The drive from the airport to the compound took about half an hour. The compound is new and we were the first guests to stay there. It was built in early 2016 by the Outreach Foundation, with Anny (Ann Wanjiru Gituku) as the general contractor. Anny, who lives on the compound with her two children, Haley and Jeremy, works with Stu overseeing many of the Foundation’s projects. They built the compound because the hostel where they had been lodging groups had become undependable in terms of food and accommodations. The compound consists of a guest house with six rooms, a dining hall, a chicken coop, gardens for food crops and a house for Anny and the staff. It is surrounded by a high wall topped with an electric fence. The gate is always locked and there is a guard on duty at all times. The guest house consists of six rooms, each with two double beds. The rooms are in pairs which share a bathroom and a shower. Since the maximum group size is eleven, six rooms is all that are needed.
We were assigned, two to a room, except John who got a room to himself. As soon as our bags were in our rooms we met in the dining hall for an informational session. We were reminded about things such as don’t go out of the compound without an escort, don’t drink the water, use the mosquito nets, how to use the electric hot water heaters in the showers, and an overview of our schedule. Olive and Tom (our cooks) prepared dinner early, about 5:30 so that we could be in bed early. The beds were very comfortable and we all slept well!
Friday, August 5: We were all up for coffee at 6:30am and breakfast at 7:30am. Breakfast included coffee, eggs cooked to order as well as sausages, toast and cereals. The team (except John and Stu) went to the Giraffe Center, where they watched and fed giraffes, then to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Fund Elephant Orphanage and then to Kazuri Bead Factory where they took a tour and bought lots of beads. The Kazuri factory employs 250 single mothers. The pay, hours, and benefits are excellent. The beads are made by hand and then sent all over the world. Next it was on to Art Caffé for lunch, then Nakomatt and to Stu’s house where they looked at crafts offered by a man named Gilbert. Gilbert offers a wide variety of Kenyan crafts to Stu’s groups at a discount.
John, Daniel (who works with Stu) and Stu had meetings all day. First they met with the Secretary General of the PCEA and discussed building projects, the state of the PCEA, changes to Kenyan law which will have long term impacts on PCEA schools (the new constitution is moving the nation toward separation of Church and State. This means that the state may no longer be able to supply teachers to schools built and overseen by religious groups. The state already asked the churches and mosques to turn over their land and buildings. To which the religious organizations said no. This may mean that the church will end up having to supply the teachers, thus running a parallel educational system. If this is the case the church will continue running its schools because they have smaller class sizes and offers better instruction. Some of the state high schools have as many as 100 students in a class and teachers often do not show up because their pay is late.), a new program to train evangelists for the PCEA and about FPC Birmingham’s (FPCB) support of a young woman named Faith Kasoni.
As Stu and John were leaving we met Faith and had an extended conversation with her. During the meeting she showed us her acceptance papers to the Methodist University of Nairobi and I passed on our first financial contribution to her living expenses. We have been supporting her as a health/mission co-worker to the Samburu people of Northern Kenya and are now assisting her in getting her BS in Community Health so that she can expand her work. After lunch John, Daniel and Stu went to the Presbyterian University of East Africa to see the Law books that FPCB and several other churches had provided to the University. At that point they went to Stu’s to look at Gilbert’s goods and then Stu, Daniel and John met with two well drillers to see if they could give the Foundation a better deal on water well drilling. Eventually everyone made their way back to the compound for dinner and bed.
Saturday, August 6: We were all up early because we had a long drive to Maasai Land to visit two of the projects run by the Foundation. The first was a girls’ rescue center. It consisted of several dorms, and a dining hall and currently has 72 girls in residence. Fifty-six of the girls have been rescued or ran away from home in order to stay at the center. The rescued girls are usually fleeing early marriage (often as young as age eight), female genital mutilation (FGM) or a lack of food at home. Two recently arrived girls, aged 8 and 10, walked 15 and 20 km, respectively to be there. The girls have been rescued by the local chieftain, who discovered that they were to be married early (which is against the law) or were to face not only FGM (which is also against the law), the local law authorities, or even parents who cannot feed them. Part of the process of rescuing girls is to work with the church and government (police) to restore the relationship between the girls and their parents, while still allowing the girls to remain at the school. The other 16 girls are paying students who board there. There is currently a waiting list for paying students because the girls are given structure, love and guidance which they were not getting at home…the result of which is that the girls from the center are scoring the best grades in the local schools, meaning they will be able to go to university and become successful in the wider world. The woman who started and continues to run the center is Beatrice Sakuda. Her two children grew up at the center after her husband was killed in a traffic accident. She is a committed Christian who instills not only faith but confidence in the girls. Beatrice teaches them that they do not have to be victims of their culture but can be anything they want to be.
At one point the center was supplied by electricity through solar panels, given by a friend in the United States. That system no longer works which means the girls cannot study at night, which was beginning to impact their scores. Fortunately, the state had brought power out beyond the school. Our group pooled our funds and donated the money needed ($600) to connect the school with the state power-grid. While we were at the center the girls sang and danced for us (including a song they learn that empowers them to reach for their dreams) and we sang for them. They joined us in one of the songs. Before we left, we gave them soccer balls (which they immediately put to use) and Tracy took a group picture of the girls and then pictures of any of the girls who wanted an individual picture (Tracy stayed up late printing those pictures so Stu can take them back to the center). Many of these girls had never had a picture taken of them.
We left the girl’s center at about 11am and headed back toward the compound so we could visit a boy’s rescue home, Comet House, which was started by Anny and the Foundation. The facilities were paid for by Anny’s brother who works for IBM in the United States, and the Foundation. The center is licensed by the state to care for up to 24 boys. They currently have funding for only about half of that. The center has been in business for about two years. They recently received their youngest child who was two years old. The boy was severely malnourished and not talking. He is now 3 and is moving toward being on appropriate developmental levels. We had lunch there and then headed back to the compound.
After dinner Faith Kasoni joined us and told her incredible story. She is Samburu, (Samburu are pastoralists who live outside of villages in the north of the country where they follow their goats, cows and camels) and was the first girl from her tribe to refuse FGM. This made her an outcast and she had to flee her family and former friends (her friends unfriended her because she refused FGM) for almost 10 years in order to avoid being forced into the practice. In the meantime, she earned a certificate in Community Health which she eventually used to work with Samburu other than her original community. Though they all knew that she was “that girl” who refused FGM, they allowed her to teach their girls, pregnant women and young mothers about health issues. Though she could not speak out against FGM directly, when girls asked her, she told them that they could choose what they wanted for their own bodies…because the government has outlawed FGM. Faith then talked about the foundation she is creating for girls’ empowerment in the Samburu areas which will use other women as teachers, as well as her plans for her continuing education (a BS in Community Health). She stayed the night and then headed for her home area to finish up her work with Irish missionaries.
Sunday August 7: This was church day. We slept in, had breakfast and headed for Karen Church, the church Stu and Linda paid for in honor of Stu’s mother. We were some of the first people to arrive. The building was made of stone with a mabati roof (meaning corrugated steel). It would seat about 200 people. They had screens for music, a praise band (very African sound) but no choir this Sunday. The service was scheduled for two hours and they were precise in ending at exactly two hours. One part of the service is called “presentation” during which the choir presents. We were the choir. They appreciated our two Swahili songs. The elder (the minister has three churches and was at one of the others that Sunday) preached for exactly thirty minutes…a nice, well-constructed three-point sermon. He was funny and engaging. The service also included other hymns, some familiar and some not. They read all of the announcements expecting people to write them in their bulletins. They also shared a health tip for the week- something we all thought was interesting!
After the service we were welcomed, along with the other visitors, into a visitors’ tent where we were served fruit and tea (always with milk). After church we drove to a mall, which was almost next door. The mall was a three-story, outdoor mall with a central square. The shops carried everything that any well-heeled Kenyan or foreign national would want. To get into the mall the car was checked by security guards, something that happens at every mall. We had lunch at a nice pizza place. The mall had Segways, “animals” which children could ride which moved when the children bounced up and down on them, a small lake where people could rent inflatable kayaks and a host of high-end stores and restaurants. The people there were Muslims, Hindus, black, white and everything in between. We even saw a Muslim family (all dressed in white robes) chowing down at the Subway Restaurant. There were also many interracial couples wandering around…some older white men with younger and well-dressed African women and some African men with Anglo wives. All in all, a very fascinating place.
John sat at the table with two of Stu’s African children (who are now adults), Lucy and Maggie. They talked about their college studies (college is more like junior college here) and the careers they have been pursuing. Like many millennials here, they have moved from one job and career to another (as I write this the chickens in the coop next door are in an uproar). They are both self-supporting and have dreams of what they would like to become. The issue they face, like many other Kenyans, is that unemployment is about 10-15% and underemployment is even higher. Even so, their English is excellent and they are college graduates which gives them some advantages.
Monday August 8: We got an early start because we had a long drive to the school where we would be building the additional two classrooms. The school was in the town of Olongai in the county of Sultan Hamoud. Olongai is in the Maasai Land, which meant that the students and their parents are all Masaai, whose wealth and status is based on their animals including cattle and goats. The land had originally been unfenced because it was all seen as common land. Recently however it has begun to be divided by tribes and fenced. This means it will be more difficult for many of the wild animals to migrate.
Most of the trip was on decent roads, first on the Nairobi bypass and then on the major highway (2 lane) to Mombasa. Once we reached the town of Sultan Hamoud we began to look for places to stay. The first hotel was too dirty. The second did not have enough rooms. Many of the rooms were taken by railroad workers (Kenya is building a new railroad that goes from Mombasa and ends up in Uganda. It is intended to relieve much of the truck traffic on the highways). We decided to see if there was room for us at the PCEA training center which is next to the school on which we would be working. The paved road quickly turned into dirt roads, which were actually in better condition than Stu had predicted. They had been improved in order to carry the truck traffic from a cement plant which was beyond the school. Along the way people saw gazelles and ostriches. When we arrived the teachers were nice enough to move out of their rooms for one night in order that we could stay at the training center.
A note about the school and church. The school and church are a project of the community, the church and the Outreach Foundation. We at First Presbyterian Church pay half the cost of each structure. The rest of the money comes from the community and another partner church in Nairobi (St. Andrews). This is a great effort from a rural Maasai community such as the one in which we built the school and a working class congregation in Tala where we built the church. The community digs the trenches for the foundation and provides for the mason. The steel building frame and the windows are prefabbed at Outreach Foundations warehouse. These are brought to the site along with the mabati (or corrugated steel). The community puts up the frame and roof. Our task is to put up the walls and paint the windows and frame. All of this takes place within three weeks from start to finish.
The school consisted of two small buildings which were in terrible condition and were far too small for the number of students. In fact, the school could use an additional 2-5 classrooms beyond the ones we were to build. The foundation, frame and roof were already present when we arrived. Our job was to install the walls (made of mabati or corrugated steel) and paint all of the windows. We began after lunch and completed about 90% of the mabati and almost all of the painting. All day long the children and adults were present and carefully watching what we were doing. Tracy spent an hour or so later in the day taking pictures of the children and showing them to the children. They were fascinated and squealed with excitement. We worked until about 4:30 when we headed back to the training center. We were then challenged to a volley ball game with the faculty of the center. We divided up with some people from FPCB and the school on each team. We played an initial three games, then some of the old people took a break. Their spots were quickly filled by other staff members. They played until dark when we broke to assign rooms and then had dinner. There had been about an hour or so of electricity but the generator broke down. Which was just as well because after dinner there was a bonfire where Stu talked about how he got into the mission business and then some of the PCEA people told African folk tales. At about 10 pm we all headed off to bed…no showers…but we were up for it. We made sure that there was toilet paper in “three holer” in case someone needed to use the restroom during the night. One upside to the outhouse was that one of the stalls had a wooden seat so people did not have to squat. The women really appreciated that!
Tuesday August 9: We were all up by about 7am with many of us taking some time to wander around in the cool of the morning watching a wide variety of birds which inhabit the scrub. Breakfast followed and then we were invited to the morning devotionals with the staff. We could hear the staff singing, in harmony mind you, before we made it to the building. Once there we sang our Swahili songs and John was asked to offer a devotional, which he did. Following his devotional one of the elders gave a twenty minute, three-point sermon from Micah 6. It was very good. We then headed back over the worksite where we finished the mabati, scraped the excess paint from the windows, installed and painted the blackboards and generally finished up the project. At the same time, we were finishing, the mason was putting a concrete covering on all of the cinder blocks which made up the base of the wall and the walls under the windows. As we were finishing Tracey got all of the children together and took a class photo which had never been done before.
The community, in appreciation for what we had done, planned a lunch for us, including roasted goat which they had slaughtered for the occasion. Before the lunch however we went to the dedication of the building. There was a succession of speakers from the parents, the school board, the school and the church. My only part was to give the school supplies that we brought to the school board. The most excitement came from the dictionaries and the pencils. Evidently pencils are always in short supply. The grateful parents then gave handmade Maasai necklaces to all of us. The last official act was a picture of the school leaders, Stu and myself. We retired to eat lunch, pack up and then head back to the compound. On the way back to Anny’s, we saw a group of 5 Twigas, or giraffes, right on the side of the road. One was happily posing for pictures! It was amazing!
Wednesday August 10: The day began cloudy and rainy. We could hear the rain, even if light, pounding on the mabati roofs. This was a day to sleep in because we were not leaving until 9:30. After breakfast and coffee, we headed to the Karai Orphanage, School and Vocational Center. The center was founded about 20 years ago as a community project with support from German agencies. For the first two to three years it was poorly run (at one point the cooks were taking much of the food given for the children for their own families…which were hungry as well…so the children often did not have enough to eat) and had about 16 girls and a few boys. Most of the boys were orphans because their parents had died of AIDS and there were no relatives who would care for them.
About 18 years ago Stu and his wife Linda and the Outreach Foundation became involved. They built better facilities, improved the quality of food distribution and increased the number of children at the facility to about 30. Along the way Stu and Linda “adopted” three of the children and provided for their high school and college educations. They still consider Stu and his recently deceased wife Linda, to be their parents. In 2007 all of this changed. The Outreach Foundation had an orphanage for boys in the northern part of Kenya. Following the Kenyan elections of 2007 there were riots in that area and the entire complex (dorms, classrooms and church) were burned to the ground. The locals in this area assumed that the orphanage was Kikuyu and thus “the enemy” even though most of the children were from the local area. The children lived in tents for 8 months until Stu realized that with some work the Karai Orphanage could be expanded to include all of the children. With help from churches and the Foundation more dorms were built and almost 127 children made the trip south. Many of the children were still traumatized by the destruction of their home and had a difficult time adjusting to their new location.
Today the orphanage takes in three kinds of children. They take true orphans whose parents are dead and who have no relatives to care for them. They also take in “street children” from Nairobi. These children have been turned out to live on the streets with no one to care for them. Some of these children are as young as four years old. The children are first taken into rescue centers in Nairobi where they go through drug and alcohol detox, because most use drugs to deal with the harshness of their lives. They are then sent by the state to the orphanage. Many of these children run away back to the streets, and are then brought back. In the end most choose to stay. The last group of children they take in are poverty children; those whose parents cannot feed them. In addition, the orphanage has its own school where they take paying boarders and paying day students. They do so in order to pay the bills and hopefully make the orphanage and school self-supporting. The students are given love, guidance, structure, healthy food and an education. Some of their graduates are now successful out in the world and often visit to encourage the children who are currently in the orphanage.
Five years ago the German supporters and The Outreach Foundation (TOF) partnered to create a vocational training center. In the center students can learn carpentry, dressmaking, hair dressing and electronics. The school is accredited by the state and they prepare their students to take the state examinations in these areas. This vocational center is the most advanced in the area and perhaps in the country. They have the latest woodworking machines on which to learn and a wonderful electronics training facility…which they are getting ready to expand. The dress making program still uses non-electric sewing machines because most of the graduates will only use peddle pumped machines in their careers. The dress making students and the woodworking students turn out products which are sold with the money going to support the school and their education. The school raises all of its own food (they have 13 acres) and sells the excess. They also have the only operating water well in the community. The water is sold at going rates and brings in a great deal of money for the school. The community has two other government wells…both broken…with the money for their repair being pocketed by local officials. It was interesting to see the continuous stream of donkeys pulling the cart with the water jugs waiting to be filled. We had lunch with some of the staff after our tour. The last thing we did was present the school with 10 new soccer balls which were greatly appreciated by the teachers and administration (their soccer team won the local championship and so more balls will help them continue to improve).
After lunch we all headed for the mall and the Nakomatt (a very nice grocery store) where Stu shopped for the compound and the rest of us bought things we needed. One of the most interesting things in the store were several shelves of Barbie dolls…all white and blond. Then it was back to the compound to get ready for dinner.
Thursday August 11: this was an early morning with breakfast at 6am so we could be on the road by 7. Breakfast was the usual wonderful affair and then we piled into the car and van and we were off to work on the church. The church is located in Tala which is in the Kamba tribal area. The church has been meeting for ten years in a mabati lean-to and had grown to about 35 people in weekly worship. Many people in the area are interested in the church but because it met in a temporary structure they would not join. It is part of a seven church field with one pastor who preaches at one church a week. The other churches have a sermon from an evangelist or an elder. We met one of the evangelists, Judith, who has been through three training programs and preaches on a regular basis. She was dressed in a beautiful Kenyan dress and is pregnant but immediately picked up a paint brush and started helping Mary and Carla paint the church doors. The trip took us down a familiar path via the bypass to the Mombasa highway. This time we only traveled about an hour down the road before we turned off and made our way into Tala where the road ended in the middle of a major highway project. It turned out that the church was almost right next to the new highway, which will make growth much easier.
We arrived and the church was not nearly as finished as Stu expected. The floor had been poured two days before and the exterior lower walls were still being finished. Fortunately, the frame was up and the roof on. As we scoped it out we realized that one side of the building was no more than a foot off of a hedge which divided the property from its neighbors. Getting to the building to both put up the mabati and to do the painting would be an effort. Even so, the mabati team got busy and put up most of the mabati (the small section on the front of the church was left for the next day) and the painters worked around the foundation work and the mabati hanging in order to finish most of the windows, doors and frames. One issue was that the glazing had been done the day before and so was not set enough to paint. We had both tea (tea and bread) and lunch (fried kale, sort of a beef stew and ugali…a paste like bread made from water and maize.) We left early because Stu had to take his grandson Jacob, who had been working with us, to the airport and we were expecting previously bought crafts to be delivered. On the way back to the compound, we passed a group of zebras. After dinner we learned how to make chapati, which is like a tortilla made with flour, pumpkin, water and oil.
Friday August 12: Our day did not begin as early as usual since we had completed so much work the day before. The trip was about an hour and half without a lot of traffic. We picked up Rafael (Stu’s construction foreman) again on our way. He lives well out of Nairobi off of the Mombasa Highway and waits by the highway until we pick him up. We arrived at the site and divided into three teams. Team one worked on completing the mabati on the front as well as finishing installing all of the upper screws (the mabati has three levels of screws, bottom, middle and top). Team two continued painting the remaining windows and touchup work on some inner beams and doors. Team three began sweeping out the water that was still on the floor. Since the floor was newly poured they had been keeping it wet. However, since the dedication was the next day all of the water needed to be swept out…along with the debris that was on the floor. We swept with traditional African brooms which are short and force one to bend over to use them. In the middle of the sweeping we came upon twigs from some shrubs that lined the backside of the church. We were told that their sap is poisonous and so we needed to be careful. One of the sweeping team wore gloves in order to pick them up. We took a short break for tea, and baked sweet potato. We worked until lunch at almost 2 when we had stewed cabbage, rice and a potato stew. It was very good and several of us went back for seconds. One of the things about all of the places where we built was that their toilets were “squatty potties” with a hole in a concrete floor. By the end of our time most of us were pretty good at using them.
We had brought a lot of t-shirts that we created for the team. We had so many that we gave them not only to the church members who helped but all of the workmen. They wore them with pride the rest of the day. We even had a couple for some children who helped us. We took some team photos as well which included a number of the Tala church members and workers. One of the interesting things about our drives is that the van always managed to see Zebras while those in Stu’s truck did not. It may be because the van driver is a safari driver and is able to see what most of us can’t. Also it many have been because Stu and John are always busy talking…often about Kenya but also about San Antonio where Stu lives when he is not in Africa. On the way home we stopped at one of the hundreds of roadside stands and bought some really nice avocados…which will be turned into guacamole for dinner. After dinner there was card playing, journal writing and coloring.
Saturday August 13: Saturday was dedication day for the Tala Church. We left the compound at about 8 am and headed back to a very familiar route to the Mombasa Highway. The traffic was not bad and so we made the trip in about 90 minutes. We were told to be there by 9:30 in order for the presbytery to convene and then for the service to begin by 10:00. Needless to say this was an event run on Kenya time. Most of the ministers began arriving by 10:15 or so and they had tea for us at 10:30. By eleven o’clock the ministers met to robe in preparation for the service. Then they went outside and met with everyone present so that the minister in charge could begin the process of getting someone to volunteer for each part of the service. That took about twenty minutes. Only then did we all move to the front of the church. The minister in charge evidently forgot his glasses and so could not find the right place in the prayer book for the church dedication service. After several minutes he came across the right liturgy and we began. He knocked on the door with his “leader stick” and asked to be let in. The elder in charge of the church opened the door and we entered in procession…ministers first followed by elders and then congregants.
The music began with the praise team offering several long but very fun African songs. Members of other congregations were present and provided the music and much of the worship leadership because the church members at Tala work six days a week and could not be present on Saturday. We were dedicating on Saturday because Sunday was going to be the installation of their new minister. The service continued with the usual order of things…announcements, prayers, our giving to the church the items we brought (communion ware, bibles, hymnals, banners and the like). They received them then blessed them, along with the pulpit, communion table (an old wooden desk that was shellacked) and the plastic chairs that we paid for. There was then the Apostles’ Creed and prayer for the children (which John led), scripture (some read by Bethany) and sermon (very short for a Kenyan sermon) which focused on the six things that the church ought to be. At that point the host church presented all of us with gifts. The women got silver beaded purses and the men got belts in Kenyan national colors. We also got an elephant stool carved out of ebony. John was also presented with a cross made out of beads in Kenyan flag colors. After a little more singing and benediction, we were out. At that point we gave the Sunday School teacher soccer balls for him to use with the children. Finally, one of the Kenyan elders moved that the presbytery adjourn. The motion passed and we headed to lunch, which was rice, roasted goat and some sort of bean corn mixture where the beans and corn were still hard. We ate, watched the children play some soccer and then headed back to the compound. Along the way we stopped again for avocadoes and we got six for less than a dollar. Once again, on cue, the dazzle of zebras was grazing right on our way!
Once back in the compound most of the team began packing for safari even though we would not be leaving until Monday morning.
Sunday August 14: After a nice breakfast we headed out to church where we met the team from Stone Mountain Tennessee. We learned rather quickly a few of the differences between our Presbytery and theirs, the Evangelical. I was impressed that they were there. Their flight did not arrive until about 4am (without their luggage which was in Chicago) and they were at church by 9:30am. The worship was led by the children’s brigade (a uniformed Christian children’s ministry that promotes faith and health). The preacher was one of their leaders who told some stories and had some nice illustrations. The role of the Devil was a prominent theme. Rather than staying for the tea time we went to the restaurant at the mall. This allowed me to get some more cash and another phone card. Once back at the compound we all repacked because we can only take one small bag (and a camera bag) on the flight to the safari. Most of us left extra clothes and supplies for Anny and Stu to distribute to those in need. Stu also asked if we had extra towels since the Stone Mountain group hadn’t gotten their luggage yet. Anny’s staff washed the ones we collected so Stu could give them to the other group. The rest of our bags stayed at the compound and would be brought to us at the airport so that we can repack for the flight home. Dinner was good as usual and then folks headed to bed with dreams of wild animals in their heads.
Monday August 15: The day dawned cool but not rainy. We were up early because we knew that we were supposed to be packed up and out of the door by 8:3am. When 8:15a.m. arrived, we realized that we did not have enough transportation to get us all to the airport. We quickly unloaded Anny’s car and loaded it with some of our bags. Morris took the lead in the van and we followed. Anny was a bit confused with Morris because he was driving the van well below the speed limit. Regardless we arrived at Wilson Airport (where all the safari planes are housed) at 9:30am which was the agreed upon time. We went through security, got our boarding passes and waited. Our plane was about 45 minutes late but since the flight was less than an hour we were soon on the ground in the Mara. Our drivers picked us up and after a warm hand towel and a glass of juice and a snack, we had a mini-safari on our way to the hotel. We saw quite a few animals such as zebra and wildebeest but the highlight was the appearance of a lioness in the middle of the road. She just looked around and watched us and then went under the road into a wooded area. Our guides wondered if she was pregnant and was finding a place to make her den. That preview was great- we had no ideas what was about to come! At about 4pm we headed out on our first official game drive. We saw thousands of wildebeests on their migration, a lioness with three cubs, every kind of antelope in the park, zebra and giraffes. On our arrival back in camp we were greeted with an already in progress Maasai dance group presentation. Dinner was an enormous all you can eat buffet and then we headed off to bed as we had an early morning safari.
Tuesday August 16: The group gathered by 6:30am and we were off. Soon after we were on the road, our driver Daniel (who is Maasai) took off like a flash. He let us know that a black rhino had been spotted (there are only 38 left in the park). We arrived only to see it vanish into the brush. Daniel was not to be deterred and so we drove to the far side of the brush and there it was. We got to see a rhino as close as about 20 feet...but had to move away because it was ready to charge the vehicle. It was only the first of our amazing morning encounters. Next we came upon a male lion who stayed in the open for almost half an hour. As he moved so did we so we could experience his power and majesty. We then moved on looking for elephants and found two large groups…just as they were moving from one area of brush to another. Amazingly, we had seen four out of the big five (lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhino and elephant) by morning’s end. Not bad. We resumed our hunt in the afternoon, but this time we focused on hippos. The drivers knew where to go and so we headed to the Mara river. At one bend we found a large crocodile sunning on the shore and at another we found a bunch of hippos swimming and snorting. We were up on a cliff but still close enough that we could tell how large they were. As we headed back we saw both hyenas and jackals. This was of course in addition to the many zebra and wildebeests that are in the migration. We drove through the middle of one group that was walking down the road and watched them all scatter. We were lucky enough to see another male lion just sitting in the brush- he even yawned as we left for the night.
Wednesday August 17: This was the day we were leaving but we had one more morning game drive. The goal for this day was to find a leopard. Unfortunately, we were not able to find one. What we did find were more elephants, giraffe and two cheetahs. The cheetahs were in the tall grass and were difficult to see. Alex lost his hat out of the truck, so we asked our driver to go back and get it. As we were turning back around, the cheetahs started running. We had a front row seat to their leisurely walk across the road and then as they laid down for a nap. The other van had gone ahead before the cheetahs moved, but luckily they came flying down the road in time to see the beautiful cats up close. We got back about nine, had a quick breakfast, packed and headed to the airstrip. Our plane was a 15 passenger Otter that flew at a maximum height of 9,000 feet, which meant that we were able to see everything below us. Our friends from the Outreach Foundation were waiting for us with the rest of our luggage, and we repacked on the sidewalk. We were then hustled to the Nairobi airport where we boarded our flight to Addis Ababa. It was another giant plane. This time we were given a pillow, a blanket, headphones and a little bag that had an eye mask, socks and a toothbrush and toothpaste. It was late so most of us were able to sleep for the first leg of the flight. Thirty-four hours (from leaving the Mara) we were back home, with Julie Wagner and Cindy Judson meeting us. It was good to make it home but we will miss all of the Kenyan friends we made along the way.
We met many amazing people during our stay- and some amazing women and children who will make a difference to their country. Everywhere we went, the children would say, “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good. And all of God’s people say, Amen.