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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sights and Smells from the Street

     Today as I sat in worship at Eastleigh I couldn't help but let the Swahili that was being spoken fade into the background as my eyes shifted to those gathered around me and my mind drifted off to ponder their lives.  My words do not adequately express the hurt I see crowded around me.  Worn clothes that are clumped and caked with dirt, oil and a menagerie of other substances, as if they come from a nightmare goodwill shop, lay draped over the bodies of cut, beaten and bruised young men and women.  A plethora of intermingled smells of petrol, glue and sweat rise from the gathered mass wafting there way down the corridor to mix with the unearthly smells coming from the street.  The eyes of some of the young men peer at you vacantly, trying to focus through the haze of their most recent high, wanting to recognize you and just greet you with your name.  Many a hand has a cut or bruise and many feet have sores or injuries that force them to hobble along in shoes to small or so worn that it might be better to go barefoot.  And yet, so many of them look at you with a smile and greet you with a fist bump and momentarily forget their worries as they come to remember their God.
     I look down at my feet and i recall how many shoes are in my closet.  I remember how many shirts, pants and clean sets of clothes i have.  I recall that amazing hot shower i took this morning as i scrubbed my entire body with soap.  I look at how clean my hands are and lightly smell my pleasing scent as it lifts off of my shirt.  And i'm ashamed when i recall the ways that i sometimes greet people with consternation on my face and a heart that wonders, "what do they want?". 
     I can't help but ask, "Why me, God?"  Why was i blessed with the things i have and these people given so much less?  Why is life so difficult for some and yet others are given so much?  
     When my mind wanders through these questions i try to ground myself in the life of Jesus.  I try to recall His words and actions and how they can reflect on some of my thoughts.
     As i continue to look around the room in Eastleigh and see these faces, i couldn't help but to imagine how much Jesus loves them.  I kept imagining Jesus taking the young children into his lap, tears streaming down his face, with a large, beaming smile as he greets them and hugs them.  I see Jesus binding their feet, healing their wounds and smiling as he greets them and laughs with them.  i see Jesus embracing worship as he dances and claps with them as they sing songs about God's love, power and forgiveness.  I see Jesus lovingly give out chai and cookies making sure everyone receives and no one leaves hungry.  
     And then my thoughts drift again to a darker place.  For some reason thoughts of Ebola jump into my mind.  What would happen to these people if Kenya had an outbreak of Ebola?  My thoughts are that not many of them would have a chance to survive?  Would anyone even care if they died?
     Jesus would!!  The gospel writer Matthew recorded Jesus' words when he said this in the Sermon on the Mount:
"That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today" (Matt. 6:25-34).  
     They (people) are more valuable to God than any of us could ever imagine.  In fact, God knows every hair on their head, every pain on their body and every hurt in their soul.  I or you or the world might not care about what happens to these people but i know God does. In fact, He cares so much that He sent His Son to die for their sins!
     Just the other day, I saw a review for the upcoming "Left Behind" movie, based on the popular book series about the end times.  For some reason that got me to thinking about the "rapture", one of the primary focuses of that book series and movie.  First off, the word rapture is never used in the Bible, but in context that word comes from a passage in 1 Thess. 4:17 that talks about being "caught up" with the Lord in the air.  Secondly, the rapture is not a biblical teaching . . . that those who have been righteous are miraculously disappeared from this sinful world into a heavenly home with their father.  Has God ever miraculously removed his people from struggle and tribulation in the world to live in a place with Him?  I mean think of some of the great heroes in the bible and reflect on their stories.  Did God remove Moses from his terrible showdown with the Pharoah because it was too hard?  Did God disappear Esther to save her from having to appear before the king?  Did God call Jonah home to be with him because he balked at having to speak to the hated Assyrians?  The list could go on and on . . . 
     My point instead is that God comes down to walk with us through the valleys.  That God carries us through the hard times when the hard times kick us in the seat of the pants!  When things seem their darkest, God is there!  When there seems to be no other option or choice, God is always listening!  When we are at wits end with no where to turn, God reminds us of His love!  God seeks to grow us through those hard times to make us more faithful and especially to make us more reliant on Him.  
     And now i circle back around to these street guys in Eastleigh.  God walks with them every day.  God sees their hurt, their struggles and their addiction and he longs to shower them with his love.  He knows their thoughts and desires and he yearns to comfort and guide them.  He does it through the lives of faithful Christians who walk among these people every day.  People who greet and smile at them.  People who bring them food and encouragement.  People who bring them first aid to bind up their wounds and heal their hurts.  People who come with words of encouragement to teach them about the One who can save their soul.  I know because i saw them in Eastleigh today!  I know because i saw the face of Jesus in them!
     Will you be the face of Jesus for someone today?  Will you find someone to help?  To love?  To serve?  Can you be the hands and feet of those who bring the good news, that the Apostle Paul was talking about in Romans 10:14-15?  My prayer for you today is that you will see the hurt around you and it will call you to action!  That the spirit of Jesus will move in you today so that you can help someone to see the love that their father has for them!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

How Many Cows Are You Worth?

     There are many unique aspects of Kenyan culture that continue to fascinate and confuse me.  A few weekends ago I was able to witness one of these events.  My friend and MITS staff member, Ken Atsiaya, is getting married in early November but still had to pay the bride price (dowry) for his soon to be wife, Beatrice.  So Ken invited me and Robin (another MITS staff member) to travel with him to Beatrice’s traditional family home in the Kisumu area to participate in the event and help him with the cultural subtleties. 
     Our drive, although long, was uneventful and we arrived ready to fulfill our duties in helping Ken pay for his soon-to-be bride.  On the morning of the event (Saturday), Ken woke up nervous and anxious for the upcoming ceremony.  He barely spoke that morning and ate very little at breakfast making it plain to see that he had butterflies floating around in his stomach worrying about the unknown circumstances of the event.  We quickly packed up and drove out to a small village called Akala where we were met by Beatrice’s cousin, Jackton (another MITS team member), who was there to help us in arranging the animals and to make sure we got out to their home.  We walked over to the small animal market to look over some of the cows and goats and choose a few good looking animals while we waited for Ken’s family to arrive.  I stood outside the market area and watched men bargaining, shaking hands again and again with a finger snap after every shake, until they reached an agreeable price.  After finding some agreeable animals we went back to the main road to wait on Ken’s family.  Upon their arrival, Ken’s family walked back over to the market to purchase the animals so that we could walk them out to Beatrice’s home place.  Some Ken’s family walked the animals out to Beatrice’s place while I delivered the rest by vehicle.  But all family members waited to enter the compound until the animals arrived and they could escort them into the animal pen as a group.  I also discovered that every dowry (if paid by livestock) should always include a young pair of male & female cow (which we had . . . plus some).  After escorting the animals into the livestock pen we were then invited into the home for a huge meal.  We were served ughali, stew, beef, fish, rice, pilau, chapati, lemonade and I am sure other things that I can’t remember right now.  We ate and ate until I felt like I would need to be rolled out of the house.  Ken continued to be very quiet and eat very little.  After we finished eating we stepped outside to walk off the food while the young women cleared the table and began to bring in chai, mandazi and peanuts for snacks and the last session of the event.  We returned to the house and the anxious moment had finally arrived, what Robin had described as the family interrogation.  Beatrice’s family would introduce themselves and then begin to ask questions of Ken as to why he was there and what his intentions were.  Some of Beatrice’s family stood up and introduced themselves and explained their relation to Beatrice and welcomed us to their home.  And then, some of Ken’s family stood and introduced themselves, explaining where they were from and thanked Beatrice’s family for welcoming them.  Ken’s representative (I believe it was his uncle) then stood and addressed the room and explained why we were there and also produced some envelopes from his coat pocket that he gave to different members of Beatrice’s family.  The envelopes contained differing amounts of money that was being paid to reimburse some of the costs of hosting us, to please the family members with the union of Ken and Beatrice and to also reimburse the family for skills that they trained Beatrice in and would be losing.  It was explained to me later that these gifts were very important because if a family member was not happy with their gift then they could potentially cause problems at the wedding.  Question time for Ken had finally arrived and I awaited anxiously to hear some of the questions and to witness Ken’s nervous replies.  The next thing I know someone said a prayer and then Ken was in mine and Robin’s ear, telling us it was time to go.  As we walked outside to the car I asked Robin what happened and why didn’t they ask Ken any questions.  Robin’s response was that he got off easy and that we were finished. 
     After this all day event, I still don’t feel like I have a very good handle on the dowry experience and the subtleties that take place in the cultural process.  Even though Robin and I gave Ken a hard time about his nervousness and his stark change in demeanor afterwards (totally happy and talkative) I was very thankful for him and getting through this thing.  In my experience, parts of the process were confusing, outdated and useless but that is seen only through my western perspective.  In the eyes of a Kenyan, this event is vital for community, building relationships between families and establishing the beginning of a new home. 

     I want to end by asking the question that is posed in the title of this article.  How many cows are you worth?  In the world’s eyes, we all have some estimable value based upon certain qualities that we possess.  Qualities like beauty, money, possessions, education and the like.  And the value placed upon each of these qualities depends upon the culture in which you live.  In American culture you all know how important each of these aforementioned qualities are in choosing a mate.  The same, to a varying degree, is also true of Kenyan culture.  In both cultures (and many cultures around the world) our worth is determined by our looks and what we have to offer to a potential mate.  What a blessing it is that we have a Father in heaven who sees beyond the fleshly exterior and sees what resides in the heart.  And even more, that despite our sin and struggles, he desires to be in relationship with us in spite of the darkness that we carry.  And again, that His love for us is beyond compare because not only were we the crowning moment of his creation but he cared so much for that creation that he was willing to send his one and only, unique Son to the world to die for us!  So . . . how many cows are you worth?  To God . . . the number is unending!  
     Let me finish by reminding you of Christ's love for you and how that love now manifests itself through you, by quoting a prayer of the Apostle Paul:
"When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glo
rious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen" (Eph. 3:14-21).

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Wedding Feast!

 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”  Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14:15-24)
     Over two weeks ago I experienced something similar to this great wedding feast that Jesus tells us about in the book of Luke.  The staff in Eastleigh decided months ago to invite all of the street people that attend church in Eastleigh to a banquet in their honor one Sunday following worship.  Preparations were made at a place called Wanderjoy that could host the event under a large tent for about 150 people.  The event would include fine dining, catered food, music, refreshments, dessert and a serving staff.  As the day approached, more and more people in the Eastleigh area heard about the big banquet and so made plans to attend church that morning.

     The big day arrived and with it came chaos.  I arrived at Eastleigh church that morning with the Knoxville group (Hardin Valley church of Christ) who would help in hosting the event.  As we drove past the Eastleigh center to park there was at least 100 street boys gathered out in front of the center.  We exited the vehicle and immediately we were engulfed by street smells (rotting trash, glue bottles, dirty people) as the boys surrounded us to greet us as we entered the center.  After extricating ourselves from prying hands and fist bumps, we entered the compound and encountered at least another 200 street people at the center for Sunday morning worship.  Because the building was already so crowded we stood in the outer compound and prepared parting snacks (juice and bread) for those who would not be able to attend the banquet with us.  The time arrived for us to depart for the banquet so we had to empty one completely full room of street people (those who could not attend because of numbers) and give them the snacks as they left and entered the outer compound.  They were then asked to eat/drink their snacks in the outer compound, under the prying eyes of those outside, before they exited the compound. Our fear was if they exited the compound with the snacks then fights would ensue on the street outside over the very snacks we had just handed out.  Those outside the gate, who were not allowed to enter because they would not give up their glue, began to beg and ask us to give them some of the juice and bread . . . which we could not do.  Again, we did not have enough juice and bread for all of those outside the gate and those we could not help because they would not give up their glue bottles.  So . . . we had to tell those kids no . . . that we did not have bread or juice for them at this time.  You can imagine what their reaction was to being told no as they witnessed others getting juice and bread. As I stood near the gate making sure no prying hands reached in to steal away someone else's snack i heard all kinds of abuses hurled at us because we did not give them snacks.

     Finally, as we cleared the outer compound of all those who would not be attending the banquet it was time to load up the rental buses of those in the worship who would be attending.  We had the first bus pull up to the car gates on the outer compound wall, we opened the gates and then we were going to count off people until we filled up the bus.  Now imagine, outside the gates was still full of street boys who were not allowed to enter earlier and who still wanted a snack or be allowed on the bus.  Inside the building we encouraged all those attending to line up in the hallway as we counted them off and loaded them in four separate buses.  Try to imagine the melee that followed as we did all of this.  Outside we have about six staff members who are holding back the street boys and keeping them from throwing rocks.  Inside we have several staff members who are holding back those attending (it looked like a rugby scrum) so we can count them off and load them in the buses.  All of this chaos went on for almost twenty minutes until we finally loaded all four buses.  As the last bus was departing, one of the boys picked up a large rock and broke out the back window of the bus.  We then loaded the MITS bus with the Knoxville crew and all of us headed over to Wanderjoy to the banquet.

     The craziness of this event was soon dispelled as we arrived at Wanderjoy to enjoy the feast.  As we entered the Wanderjoy compound we witnessed a large, shaded tent spread out over thick green grass.  Under the tent were numerous tables covered with tablecloths, dining wear and cutlery.  Further to the back of the tent there was a long buffet line stacked with food, a large DJ table and a serving table filled with drinks (soda, coffee, tea).  We encouraged all of the street people to be seated, we introduced them to the place and what was going to happen and then we prayed.  All of the staff and Knoxville crew then began to fill plates with food and serve all those who were seated.  I was overjoyed as i watched the surprised looks on faces of street people as they were served.  It was even told to me that one of the street guys said he had never been served before in his life.  As the music began to play we continued serving food, drinks and love and all of us were awestruck by the looks of joy and happiness on the faces of so many.  Even the staff members of Wanderjoy came up to us and thanked us for doing this banquet.  After eating, the music continued to play, so many in attendance danced, jumped and sang to the music as they continued to display their absolute joy at the feast.  Sadly, the afternoon had to come to an end and we soon loaded buses and sent everyone back to Eastleigh and to where they stay.

     I wrote about this event because it reminded me so much of the joy we will experience as we celebrate with our Lord in the coming kingdom of God.  But also it reminded me of the words of Jesus for those who are outside the banquet.  He says:

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’“For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:13-14).
As you consider where you stand in the kingdom, please remember that you are surrounded by people everyday who do not know our Lord.  There are people that we pass everyday that maybe we ignore or look down on because of their smell, their clothing, their sex, their skin color . . . or any other descriptive word you can place here.  God wants all of us to be in his kingdom and a part of the banquet feast.  Who is it that you can invite to find the Lord today?  

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Life Changer!

Ashley, from the Hardin Valley
group with Mercy's baby!
     This time of year begins the annual trek of weekly visitors to our work here at Made In The Streets.  As it stands now we currently have two different groups here doing the important tasks of encouraging our kids and supplementing the work of our staff.  The Handmade Tour Group arrived almost two weeks ago and consists of college kids and one adult sponsor. They spend time meeting our kids, teaching classes, observing the different phases of our ministry and just loving on the kids.  They will work with us for about four to five weeks and then they will return to the states where they will visit churches and universities talking about the work that is going on at Made In The Streets.  We also have a group from Knoxville, TN (Hardin Valley church of Christ) who arrived a little less than a week ago.  They have been spending the morning and early afternoons at a place called Paradise Lost holding a bible camp for street kids.  They then return to Kamulu-MITS in the afternoon and hold a camp for our students . . . which finishes everyday with a soccer match.
     Many of you have no idea the encouragement we receive when guests come to MITS.  The joy and energy they bring, the ready and willing love they so quickly give out and the steady hands ready to perform anything we ask or need of them.  Our kids are so excited to meet the new visitors, to learn their names and to just spend time getting to know them.  We also as a staff receive the benefit of getting to show visitors what we so proudly do.  We get the opportunity to show them where we walk the streets, the kinds of classes we teach, and what our daily duties are.  One of the most important things i think we get to do is tell them stories about the changed lives of so many of our students . . . about how "so and so" used to live on this corner in Eastleigh and after attending MITS and graduating, this "so and so" now has a successful job as a mechanic, a salonist or a cook.  They get to imagine what life must have been like for these kids and just how much change God has put them through to deliver them to where they are.  
The Handmade Tour Group, minus Callie & Michelle
and plus Taylor (summer merchandise intern).
     You see, MITS is one big Christian family.  We love sharing MITS and our stories about MITS with people because it is all about God changing lives.  In case you didn't know . . . God is all about changing lives!  Abraham was just another guy who lived in Ur, until God came along and called him to a new place and into a covenant with Him.  Joseph was a lowly little brother, a slave, a servant and a prisoner when God called him to become second in command in the nation of Egypt.  Moses was just a shamed shepherd until God appeared in a burning bush and called him to free the Israelite nation. Rahab was a prostitute living in a heathen city when God used her to help the Israelites.  Esther was a poor, beautiful young lady chosen to be queen to the most powerful king in all the land when she was called to be courageous and stand up for the Israelite people.  Mary was a scared young woman when God called on her to bear His Son.  Saul (named changed to Paul) was beating, arresting and murdering Christians when he had his vision on the road to Damascus and changed his life to teach others about Jesus.  You see . . . God has always been in the business of changing lives.
     In case you hadn't noticed, many of our kids are in need of a life changer. Many of them come from rough places with rough backgrounds with no hope of ever really knowing God or achieving any kind of self-worth.  Their lives are full of drugs, stealing, poverty, violence and malnourishment.  They have no conceivable plans for the near future and live only for the day hoping to survive until the next.  Most meals come from the trash dump or from what they can beg.  Most money comes from stealing or from the scrap metal that they can collect and sale.  And finally they have no idea who God is . . .that He loves them, that He created them for a purpose and that He wants to be their hope.  Instead, they want to know that if there is a God, "Where is He?", "Why did he place me here?".  
Katie, from the Hardin Valley group, posing for a pic
with Johnson.
     Thank God that our Father is in the business of changing lives!  That He wants to call these kids from the streets to something better.  That He has a plan for their lives that they can only dream about.  That He wants to change their shortcomings into strengths because of their reliance on Him.  That He wants to shore up their struggles and give them freedom through His Son. That He wants to change their stories into something that tells of the amazing work of a Father who loves them!  There is a story told about a man named Edward Steichen.  Following is a short version of his life story: 
Edward Steichen, who eventually became one of the world's most renowned photographers, almost gave up on the day he shot his first pictures. At 16, young Steichen bought a camera and took 50 photos. Only one turned out -- a portrait of his sister at the piano. Edward's father thought that was a poor showing. But his mother insisted that the photograph of his sister was so beautiful that it more than compensated for 49 failures. Her encouragement convinced the youngster to stick with his new hobby. He stayed with it for the rest of his life, but it had been a close call. What tipped the scales? The vision to spot excellence in the midst of a lot of failure. (Bits & Pieces, February 4, 1993, pp. 4-5.)
     Thank goodness that we have a God who can spot excellence in the midst of a lot of failure!  When i look over our kids, i see young people who have made a lot of mistakes in life.  I see kids, in some instances, who never really had a chance in life because of the circumstances they grew up under.  When i look at our kids, i am thankful that God is in the business of changing lives and i am excited to see what he will do in each and every one of our students. And i don't say this just on the behalf of the street kids that we work with. When i look at myself, i thank God that He can see something redeeming in me in spite of all of my failures.  That despite the mistakes i have made in my life He stills sees me as someone who is worthy of His love, someone who He designed for a purpose, someone who He wants to use to share His love to the world!
     How about you?  Do you see the excellent things that God sees in you?  Do you see the unique abilities that God has placed in you to help you realize your full potential for the Lord?  Do you see the mistakes in your life and how they have helped to shape you and mold you more into what God wants you to be?  Today i just want to encourage you to look to change your life more into the person that God wants you to be!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

No More Tears!

Boys on the streets of Eastleigh
     Over the past week I have got to resume one of my favorite works at Made in the Streets. Every other Friday the Kamulu staff makes the journey into Eastleigh to do base (places where street kids hang out) work.  We typically carry bread (made by our catering students) with us to hand out, we share a word of encouragement with the street kids, we pray with them and we explain to them about our procedures at MITS and how we can help them get off the streets.  So on Friday, i visited Mutindwa base with several other staff members.  It was a good experience and once again a reminder of how hard life on the streets in Nairobi can be.  On Monday, i traveled with Larry Conway to Eastleigh to do base work again.  This experience, although similar to Friday, was an even greater reminder of the hardships of these kids on the streets of Nairobi.
     We visited several bases on Monday and had some new and interesting experiences.  The last base though was a stark reminder of why we are working with street kids in Nairobi. The last area we visited was called Mlango Kubwa.  It is a sprawling, jumbled maze of buildings, alleys and people that are all smashed together into a small area.  Everywhere you walk you are assaulted by foreign smells, sad sites and hurting people (tons of kids).  The only words that felt appropriate at the time to describe the scene was "Satan's playground. Mlango Kubwa is full of malnourished children, people on drugs (typically sniffing glue), violence at every turn, trash filled streets and endless poverty.  I kept asking myself where is the hope for this place?  How can anyone find God amidst such poverty and hurt?  I kept wondering how does God feel about Mlango Kubwa?
     We all know that God loves the people in Mlango Kubwa as much as he loves anyone in the world.  We all know that God wants them to prosper, to have a hope for the future and to live lives of love.  What separates us and our experiences and lives from those lived by the people in Mlango Kubwa?  Why are we prosperous and their lives full of struggle?
     C.S. Lewis penned these words, "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare."  I'm not sure i have the answers to the above questions that i just asked.  But i do know that much will be expected of those who have much!  Luke the disciples writes: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).  Our responsibility as people of God who have been blessed with much is to be willing to share those things we have.  As C.S. Lewis writes . . . "to give more than we can spare."  Now that doesn't entail that you pack up into a plane and fly to Kenya tomorrow and give to the people in Mlango Kubwa . . . but it does mean that you begin earnestly looking around you now for people with needs.  People who need to see the love of Jesus exhibited through his saints.  People who need to know that there is reason for hope in the world and that goodness exists.  People who need to know that there is a loving God who longs to welcome them into his fold and to reveal His plan for their lives.  Can you be that saint?  Will you give more that what is required?  Will you be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are hurting?  
     The Apostle Paul pens a prayer for the believers in Ephesus and writes these words:
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Eph. 3:14-21).
I to pray this prayer for you and me!  That we will know how awesome and powerful our God is!  That despite our failings God will use us to do bigger and better things so that people will know the love of OUR GOD!
     And finally, i yearn for better days when these people in Mlango Kubwa will see their God in all His Glory!  That they will be wrapped in white robes . . . in that place where there will be no more tears, no more hunger and no more pain.  An endless time where we can all sing the glorious praises of our Father, forever and ever!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Inevitable Change

     There is a story told about a man from the back mountains of Tennessee who found himself one day in a large city, for the first time standing outside an elevator. He watched as an old, haggard woman hobbled on, and the doors closed. A few minutes later the doors opened and a young, attractive woman marched smartly off. The father hollered to his youngest son, "Billy, go get mother."
     Now as funny as that story may seem, we all have things in our lives that we wish we could change.  Now hopefully our "thing(s)" is not like the man from the back mountains of Tennessee.  In saying this, we all know that change in our lives is inevitable.  We all age and feel our bodies begin to ache and show the lines of our age.  We all know that eventually our children will grow up, go to college, get a job, get married and have children.  We all know that people will move in and out of our lives, changing the dynamics of our relationships and increasing the complexity of the ways that we communicate in those relationships.  So am i basically stating the fact that we all know: change is inevitable!
Mary Shiko, former MITS student, helping me in Bible class.
Shiko currently has a great job up near Kisumu teaching
catering.  Awesome Christian young lady!
     One of those inevitable changes that i have come to learn about and witness first hand here at MITS is that our older students will eventually graduate and we will definitely take on newer students straight from the streets.  I had become accustomed to all the kids i knew very well over the past year.  I knew how to handle them in class, i knew how to speak to them to get the best out of them, i knew how to encourage them, i knew how to console them.  But now . . . everything has changed.  Many of our older students have graduated and moved on to jobs in the city.  Many of the literacy students have moved on to skills training and my time with them has become very limited.  And now our dorms and my classes are filled with faces that i hardly know.  New kids and some that speak very limited English.  Young, smiling and unaware of the expectations that are being placed on them or the rules that they have to live under at MITS.
     Although this has been a challenge for me it has also been refreshing to witness the ways that God is changing people.  The ways that these kids grow into expectations and the ways that they are transformed with love and guidance in their life.  It's like watching a beautiful butterfly as it breaks its way out of a cocoon . . . struggling, fighting, until at last it has the strength to overcome the struggle, break free of its cocoon and open its wings to the wide, beautiful world around it.  That is the living picture of these kids here at Made In The Streets.  When these kids come to us they are lost . . . they don't know the Lord and they don't understand that God loves them and has a plan for them.  As they begin to discover these facts about God and themselves they begin to bloom.  They begin to understand that there is a purpose to their lives, that they should be living for something.  They understand that the past struggles they faced in the streets helped to shape and mold them into what God wants to use them for in His future.  The break free of that cocoon (MITS) and realize the gifts and skills that they have been given not only come from God but serve a wider purpose of service in the immediate kingdom of Nairobi.  And despite all of these challenging changes, it is amazing to witness the different ways that God changes lives.
     So today i want you to be challenged to know that God is working on you this very moment.  There is something that he wants to change in you . . . to make you more holy, to make you more like Him.  Paul writes about our transformation in 2 Corinthians:
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?  If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!  For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.  And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!  Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.  We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.  But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:7-18).
Paul is explaining to us that the ministry that we have in Christ is better than the old covenant.  That the spirit of the Lord, the same one working on these kids lives here in Kenya, is alive and active and is transforming you everyday more into the image of Jesus!  And know that Spirit can do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us" (Eph. 3:20), as i have witnessed with these kids, if we will trust in and hold onto the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Assorted Pics and Thoughts

Victor Otieno posing over the okra we picked from the farm.
     So let me begin by saying it is wonderful to be back in Nairobi, Kenya working at MITS.  I love the staff and kids, their willingness to be loved and changed by God and just the heart for service that all of them have.  I am happy to be writing to you and i hope to be more responsible in taking pics and keeping you updated on a day to day basis on the happenings at Made In The Streets. 
     In the first pic we have Victor Otieno hovering over the okra that he and i had just picked.  We also had picked a bucket of tomatoes and some cucumber that i did not get a picture of.  Victor is one of our farm managers at MITS and does an amazing job managing our acreage and rotating the crops between maize, kales and an assundry of vegetables.  He is also an amazing basketball player and works with me as we bang away on the boys teaching them the finer skills of playing basketball.
Angie teaching the Intermediate class
Another pic of the Intermediate class
     In the next six pics, you see students at the learning center in their different learning level classes (intermediate, middle & advanced).  Students are divided into their classes based on their educational levels, test scores and on their English ability.  Since i have been gone for five months, many of the students that i became familiar with have since moved on to different skills at the skill center.  We have also accepted many new students as our older students graduated and found attachments in the city.  So in many of the pics you see there are many new faces of kids who have not been long off of the streets.
     And finally in the last picture, you see a sampling of a typical meal that we eat at MITS.  This meal is made up of ugali (think corn meal mush), eggs and kales.  Wahome (our literacy center chef and boys dorm supervisor) and his crew cooked an excellent tasting meal that we all consumed in no time.  Wahome cooks lunch for about 45 people everyday, all the time.  
     These pics are all just a small sampling of the day to day things occurring at MITS.  Every day that i spend here is a blessing because i get to witness firsthand how God is changing lives and using people everyday to share his love.  I pray that any of you that are reading this blog that you will one day have the opportunity to see the work that is happening at Made In The Streets.  

Students in our Advanced class

More students in our Advanced class

Students in our Middle class

More students in our Middle class

Lunch for the day!