Moving Forward

Impulsive. Not one of my best qualities. I have had my moments as an impulsive shopper (mostly at thrift stores), and sometimes an impulsive eater. But perhaps the most interesting action I do impulsively is cry.

While others cry lightly during heart wrenching moments at the cinema or at beloved family reunions or departures, I never seem to stir up my emotions at the right moment. Instead I pent them up for a later, usually awkward, time.

Some of my favorite examples of this would be indifferently making it through my first screening of Pearl Harbor only to sob like a baby during the credits and I’ll never forget freaking out my high school boyfriend as I wept in his truck on a casual summer drive, nearly three weeks after our graduation.

I believe myself to be a person who wears my heart on my sleeve and I don’t think that I aim to hold my emotions in. It just appears that they have a bit of a delay when it comes to arriving to my tear ducts.

I have been home from Africa now for three months. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by. Some days I can think of nothing but my experiences in Tanzania, and then there are others when my new world back in the US consumes me entirely. It has been a rough transition, as expected. One cannot live and love among the poorest of poor and simply return to a life of luxury. I am forced daily to question my relationships and routine. Every element of my life now carries a new air around it, either enhanced or diminished since my experience overseas.

One huge blessing I have had since my return home has been a job.  Before leaving for Tanzania I worked part time at a local, family-owned Italian restaurant called Garlini’s and they so graciously have welcomed me back. I have always enjoyed working in the restaurant business mostly because it is fast paced and ever unpredictable. (Although, I don’t get to wear a costume at this establishment like my last waitressing job, which was a little disappointing…) What I particularly enjoy about working at Garlini’s is my truly enjoyable coworkers and management. We are a small team but we stick together and we get along. That is more than I can say for a lot of my past occupations.

However, restaurant business does have its rough patches. The strange hours and long days on my feet can wear me out and picky, rude customers always seem to show up at the worst times. The most difficult part for me however has been more private. It is when I step to the back of the restaurant to scrape food into the garbage and empty water glasses into the sink.

At first the action stung because I would reminisce on how much I desired that delicious, fattening food while I was in Africa. Now, since my hunkering for Italian food is more than replenished, I think about my friends in Africa who are hungry.  In Tanzania I scrapped my leftover beans and rice into the bin on occasion, but that bin fed the pigs, which would eventually, again feed us. Now I scrape perfectly good lasagna and fettuccini into a landfill deposit while families even in my own community go hungry. It is sickening to realize how much we waste.

The real stinger happened a couple of weeks ago when a perfectly nice customer made a comment that cut me deep enough to have to fight off tears. After asking my table if they would like a box to take home the rest of their food (robot sever language), my customer replied, “Why not? There are starving kids in Africa, right?”

Luckily enough, I was able to simply smile, hang him a box and make it back to the kitchen to pull myself together. I hadn’t cried since I returned from Tanzania. It was almost as if I was still numb from shock, but this comment had truly hit home. It’s not like I have never heard someone say this before. It is almost as cliché as “I love you to the moon and back,” or  “The early bird gets the worm.” But this time it didn’t sound cliché because I knew it was true. I have looked into the eyes of hunger and held its small, fragile hands. This was the first prick out of the numbness of my experience and a reminder that I am not the person I was before.

Though I have since moved back into the hustle and bustle of American life, I haven’t left Faces 4 Hope to be a thing of my past. About a month after returning home I decided I wanted to compete in my first triathlon. The new challenge would push me to get back in shape for summer and I could use the event as a platform to raise funds for Faces 4 Hope.

When I ran my first marathon in 2009, my friends and family extended enormous generosity and helped me raise over $2,000 for 3-year-old Jasmine, to help with medical costs for her 36-week chemotherapy treatment for a rare type of lung cancer. That little girl, once a stranger, is now my Goddaughter. Since then, two others have raised funds for Jasmine’s ongoing treatment pushing the total to over $7,000. God is so good.

I wanted to take on a similar goal for Faces 4 Hope but I figured, why should I do it alone? Maybe God could put Faces 4 Hope on the hearts of others enough to race and raise funds as well. Thus birthed the idea of Team 4 Hope. If I could organize 30 people to race and raise $1,000 each, we would have enough to build a new water tank in Engikaret. Bringing water to this community would bring so much more than hope. It would bring life, sustainability and growth…Things that every person deserves.

I thought my community would be psyched to jump on board a project so life changing! Feeling unsure of were to start I went for the ol’ Field of Dreams approach with “If you build it, they will come.” Structuring the project was easy, logo design was a cinch, and finding t-shirt sponsors was a breeze.  I emailed, Facebooked, Tweeted, and reached out locally in numerous ways to find athletes but with only two weeks to go until race day, this project hasn’t come anything close to its goals.

I’ve spent the past few weeks waiting for a miracle. Waiting for athletes to start beating down my door to be a part of Team 4 Hope…but on Tuesday my hope ran out. After some discussion about Team 4 Hope with my mom I got in my car to drive home. I let one tiny tear of disappointment run down my cheek and then all of the sudden months of emotions began rising up and the floodgates opened.

I sat for nearly an hour in my car sobbing, letting the heartbreak of every moment in Africa consume me. Crying for the children who can’t go to school, crying for the women who are treated worse than animals, crying for the sick, the lost, and the hungry. Then I cried out of helplessness. Here I am in the richest country in the world with resources all around me, yet I have failed to raise any significant amount of funds.

Thankfully, I then realized how pathetic I was being. I wiped my eyes, looked at myself in the mirror and asked myself, “So what are you going to do now?”

I am not God. I cannot control all things. But He can’t continue working though me if I give up, can He? David took down Goliath with stones and I am going to have to do my part to take down this Goliath-sized problem of global poverty the same way…one small stone at a time. I may be throwing like a little girl now but over time I know that my aim will improve and I may even be able to inspire others to fight with me.

I recently started reading “Start Something That Matters,” by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, and it has been very encouraging. Blake had a similar start to his project. He wanted to run a shoe company that donated a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. While his idea was genius from the beginning, it wasn’t successful right away. During the periods when Blake was fearful of whether or not the TOMS dream would survive he went to a quote by Winston Churchill, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Sure, I am afraid that more failed attempts lie ahead but I am not going to let the fear of it keep me from moving forward. We all have the power to bring about so much good change in our world but so many of us stop in our tracks when circumstances tell us we can’t.

So tonight I write. In two weeks I will race in a triathlon. A month from now I could be juggling on the sidewalk, throwing a concert, or calling up Bill Gates. Who knows how many doors will open for me or how many will be slammed in my face. All I know is that my heart has been too broken to quit knocking.

Donate to Team 4 Hope 


The Difference

Make a difference. Leave a legacy. Change the world.

These words intend to challenge us. Writers weave them into campaign speeches or cause advertisements to grip our hearts and move us into action. They seek not just to make us care…but also do something.

That “something” is almost always given to us. Donate now to help those in need…Buy this bag and change a life. Organizations have pioneered a new way of advocacy by allowing us to find identity in their causes. And if we can wear something and post about it on our Facebook page then we feel like we have done our part and made a difference. But while we stroll in our TOMS shoes, sporting our Livestrong bracelets and “Save the Earth” reusable shopping bags, I wonder how many of us parading our causes have felt led to do something more. And how many of us claiming we want to “change the world” really understand the world we are trying to change?

Being in East Africa for three months has shown me how little I knew about anything outside my little American bubble. My eyes have been opened to so much and I have only begun to dip my toe into this big, wide world. I felt like I was globally connected back in America but now that I have been here, I see how much I was missing and still have to discover.

I write this blog in my final days in Tanzania. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind and my desktop is exploding with writing for Faces 4 Hope. Our projects have kept me so busy that I haven’t had any time or energy to write my own thoughts. Not having sufficient power or internet as well as inability to go to Engikaret for two weeks meant we had a lot to get done in our final visit to the bush last week. 

In a land full of many needs and few workers, getting to where we needed to go and meeting with people we needed to talk to this last week wasn’t easy but The Lord made a way. On Wednesday I was able to experience my first medical clinic day. For nearly six hours, four doctors consulted, examined, and treated over 100 Maasai patients, young and old, who had walked miles through the dust and heat to receive medical care. Because I have no substantial medical training, I mostly organized medicine and documented the day with my camera. Seeing sickness in someone’s eyes and knowing that this may be the only medical attention they would get for months was haunting.

Thursday was a day full of celebration as eighteen young, Maasai women received their certificates for attending sewing school. These women were married at a very young age, stripping them from the ability to finish their education. To empower and provide another opportunity to these women, Faces 4 Hope supplied them with job training and a sewing classroom. I loved sitting with them, just listening to the hum of the pedal push machines and their lively conversations. We come from entirely different worlds but sitting with my Maasai girl friends, some the same age as me, made me forget about my white skin and the fact that I was the only one in the room without a baby strapped to my back. The language barrier may have kept us from having any lengthy conversations but laughter is a universal language and we shared plenty of it.

Watching their faces as they received their certificates was incredible. Their joy shone through their celebratory ornaments draped over their faces. The best part of it all was that each husband was in attendance to see his wife (or wives) be honored for her work and success in the course. After receiving their certificate, each of them presented their husband with their award. I’ll admit that seeing this ticked me off at first. I wanted the women to receive all the glory for what they had accomplished. That certificate was theirs, not their husbands! But what I realized was that the women wanted their husbands to be proud of what they did, and in their male-dominated culture, winning the approval of your husband is very important. Although Maasai couples do not usually display affection to one another, the men at the celebration seemed receptive and agreeable to the praise of their women and even purchased some of the items their wives had sewn. It was an encouraging step to witness. A small step, but still an encouraging one.

The celebration concluded with food and soda and in our last few minutes in Engikaret I hugged, squeezed and said goodbye to my friends. It almost felt like my high school graduation. I clung to my friends with a heavy heart, unsure of when I will see them again but also knew that it wouldn’t be goodbye forever. I was all cried out by this point of the week and had already made all of my attempts to cling to the earth screaming, “I don’t want to go home!” But it was time for us to close this chapter of our adventure and head back to Arusha to prepare for our journey back to America.

My close friend Mamma Sonja 

Ruth looking at the pictures from the celebration

Other than needing to finish our most needed Faces 4 Hope media projects, Rhys and I also needed to complete a spur of the moment project that has allowed us to literally leave our hand on the YWAM base.

Just outside the gates of the Arusha base is a large, purple building called the Tumaini Children’s Home. Tumaini, Swahili for “hope,” became a ministry of YWAM when Mamma Miracle, one of the base directors, saw an immediate need to support orphans in the community. As an orphan herself, Mamma Miracle knew the terrors of being raised in an overcrowded orphanage, so she had a vision of a home where children could be part of a family. Over the last couple years that vision has become a reality. The Tumaini Home currently houses six beautiful children whose parents have either died or are unable to properly care for them due to HIV/AIDS. The home has two house “parents” and four house “aunties and uncles.” These adults are not only mentors, but also friends and caretakers giving these children a real home experience.

The large and beautiful building is less than two years old so the walls have remained bare, ineffectively reflecting the joyfulness of life inside the home. This is where Rhys and I came in. Holly suggested the idea of painting a mural on one of the walls and both of us jumped at the idea of being able to get out from behind our computers for a while. Lending most of the creative direction to Rhys, we decided to paint a tree. Apart from the six children already in the home, about 40 others from around the community who are affected by AIDS come to the YWAM base a couple times a month to share fellowship and fun. So instead of leaves, we decided that this tree would have hands of all the children involved in the Tumaini ministry, signifying growth and family.

After painting the tree trunk and branches a couple weeks ago, we were excited to finish the mural when our young artists came to the base on Saturday. Little hands and big hands all made their way on to the tree and each smile reminded me how special it can feel to simply belong to something and feel loved.

With the wrap up of projects and last minute activities keeping us busy in our final days, I haven’t had much time to think about going home. I can’t believe how fast three months has flown by but I also can’t believe how much I have grown in that time. I remember my first few weeks here and how new everything was. Now it all seems perfectly normal. Where am I going to use my perfected talent of showering out of a bucket and my high tolerance of large, disgusting bugs? I don’t know what my transition back to America will be like but I know it won’t be easy. I will fly home Wednesday night giving endless praise to The Lord for this experience but also praying that he will bring me back to my African family soon.

Saying goodbye to all my leaders, friends, and the children has been so hard. I was only here for three months but the relationships that grew in that short time were so strong. I will never forget the endless smiles, and dirty little hands that gripped mine so tight. I will especially miss Ameena and will feel anxious being away from her and the other young girls who are still at such a risky place in their lives. I know I will worry about whether they are still being allowed to come to school and if they are staying safe in their boma but I trust that God will be holding them in His arms until I can hold them in mine once again.

Ameena and I on my last day in Engikaret 

Another thing that makes me feel anxious about returning home is sharing my experience with others. Despite the fact that I am a writer, it is so hard to put some things into words. What will I say when someone asks me, “So…how was Africa?” I feel that how I respond is as equally, if not a more important duty than my responsibilities here in Tanzania. Perhaps it is because I feel so strongly that spending three months in a third world country is something that anyone could do.

I didn’t come here to do anything extravagant. I don’t have any international training or degrees. I didn’t come with a project or even a solid outline of goals. For the first several weeks I was still unsure of what I actually could do that would be of any significance. I came simply because I wanted to see… and what I have seen and felt has changed me forever.

So maybe that is just it. Maybe we in developed nations have it backwards. We can try all we want to “change the world” we have never met, or we can step outside our bubble to meet the world that will change us.

Can you imagine what would happen in the world if we could just get out from behind our newspapers, televisions, and Twitter feeds and do something?…anything. Some of you reading this understand how it feels to be changed by the world. Whether it is in Central America, East Asia, or Sub-saharan Africa, experiencing life among those who have nothing opens your eyes, steals your heart, and moves your soul.

And if you don’t know, then go.

God placed you on this earth for a reason and the world is just waiting to meet you.

Bring on the Rain

Rain has always been an element in my life.
I lived in Seattle until I was four years old and while I don’t remember much from those years, I do have memories of “fishing” in the large puddles that would gather near our porch. Rain was an entertainment.
After moving to Wenatchee, an area covered by a rain shadow, showers were so scarce that when they did happen, I would celebrate by dancing naked in our backyard (only until I was about eight years old…relax). I loved to feel the water hit my skin and soak my hair. Rain was a gift.
I decided to attend college in the Pacific Northwest, one of the rainiest areas in the world. Days of sunshine were so few that in my four years of school, I almost never went to class on a nice day. I despised the rain and gray skies. It made me tired, cold, and sad. As I watched drops stream down my windows almost daily, I dreamed of being in Hawaii, California, or anywhere with sunshine. Rain was a burden.
After graduating from college, I followed the sun to Florida. For a year I lived in infinite summer. While everyday usually consisted of about 30 minutes of afternoon rainfall, it cooled the hot air and provided a much-needed break in the times I was working outdoors. Rain was refreshment.
So while rain has been an ever-changing element in my life, I have never considered it to be an element of life…until I came here.
In America, a water shortage means that we have brown lawns for a month. In Africa it is life or death. In Engikaret, all of the watering holes used by the people and their animals are either completely dry or nearly there. Women are walking and children are herding cattle miles away to find a source of water and finding none. The weather has gotten hotter and the wind is creating intense dust storms. The two above-ground water tanks built by Faces 4 Hope for the community are very low and people are thirsty and getting dehydrated. We need the rain.
Unlike other areas of Africa, the land in Engikaret does not possess any groundwater. Any kind of deep digging requires dynamite to blast through thick layers of rock.  If it does rain, the dry soil soaks it quickly like a sponge and it is gone the next day. Being prepared for rainwater conservation and waiting for the sky to release is all we can do.
Until then, we are all being very careful with the amount of water we use at the base. There are limits on amounts of water to shower, cook, and clean with. Every bucket of water is precious and even the drops that get away are fought after. Thirsty animals quickly dry up puddles around the spigot and wash areas. I have had to shoo away cows, donkeys, chickens and bees just to get a gallon of water to shower with.
I was well aware that Africa suffered from drought but I now that I have seen it and lived through it myself, I truly understand the severity of the need for water. I would argue that providing adequate sources for clean water is the priority need in parts of Africa like Engikaret. Nothing can function without water. Not schools, businesses, nor life itself.
While the dry and dusty weather has certainly been a frustration, it hasn’t kept us from continuing our work. On Wednesday, a couple of us went out to pay another visit to Riziki, the 15-year-old new mother who we prayed over last week. While in the boma, the women offered us tea. While I admit to being a bit of a tea-aholic, Maasai tea certainly isn’t something you would find at Starbucks.  I had been able to avoid the offer of the tea in my previous boma visits but this time in order to demonstrate our thankfulness and respect we had to drink it.
The water they use to make the tea is from the watering holes, which are now very low even less sanitary than normal. They mix it with goat milk, which gives it a milky, mud color. Whether it would look like that with clean water I don’t know. The taste isn’t terrible although I tried not to breathe through my nose while I forced it down. I did my best to ignore the apparent taste of dirt and the inevitable fact that the water contained urine from several difference species. But despite its condition, it is the only water they have and they were incredibly hospitable to share it with us.
Since our last visit, Riziki had contracted Malaria and a blistering sore on her mouth that she had passed on to her baby. Riziki was very weak and now the baby was not eating. The baby girl, named Sarah, was born two months early and is no bigger than my forearm. We knew that if she did not start eating she could die very soon.
Baby Sarah in the boma at two weeks old – Photo by Rhys Logan
After some discussion, the decision was made to attempt to take Riziki and her baby to the hospital in Arusha. This was a risky decision because we first had to get approval from the men in her boma before taking her and also because any free service we offer risks being expected the next time around. Ideally, the men would offer to pay for the transportation costs and it would be a collaborative effort rather than a hand out from the white people. Unfortunately the men refused, but we decided Riziki and her baby’s life were worth the risk.
So they drove an hour in the middle of the night to a catholic hospital. Both Riziki and her baby were admitted and required to stay for a couple days. I didn’t get to see her again until Friday. We made a quick visit to the hospital after returning to Arusha to check in on her progress and were thrilled to see the results of a miracle. Riziki was full of smiles and her baby that lay motionless in my arms just a few days before was now yawning, cooing, and looking around. Riziki was sharing a small room packed full with beds and other recovering mothers and babies. It definitely wasn’t a medical environment we are used to in America but the doctors had done their job and successfully saved these two precious lives.
Riziki is now back at her boma recovering with her baby. Her three days of hospital care ended up costing about 140,000 shillings, which is a little over $100 USD….(and that was the jacked up price because she was brought to the hospital by white people.) It blows my mind that that small amount of money was all it took for a priceless gift to be saved. Riziki still has a long road ahead as a Maasai woman and a young mother but we pray that she now feels an overwhelming amount of value for her life. God led us straight to her and enabled us to help save her life and her young child. His power and plan continues to amaze me every day.
As I have just finished my seventh week here in Africa I do feel like I have crossed over into a new phase. The adventure feeling has started to wear off and my surroundings are feeling more normal and familiar. I still have moments of discomfort and longing to be back in America but I experience a lot less unknowns and am more confident in my interactions.
This adventure remains to be the best experience I have ever had in my life. When I return to the US in four weeks, I will have a new perspective on everything. I’ll probably never look at food, money, or transportation the way I did before coming here (I’ll also probably never want to eat rice again). My eyes have been open to a whole new reality and I truly believe my life and future will be enriched because of it.
I have really enjoyed watching others in their ministry and leadership, especially Jack and Holly. Each of them possesses such unique gifts that are being used to touch the lives of people in Engikaret. I love watching little eyes light up whenever Jack walks into a group of children singing and doing hand movements that they all are now familiar with. My heart is warmed every time I see Holly wrap a Maasai woman in a heartfelt hug. The women love her so much, and I am inspired by her passion and spirit every day.
Even watching Rhys is a kick. His hustle to grab his camera and shoot everything that moves is so entertaining. The highlight of my week was watching him crouch run across the savanna as we silently tried to follow two ostrich we had spotted outside the base. Everyone’s strengths and callings are different. I can only hope that mine will be as influential as the ones I have seen in others.
I may not be able to make it rain or provide medical care to a dying infant, but God has enabled me to help His people in my own unique way. Sometimes I feel so helpless seeing a problem and only being able to write about it but I know that even if I can move just one person’s heart, God will bless that. I don’t write these blogs to brag about my experiences or make people feel sorry for the people I meet. I write them because it is my calling. If you read these stories and feel moved to make a change, don’t thank me. I am simply a messenger of The Lord.

The Land of Thorns

The Big Apple, The Emerald City, The Sunshine State…

In America we love to give our land nicknames. It isn’t any different in Africa. For the last month, I have been spending about half of every week in a small area known as Engikaret. The English translation literally means “Thorn in foot”… and it couldn’t be more accurate.
Getting a heads up about the not-so-grassy terrain before we departed, I decided to invest in a pair of Chacos. Handing over nearly $100 for a pair of shoes was not ideal but after our arrival I quickly discovered that they were the most useful item I packed in my luggage.
The most relative picture I can paint of Engikaret for Americans is that it looks and feels like Pride Rock after Simba left. Yes, I am talking about The Lion King. (Don’t judge me…I worked at Walt Disney World for two years. I have rights!) The land is dry and cracked, the trees are bare, and the animals are skinny and scarce. On top of that, the land is covered with twisted bushes donning thorns the size of my pinky finger. The boma communities that surround the base are anywhere from several hundred yards to a couple miles away, which means a lot of walking.
Walking out to the bomas to meet and visit with people is by far my favorite thing to do in Engikaret, but even with my “super shoes,” I never make it through without a few injuries. Trudging though deep dust almost always means a thorn will impale my toe. It is painful and inevitable when walking on the land but being in Engikaret is absolutely worth it.

The persistence I am feeling to continue walking in the dust is a perfect parable to relate to how I have been feeling on my walk through this whole experience. To be honest, I have started five blogs in the last three weeks, none of which I have felt led to finish. So much has been happening inside my heart and my mind that I haven’t been able to settle and have peace about my emotions. We just returned tonight from four days in Engikaret and while I am feeling sun burnt and utterly exhausted, my faith is completely restored.
In my last blog I shared about Ameena; a precious, little Maasai girl who was attending pre-school at the base in Engikaret. After seeing her at school one day and then confined inside her boma the next, I was concerned but assured that she would keep attending school. When we returned to Engikaret two weeks later I was eager to see Ameena again but my desire only brought forth disappointment. Not only was she not at school again, but also none of the teachers could even recall who she was. It might be easy to pass over one student among 75 others but I knew these teachers were attentive to their children, which meant Ameena had not been coming to school like she should have been.
I was instantly frustrated and heartbroken. All I wanted was answers. I sought out YWAM leaders and women from the boma community that Ameena is from. I pleaded with them, “Do you know Ameena? Why hasn’t she been coming to school?” After giving what little descriptions I could of her, every answer was the same: …“Her father doesn’t want his daughters in school.”
Technically it is illegal for a child to be kept out of school once they have been registered, but apparently the chances of the police coming out to Engikaret to arrest the father are slim, especially for a girl as young as Ameena. I have learned that in third world countries, laws are often written but very rarely enforced.
I felt helpless. I knew that at this point all I could do was pray. Importance of education in Maasai culture is simply not as important as having a daughter you can sell for cows. God must change the hearts of the people. And while I knew that He could, the disappointment I felt over Ameena led me to doubt The Lord’s power.
When we returned to Engikaret on Monday night, I prayed halfheartedly before I went to bed. I asked for God to bring Ameena to school, but it had been three weeks since I had seen her and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. The next morning I went out to the school to watch as the little shapes of the students began to emerge from the bush toward the base. Doubt continued to fill my mind. There were so many girls like Ameena being left in her dirt hut, how could The Lord hear my cry for just this one.
Well…He did.
When I saw her walk onto the school grounds I was overcome. I ran to her and hugged her with more joy than I had felt in a long time. But as she walked to class, shame began to sink in. How could I have doubted God’s power and attentiveness to his children? Who am I to put limits on His sovereignty? He is an all-knowing God and I am truly humbled to his answer to my prayers.
After showing Ameena to the YWAM leaders and teaching staff, they explained that they had never seen her before and didn’t think she had ever been in the classroom. It is possible that Ameena came to the base only once and didn’t stay the whole day, thus not giving the teachers a chance to memorize her face. Anester, the YWAM Engikaret co-director, thanked me for remembering her and being determined to get her back to school. I couldn’t accept the praise. It was truly an act of God for me to even remember Ameena’s name and face, let alone for her to be so strongly put on my heart. But the story unfortunately doesn’t end there. I can’t put a happy ending on a tale that has only just begun.
The next day Ameena wasn’t at school again. Withholding my frustration, I asked to make a trip out to her boma to see what was going on. When we arrived, her mother explained that she was sick and I could see right away that there definitely was something wrong. She didn’t smile or hardly move. Her stature was sluggish and she didn’t even seem tuned in to her environment. It came time for us to leave and I was disheartened that there was nothing we could do for her. I have never desired to be a doctor but being in Africa has shown me how useful even a basic knowledge of medical care can be. 
The next morning I was blessed to see her smiling face coming in to school again. She seemed to be feeling much better and even greeted me with a hug. That is when I realized that this was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. If children aren’t being kept from school due to devalue of education, it will be sickness, lack of food, water…you name it. There is no doubt that there are many needs in Engikaret and around the world, but we just have to take it one step at a time. Even Jesus did not heal in large amounts. He healed His people one at a time.
Ameena on her first day back at school
Apart from The Lord being faithful with Ameena, this week has also been blessed with the presence of Rhys! After an unfortunate 12-hour delay in his arriving flight, Rhys arrived in Tanzania on Saturday morning. After just a few hours into his arrival on the base, we all packed up to go to a wedding. I was extremely impressed with Rhys’ enthusiasm despite his lack of sleep over the previous 48 hours. The couple getting married was YWAM staff so Rhys and I squished into a van with a dozen other YWAM-ers and headed toward Kilimanjaro.
We were both excited to attend our first African wedding and boy was it a cultural experience! It doesn’t matter what kind of celebration you have, if it is in Africa, it is an all-day event. We arrived after the ceremony and just in time to experience about four hours of singing and dancing. Gifts were paraded overhead by family and friends. Some of them were very large like a bed and a television. Others were small like pots and pans…and chickens. When the time came to bring out the “wedding cake,” a sheet was unveiled to reveal a full-bodied rotisserie goat, complete with leaves in it’s mouth. The couple sliced through it then fed it to each other like a red velvet cake. I gagged.
We left the celebration with a true cultural encounter…and maybe a few new ideas for my own wedding (…or not). Rhys was awesome about jumping right in and using his camera. He caught some amazing footage and photos in our time in Engikaret as well. It makes me really excited to think about the coming weeks and all that we can get accomplished for Faces 4 Hope. Holly and Jack doing amazing work in the lives of the Maasai in conjunction with YWAM and their ministries have grown tremendously over the last few years. My hope is that we can capture that in the best possible way.
While in Engikaret we also had the chance to pray over a young mother who gave birth a week ago and is still bleeding very badly. This young girl had just finished Form 7 (about 7th grade) and will most likely not be able to go back to school. She isn’t married, which means she was probably raped and her baby looks to weigh no more than four pounds. She shook with tears as we prayed over her in the dark boma. I couldn’t image her fear. The family wouldn’t let us take her to the hospital but we were able to her bring water and soap. Although her suffering was painful to watch, I was thankful that prayer was not only welcomed but requested over her. This displayed a value for her health and a belief in a God strong enough to heal her. It is a step in the right direction.
Being here in Africa has been a challenging experience both physically and spiritually. I have laughed and cried more than I have in a long time. There are many days that are hard. I feel hopeless and hurt by what I see…But the experience is much like walking through Engikaret. Ultimately, the terrain is treacherous and you are likely to get a few thorns in your feet along the way. But it only hurts for a while. The pain is still worth the journey because with time and prayer the healing rain will come. Thorns will be washed away and Engikaret will be green once more. That is the power of Everlasting Life and Living Water…and that is a God I am believing in more and more every day.

Little Feet, Big Steps

We have all done it.

Whether we admit it or not, at some point in all of our lives we have faked sick to get out of school. I vividly remember many times in grade school lying on the stiff bed in the nurses office, a plastic thermometer jabbed under my tongue, just praying that I would have a fever. Why exactly I wanted to get out of class so badly I do not remember, but I would bet that it had something to do with math time… 

Despite my clever attempts to avoid long division in second grade, I have always valued my education.  But I never realized how fortunate I was for not only having the opportunity, but also the legal obligation to go to school until I came here.

In Africa, children are not required to go to school. While there are many public and private schools, they are typically condensed in more urban areas and are very expensive. Poor children are able attend these schools if they have the opportunity to be sponsored through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.  But if a poor child never finds a sponsor, their chances of receiving an education are very low.

For children in the rural areas of Africa, their chances are even lower. Before the preschool and primary school were built in Engikaret, the only kind of education for miles came from a chalkboard leaned against a tree. Children walked from their worlds of dirt and dung to have the chance to learn, even if it meant sitting on a rock and drawing in the dirt. Thanks to generous donors and the hard work of mission teams, there are now school buildings with desks. The children write with paper and pencil, but they are still the same children… covered in dirt and hungry for education. The more I have tried to understand the government and education in Africa, the more frustrated I have become. But last week God moved my understanding past numbers and systems and showed me through the eyes of a little girl. 

While in Engikaret last week I was able to spend some time observing classes and hanging out with the kids during their porridge break. These children adore attention. Some shyly giggle and cover their face if you even look at them, but many of them will abandon their only meal for the day just to run up and hold your hand. I sat down with a group of them and was instantly covered by a million little fingers. They stroked my hair, my arms, and fiddled with my bracelets and earrings. I felt like an alien on a new planet, but in a way I suppose I am.   

As I sat, a little girl who was standing behind the group caught my eye. She had a shy smile and looked no more than four years old. Holly asked her lovingly in Maasai what her name was. After a little prodding she quietly whispered, “Ameena.” I reached for her hand and she melted into my arms. She didn’t say another word but I felt an instant connection to her. When it was time for her to go back to class, she walked away waving and looking back the entire time. Ameena had captured my heart.

The next morning I went out to the school to see if I could find her again. Even among the 70 or so children, I was sure I would be able to spot her in the same little, dirty dress she wore the day before. But I didn’t see her. I enjoyed playing with the other children but I couldn’t help wondering where Ameena was.

About an hour later I decided to join Holly and Amy (a young YWAM staff member) on a walk out to one of the many boma communities. We were going out to visit a special woman named Helena who is a part of the sewing group on the base. Through the programs and ministries of Faces 4 Hope, Helena has become a strong young mother and woman of God. She is a prime example of a Maasai woman who is moving toward a healthier lifestyle, while still keeping her culture alive. After visiting with her for a short time, we got up to make our journey back to the base. That is when I saw Ameena. Of all the bomas she could have been in, there she was standing in front of me in that same, little dirty dress. A mix of confusion, sadness, and joy swept over me. I scooped her up and said, “You are supposed to be in school right now!” She just smiled timidly back at me. She had absolutely no idea what I was saying. 

With the help of Amy as an interpreter I found Ameena’s mother and asked why she hadn’t gone to school. She shared with us that Ameena’s father does not want his children getting an education. This is a common preference among Maasai men, usually because they haven’t been educated themselves. Her mother pointed to Ameena’s older sister, who couldn’t have been any more than eight years old, and said that she already has been promised as a wife. This young girl hadn’t even been given a chance. My mind ran away with the idea of grabbing both her and Ameena and catching a plane back to the US. I just wanted to get them out of there. It wasn’t her fault she didn’t go to school, but because she was never registered, there was legally nothing we could do to keep her from her predetermined fate. We talked some more with the mother and let her know that Ameena however, needed to continue going to school because she was registered and it would be illegal for her to be kept away. Thank goodness the government has one thing right. 

There were a couple other young girls with Ameena who looked around her age but I hadn’t seen them at school before. We spoke with their mothers and they told us that they hadn’t sent them because they didn’t have any clothes or shoes. I couldn’t believe that their appearance was the only thing keeping these girls from an education and an opportunity to change their lives. The mothers agreed that if we brought back a dress for each of the girls, they would send them to school. Unlike Ameena’s sister, these girls were still young enough to be entered into the system. They still had time. 

It was easy to initially feel angry at these young mothers for not trying harder to give their daughters a chance to better their lives, but I had to put myself in their shoes. Education is not a resource for survival in their culture. Food and water have a much higher importance than clothes for a young girl, even if it means a free education in return. Plus, it’s not like there is a Baby Gap down the road.  

As we walked back to the base, I thought about the young girls back at the boma and what would have happened to them if we had never talked to their mothers. Going to school doesn’t guarantee that they can rewrite their futures completely but it does give them a chance. I remembered the young secondary school girls I met the previous week and was encouraged to remember how much they desired to continue their education. Once a child begins to learn, I believe they start to dream. They can visualize a better future for themselves, their family, and their country. 

We can help the poor by providing food and water, but until we reach more populations with the opportunity for education, the cycle of poverty will continue. It won’t be an easy road. I don’t believe there is such a thing in Africa… But it is worth the time and investment. If only those of us who have had the privilege of education would use our knowledge to invest in human lives rather than Google stocks. Behind every joyful grin I have seen in the last couple weeks is a human life with the potential to change a generation. All they are waiting for is the opportunity. 

If you would like to know more about how you can sponsor a child’s education through Faces 4 Hope, send me an email at I would be happy to share with you about the children who are currently needing sponsors and my personal experiences with them. 

Sub-Saharan Symphony

In my attempts to embrace my new surroundings, I began to write down new things I saw, heard, felt, and tasted. Because I wanted to be able to describe my new world in a colorful and visible way, I decided to write a poem. I’m a little rusty as it isn’t my primary form of writing, but I hope it helps illustrate Africa through my eyes…

Sub-Saharan Symphony  

Water drips rhythmically out of the faucets
like a heartbeat to begin the day.
The morning sun awakens
orange like the clucking chickens.
Cheerful voices are muffled
under stereos and televisions
just a little bit too loud.
“Asante Yesu,” they proclaim.

Melody of motorbikes, blaring horns and crunching gravel
pulsates through the air. 
The village dances to the music of the day.
Bicycles whiz past elegant females
who balance their work upon their head.
They are lined for miles
like worker ants dedicated to their trade.
Their every step summons a harmonious hallelujah.
“Asante Yesu,” they sing.

As the sun reaches its crest
Humming of hungry flies crescendos
providing one, steady note.
Clutching every surface
they are desperate for any leftover love.
As the air cools, their stir settles.
“Asante Yesu,” they buzz.   

Orange encompasses the sky once more.
Orange bleeds to purple.
Purple fades to black.
Chickens carry on their relentless clucking
and the dogs begin a howling chorus.
But it is all second fiddle
to the night lights that shine so silently loud.
It is the solo of the stars.
Each twinkle whispers a prayer.
“Asante Yesu,” they gleam. “Thank you Jesus.”

A Redeeming Revelation

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Africa? Is it HIV/AIDS? Genocide? Extreme poverty? Lack of clean water?…
For as long as I have desired to come here, my mission has always been driven by the knowledge of Africa’s well-publicized problems. We have all seen the television ads of starving children. We’ve watched the glamorized celebrity telethons raising money to fight AIDS. We have read newspaper articles about government corruption and civil wars.
As I packed my suitcase with journals, pens, and voice recorders, I envisioned myself telling stories like those. Stories of heartbreak, pain, and suffering. Stories that I could bring back to really help Americans understand Africa.
Boy, was I mistaken.
God didn’t bring me here to write about how poor Africa is. Everyone is already aware of all of that! This week I came to the redeeming revelation that I am here to write about all that Africa is rich with. After being here two weeks, I now see clearly why God put the desire in my heart to come experience Africa in person…because my view of every “need” was completely force fed by mainstream media and there was a deeper understanding waiting to be discovered.
Everything you’ve heard about Africa is most likely true. There is an enormous amount of poverty, war, disease, and lack of education. I have seen it all with my own eyes already. But I have also seen and felt things I never knew existed in this place I once thought was hopeless. Things like sacrificial love, unquestioning faith, breathtaking beauty, and eternal hope. People may be struggling to survive in many places but they are also overflowing with life. That is a headline you won’t often find in the New York Times.
On Wednesday, Holly and I returned to Engikaret to meet with the group of secondary school aged (high school) Maasai girls who are sponsored through Faces 4 Hope. Before each of them departed to their boarding school’s around the country (some are hours away from home), we wanted to spend time with each of them individually in order to better understand their lives, hearts, and hopes for the future. We met with each of them in a small room. All of the girls spoke very quietly, not looking up much from the table in front of them. I can’t begin to imagine their discomfort of having me, some white, stranger staring at them from across the table with pen and paper in hand. But with the help of the YWAM base director as our interpreter, Holly and I were able to dig deeper into the lives of these young girls who have lived lives unparalleled to anything we have ever experienced.
One after one expressed their desire to change their way of life. They not only wanted to lift themselves out of poverty but also wanted to change their families and villages. Some girls desired to become doctors, teachers, or even lawyers, but even as they dreamed of their future, their focus wasn’t on personal gain; it was about helping others. Those they love and those they don’t even know. I began to realize that the wandering eyes and meek voices of the girls sitting across from me were just masks they wore for their own protection. Inside, each of them possessed a deep determination and fiery passion to better themselves and their world. This was the Africa I was meant to discover. 
The next day, God continued to humble me in ways I never could have foreseen. The Engikaret YWAM leaders were invited to attend a circumcision celebration (yep, you read me right) out at one of the bomas. In Maasai culture, when young men reach puberty it is traditional for them to be circumcised but the customs and ceremonies that surround this kind of event can be quite demonic and abusive. The boys coming of age are put through extreme emotional and physical violence in order to prepare them to be “tough” and “manly.” Once the circumcision has been done (inside a dark boma with no pain medication!), the entire community celebrates by slaughtering a cow to eat, singing and dancing, and usually consumption of alcohol. Sound like a great thing for Christian leaders to attend right?
Well, God is working in this Maasai community in amazing ways. He has brought up a young Maasai man who has a deep passion for The Lord and the spirituality of his people. His name is Bariki. I plan to do a full feature story on Bariki’s life in the future but for now, you should know that this young man has braved everything from defying his deep tribal customs, to disgracing his tribal leader father, to escaping near death, all for the glory of God. Over the last couple of years, Bariki has brought many people in his village to The Lord, including his own mother and now even his deeply traditional father. Bariki’s father invited us to attend the circumcision celebration declaring that he wanted to make it a “God-pleasing environment.” Jack, Holly, and the YWAM leaders were reluctant to agree to be present for fear that Bariki’s father would not follow through with his word, thus placing us in a very vulnerable position. But eventually we decided to attend…and what a celebration it was.
I had been out to a couple of the bomas surrounding the base already so I had an idea of what to expect. The homes are made from stick, mud, and dung. The women cook inside with no ventilation making the inside of the home very dark and smoky. Flies are everywhere. I am positive that anyone with a weak stomach would surely vomit due to the normality of about 50 flies crawling on you at all times. They are especially worse now, during the rainy season. But the Maasai women are very hospitable and love to have you come inside and socialize, so we grin and bear the flies and smoke for the sake of relationship. 
It was about a mile-long walk out to Baba (father) Bariki’s boma community for the celebration. When we arrived, we were greeted as valued guests and led to a special tent made just for us from sticks and black tarp. They went to fetch us some refreshments and my mind began to worry about the kind of disgusting, tribal goo they might bring back. To my delight, it was bottles of Coca-Cola. Oh the irony! We enjoyed our cokes and did our best to swat away the flies. When the food came, I knew I was out of luck. They had slaughtered a cow that morning for the celebration and the Maasai don’t exactly have a barbeque they can just fire up for burgers. A bowl was handed to me full of brown, chunky substance. I did my best to hide the disgust on my face but Jack noticed and said quite frankly to me, “Now you are a missionary.” It is extremely rude to not eat food that has been given to you, especially something as rare and precious as meat. I knew there was no way out so I reluctantly took the first bite. To my surprise, it tasted a lot like beef stew. This was definitely doable! Although some chunks of the meat tasted a little too “alive” for my own liking, it was probably the most healthy and protein-rich meal I have eaten since I left the states.
After eating, the singing and dancing celebrations began. The two boys who had been circumcised that day did not come out of their bomas to dance (as you can imagine…). But many young boys, dressed in all black to signify their recent accent into manhood, began chanting and jumping with the older men in the tribe. It was like being inside a National Geographic scene. The women also began singing and praising different god’s of their land. There wasn’t anything satanic going on necessarily, but there wasn’t anything particularly Godly either…until Bariki stepped up. He began singing worship songs in Maasai and many of the women began to gather around joining in. Soon almost all of the people at the celebration had come around Bariki, watching him lead and listening to his testimonies. I obviously couldn’t understand a word he was saying but I was still somehow completely entranced. His passion was infectious and I could see it on the faces of everyone in the crowd.
Bariki, in the solid blue in the middle of the circle
Bariki continued to preach the word and his heart until the sun had nearly set. It was time for us to leave so that we wouldn’t have to walk back through the savanna in the dark. During the stroll back to the base, I paced myself to walk slightly behind the rest of the group so that I could have some time alone to think about all I had just seen. I asked God a lot of questions…How would You have us serve this culture? What needs to be changed in order to please Your heart? How will we reach these people who have completely different priorities than ourselves?… As my mind raced I just looked out at the gorgeous sunset. The color and beauty in the sky was like God’s way of telling me, “I’m here.”
It was almost like a friendly, mocking chuckle from The Holy Spirit that I would think for even one second that I could do anything to change the harmful ways of the Maasai culture myself. We desire change so badly because of how offended we are by their treatment of women and children and the unsanitary conditions they live in. But even our greatest efforts will do little to change their way of life. A deep love for Jesus is the only thing that will change the hearts of every Maasai while still allowing them to keep their culture without the harmful, pagan rituals. My role here isn’t to be God. It is to let God do his work through me and to trust Him with the rest.
God has humbled me time and time again these last few weeks and I know there is so much more learning ahead. I look forward to sharing specific stories of love, faith, hope, and perseverance with you in the coming months. My photographer friend Rhys will be arriving in Tanzania early February and I am ecstatic about digging deeper into the beautiful lives of the African people together.
I may only be two weeks into this journey but one thing is for sure, this place is beginning to stick to me as closely as the dust and flies do to my body. It’s pretty fun getting dirty to be beautiful for God.