We had the opportunity this Sunday to travel by foot into the hills to a small village church.  My new Kenyan friend, Summary, invited us to join her at the church she is helping to build in her community.

We were off by nine walking about an hour, passing only huts and small tea plantations on our way.  We reached Kapsebet, and Pastor Rono met us at the road and led us to the door of a small wooden room.

Church was supposed to start at ten (but in Kenyan time that meant about 10:30). Slowly the church filled up as people walked from the hills above and all around to worship. We began with singing beautiful traditional hymns.  No one had a songbook except Summary, but the room filled with music.  The songs were sung in Kipsigis, but we easily could follow along in English to the familiar tunes.  Everything was accapella and echoed up the hill along the backside of the building.  There was one hand drum played that kept a beautiful rhythmic beat.  They treated us as honored guests and had lovely throws on the pews designating our special front row seats.  It was a wonderful morning, and we so enjoyed being a part of their service. They translated much of the service into English and made us feel so welcome.

My favorite part of the service was when the offerings and tithes were received.  Many people walked up to place their schillings in the basket, but what amazed me was that many people brought up fruits, vegetables and sugar cane.  Then at the end of the service, the items were auctioned off to the congregation and the profit added to the tithe.  This was such a tender time for us to see people who perhaps did not have any money to spare, but still wanted to give God their best, their first fruits and crops.  Someone bought the sugar cane for the children to enjoy after church; this was Jackson’s favorite part!

Pastor Rono asked Paul to close the service.  Then we walked up the hill where they, with the help of others, were able to purchase a piece of land and hope to build a building of their own someday.  Again, Paul was asked to pray over the construction and finances for this precious congregation.

After the service, we walked another thirty minutes to a home where we were invited for lunch. We had a traditional Kenyan meal of beans, rice, sakumawiki, chapatis (like a tortilla) and ugali.  She used what she had and served us her best. We’ll never forget her generous hospitality. It was a highlight for me to be in the village and be a part in a day of Summary’s family and life.  I especially enjoyed Summary’s children and fell in love with her three-year-old girl, little Flora.

We were “released” to go about 4:30.  In the Kenyan culture, the host literally tells you when you are free to go, and it is considered rude to leave before you have been given permission. We then traveled down the dirt road until we came to the Rickety Bridge.   By the way, the bridge is completely torn down, and the metal frame is up and ready for the work team in March to come and finish.  It was very exciting to see the progress and know that Summary and hundreds more travel this way everyday to come to work in this area at the compound or school. This meant, however, we had to travel over a makeshift bridge below the new one put together with logs and boards inches over the water….another adventure for my tired little family.  I am sure you have read in a previous blog that not everyone in my family was feeling well by this time.:o)

Needless to say, we were early to bed that night after such a full day, some of us doing better than others.  It was such a wonderful way to spend our last Sunday in Kenya.

We could not speak the same language, we looked very different in the small sea of beautiful dark skin and much of the culture was new for us.  But none of that mattered because we were there for the same reason, to worship and honor our Lord and Savior.

It was a glimpse of heaven.


A Very Special Wednesday

Not long after we arrived here at Tenwek, my girls asked me if it would be possible for them to be baptized just below the waterfall in the river not far from the hospital.  I asked them to think about it for a few days before we made our final decision.  About a week ago, all three sat me down and told me they had made up their mind and wanted me to baptize them in water before we left Africa.

So last Wednesday, we made our way 15 minutes down the rocky path that leads to the river.  A few of our friends came with us making the moment even more special by their presence.  When we arrived, I talked about how proud Jenn and I are of each of the girls for their decision to make Jesus the Lord and Savior of their lives.  Dr. Russ explained how baptism represents the fact that we are cleansed from our sins by the sacrifice of Jesus and that when we are baptized, we leave our “old life” in the water and we are raised to a “new life” in Jesus.  We then had a prayer, and the four of us climbed into the cold water as mom and Jack watched and took pictures from the bank.

My usual routine when I baptize someone is to call the person by name and then say, “My brother/sister in Christ, because of your profession of faith in the Lord Jesus, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.  I “held it together” until I called each of my daughters “my sister in Christ”.  I cried my own river of tears as I realized that my children are not only a part of MY family, but because they trust Jesus as their Savior, they are a part of THE family of God.  What a joy it will be for Jenn and I to spend all of eternity in heaven with our children.

As I baptized each of my girls in that cold, African water last Wednesday, I prayed that their baptism would be a constant reminder that there is a world out there that needs to hear and see the love of Jesus.  I pray that each of them–in whatever way God calls them–will be a part of going into all the world with the Good News.

From Africa with love,

They sound the same

There is a local culinary delicacy here in Kenya called “ugali”. It is pronounced “u” (like the “oo” in moon), “gha”, “lee”; with the emphasis on “gha”. What pasta is to the Italians, what tamales are to the Latinos, what hamburgers are to Americans—ugali is to the Kenyans. Even the mention of its name brings a broad smile to their faces, a warm sensation to their hearts and excited anticipation to their stomach juices. I think it is very similar to the same effect the mention of Blue Bell Rocky Road ice cream has on me.Most of the Kenyans I meet insist that I must try ugali before I leave. Several of my friends have offered to have me over for lunch and make ugali for me. Each time I have carefully but graciously declined. That is, until this past Sunday, when over lunch, the host brought in rice and beans in separate big pots that had been warmed over the fire. And then greens in a simple open pan. And then she retrieved out of the depths of her kitchen a small covered dish with her prized offering to us—ugali. What could I do? I had to be a gracious guest. She dished out a small portion of what looked a little like overly thick grits on to my plate. And she mentioned that if I mixed the ugali with the greens it would be the height of my culinary experience while here in Kenya. My thought was to cover the ugali with salsa and cheese, and perhaps, it would taste like an enchilada. I felt like I had to oblige her. The first bite was quite unremarkable—very little taste except for the greens. I became more daring with the next few bites—ugali alone. I must admit, it tastes like a combination of mashed potatoes and grits. My confidence was surging—so I finished my portion, complimented my host and had a sense of connection with the deep roots of the Kenyan culture.

What happened about 30 minutes later is difficult to explain. In medical terms, I would probably describe it as acute gastric distension with a component of severe, unrelenting gastrointestinal spasms. In Texas slang, I was just sick as a dog. I felt like a nuclear explosion started in my lower esophagus and reverberated all the way down to my toes.

We kindly thanked our host and commenced with our 45-minute walk home—yes, I said 45 minutes! The spasms worsened, I began to perspire, and each step of the way, it seemed like the intestinal nuclear melt-down was worsening. By the grace of God, we made it to our cottage. My family quickly offered prayers for my survival, and I created a concoction of Pepto-Bismol, Tums, Alka-Seltzer and Phenergan (don’t try this without medical supervision) and proceeded to bed, where I lay perfectly still so I could keep my ugali inside rather than outside.

I’m now 24 hours past my first ugali experience and am a little more positive about it than I was lying in the bed yesterday. The only residual symptom I have is some heartburn after meals—compared to the intestinal nuclear disaster yesterday, I am not complaining. I have given ugali a new name—I now call it “Oh Golly!!” And needless to say, I will never let this local Kenyan delicacy ever touch my lips again.

From Africa with love,

P.S. Perhaps this distress had nothing to do with ugali, maybe it was the enchiladas and pizza I had the night before!!

A Starry African Night

The cottage where we are staying is about 200 yards from the hospital.  The walk ‘home’ is winding, parts are rocky and even though there are a few lights along the way, it is very dark at night.  Last week I was walking home in the middle of the night.  It was cool, almost cold and perfectly clear, not a cloud in the sky.  There were more stars than I have ever seen blanketing the African sky.  The moon was about a quarter and two stars (maybe planets) looked so big that I felt I could almost reach out and touch them.

I had just done a complex operation on a small baby.  The case had gone well.  The baby did fine.  And as I reflected on that little patient, I was so grateful that over 20 years ago I had spent 6 months of my life at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  I was so thankful that Dr. Steve Golladay had shown me how to diagnose children with surgical problems, so grateful that we spent countless hours in the operating room together.  First he showed me how to do the operation (that I had just done), then he patiently watched as I did the surgery, then he trusted me to do the operation alone. And now over 20 years later, in a remote part of Africa, that investment has made a difference in a small child’s life.

And then my mind was flooded with all the people who have taught me so much—about surgery, about life, about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  I’m so grateful to Dr. Everett Tucker and Dr. Hugh Burnett—my partners for many years in Little Rock.  Countless times I’ve been doing cases this month, and small technical “gems” that they gave me many years ago has made all the difference in a case going well.  Yesterday I was dissecting the superior mesenteric vein off the backside of the pancreas (a difficult and dangerous part of the operation) and their wisdom and instruction guided me the whole way.  I’m so thankful to Dr. Kent Westbrook who instilled in me principles of surgery that are still a part of what I do everyday here in Africa.

I’m so grateful for my dad who planted the seed of missions inside of me as a small boy.  His example and his passion to ‘reach the unreached and tell the untold’ is still a big part of who I am today.  I’m thankful to my mom who taught me, by her example, the love and compassion of Jesus toward people who are in need.  I’m grateful to my pastors and friends in Little Rock who reached out to me when I was hurting.  They taught me to run TO the wounded, not away from them.  I’m grateful to my brother who taught me the power of my thoughts, and my sisters and sister-in-law who show me how to passionately follow Jesus.  And I’m grateful to Duncan and David and Wendell and Simone and JT and MA (I could go on and on) who have demonstrated to me what it is like to walk side-by-side as friends for the long haul.  And grateful for Jenn, words aren’t adequate to convey what an impact you have made in my life.

I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to operate on that small child last week and I’m so glad that during a walk home under a starry African sky God reminded me to be thankful for the people who have made an investment and had a lasting impact on my life.

From Africa with love,