Leaving for Africa again!

 Dear Friends,

 Thanks for taking the time to check out our blog.  Just to bring you up to date:  Jenn and I and four of our children will be leaving for a 3 month trip to Africa on Monday, July 20.  I will be working in rural western Kenya at Tenwek mission hospital where I will be taking care of patients, performing surgery, assisting in the training of young surgeons and giving the long-term missionary surgeons a much needed break. Jenn and the children will be actively involved in ministry at several orphanages within an hour drive of the hospital.  Most of you know that Jenn is a nurse and I am really hoping it works out for Jenn to spend some time in the OR with me this trip to learn how to pass instruments and assist me in surgery.  Our children are looking forward to seeing their friends at Tenwek and love to spend time taking hikes in the hills, playing soccer and visiting the orphanages.  My son Matt and his new bride Mandi will be at the Penn State University as Matt starts his first year of law school. 

 That said, as we prepare to leave we would really appreciate your prayers for us.  About a month ago I felt like the Lord impressed on my heart that—even though we have done this trip many times before, even though we are going into a familiar place, even though we are visiting some of our dear friends—we still need continual, vigilant prayer coverage.  So for the next few days we would be grateful if you would remember to pray for “traveling mercies” as we leave Houston, spend 2 days in Amsterdam, one in Nairobi and then drive to Tenwek.  Specifically that all our luggage would arrive (we have 4 bags with supplies for the hospital and the missionaries), that God would protect us on the drive from Nairobi to Tenwek next Saturday morning. Remember to pray that our transition would be easy and we would remain healthy and strong during our three months away.  Pray against the forces of darkness that would try to prevent us from doing what God has called us to do.  And pray that we would be a blessing and encouragement and bring healing and hope to everyone God brings across our path.

 Psalm 27 has been such a blessing to me for the last few weeks.  David says:  I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. 

 We are looking forward to seeing what good things God has in store during the next 3 months.  We will try to bring you updates regularly so check our blog and follow us on our journey over the months to come.  Thanks in advance for your prayers.




Sunshine at the end of the room

The first time I met Janet* was in the surgery clinic one Tuesday afternoon.  She was 30 years old and wore a tattered dress and had holes in her shoes.  She came requesting supplies so she could take care of a draining wound on her abdomen.  When we asked questions, Janet would mumble an answer, all the while keeping her gaze toward the floor.  When we pressed her for more details, she became more vague and withdrawn.  It didn’t take us long to realize that this young woman was dealing with an incredible amount of pain or sadness or both.  It was if the weight of the entire world was on her stooped shoulders. 

With time, over the next couple of clinic visits, her story began to unfold.  Several years earlier she had had an abortion and things had gone horribly wrong.  First, her uterus was perforated, then a terrible infection spread all through her abdomen.  After four operations and months in the hospital, she was left with her intestines draining through an open wound on her abdomen, a huge hospital bill and the devastating news that she was HIV positive.  And in the months that followed her discharge, she sank into a hopeless depression with no one to help and no where to turn.  She couldn’t come back to the hospital—her bill was too great.  She couldn’t buy medicines for her HIV or supplies for her wound, she had no money. 


After months of suffering alone, she registered at the hospital under a different number and was able to come back occasionally for supplies to take care of her draining wound. It was then I understood the shame and pain and despair I saw in this young woman’s face that first day in the clinic.


On one visit, one of the physicians I work with—Dr. Odera, began to encourage Janet that if she applied for grants, she might be able to receive money for both her hospital bill and her HIV meds.  She applied and was accepted.  And when I examined her abdomen and reviewed her x-rays, I thought that if she was willing to undergo another risky operation, there was a chance that we might be able to take care of the draining wound on her abdomen.


A few weeks later we were amazed and encouraged to find Janet on the surgical ward at Tenwek Hospital being prepared for surgery. At the time of surgery, her operation was much more difficult than I had expected.  After six hours we were finally able to make all the necessary repairs in her intestine, but we knew that if any of the repairs failed, Janet’s life would be in danger. 


Every day when we saw Janet on our rounds, we would let her know that we had done all we could do as physicians to treat her, now we were praying for Jesus to do what we could not do–heal her.  Every day we encouraged her that Jesus was her friend, and that He would be her strength and her comfort and because of Him, her future was always full of hope.  Her bed was at the very end of the female ward.  I would always let her know that–even though she was still in the dark fog of depression, she was the sunshine at the far end of the room. 


It didn’t happen overnight, but over the next few weeks as the nurses and doctors and aides continued to embrace her with the love of Jesus, her wounds began to heal, her countenance began to change as hope once again rose up in her heart.  And for almost 3 weeks, when I walked into the female ward at the far end of the room I could see the biggest, brightest, most hope-filled smile I think I have ever seen. 


Last Monday when I saw Janet on morning rounds she was dressed in a beautiful dress and, as usual she was grinning from ear to ear.  When I asked why she was all dressed up, she smiled and told me:  “for two reasons”.  The first, she said, was because she had been to church the day before–something new for Janet.  And the second reason she said was because today was the day she was finally going home.


What made the difference in Janet’s life?  What caused this young woman who walked in to the clinic full of despair and shame and hopelessness leave with peace and joy and a smile on her face?   It was because of the transforming love of our Savior.


The other day I climbed one of the nearby hills and found a perch overlooking Tenwek Hosptial.  And as I looked at the few buildings that make up the hospital, I thought about how incredible it is that God uses a few bricks and some mortar and some pieces of tin and a few of His willing children to bring hope and healing to men and women and children just like Janet.  What a privelege it was to play a small part in her care.  She truly was sunshine at the end of the room. 






* Not her real name




Umoja and Bosto

This past week the children and I visited two orphanages.  We traveled just outside of Bomet to Umoja Children’s Home where twenty five children live with Joseph Chepkwony and his family.  The girls and Jackson played soccer, jumped rope and colored with the younger kids.  We taught them the song “Our God is So Big, So Strong and So Mighty” and shared the story of Hannah.  We encouraged the kids to be like Hannah and carry their struggles to God- the One who can answer their hearts deepest desires.

I met with Joseph to assess the needs of the orphanage and see how we can help while we are in Kenya.  He has had success raising laying hens that not only provide eggs for the orphans at the home but provide a small profit when he sells the excess (he sells to the missionaries at Tenwek so we have been eating Umoja eggs!).  Joseph shared with me that he really needs more chickens to make more of a profit for the orphanage. His location is very close to Bomet and he could easily sell more eggs if he had them. I discussed the possibility of us helping him to purchase more chickens and with his present coops he could accommodate quite a few more. 

One of the missionaries at Tenwek decided to go in with me and we have given Joseph enough money to purchase 200 more chickens, now he will have over 300 chickens to feed his orphans and make some profit for the home. 

On Saturday we traveled for over an hour quite a distance over some very bumpy roads to reach Bosto Children’s Home which sits atop an unbelievable mountainside perch. Below us we could see a thick forest line at the bottom of the mountain which was the edge of the Maun Forest. 

I had not originally planned on visiting Bosto but when I heard of the dedication of the pastor and his wife who run the home and the great needs they have I decided I would try and visit them.  Within days God provided us with transporation to take us there on a Saturday morning.

Isaac Mutai and his wife, Emme, take care of 40 of the neediest orphans in the area.  While they have many needs, Isaac shared how recently the greatest need has just been feeding the children.  The land is rocky and sloped and he cannot grow anything on it, so all their food must be bought or donated to them.  He does not have a cow for milk and has only 15 chickens which barely provide any eggs for the childrenl.  His present coop is small and a falling down. A local man has promised to donate a good milk cow to the orphanage but the fencing is not adequate for livestock.

While the missionary kids and the girls played with children, I sat and spoke with Isaac about how we could help him feed his children.  We came up with a simple plan like fencing some of his land so he could keep a milk cow and save the 1600 KSH a month he spends on milk (which doesn’t pay for much milk weekly).  Isaac desperately also needs more chickens and new coops.  More chickens would provide eggs a couple of times a week for the kids and he can sell the eggs for a profit.  The money they save will pay for the feed for the chickens.  Isaac provided me with a detailed list of the cost for the fencing and the coops.  He expressed how he had been praying and asking the Lord for these specific needs.  I knew at that moment why I had travelled to Bosto that day.  I left Isaac with the money to construct the fence and new chicken coops, once those projects are done I committed to buy the orphanage 100 chickens. 

All the money I took to Bosto and to Umoja Children’s Home was raised by JLIFE at Lakewood Church this spring, I just had the awesome privilege of delivering the money for the projects. I shared with Isaac that morning how the money was from children in America who are young leaders in our church who love Jesus and wanted to help other kids all the way across the world in Africa.  We prayed together and thanked God that he had crossed our paths.  When he prayed He thanked God for you, JLIFE, and so do I!  I will post photos of what God allowed you and me to be a part of at these two orphanages as soon as I can. ~Jennifer

Mambo Sawa Sawa

This morning Jackson joined a small group of the younger missionary children who went up to the hospital to entertain the patients and their families. Last week the kids made hand puppets so we carried those with us to help with our singing.  The children sang “Jesus Loves Me” and a Swahili song “Mambo Sawa Sawa”  and gave the patients stickers and coloring sheets with crayons.

Mambo sawa sawa.
Mambo sawa sawa.
Yesu akiwa enzini.
Mambo sawa sawa.

Which in English translates:

Things are getting better.
Things are getting better.
When the Lord is on the throne,
Things are getting better.

We made rounds outside where the some of the patients and their families congregate and in the Pediatric ward, nursery and eye ward.  The elderly Kenyans in the eye ward really enjoyed the songs and puppets.  It was a blessing to see their faces light up at the children and some even joined in the singing with us.  No matter what brought each patient to the hospital we confidently can encourage them that with Jesus on the throne things are truly already better. ~Jennifer