For the last couple of years my friend Dr. Zach and I have dreamed about a time when we could make a trip to northern Kenya where the Pokot tribe lives. Dr. Zach is from the Pokot tribe and God has placed a burden in his heart to return to his people, provide medical care to them and share with them the good news of the Gospel. He wanted to introduce me to his family and we wanted to explore areas where we could come with short-term missions teams. This weekend that dream became a reality as Dr. Zach and I loaded up our gear in his four wheel drive Land Rover and set off from Tenwek mission hospital to explore the territory seven hours north.
Our route took us through Kericho, Ahero, past the Nandi hills to Kapsabet and then Kitale. In Kitale we had a brief lunch and then were off to Eldoret, Soy, Kipsain and then Kapenguria. Kapenguria a small town on the southern edge of the country of the Pokot tribe. We visited the government hospital in Kapenguria where many of the Pokot people come for medical care. We then traveled north where the terrain changed from the lush highlands similar to the area around Tenwek hospital to a dry, hot desert climate. This area has had very little rainfall this year, the crops are failing and severe shortages of food are expected later this year. What struck me though, was the fact that there were virtually no vehicles on this remote road heading north. We stopped at the Ortum Catholic Mission hospital—a 100 bed hospital served by one dedicated medical officer and only an occasional visiting surgeon. The area served by this hospital includes the northern border of the Pokot tribe, extending into Uganda. Dr. Samuel was so excited about the possibility of surgical teams coming to Ortum to help care for the people. We then left the tarmac and headed west up the Cherangany hills 30 rough kilometers to the area of Dr. Zach’s home, the village of Sina. It was dark when we arrived, there was no electricity but I noted in the headlights several older men beckoning us to a small room dimly lit by a kerosene lantern. As I stepped in, I realized I was being greeted by the elders and chiefs of this area. We exchanged introductions, they kindly welcomed me to their village and we drank chai (milk and tea) together. In the dark, we traveled another kilometer to Dr. Zach’s home. Dr. Zach’s father welcomed me to his home, they brought water for me to wash my feet and hands and we shared a delicious meal of chicken soup, ugali (corn made into a paste), milk and chai. His father presented me with a beautiful hand carved chair as a gift. When I gave him a new pair of dress shoes as a gift, he put them on and literally jumped up and down with gratitude. I got bundled into my sleeping bag, blew out the kerosene lamp and slept like a baby until almost daybreak.
When I woke up and went outside, there was the most beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding hills and mountains. There were baby twin lambs bleating for their mother, chickens with their broods and a cow with her calf grazing just outside my door. The women were already up and working getting the children ready for school and you could smell the fires warming the water and milk for breakfast. I met Dr. Zach’s mother and sister and had breakfast of boiled eggs and Nescafe (mine!) for breakfast. The rest of the morning was spent with the village elders and chiefs thanking me for my visit and expressing their sincere desire to have a small clinic for mothers to deliver their babies. We then visited several dispensaries where nurses and doctors occasionally visit to provide health care for the area. In the entire area there are no doctors, only an occasional nurse that visits, everyone must travel many miles over difficult roads to receive medical care. The one thing that so impressed me was the fact that wherever we visited, everyone knew Dr. Zach, loved Dr. Zach and so wanted him to come back and help them. One elder said it well when he said, “This is our son, he will come and help us.” At another dispensary 500 children were sitting on the grass under the shade awaiting a measles vaccination. [Apparently there is a measles outbreak in this area and they are strongly advising all the little ones to be vaccinated.]
We said our good-byes to Dr. Zach’s family and as I left they presented me with gifts: a hand-carved sugar bowl, a laying hen, a sack of potatoes, 6 eggs and a pint of honey with the comb. After prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for “journey mercies” I felt I was leaving my own family as the Land Rover pulled out of their village.
We headed southwest for 100 kilometers arriving at Kapsowar mission hospital at 5 p.m. I spent almost a month at Kapsowar last year, so I was well acquainted with the facility and the staff. We were warmly greeted by our friends Dominique, Wilson, Jonathan, James and Michel. That evening over a meal we met several new missionary doctors serving at Kapsowar. We rested well after our long journey and the next morning toured the hospital, saw several patients and began our seven hour journey home.
As the red dust of Africa spilled through the windows of the Land Rover we talked about all the ways that perhaps we could come back and help the Pokot people. God has placed that burden in the heart of Dr. Zach and God has placed that burden in my heart as well.
Many people have been asking if we are adopting the children we are caring for in Kenya. While we are open to God’s leading, it is not possible for us to adopt them. Kenyan law says that you must live in Kenya and be citizens to adopt. So we will continue to care for them and love on them as we all continue to pray that Caleb, Lydia and Benjamin will be adopted quickly by a Godly, Kenyan family.
Benjamin, Lydia and Caleb came home with us a few weeks ago after being orphaned when their mother died shortly after childbirth. The girls and I spent many hours up in the nursery feeding these three small babies. After spending a couple of weeks in the hospital nursery, they were ready for discharge but their long-term placement had not yet been arranged. The nursery was packed with 47 babies in a small cramped space. The doctors and nurses were overwhelmed with taking care of so many sick children so they asked if we would be willing to care for the children while arrangements for long term placement are being made. The legal officer for the hospital and the social workers gave approval for them to come home with us until they are placed in nearby orphanages to await adoption.
It has been very exhausting and at the same time absolutely one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I am up at least every two hours at night. It seems as if one of the babies is always crying, needing to be fed, burped or changed. Like all newborns, they want to be held and cuddled. It is a 24 hour job just making the formula and cleaning the bottles. And I am still trying to school my own children, cook, clean and maintain a family life on the mission compound. When I think about it though, all the hard work and sleepless nights has really been the easy part.
The difficult part has been all the unanswered questions. I have struggled with not being able to change their situation or to predict what their lives will eventually look like. I want desperately to manipulate their futures. I want to know the ‘plan’ for their lives. Will they be adopted? Will they stay together as triplets? Will they be able to go to school? Will they be raised in a Christian home? Will they be safe and loved?
I hardly ever pick them up, hold them or cuddle them without whispering prayers over them and asking Jesus to protect them and care for them when I no longer will be able to. I pray they would come to know Him at an early age and serve Him all the days of their life. I ask God all the questions that float around in my mind. I have even struggled with God over the injustice of their situation.
A few nights ago around 3 in the morning I was questioning the Lord and even telling him how very unfair things seem to be sometimes in this life. Could He reassure me that He was in control, of even, this situation? A very familiar scripture came to my mind. I hear it quoted frequently but in the quiet of the night it took on special meaning.
God whispered Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for Benjamin, Lydia and Caleb…plans to prosper them and not harm them. Plans full of hope and a future.”
He knows the plan. I can trust He is aware of the situation and knows the outcome. I am here NOW because we are part of His plan. I still have all those questions and they are all still unanswered but I have to trust Him. It’s not my job to figure it all out. My responsibility is to do what I can. And for now that means to hold these little ones, to kiss them and feed them and care for them. But mostly, just to love them. To be the mother’s hands and arms and embrace that they have never felt.
Sometimes trusting God with all the unknowns feels like the ‘hard part’ to me but it actually is what makes all the hard work feel easy. He has given me grace and endurance over the last few weeks to care for Benjamin, Caleb and Lydia and I am learning to trust Him with their future. I thank God for the privilege of caring for them and for the unfailing promise of His word.
I’ve spent the last two weeks with a visiting physician couple here at the hospital. Dr. K.E. is a general surgeon and his wife, Dr. Leya is a pediatrician. Their original home is India; their home for the last 30 years is in the Deep South, not far from mine. They have three grown children and are within a few months of retirement age. They have a rich Christian heritage and have themselves been devoted followers of Jesus for many, many years.
For the last two weeks Dr. K.E. and I have spend a great deal of time together—doing rounds early in the morning, seeing the sick in clinic, sharing our thoughts on complicated patients and assisting each other in difficult surgeries. They have been guests for dinner in our home; they have made us Cajun gumbo in theirs’. I have watched Dr. K.E. respond to the daily frustrations we all face, I have watched him interact with the staff of the hospital, I have watched him take care of patients and their families, and I have watched him as he has processed life for the last two weeks here at Tenwek.
And there is something distinctly different about K.E. He is one of the most grateful people that I have ever met—an unstoppable gratitude, in every situation finding something to be thankful for. When you are around him there is an absolute peace, a calmness that nothing seems to disturb, a joy that is always just below the surface, which bubbles up so naturally—in an effortless smile, through his gentle touch, with the kindness that you can see in his eyes. And everywhere he goes he “ministers” this peace and joy to everyone he comes in contact with. He is one of the kindest men I have ever met—to the staff he is so complimentary and encouraging, to his patients he is so caring and compassionate, to his co-workers and peers he is so affirming and supportive. Even though he is an excellent surgeon with 35 years of experience, even though he has great wisdom and great judgment when it comes to difficult clinical situations, there isn’t an ounce of arrogance in K.E.—he deflects any praise to One he serves. I watched him as he secretly slipped small gifts into the hands of those he worked with—a book, a pen, or something else of meaning—small gifts from a very generous heart.
As I thought about K.E., I realized what makes him so distinctly different–he has been walking with Jesus for a long, long time. The fruit has taken root and grown and now looks just like the tree. The branch looks just like the vine. The child looks just like the father. He is being changed into the image of his Savior—and after walking with Him for all these years, He looks more and more like Jesus and less and less like K.E. And just like there was something powerfully attractive about the presence of the Son of God on this earth 2000 years ago, there is still something powerfully attractive about the presence of Jesus in a man or woman today. K.E. is living proof of that. And I am so thankful I had the opportunity to meet him, spend time with him and be challenged by his example.
Take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces His character in you. Ephesians 4 Message Bible