How do I summarize a trip that I have been preparing for over a year and a half?! I am really not going to do this any justice, but I decided that in all fairness, I should let you in on this mission trip to Kenya, Africa just a little bit!
Saying goodbye to my babies was hard, but we were all still excited. Yes, I teared up, but I was not going to let my emotions take over and bring me down. So here are my big 3 with their passports in hand, dropping me off at the airport. The journey began on June 21st in Charlotte airport. They were excited to go to the look out for a picnic lunch and watch my plane go up in the sky! When they did get home though, Harper disappeared on Matt and he finally found him under my bed crying because he missed me. :( And then of course that night Carly woke up sick and puking for 2 days, so Matt was getting attacked immediately after I left!
We landed in Newark, NJ and I got to see the Statue of Liberty......that is it in the middle of the picture. Come on squint...you can see it....it is on that little island in the middle of the water...there, now you see it. Lady Liberty. I was excited about it since I have lived 15 years in NY and never saw it!! So we land here in Newark and are ready to load our big airbus to take us to Zurich, Switzerland. Then there goes the announcement. The plane is delayed, all those planning on heading to Nairobi cannot get on this plane, but must go to customer service and figure out where you are going! So we head over there and all we hear is that we will be stuck for 24 hours in Newark! Well, we left our leaders, headed to a spot around the corner and we prayed. Oh did we pray to get on that plane. Then we get yelled at, "Run!!! Get your stuff and run!!" We stand up and bolt across the airport in pure Home Alone style and get on our plane! Yahoo.....we were on. We had no clue what was in store for us, but we were going across the Atlantic and just all that more closer to Africa!
The food was very good on all the planes too. I enjoyed having my food already in portions and delivered right to my seat. No decisions on what I wanted, except for beef or fish and that was a no brainer! I enjoyed my food and took a little cat nap. We had our own individual TVs so that kept me entertained.
And then we land in Zurich, Switzerland! It was very pretty there and all the people from Zurich are very pretty and well put together. So now that we land, we are told we have to go figure out how we are going to get to Nairobi, Kenya. There were 10 people from Sardis who went so, Kim Hucks was the one in charge of us. She deserves an award for getting us on all these planes!! So the rest of us sat and waited while she fan-angled with the airport people. Verdict is.....instead of going straight to Nairobi as planned, we get to go to Istanbul, Turkey and then to Kilimanjaro, Tansania then to Nairobi and then to Kisumu. Wow....4 flights just turned to 6!
So we get our $15 voucher for food for inconvenience and go eat some dinner before our next flight. Well, little did we know, that two of our tickets were stand by tickets. David (who has been to Africa before) and Olivia (who is 17) could not board!! We tried to devise plans on how we could not get on the plane so that at least Olivia could! Kim Hucks was in tears because she had promised her parents that she would be with Olivia the entire time, so she wasn't getting on that plane. They told us we HAD to get on the plane so we all boarded.....I walked backwards and prayed, because I knew that God would not let this happen. Olivia could not be left in Turkey! Sure enough, Kim walked on that plane and Olivia followed behind!! We did have to leave David in Istanbul, but we knew he could handle it. He actually never made it to Kisumu until Monday....He missed all of Sunday's activities and Mondays!!!
When we were getting ready to load our plane to Istanbul, Amber and I were checking seats and I was sitting next to her Dad and she was alone. She didn't like that, so I offered to switch seats with her. We get on the plane....to Istanbul......and I see my new seat - oh yes, I am surrounded by nothing but Arab looking people! I fell asleep for just a little bit, ate lunch, then asked the two guys next to me where they were going. Oh, they were on their way to Mecca for their pilgrimage!! Well, right then and there, I knew this was one of God's divine appointments for this journey we were on. I got to talk with these two Muslims for the entire plane ride - it was something like 4 hours - about the Bible and Jesus and they told me all about their beliefs. It was so cool to be able to overcome that fear of them and understand what they believe in and why. They were very happy at the end of the flight to know about Christianity as well and we really enjoyed each other's company. Now I wish that they would have gone straight to the ticket counter and went back home because they wanted to convert, but I was just there to plant a seed and now I get to pray for them and their journey and pray that something I had said became sticky for them! So here is a picture (above) of either the Black Sea or part of the Mediterranean Sea. I had no clue where I was!
And here we were snacking in Istanbul!!! I can't believe we were there!
So then we head to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Here is a picture after we landed and had time to recover from what went down! We got off the plane and had to get all our luggage off of the little belt thing. There were 10 on our team - so 20 bags and 7 on the other team - and their 14 bags! So here we stand with 34 bags and dude from customs comes over and says he needs to look in our bags. He asked if we had medical and we said no, just bandaids. Well, of course the first trunk he opens has bandaids! He looked and looked and then said he needed to take all that was in the trunk. Then he said we needed to open all the bags. We had these tote things that were zip tied closed and if we took those off we had no way of closing them again. We only had 2 extra ties. We cracked it and pulled out a little girl dress. He looked that dress over and you could tell he was really loving that dress. He looked at us and said, "I have to seize it all. Everything you have!" What?!!! We were floored. We told him we needed it all. We begged. We pleaded. We told him we were in transit and weren't staying in Tanzania and we were going to Kenya. He wasn't having it at all! I was standing next to another airport guy and I looked at him and asked him to help us. He told me that dude was on a power trip and there was no point talking to him. He wouldn't give in. We got another airport lady. She tried to talk to him. He got mad. He was rock solid on his decision of seizing all our luggage. Well, he walked away for a minute and we all gathered up, held hands, and prayed around every piece of that luggage. After a few minutes, dude comes back. He was completely changed. He was so nice. He said, "Oh, your in transit, have a good trip. Take it all with you." Thank you Lord for intervening!! Man, that was crazy!! We ran out of there as quick as we could and tried not to make eye contact with anyone else :) So, we are now early into Sunday morning- like 3 am.
He we go loading up and heading to Kenya!! This was the only prop plane we rode on the entire trip. I wasn't loving it! It was so dark and then there were thick clouds. So thick you could barely see the end of the wings. It was bumpy and cloudy and gray.
All then all of the sudden, we popped out of the clouds. Those thick clouds that reminded me of all the trouble we had gone through the past 3 days trying to get to Kenya. Such trouble that we couldn't see where we were going or why, but then I was reminded of Ephesians 3:17b-18 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ! We did this verse last year at VBS and one of the sites was how high (it was Mt. Everest, but Mt. Kilimanjaro will do when you are deliriously tired and you are thinking you are seeing the highest mountain in the world). But the point was, how high is the love of Christ!! He loves us! We may go through that thick, dark, gray points of our life, but keep looking up and you will see God and all his glory! It was magnificent up there. You can see how thick those clouds were. It looked like a blanket and then that mountain peak!
And then the most glorious sunrise ever! Yes, I was crying like crazy as I was just renewed and reminded of the wonderful love of Christ! I was on this journey for Him and He was there to remind me of why!!
So we made it to Nairobi. Long enough to take this picture, find my suitcase that was on the wrong belt and run to the other plane that they were holding for us! Well, these airports in Africa are a little different. I have no clue where I was, but I was following some lady and we were running. We ran through a parking lot and then through security again - and we each had our 2 pieces of luggage to get all checked in....again!
At his point our trip coordinator, Phil, was there and we felt a big relief that we were loading our last plane!! This was just a quick flight and in just an hour, we would finally be in Kisumu, our destination. Oh, and then as soon as the plane is loaded...the plane that was being held for us....we couldn't leave, because the plane next to us had a fuel leak and there was fuel all over the ground so we had to wait for that to get cleaned up.
Oh what a glorious sight!!! We made it!! We finally got there sometime on Sunday morning - I think around 10. We were originally supposed to spend the night in Nairobi and then wake up early in the morning and fly here, but we lost so much time, we just came straight here with no bed time for 3 days!
We then drove to our hotel, dropped our stuff off in the office and jumped back in the cars. We didn't even have a chance to go potty - big mistake not going before we left, because I got to experience a choo first thing! Gotta love a bathroom that is literally just a hole in the ground! We went to church at a finished church and it was an amazing service. They smiled so much at us. We were seated on the "stage" - raised up dirt - and were facing all of them. Well, it got warm in there and we hadn't slept in 3 days. We were all falling asleep! We couldn't help it. We looked hilarious. No matter how much we tried, we could not stay awake! Phil did tell them all about why we were like that and they didn't seem to mind at all! But experiencing church in Africa was the most amazing experience. This little boy above reminded me of Harper. He carried this baby around the entire time. It is so cool to see how they take care of each other.
We stood outside and chatted with the people from the church and the orphans and widows that were there.
They all loved getting their picture made and then seeing themselves in our screens!
Once the church is established, CMN (church missions network that we traveled with) sets up a K4K feeding program. They feed the orphans and widows. They usually do this 3 times a week, so they had one for us to see. CMN is really neat how it works. First they take a guy that they are going to pastor train. He goes off and learns how to be a pastor for two years. After that, they send in a medical team to the area. This medical team sees thousands of people and shares the gospel with them after they get treated. Then the pastor comes to the area and establishes the church. They have to have a church established for at least 6 months so that they know they have people that will come once the building is there. And then, teams come and build the church (in one day) and go to the schools and do VBS with the kids. So we were on the part of church building and going to the schools in this process. So that is why we went to church the first day, so that we could see the final product of the entire process. And then they set up the K4K program at the church. It is such a cool organization!
You know that without have a child to touch for three days, I had to find one I could love on!!
This was the church drummer.....man, he could rock it out!
After church service, we went to Miracle Power. The other team that went with us was from Tennessee, and Greg founded this ministry. It is an organization that feeds and teaches skills to widows and orphans. It is amazing! The widows made us lunch...It was yummy!
I'm telling you....we fell asleep alot this day! Josh just couldn't handle a full stomach and the beautiful weather....perfect for a nap!
We chatted with the orphans there and then we saw some street kids standing at the gate. So we went out and talked to them. They were just so smiley and interested in what we were doing!
I mean...they just couldn't get any cuter!
Here is the kitchen and the widows that cooked our meal. They were so proud of their facility!
I loved the older ladies. They just looked beautiful...or as they would say...smart (took me a few days to figure out that when they were saying smart, they were meaning beautiful)
This lady had to have her picture taken with this plate of rice. I had to take a couple for it to be perfect for her!
The orphans! My kids had researched Miracle Power before I left and they saw all the kids that lived there. It was so cool to take a picture with them!
This is the widows house - 2 sets of bunk beds. 4 women to a room! And look how proud she was!!! She sat right down so I could take a picture. This was her home!
This is the Jumuia House that we stayed at for 2 days. The food was awesome and we had nice warm showers there.
The first day in the field, this was the road we had to drive on to get there! It was a dried up river bed - bumpy is an understatement and we almost got stuck a lot!
One of our translators, Jonathan, actually lived here. This was his home growing up (the center one). The boy children get a house so his house is the one on the right. He gave his house to the orphans that his mom keeps. She used to be a social worker, then contracted HIV, so now she keeps busy keeping orphans at her house. Such a servants heart! This house is right near the first church site.
Here is a choo - the bathroom facilities, if we even had these - during the day each day.
This is the gate to the first school. The door was so small we had to duck down so low to get into it.
The children after crafts!
We spent about 2 hours at each school. We would split the kids up into 3 groups and then they would rotate between crafts (with me), Bible time, and recreation. We had a blast with them and each school was so different with the ability levels. We were surprised that so many of them understood English. They all spoke Swahili and they learned English in school, so the older kids didn't even need a translator! We made glasses, yarn bracelets, and color changing necklaces. We were going to make butterflies, but there was one trunk that never made it and all the tools to build the churches and the coffee filters for that craft never made it (along with David and Olivia's luggage! We all just gave them things to wear and did their laundry in the sink!)
The teacher's desk
At every school they had to wear uniforms. They were so proud of them. They had to be a certain color, depending on your school, and some would even go to school, change into their uniform and change back out of it before they went home. You have to pay to go to school, so it is very important to them. Each class room only had 1 blackboard. We looked at their books and they have to learn a whole lot and without calculators! They are all very neat writers!
This is grandmother Willow (you know from Pocahontas). We named her that, but we don't know her real name. After the schools each day, we would walk back to the church site and wait for the guys to be done building the church. We would sit and talk to the people around. This woman is 95 years old and she waddled right on over and wanted to have a seat on the ground with everyone. They did try to move her and tell her not to sit down, but she did anyway and landed in a fresh cow patty. We felt so bad, but she sat on it the entire time and didn't notice until she got up. She left and changed and then came back.
We ate our lunch and then there were a bunch of kids around so I got out the trunk of crafts and made some with the kids who were just hanging around. This day we made bookmarks and this sweet girl sat in front of me and probably made 50! She reminded me of my Chloe! I really enjoyed having all the time in the world to just sit and make stuff with these kids. They weren't in school, so they probably couldn't afford it.
This guy collected all the hole punches and stuck them all over his head. He was covered by the end of the day!
This first church was special to us, because it was dedicated to Katherine Stilwell. She was supposed to come with us to Africa with her husband, Ricky, and daughter, Amber, but she died suddenly 4 months ago. Her son, Josh, went in her place and we dedicated this church to her. It was special because we really loved Jonathan our translator and he comes here every week since it is his home town. So we know that God has great plans for this church. We asked if we could write scripture on the beams and he was so excited. I wrote Habakkuk 1:5-Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your day that you would not believe even if you were told. Dana wrote Katherine's favorite verse on another beam. Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
As soon as we were done writing the verses, this man walked right up and started reading the verses.
Then these women were standing around so interested (I thought they were the women of the church) and I took pictures of them and was laughing with them.
And then we had a dedication ceremony and Ricky was able to talk. Then Jonathan started talking and the place all of the sudden got really loud and all these people ran up to the front and fell down on their knees. They were all praying to receive Christ! These are the same ones in the previous pictures that were so curious to what we were doing. We went up and laid hands on them and prayed over them. It was amazing. The pastor of that church then came up and we anointed him and prayed over him and then we prayer walked the church and anointed that building! This church is going to be GREAT! I know God has amazing things in store for them!
Here are the Stilwells after the dedication to their mom and wife! So beautiful!
We then realized that we had to hurry up and leave because we got there in a dry creek bed and it was about to rain! So we left and got home when it was dark....which is a big no, no! Phil does not like anyone out after dark, but it was an amazing experience and we didn't care!
This is day #2's school. This was the last day of public school before the teacher's went on strike. So our original schools changed but we were still able to go to schools everyday and it was great. These kids were so cute when we got there. They just started bringing out their school desks into the courtyard. They would pick it up and just move it! So orderly!
The preschoolers were just so cute! They had little plastic chairs!
Our church gave money for us to buy puppets and hoola hoops and parachutes. The teachers absolutely loved the puppets. They would laugh and all would want to take turns with them. I know they will love them!
We then headed back to where the church was being built and here are the women of this village brining in firewood and food to feed the guys. They brought us a case of cokes and plastic chairs to sit on. They treated us like royalty.
We had a bunch of kids gather around us, so I got the handy dandy trunk out again and came up with a craft for these guys. We made lots of necklaces and they loved that they could make as many as they wanted. They would sing us songs and then they wanted to hear us sing. It was so fun to just worship with them and sing praises! They were so special!
This girl sat next to me and all of the sudden belted out this amazing song when I asked her to sing for me. She was absolutely beautiful. I loved it. She was special to me!
The women cooking......no stove needed! We actually didn't get to see the finished product of this church. It took too long for them to build, so we didn't have a ceremony :( They dug the holes with bowls so maybe that is why it took so long!
For the third day in the field we traveled up the mountains to Sotik. These are all tea plants. They were everywhere. These people just picked and picked the tea. They export them for Lipton!
This was the first school we went to this day. It was a small one but it was nice to do all the rotations together so we could see all the activities everyone else was doing.
This school had the most posters!
Aren't they just so cute with their glasses!
This is one of the teachers. She just loved to talk to us.
When we left the kids around would just see our van and run behind us. Laughing and Smiling.
The teacher's of the second school on this day. There were a lot of men teachers and that surprised me.
When we went to the church site this day, some of the women invited us into their home so they could feed us lunch. We had the real deal beans and rice and it was really good.
They let us sample their milk.....they put coal in it to preserve it. I did not attempt this, but Autumn did and she said it tasted like cottage cheese! YUCK! The other thing on the left is Ugali. It is a bland cornmeal like food that is popular in Kenya. It wasn't good either. I'll stick with the good ole beans and rice.
Behind this church was a river. Definitely going to be a lot of baptisms here!
The 3rd day's church ceremony! Powerful!
This is Anthony...my van driver the entire week!
Last day at the schools......craft time was fun!
My interpreter, Maurice. He was amazing! I really enjoyed my time with him all week. What an amazing man that God is using!
Our three interpreters. They are all pastors. Hannington, Maurice, and Jonathan.
This is Phil Johnsey, director of Church Missions Network (go ahead and click here and see how you can help them out and this mission.....it doesn't take much to pay for a church to build!)
The children at this village were a little more skiddish at first when they saw us. Some of them were crying, but they warmed up really quick.
This is Carolynn. She is an evangelist and she was so wonderful. I love her! She reminded me of my friend Dee at home - just filled to the max with the love of Christ.
The older women just looked so amazing! This was the last day out in the field. It was amazing.
The morning that we left the power was out so when we went for breakfast it was all set up with candles. It looked like Christmas in there. So peaceful.
We then traveled to the Massai village where we got to see how these people lived. It kind of reminded me of the Native Americans trying to keep their culture alive in a changing society. These Massai warriors were crazy!
They would jump high and the higher you jump the better woman you got.
There were a ton of flies around them because they had to keep their cattle in their barricaded home areas so the lions wouldn't eat them. The kids just sat around playing in cow dung practicing building houses!
We finally made it to the Fig Tree where we went on our safari of the Serengeti. We stayed in tents and they warned us to keep them zipped so the baboons wouldn't come it and destroy it. I never saw a baboon, but all night long I heard hippos coming up to breathe from the river behind my tent! It was surreal being there!
Dana, Amber, Kim and I on the Safari! This was the van we traveled in all week and the tops just came up so you can stand!
I had to take lots of pictures for my Finley...her favorite animal!
We were checking out these cheetahs when they decided to jump on another van!! Yes, there were people inside!! They just sat up there and laid down. Crazy!
Sunset on the Serengeti......I mean how many people ever get to experience something like this! I was more than blessed!!!
Inside the tent!! The back was actually a building that had a bathroom in it. We had 2 people per room.
Giraffe crossing in the morning on the way to the airport!!
Zebras....we saw lots of them!
Elephants! We saw several this morning. They even trumpeted at us because we were too close!
Water buffalo! We left the amazing Massai Mara Reserve and headed to the airport. It took several hours to get back to Nairobi. We went to a mall and had about 45 minutes to shop and eat lunch and then we went to a market for about 30 minutes. It was really rushed. We then went to a hotel and repacked all our stuff and took showers before our journey home.
Ready to start the airplane journey home!
Our plane didn't leave until 11:30 at night - we were getting goofy!
We left Nairobi and went straight to Zurich this time. Phil told us to sleep on the second plane so that our body clocks would get semi back on schedule. When we landed we lost Autumn in the airport.....we found her alright!! Getting a massage!
We took our Ambiens and got ready for a nice long flight home....sleeping!! We had an Ambien party every night. Even with an Ambien I still woke up every morning between 3:30 and 4:30! I was too excited to sleep. So it was a necessary thing, except they made me so silly!! So every night we laughed for hours and had a great time......with everyone else of course!
So then we get to Newark and we have issues.....again. This time the weather. But we were supposed to be home at 5:00pm and didn't get in until 11:00 pm. Here we are waiting in an awful line only to be told to go find tickets else where!! I almost got my camera confiscated here......this is not my favorite airport!
Closest I have ever been to the Statue of Liberty!
Well, that is the briefest summary I could give you about a life altering experience to Kenya, Africa! I will never forget driving down those roads and all the brown faces smiling and waving back at me. I will never forget the sounds of them rejoicing and praising our Almighty King. I will never forget the things that the Holy Spirit whispered to me each day. I will never forget the amazing beauty of the land and people. I will never forget the impact this trip made on my life. Thank you for praying for me and my family on this trip. We faced attacks, but we knew that God had us in his hands and had plans for us the entire way. I am ever so thankful to have gone on this journey and can't wait to go again!