Sunday, June 14, 2009

More on the closing retreat - June 3


Katie:

We are on retreat at a beautiful lodge, with several small Maasai villages surrounding us – the nearest, from what I understand, being about 20 miles away. Out in the open air, I feel so far away from the densely packed slums we’ve left behind. I am grateful to be resting, even as more sadness sets in: I won’t see the Learning Centre children or Ray of Hope staff until my next trip to Nairobi.

Tonight, a group of Maasai tribesmen performed one of their traditional dances, as entertainment for guests of the lodge. The men were cloaked in beautiful red shukas (their tribal cloth garments), and they were so fabulously bejeweled in their adornments, I actually wondered before they danced if they were true Maasai warriors or the faux variety, reserved for lodge guests who wouldn’t know the difference.

They were real. The guttural tones, accompanied by well-timed, high-pitched shrieks, all set to intentionally paced head movements and line walking along an apparently predestined line, sent chills through me. I felt the warrior energy, and I lost myself in the moment, so much so that I actually felt terrified when the line headed in my direction.

The dance we saw was the one best known by Westerners, featuring several vertical jumps. Afterward, the leader told the audience that the jumps signify the number of girlfriends one has, with higher jumps indicating more relationships. (Maasai communities are traditionally polygamous.) He also mentioned that a Maasai warrior wishing to marry must first kill a lion.

This all sounded fantastical to me, not in the sense that such rituals weren’t recorded in my social studies books, but only in that I had not heard news of any lion slayings in quite some time. I assumed the leader was reporting on tradition, rather than on current events. I approached him after his remarks and asked.

Turns out, I was wrong again: Traditionally and still, killing a lion is required before a Maasai man can marry. In more recent years, the government has restricted the Maasai, in terms of the number of lions they may kill in a given time period. Accordingly, marriage-bound Maasai men are now joined with their peers in age sets. As long as the group successfully kills a lion, each member may marry.

The leader showed me the knife that he and other tribesmen use for the slaying. The very short blade suggests that lion encounters must be handled toe-to-toe ... assuming one is lucky enough that those are the only two body parts involved.

I had never met anyone who has killed a lion before tonight. I have to say, I’m impressed. I am not a fan of animal hunting generally, but when taken on as a prerequisite to achieving a cultural milestone, it sounds – well, warrior-like. And that’s fascinating to me.

I’m going to make a project of learning much more about this compelling tribe.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ray of Hope Mission Team Closing Retreat


On Tuesday, June 2, we went to Masai Mara, one of the great Kenyan wilderness parks, on the Tanzania border. This was our chance to rest, reflect, and renew ourselves before going home. The highlight of our time in Masai Mara were the trips with a wilderness guide, to see the wildlife. We saw "The Big Five", including lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalos, but so much more. It was a perfect way to regroup before heading back to the Bay Area.



Stephan:

June 2nd, June 3rd, and June 4th;

The emotion of the prior eight days was for the most part, overwhelming. Early on I took out my emotions on our team leaders, Pastor Karen, and Craig. My petty issues do not compare with what those living HIV in the slums Nairobi, or those who are gay in Kenya, not to mention gay and HIV+. I realize how great my life is, and that I have an obligation to work to find ways to help those I came in contact with during the past eight days.

I saw women living with the virus who are too poor to feed themselves. Many have children; some of the children are HIV+. I meet one gay man who is HIV+, and talked about the trouble he has accessing the medications needed to save his life. Food for most is the big issue, while simply accessing the medications is the “double” issues a gay person in Kenya faces if he has the virus.

The last three days have been just what the doctor ordered……rest, relaxation, and a time to reflect. Reflect on what a great life I have, reflect on what a great Pastor Glide has in Karen, and reflect in the hard work Craig did in putting this mission together, and reflect on the work ahead of us…..but mostly it was about rest and relaxation, which came in the form some trips in a Land Rover looking into the eyes of hundreds of wild animals, and speaking with a Maasi Warrior about his life. I also got a chance to spoil myself with a couple of massages. I would end this entry with a story about a monkey, except this is a church blog, not rated XXX…………what an adventure in nature!!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Riruta United Methodist Church Women's choir

video

Children of Africa Hope Center

video

The choir at Kwangware Methodist Church in Kenya

video

June 2- A time of rest

Today we leave for Masai mara, a wilderness preserve, where we will rest, debrief, decompress, and see the wild animals before returning home Thursday. Who will we be when we return home? How will what we have seen and heard challenge and change how we live? Can life ever be the same as usual?

More blogs and pictures when we return!

Monday, June 1, 2009

More about our work - June 1


Travis:


This is the last day of the beginning of something very special. Today the group went to an orphanage I stayed behind to continue healing; everyone was so overwhelmed that even I could feel the sadness and the emotion they felt.

We then went to downtown Nairobi and watched the aftermath of the Independence Day celebration. We meet with Dennis Heresey, who is in Nairobi visiting with a friend, showed him down town and had a meal with him.

The evening was spent with old friends from Ray Of Hope and new friends from a ministry not unlike ours, fighting for the rights of all people. I think we have made some lasting friendships with our visit here and perhaps some day in the not so distant future we can have them Visit with us at Glide and tell their very touching stories of survival.

See all of you Sunday.

Stephan:

Today, I took a mental and physical health day, as I developed a little cough. I made a quick visit to Ray of Hope to drop of some medicine, and get my tempeture taken. Rosemay and Florence took care of me (my tempature was in the normal range....I felt hot because it’s hot in the sun, and I did get a little burn on Saturday at the park with the kids). The afternoon was spent having lunch downtown with a Travis (he’s feeling better, yeah!!!), Craig, Mark, and Dennis Hershey who meet up with our group today.

The evening was marked by the making of two new friends that I connected with. My heart has opened to them as well! They are a gay couple living in Kenya, but they must live their lives underground or risk arrest or worse in this county. One of them is HIV+ positive as well.

June 1


Robin:

I’ve missed a day or two blogging so I’ll try to condense them. Friday was an amazing day with the kids going to the National Museum and park. The highlights were: the kids singing on the bus on the way to the museum, they sang with such enthusiasm and precision that I was compelled to video tape them a couple times. Another highlight was how close the children are to each other. Even though some kids have sponsors and go to Kileleshwa, there is no jealousy or status. When the children got on the bus, there would be 4 children squished together in one seat and the other seat free, it seemed very natural and comfortable for them. The last highlight I’ll mention here was just watching the children run with abandon at the park, there are few places in Kawangware to run and play. It was a day of endless joy.

Yesterday (Sunday) we attended the Riruta UMC. Riruta is another slum with 500-550,000 people. At first it seemed slightly better than Kawangware, there seemed to be more shops and businesses, and by that I mean a lean-to on the side of a dirt road selling vegetables or clothes or roasted corn. But then we entered the church/school area. The building looked nice enough and church was more comfortable than we’re seen lately, but by this morning, it was transformed into a school for 250 children. I would guess the square footage is 800 – 900, classrooms divided by boards. The 4th and 5th grades didn’t even have a divide, they just drew a line down the 3X4 foot wall painted chalk board and the teachers each held class next to each other. Kids sat on the floor in most of the classes and benches made for two students held five. I think sometimes we have some poor conditions but nothing compares to this school and what John and Anne are trying to do with very little money. All of the 250 children cannot afford the fees to go to regular school so would be hanging out in the streets otherwise. Many of the children are orphaned due to AIDS. They did have two rooms behind the school as an orphanage but couldn’t afford the rent anymore so have divided the children up to church members and a grandmother has taken in many of the children. We helped feed the children today, they receive a cup of porrage at 10 am then lunch in the afternoon. For most of the children it is the only meals they will eat. John and Anne told me that sometimes they run out of food and the children at the end of the line cry. The older children receive their food last. The teachers only eat if there is food left over, so most days they don’t eat. None of the teachers are paid. Every day in Kenya I have been touched by how much people do for the benefit of others, it exemplifies a song the children sang a today that told about humbling ourselves before God and humbling ourselves before others.

Karen:

Today was a day of overwhelming emotions, as we visited the Children of Africa Hope Center. John and Anne and their staff do what seems to be the impossible: care for 250 children, with little resources. We saw cramped classrooms, hungry children, and dedicated teachers. While John, Anne and I discussed the challenges they face in their ministry, the children and teachers were preparing a special school assembly for us. The entire school had filed outside, chairs were set up for the Glide team, as well as Glide ensemble member Dennis, who happened to be visiting in Kenya.

Each grade level sang songs for us, and recited poetry and bible verses. There was one poem that had a line that caused tears to well up as I listened:

“God, are orphans and vulnerable children a part of your creation? God, only you know the answer.”

Craig:

Riruta’s Assistant Pastor, Isaac, also serves as the head teacher for the school at the Methodist Church. The small sanctuary is converted into even smaller classrooms during the week, and the church serves food and provides education to more than 250 children. Dennis Hersey, also from Glide and visiting Nairobi with a friend, joined us for the day. After a wonderful outdoor program put on by the students, Dennis sang with his incredible voice for the children and staff- it was an amazing, beautiful moment. Afterwards, we all led the children in singing “We Shall Overcome”.

Later, we served lunch to all of the children. Afterwards we present Pastor John, his wife Anne, and Pastor Isaac with a bag of supplies. Inside were two quart bags of almonds. The pastors were delighted and suggested that each child might receive a few almonds each. When they went outside into the courtyard, they held the bags up into the air. 250 children erupted with screams of delight like I have never heard. Karen, Robin and I looked at each other stunned. Two bags of almonds. This is one moment I will never forget.

Katie:

We returned to Riruta United Methodist today, which transforms on weekdays to the Children of Africa Hope Center: an unaccredited school and former orphanage that educates and feeds approximately 250 children, who would not otherwise eat or learn. Their admirable vision is to ultimately serve 5,000 children.

After spending the morning at the Hope Center today, I see that it is far from its goal, though not for lack of passion. John and Anne are doing incredible work against the odds, feeding children every day on very little, and educating them well, despite severe classroom overcrowding. (Several children have to sit on the floor, and those fortunate enough to have desks are squeezed in with as many other bodies as will fit on a bench, without anyone falling off.)

After we served the children their morning porridge, we played with them in the front yard, which has no swing-sets or climbing equipment. They do not have soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs and bats, or even adequate space to play any sport. There is room enough for all of them to be out there, and that in of itself seems a rare blessing for a school in the slums. But the rent is astronomical, and the school does not generate any income from students whose guardians cannot afford to pay fees.

On the playground, the children swarmed me. I felt as though I were surrounded by the paparazzi, except that my captors only wanted to love me. The stampede knocked down Maureen, a small, mild-mannered girl, probably two years old. I picked her up and carried her around with me for the rest of the recess period, as the crowd showed no signs of letting up, and she appeared too sweet and tiny to stand up for herself. Her schoolmates laughed when I put my sunglasses on her, as they covered half of her face.

Maureen and I made a game of my efforts to break free. Every time we ran from the mob, impelling them to chase us, she giggled, my sunglasses holding fast to her beautiful face. All she wanted to do was stare and smile at me. I took every opportunity to stare and smile back at this little, human doll, as she warmed my heart with the love beams she directed at me.

After recess, our team sat out on the playground, as each classroom of children assembled before us and sang for us in turn. The songs were inspired, and I was touched by the effort that the teachers and school leaders had obviously spent in teaching them to the children.

I left feeling simultaneously hopeful and overwhelmed with despair. It is a loaded emotion I’ve come to know well this past week.

Still more...


Travis:

Friday

Today was another powerful day. We experienced a welcome dance and inspiring play by the women who are clients of Ray of Hope. The song was about friends, one lady fell to the ground, rolling around crying for help, waiting to see who came to her aid. What a powerful meaning friendship has in this community. We were then introduced to a group of women and men who have been empowered by a micro financing (they have borrowed money and paid it back with interest, allowing them to start a business) they sell fabrics, food items, jewelry and assorted items on the streets of Kawangware.

Our next adventure took us several miles into the slums through mud and unusual sights and smells where locals sold to locals, traffic jams of matatus and people.

That night Florence (better known as COCO) invited us to celebrate her birthday in an authentic African celebration with legs of Goat carven at the table and a large assortment of other foods all eaten by hand. Coco told us this was to officially make us part of their family in Kenya.



Saturday

Saturday was the day all the children were looking forward to. They didn’t know what was going to happen but the new it was big…
We all boarded a bus and went to Visit the Kenyan National Museum. The children were so wildly excited (but well behaved) many of them never venturing out of the slums. After an hour or so of education it was time for play. We went to a local park and found the Kenyan Air Force, Army and navy practicing for a parade the takes place on Monday (Kenyan’s Independence Day). We were all very excited to see the perfection in their drills.
The children played, and played and played. We then took a moment to share a very small meal. (Steve provided some power bars and we purchased sodas. Back on the bus and through the maze of traffic jams delivering the children back at ROH.


Sunday

I can only chronicle my journey for that day. I went to bed feeling a little under the weather on Sat. night and as the day progressed I felt even worse. In the mid afternoon I found I was having trouble breathing and God gave me the presence of mind to gather myself and go down stairs for what I thought was just fresh air. I sat on a ledge in front of Security Guard and the sweat poured from my body. He asked if I was all right, I said I need help and that’s the last thing I remember for what I’m told several minutes. I came to on the lawn with several people elevating my legs (I’m thankful the staff has drills for this type of thing). Eventually my group returned and I was taken to the Hospital by the General Manager of the Guest House. I am in a recovery stage, and am blessed that it’s some unknown infection rather than something that could have ended not only my mission trip but my life.

Some of the women of Riruta UMC


May 31


Mark:

Today, we met Pastor John, the senior pastor of Riruta United Methodist Church. We took the Citi Hoppa (Kenya city bus) to his church. As we drove through the streets, I could see it was a very busy day. Lots of Kenyans on the streets and full of traffic. When we arrived into Kawangware, we were immediately stuck in a traffic jam. It is amazing to see the craziness of a traffic jam here. Several of the people on the streets began directing our bus and other cars and buses out of the jam. The sounds of horns kept beeping and loud Swahili filled the air. I could feel my bladder aching because I had to pee. Yes, I had to pee BAD. As the bus drove down the street over bump after bump, the bouncing created and overwhelming ache of the fluid in my bladder. I tapped Pastor Karen on the shoulder and told her I must go soon. It was an emergency. She told Pastor John I was in trouble and he negotiated with the bus driver to pull over at the nearest gas station. Well the busy stopped at the gas station and I ran out the bus with Pastor John to the toilet. The rest is history, if you know what I mean. In SF, a MUNI bus driver would never pull over to let someone use the toilet and wait for them. Forget it. This is Kenya. The love and hospitality is something indescribable.

We arrived at the Riruta church and were greeted by 3 beautiful women in great African garb. Their hugs and warm smiles of joy filled my spirit. Prior to entering the sanctuary, we received smiles and waves from the children there at the orphanage. The service was filled with singing and praising God in Swahili. I could feel the presence of God. I could see the face of God in the church. I felt at home.

Pastor Karen delivered the word for the day, translated by Pastor John in Swahili. I was deeply moved by the sermon and very proud of our Pastor Karen. The children’s choir sang and received verses from the bible. I was touched by their smiling faces and messages from God. The service ended with more music and photos of our new family in Kenya. Pastor John is pro-glbt, which is a huge component of Glide. We all received closing hugs, handshakes, and words of welcome from each member of the congregation.


We went to a few homes in the community. Many of the children followed us, holding my hands tight and refusing to let go. I cannot describe the deep feelings of peace and joy while feeling the hands of these children. Pastor John, Anne (his wife), Winnie, Jane and a couple of other of God’s angels walked us to our busy stop. Jane escorted us to the Ya-Ya shopping center, which was so nice. The hospitality in Kenya is above and beyond anything I can describe in words. All of our team except Travis (who was sick in bed) went to lunch and did some shopping. Upon return to the Methodist Guest House, Josh found Travis sitting in a wheelchair which was quite surprising. He had fallen ill while we were gone. He needed to go to see a doctor to be on the safe side. Pastor Karen led prayer for Travis and all of our team put our hands on him for healing. He returned in good spirits before dinner was over. All I can say now is prayer is powerful and God is great. We de-briefed, hugged and went off to our rooms. My heart is full. Amen…hallelujah!

Karen:

Today we went to Riruta United Methodist Church. Pastor John Makokha met us at the guest house and accompanied us to the church so that we would be sure to make all the bus and matatu connections correctly. Pastor John and his wife Anne Baraza have an incredible ministry together. In fact, in many ways they remind me of Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani. They see the needs of their community and boldly step out to create ways to respond to the needs. They are also passionate about justice. Pastor John is one of the few outspoken pro glbt pastors in Africa! He and Anne work hard on behalf of glbt people and their families, speaking out, leading seminars, and working to change the culture and the church to become more accepting of glbt persons.

But their work doesn’t stop there. They have organized an orphanage in their community and they and their church care for more than 250 children. The children live with members of the congregation, and all share in the care and feeding of the children. The church also has an HIV/AIDS outreach worker as well as a very strong women’s group that is a CBO (community based organization), of which Anne is the director.

After church (John kindly gave me a heads-up about preaching—he asked me several days ago!), which included lively singing by the children, youth, and women’s groups, and heartfelt prayers, as well as the dedication of the church’s new website, John and Anne and members of the congregation gave us a brief tour of their community, with stops at several congregational members homes, where we shared prayers of blessings.

It was a very powerful day, but we also send a word of concern home: please pray for Travis Woodard. He has not been feeling well this week, and stayed home this morning because he felt flu-ish. When we returned home, we found him in a wheelchair. He had passed out and a security guard helped him. Craig and Robin have taken him to a hospital for tests. Please keep him in your prayers!

Stephan:

Another emotional day in Nairobi……..while I was thinking we were just going to church, I was in for more of what I saw at the Ray of Hope all week. Yes, we went to church, in fact a Methodist LBGT friendly church which may be the only of its kind in Kenya. My friend Peninah told me that Gay people are considered killers or murders in this county.

The church, which is deep in the heart of the same slum as the Ray of Hope, serves as a classroom for the Children of Africa Hope Center. Much smaller than the church we attended last Sunday. The church has an HIV Coordinator I met, and will talk to further tomorrow when we visit and bring the gifts for the children. The staff warmly received the Glide Miracles Through Action t-shirts we brought them. More people living in the slums with hope. After service, I went to the home of the church treasurer, who told me he has known he is HIV+ for two years. His house (read my previous entries for the definition of a house in the slums) must have been over 110 degrees inside; as were the other homes we visited briefly with the Pastor from the church.

Once again, the walks through the slum were inspirational, and the people friendly…..and today, I was not wearing my Obama t-shirt!

As I write this blog, I am worried about my friend Travis who was taken to the hospital as he fell ill today. He is in good hands with Craig and Robin (aka Girl Wonder).

Craig:

Today we visited an amazing little Methodist Church in Riruta, a slum next to Kawangware. Pastor John met us at our guest house; although the church is only a few miles away, the bus ride took us almost 90 minutes as we got caught in crazy Sunday morning traffic jams on the narrow roads. We arrived almost an hour late, but as we entered the sanctuary the music was rocking and congregation clapping as if nothing had happened.

The congregation motto was visible on the alter: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds. This congregation was so much like Glide, welcoming ALL through their doors. Remarkably, a few days ago Pastor Karen and I had stumbled on the fact that my niece Miriam, who had been in Kenya on business, had coincidentally visited this same church two Sunday’s earlier- what a small world!!!

Pastor Karen preached a message about Pentacost that was received by the congregation with great energy and excitement. She talked about her prayer for each of us to have God’s voice, and she asked how God’s voice is heard through each of our voices, even as we speak different tongues.

After church we visited several of the homes of congregation members. Many are dedicated to taking care of hundreds of orphans. One home, a small tin building that was dark inside, without a light bulb and well over 110 degrees, were at least eight little children sitting against one wall. It was a wrenching site to take in.

When we arrived back at the Guest House later than afternoon, we found Travis in a wheelchair looking pretty grave. He had had a high fever, become dehydrated, and had collapsed outside. Godfrey, the Methodist Guest House General Manager demonstrated typical Kenyan hospitality. He drove Travis, Robin and I down to Nairobi Hospital and stuck with us for four hours, with gentle care and a smile on his face the entire time All of this on a Sunday evening when he had out of town guests at home. Travis improved greatly. Godfrey called back to the Guest House and had the kitchen stay open late so that when we returned a little before 9pm, dinner was waiting for us.

Katie:

Today, we celebrated at Riruta United Methodist Church, located in Ngong, a neighboring slum to Kawangware. Reverend John and his wife Anne – who is also the Executive Director of the Riruta United Methodist Women Community Based Organization – are on the progressive edge, with their inspirational work championing the rights of LGBTQI people in Kenya.

LGBTQI advocacy can be a challenge to undertake anywhere, but I’ve learned that the stakes are higher in Kenya than anyplace I’ve seen, making this social justice work very dangerous. John, Anne, and their leadership team have been marginalized from other faith-based communities for the work that they do.

I was pleased to find that women’s lay ministry leadership is strong in this church. Winnie Ishmael is the first female Lay Leader in any church in Africa, and she leads this one.

During the service, the children’s choir sang “Marching in the Light of God,” and I wished the Glide Ensemble were there to see it; this is my favorite song that the “GTC” (Glide Teen Choir) sings.

Tomorrow, we will return to Riruta, to see it transformed into an unaccredited school for several children in the Ngong slum who do not have parents, or who are severely neglected by the parents they do have. It was once an orphanage, but John and Anne were unable to continue paying the rent for the boarding space. In response to this loss, various families in Ngong have taken in the children who have no place to live, often resulting in several people sharing space in those same 10' X 10' tin shacks that we found in Kawangware.

What a place, where people with many basic material needs so effortlessly reach out to help one another.

May 30 continued


Josh:

As it will be no surprise to those who know me, I’ve fallen behind on my blog. The week has been emotionally rich and incredibly fulfilling. After the birth on Tuesday, Wednesday was spent with Craig, Robin, Karen, and Barasa at the Lea Toto children’s center in the morning and shopping for paint at the city center in the afternoon. Of interest there was the fact that Karen’s passport would have been stolen, had not Robin grabbed the backpack strap of the would-be thief and demanded that he give back the stuff. It surely must be one of the few times in Kenyan history in which a Nairobi pickpocket has actually attained his objective only to thwarted by a scrappy little white women.

Thursday brought wonderful song and dance from the women’s HIV support group that meets at Ray of Hope every week. They performed traditional African songs including one in which the groups leader rolled around on the ground with dramatic urgency while her fellow performers surrounded here in aid. We later learned that the dance was meant to symbolize the importance of community in African culture and to show that when an individual falls, the community at large will come to their aid. This performance was then followed by a drama about one of the ways in which HIV is spread. Hendrica stole the show as the lusty housekeeper, ready and willing to lay down with father and son, passing the virus to each, and killing both in the end. After lunch Katie, Mark, and I began to paint one of the room’s in the clinic with Gideon but were quickly redirected when it was time to go on some home visits to those of the children. The whole thing was quite a scene, Katie, Craig, Mark, and I walking down the street each holding than hand of at least two children, while much of the community gave their greeting as we passed. Other school children were especially curious and would follow us around laughing and yelling only to be told by our children that they “had bad manners.” The day was great.

Friday was spent painting. In the early morning it was Mark, Gideon, the two Brian’s from the school, and myself, and in the afternoon it was Gideon, Karen, Emily, and I. It was great to be able to leave a tangible mark at the clinic and especially nice to be able to brighten up the delivery room that had impacted me so much earlier in the week with a nice new coat of paint. Later in the afternoon I was able to watch Nathaniel, the same nursing student who performed the delivery, perform a circumcision on a five-month-old boy. It was longer and looked more painful than I seem to remember.

Later our entire team was treated to an amazing dinner that was purchased by contributions from each staff member of the Ray of Hope. The goat was delicious! After dinner we went to a bar, but Karen, Katie, Mark, and I were the only ones with enough energy to go in. It turned out to be a very special night. Everyone from the ROH team was there dancing and the music was great. Just one man on the drums and another on the guitar, but the rhythms were smooth and tight and the dancing came easy. We smiled a lot that night. Emily said it had been years since she’d last danced. I will say, however, that I’ve never felt whiter dancing sober at a bar in Kenya. I’ve also hardly ever felt better.

Finally, Saturday was spent taking the children on a field trip to the Nairobi National Museum and to a downtown park for sodas, power bars, and play. The children love taking photos with the digital camera and for much of the day I didn’t know where my camera was or who had it. When I did get it back, I’d found that they’d taken some very special photos. At the park, everything went according to plan accept the smattering of bees, hell bent on Fanta and Coke. It was fun to watch the children screech and run and laugh for cover as they clutched their sodas tightly in one hand and the power bars tightly in the other. The teachers Evelyn and Alfred really stood out that day and my respect and admiration for all they have done and all they continue to do was deepened greatly. Finally before we got back on the bus to go back, they presented us with traditional African shirts for the men, a skirt for Katie and lovely belt for Robin.

Back at Ray of Hope, we began to burn a disc of pictures and videos we had taken throughout the week for Solomon and the staff and we gave the soccer balls and hula hoops we’d bought in town to the kids. Predictably joyous mayhem ensued. And then it was time to say goodbye. And I cried. A lot. All I really remember is Hendrica taking my hand, telling me it would be alright, and then Emily taking my head in her hand and pulling me to her chest when it got really bad. It’s not too often that you feel that much love. It made me miss my mom and feel sad for all the children in Kawangware who don’t have a mom or a family of their own. There were a lot of tears, a lot of sadness, and some pain. But it felt good to be in the midst of a loving and supportive community. Then we hugged the kids one last time and they left. A closing meeting followed where each person, from both Glide and Ray of Hope, talked about the week and how we felt about each other. We shared love and mutual respect and were all of the mind that this was just the beginning and not the end. I am certainly excited to see what the future will bring.

Katie:

Today, we said goodbye to the Learning Centre children and the Ray of Hope staff, but not before taking the children to the Nairobi National Museum in the morning and to a local park in the afternoon.

Working with children has always been a calling for me; as far back as my own childhood years, I remember telling people that I wanted to help children in need. Our week at the Learning Centre solidified this resolve, though I’m not sure it needed any more cementing.

The Nairobi National Museum is beautiful – spacious, with beautifully designed exhibits and a well-told history of Kenya. As we walked into an exhibit of large-as-life wild animal replicas, one of the Learning Centre girls, about eight years old, clung to my side. She steered me as close to the exhibit as she was willing to go, guiding me away from the large, predatory animals displayed out in the open, and toward the smaller ones encased in glass.

I was relieved to witness her childlike innocence, to know that her daily exposure to live cows, goats, and infestation in her living space – to say nothing of the crime and substance abuse that plagues the slum in which she lives – haven’t hardened her, such that she would scoff at an exhibit of fake animals. Her fear enhanced my hope that all is not lost for her, even though she faces insufferable conditions every day.

After only a week of time spent with the Learning Centre children and the Ray of Hope staff, the seemingly inordinate grief accompanying our goodbyes was real. I knew what I was losing, and though my commitment to the Ray of Hope will have me returning to Nairobi more than once, this awareness did little to ease the pain of letting go.

Tomorrow, we will visit a church in a neighboring slum, returning the next day to visit the same building, which will be transformed into a school. As I say goodbye to Kawangware, I welcome the opportunity to serve another community in need.