Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beautiful Things: Kenya (Part 2)

      Little Eden Children's Home:

......a place so remarkable that I left a piece of my heart there to dwell; to be renewed and refreshed at even the thought of it.  I think it is no mistake that this place is called Little Eden because it is, in fact, a resemblance of the beauty that was Eden.  It is a hidden treasure tucked deep in the mountains and farm lands of Kenya; an oasis of hope and restoration. I truly believe I saw and tasted what heaven will be like and now my heart yearns more deeply for that day I can truly say that I am home.

        On the first day we were headed to the orphanage, I found out that my Grandma had passed away.  My emotions were raw and unkept, but there was no better medicine than what I was about to experience.  The drive alone was enough to lift the lowest of sorrows out of the pit; Kenya is beautiful. God's handiwork shines through in a very real and unique way, in that part of the country.  The farmland is charming and rich in beauty.  Yet, that was nothing compared to what I experienced when we pulled in through the iron gates and onto the grounds of Little Eden.

       We all have a picture in our mind when we think of an orphanage. Cold white walls, rows and rows of beds covered with starchy sheets, a strict house mother walking around with ruler in hand, and children that show no emotions.  Yet, with stark contrast you find brightly painted walls, bunk beds with warm blankets, a house mother with serious spunk, and smiles... the smiles! Joy radiates out of that place and it is deeply contagious and real; it seeps down to the deepest marrow of your bones. Before I even met one child, I knew that there was something unique about these grounds. Jesus was there. He dwelt in every stone and frame, he was in the soil and the air, and he was in the face of every child that called it home.

        That first day, changed my life forever.  As I walked the dirt path to their school, I went through my usual feelings of, "will they like me? will I be able to make a connection with them?" All of it in vain because the second they walked out of those doors, I had a little hand wrapped around mine and a beaming face looking up at me.  And that's when I met Grace.  She had on a pink furry coat with the hood pulled up around her ears.  All I could see was a little round face poking out of that pink fur and two wide eyes.  She didn't care who I was or where I was from, all that mattered was that I was there.  She took my hand and led me along the dirt path (a good mile or two) to her home at Little Eden.  We didn't talk much, that first day.  She had a hard time understanding me and I could barely discern her quite "yes" she would reply to my questions. Yet, I cherished that moment and drank deep from the spring that flowed from those quite steps we took.

       Our mornings at the orphanage consisted of projects that needed to be taken care of around the home.  Never have I seen a group of people show such exuberant joy at the thought of doing work.  These were the type of jobs that most of us would moan and groan about if we would have been asked to do any other day.  Yet, hands shot up in the air when they were reading off the list of things that needed to be done.  Throw boulders in a pit you say?  Sure, I'd love to do that..... said nobody ever.... until this trip.  I washed windows and picked weeds out of a flower bed.  When was the last time I did that at my house?  Ummmm, never.  God works in mysterious ways because I somehow found tremendous joy in those tasks (if anybody wants to know what that feels like, give me a call and I am sure I can find something for you to do.... just sayin').  I was suddenly very thankful for my washer and broken down dryer.  At least I am not scrubbing clothes or washing dishes by hand for seventy-five kids every single day of my life.  A little perspective goes a long ways.

     After our jobs were done for the afternoon, it was time to start the trek down the dirt road to pick up the kids from school.  Once we met up with them, I simply stuck out my hands, hoping somebody would want to walk with me.  On the second or third day a girl with a round face quickened her step and reached out to take my hand..... and that was it, I had found my new BFF! Pauline was beautiful and the joy that poured out of her was contagious.  How could an eleven year old girl inspire me so much?  Wasn't I, as a mature adult, supposed to be the one inspiring and challenging her?  She wrote me a letter, the day after I met her and on the meticulously colored, (handmade mind you) envelope, it read, "Open with great joy.  I love you so much.  Jesus loves you so much and he died on the cross because of our sins."  I stood amazed!  In those few words, she expressed more passion and understanding than I do as a 27 (almost 28) year old women. What JOY I should have because Jesus Christ loves me and died for me.  How often I miss that simple fact.  Thank you dear Pauline for showing me the love of Jesus.... yes, it is that simple.


Grace and Pauline

          I would find Grace and Pauline everyday and we would walk together and sing together. There were only a few songs that we all knew, one of which was BINGO.... you know.... "there was a farmer who had a dog."   So despite my lack of vocal talent, we would belt out the few songs we knew and they would remind me of songs I had long forgotten.  Time slowed down and what would normally feel like minutes, felt like hours.  Pauline would point out all the beautiful things on our walks, "Look over there, Elizabeth. Isn't it beautiful" and I would relish in the beauty of God's handiwork and ponder the relevance of these two girls.  They are going to change the world, mark my words.

We held VBS in the afternoon; I was apart of the craft team.

        The next few hours were spent playing and interacting with the kids.  How often as adults, do we get to throw off our masks and simply be?  Even as a stay-at-home mom, life easily gets in the way.  There are clothes to wash, bathrooms to clean, children to feed, and endless distractions of bills and things to fix.  It's not often that we can set all that aside and simply reside in the moment that is before us, but that was our job; our job was to simply be and that was good enough.  Grace and Pauline weren't interested in playing.  Pauline would tightly pull my arm around her and enter-twine her fingers between mine; she wanted nothing more than to just stand there like that.  I kept thinking, surely they want to do something, but then I thought of how little they probably receive physical touch, especially from adults.  So despite the fact that physical touch is at the bottom of my love languages, since it was enough for them and therefore it was enough for me.

        The hours before we left were spent dancing and singing.  We created a huge circle and we danced and sung around and around those grounds.  It was a celebration; a celebration of God's love, a celebration of these children, and celebration of our brief time with them.  I will never forget those last few hours.  I tasted a small piece of heaven and I will savor it until the day the Lord calls me home.  What joy for those whose hope is in the name of the Lord!

        I can't write a post about Little Eden and not talk about Mike and Sylvia Eden.  I will link to their page so you can read their story, but I like to write about the things I know and have seen.  As an introvert, I tend to spend less time talking and more time observing.  I watched Mike and Sylvia fervently.  I didn't get a ton of time with them, but it didn't take much time to get a clear picture of who and what they were about.  I saw a couple who loved Jesus and it filtrated into every ounce of their lives.  I don't know everything that they have had to sacrifice in order to start and run this orphanage, but I am sure there have been countless sacrifices.  They have faced trial after trial but they have remained dedicated and steadfast through each obstacle.  They serve and love these children with every ounce of their being.  They bring a warmth and love to those grounds that probably would not of exist had it been anybody else in their shoes.
        I saw a couple who were deeply in love.  In a world where countless marriages are falling apart, it is a true treasure to see one, not only last through the years, but thrive.  As a women, I couldn't help but observe Sylvia a little more closely.  I know the Proverbs 31 women has become a little cliche but I am telling you that she is a living, breathing example of what that looks like.  I admire Sylvia so much and I can only pray that I become just like her.  The way she has stood by and supported her husband is truly a beautiful thing. 

      Thank you Mike and Sylvia for your example.  It was such a tremendous blessing to play a tiny role in your incredible story.  I have been richly blessed!

Click here to link to Mike Eden Ministries.  On this page, you can read their story as well as sponsor children living at His Cherished Ones or make a general donation.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Beautiful Things: Kenya (Part 1)

       I am kind of at a loss as to how to even begin these posts. How do I even begin to place all of my experiences, heartaches and joy into one nicely packaged blog post? I could create post after post of pictures and words and you would only see a sliver of my amazing...no.. life changing experience in Kenya. And yet, here we go... 

   And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he sat upon the throne and said, Behold I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.  
                                 Revelations 21:4-5

       Isn't it interesting that we go on mission trips to bless and yet we come home feeling tremendously blessed beyond measure ourselves? I will never be able to put into words exactly how I feel or what I experienced after two weeks in Kenya.  My soul is so full, that there are days I think I may burst with joy, for people I didn't even know 3 weeks ago.  The only thing I can chalk it up to is that I simply experienced a small piece of heaven in Kenya. And once you've experienced THAT, there is no turning back. 

Makuru Slums:

    You think you can prepare yourself for experiences that you know are coming.  I knew the slums were going to be a little rough around the edges and a hard place to be.  I prepared myself mentally for the things I thought I would see... or at least I thought I did. 

         There was no way I could have truly prepared myself because I had no context of the poverty that I would be encountering that first day.  In my mind I was envisioning chipped cement buildings and dark alley ways with no electricity.  How could it get any worse?  As we drove toward the slums, things clearly were getting more impoverished but I knew, with one turn, that we had arrived. 

        Scraps of metal nailed together to form housing, the smell of smoke and waste filled the air, trenches dug along the road for sewage to run, dirty faces peering out of doors.... no, I had never known what poverty really looked like, until that moment.  If I am completely honest, it took everything in me not to yell out, "No! Take me back! This is too hard... too heart wrenching... too uncomfortable!"  I've never done well with uncomfortable, I have run away from it so many times, but God does INCREDIBLE things when we are least comfortable, when I am uncomfortable. 

     It was there, in one of the most impoverished places in the world, that I saw what the hands and feet of Jesus really look like.  It was there, that I met Mary and Joseph and saw what giving your life up for Christ meant in a very real and tangible way. You see, this couple was living the "good life."  I mean, they had it all by worldly standards: money, cars, a house, nice things, but one thing they really grasped is Philippians 1:21-22 that says, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.

       They walked away.  They gave it all up.  Why?  Because Jesus means more; Jesus is EVERYTHING!  Oh, what treasures they will have when this life passes away!  They will be richly rewarded indeed.

       I sat and listened (with tears in my eyes) about how they saw a need and said, "Why not? Why not us?"  So, they sold everything and headed to the Makuru slums where they now minister to countless men and women in their clinic and counseling center.  They bring in orphaned girls and provide a safe place for them to live and learn and survive.  So, what a joy and honor to wash dishes, make beds, and sweep floors during my short time there.  

       Then there were the children.... oh my heart. It's one thing to watch adults suffer in poverty, but to see a child under those circumstances is enough to rip your heart right out of your chest. They were covered in dirt and flies and I desperately wanted to shoo the flies away, put food in their little bellies, and bathe them. That wasn't my job though, my job was to love them; to shine the light of Jesus in that dark place. 

        Let me tell you, they were easy to love! They smiled the brightest smiles and held my hand with fervent joy.  When they sang, it seemed that all of heaven and earth paused to listen.  

       Yes, I went  to bless, but was richly rewarded by the blessings that flowed out of the most unlikely of places. 

He makes beautiful things out of dust.