Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve Update

Friends and family,

The events over the elections appear to be calming down quite a bit. We thank you for your prayers and will continue to keep you updated.

We just want to wish you a Happy New Years and ask that you would continue to keep this nation in your prayers.

Monday Afternoon Update

Friends and family,

Just wanted to send you a quick update that everyone at Gideon's home is safe. We are currently without power and are unsure of how long that will last, thus we don't know when our next email or blog will be sent. We are hopeful that things will calm down soon. There is no source for news right now, so rumors are spreading quickly and it's hard to know what is true and what is not (so you may know more about what is happening than we do).

Please pray for this nation, that peace will come quickly. A few of the pastors we work have stopped by and so far their families, homes, churches, and church members are all okay... we pray to hear more news like this.

The gift of democracy... We never knew to be so thankful.

Blessings to each one of you.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Night Update

Well, it has been a long day in Nairobi..everything is closed because of election tension, the streets are bare and everyone is huddled around the TV. The Electoral Commission of Kenya announced the former president as the newly elected official...despite an overwhelming number of appeals from the opposition and neutral parties. He was sworn in within 30 minutes and fire has erupted throughout the slums. Our home is less than 1 km from Kibera, a stronghold for the losing candidate. The fires are going, gunshots firing and people screaming.

I am a bit emotionally charged right now but ask that you pray for these people. Mandy and I (as well as Gideon and his family) are safe and well, but there are people that cannot run, hide and remove themselves from the slums which are overpopulated to begin with. There is going to be a long road ahead in healing the corruption (whether perceived or truth) that has taken place this weekend.

Today was a step backwards for Kenya as it attempts to build a mature democracy.

We work with pastors that are in the most vulnerable areas of the city. We ask that you pray for them, their families, their congregations and even their church structures as things are a bit chaotic. We hope to contact them soon and learn of their safety at this time.

Again, we are safe...but there are many people that we know and that we don't that are caught in the middle.

We'll keep you posted on any developments.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Just wanted to drop a note and say that we are doing fine here in Nairobi. I am guessing that Kenyan politics has made it to your respective places in the world through the international news. Unfortunately, violence has erupted in the slums and given the current situation will most likely be here until tonight, when the election results are revealed.

Please pray for peace and justice in this process...and never take democracy for granted:)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Quick Trip

We left for the coast approximately 36 hours ago, hoping to enjoy a few days on the Indian Ocean. Somewhere along the way, things took a turn and here we are...back in Nairobi again!

We had an awesome train trek out was a 14 hour trip, most of it during the night hours but train travel is just a great way to travel. It included dinner and breakfast, where we got to enjoy time with other travelers from Nigeria and Denmark and we had our own sleeping compartment. The only noteworthy hitch with the train ride between Nairobi and Mombasa was the German and/or South African woman in the compartment next door. While entertaining, her pompous traveling behavior was ridiculous. When the lights went out in our car, she made sure that EVERYONE heard about it, not to mention her “VIP” status, which little did she know, everyone is considered to have. The meals were way too salty and there was no way that she should have to pay for breakfast because apparently she is God's gift to East African cuisine. Mandy and I would like to salute her for the priceless entertainment, her loving character and prize-performing complaint fest. We would also like to salute the Kenya Railway staff (all 12 people that had to deal with her at least once-both on the train and at the office in Nairobi) for resisting the temptation to sneak her into the bathroom and send her through the toilet (a hole in the floor where the tracks are visible below).

Upon our arrival in Mombasa, we took a ferry to the south shore and a matatu to a place called Tiwi Beach. It is said to be a dangerous 3 km walk to the place that we wanted to stay, so we got a lift from a security company that was headed out in that direction. They dropped us off 200 meters from the entrance of the lodge. No more than 60 seconds later, two thugs took our hip pack and ran off into the woods with it. After a chase, reconvening the security outfit, settling down the Kenyan women that had witnessed it all and a ride to the police station in the back of a Kenyan police car (which are much more comfortable than matatus), we found ourselves 500 km out of Nairobi with no money, phone, camera, Bible, journal, hip bag, headlamps, Nalgenes and sunscreen lip gloss. Thanks to Mandy's great memory, we were able to call Gideon in Nairobi from the police station when he told us of an Anglican Guest House in Mombasa (20km north of where we were) that we could ask to borrow money from. A few phone calls later, a trip to Mombasa in the police car and with extraordinary generosity from the Anglican Guest House, we had $50 to get us back to Nairobi...and a bit of extra for some food for our hungry bellies. We ended up walking around Mombasa for 5 hours just to check it out (although it was extremely dead because it was election day). Although many have ranted and raved about how great Mombasa is, it wasn't quite what we had anticipated-partly due to our frustration with what had just happened and partly due to how much was closed due to the elections. We enjoyed sodas along the coast of the Indian Ocean, stuffed our faces with Indian food and caught an overnight bus to Nairobi.

We arrived in Nairobi at 6 AM this morning, eager to get things sorted out, to get home before the election results are announced and to see if any of our stolen items would be covered by insurance (which they are not:( ). Thanks to Gideon, email and Adam (in Tacoma), we were able to get stuff canceled right away and will be up and functioning again soon. We are safe, well and rebounding from our little escapade.

As for the elections, stay tuned-we will learn more today!

Well, our 5 day trip to the coast turned into 36 hours. The sour taste has dissolved and we will try again sooner than later...perhaps when our friends Robby and Karl come out from week. On second thought, this is the 2nd time that Mandy and I have been robbed near a beach-maybe we will stay put or go to the mountains:).

Merry Christmas from Kenya!

What a gift it has been to have the opportunity to spend a Christmas in Kenya. While the familiarities were far away, we were exposed to a refreshed look at what Christmas is all about. Although a few of the shopping centers have Christmas Lights and Santa sessions, the lack of commercialism that we associate with the season would have made it easy to pass December 25 without noticing. A few things that we learned along the way...

  • Although our songs about winter and snow neglect it, Christmas comes during the summer for the entire southern hemisphere!

  • Gifts are not a universal norm around the holidays. It was incredibly freeing to not have to worry about gifts this year!

  • Movies are big in Kenya on Christmas Day...from 10 AM-1 AM the next day, you will find most Kenyans from Nairobi hovering around a television with food, friends and family.

  • Doors are open on Christmas Day...if you are not hosting the party, be ready to make the rounds visiting 4 or 5 homes throughout the day visiting with others.

  • Many people travel to their home villages at this time...although this year was slightly different as voters needed to stay in their home area until December 27 to cast their presidential vote.

  • There are very few Christmas Eve or Christmas Day church services.

  • Chicken and Chipati (a tasty version of a tortilla) are the staple foods for the holidays.

We joined some friends from Ontario for a Christmas lunch followed by a Kenyan feast at home in the evening. 30+ visitors came for some tasty eats, a movie or three and one last discussion on the elections 2 days before voters head to the booth.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and hope that you have had the opportunity to enjoy it with family and friends.

On a side note, it is interesting how we have tainted the Christmas story to be something that it is not. Jesus wasn't born in the Mayo Clinic, nor did he pretend to live as the part of our modern day population that lives on over $1 a day but perhaps, He came to bring hope for people whose world looks a bit more like this...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hell's Gate = The Lion King

Last week, Mandy and I had the opportunity to visit Hell's Gate National Park located 150 km west of Nairobi. We found ourselves singing songs from The Lion King in search for African wildlife. We rented bikes to travel through the park. Even tough they weighed about 50 lbs each, it was a great way to check out the area. We enjoyed a stay at the YMCA hostel on Lake Naivasha where we tracked hippos. We didn't see any this time around but found plenty of their enormous footprints. It was a great getaway to be relived sooner than later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas in Mathare

We are currently teaching photography and storytelling to a group of children and youth in Mathare. There was a bit of free time at the end of yesterday so I sat down with the little guys (8 and under) and asked them "What does Christmas mean to you?" There were only two responses. 1. It is the birth of Jesus and 2. They get to spend time with their family. Not ONE child mentioned presents, or Rudolph, or Santa. Christmas in Mathare or other slums in Nairobi is a day of rest with their family. When we ask people what they are going to do on Christmas they often tell us that they will have a very special meal of chipatis and chicken (which we eat about once every two weeks), and watch movies all day and relax with loved ones.

It makes me think about our 'Leisure Time" as Americans or Westerners. For these folks, it takes a very major holiday to take a day off, relax with one another and enjoy some movies. For us, we often have enough time to watch a movie once or twice a week. Many people who live in Mathare don't have jobs, so at first I found myself asking, "don't they have a lot of leisure time since they don't work?" But thinking back to personal experience, it is the times in life when I was unemployed and thus in theory had plenty of 'leisure time' that I found myself the most stressed and unable to relax because of the pressure I felt to always be searching for a job. I can't imagine what many of these people are going through on a daily basis. For many, they either never made it to school or were pulled out of school to begin working to support their family at a very young age, leaving them as adults with little skills to offer their community.

Before we came to Kenya, I didn't know what to expect but I was thankful to step out of American culture for a bit and see things with a new perspective. Since being here, I have often found myself more appreciative for the "American Way" that we so often target as corrupt or wrong. But yesterday I was blessed with the way children from Mathare see Christmas. I feel that they understand Christmas in a way that I don't know if I ever will.

I want to wish everyone a very wonderful Christmas! I hope that it is a day of family and peace :)


Mathare Photo Project

We are currently spending two days a week in Mathare with the Inspiration Center. What we thought might be 20-25 kids coming together to tell their story through photos and words has ended up being a crowd of 80. It is incredible to see the kids run with our theme, "Born from below" and tell a story about what it means to be a part of their community. AIDS, child labor, inequality, talent, beauty, artistic, athletic...these are the stories that have emerged from the 80+ students that join us on Mondays and Thursdays. We hope to compile their work for our February intensive as a way to share with pastors in the Nairobi community the stories of the kids from Mathare, our intended venue for the training.

Bulging Pockets

Today started out with a Swahili lesson. Staged in a 10 foot by 12 foot one-room home with two adults and two kids, Violet taught us to barter in Swahili for a fair deal at the market.

-“You are giving me the mzungu price” (which literally translates to wanderer as white people are seen as never sitting still but always moving around)

-”I want the Kenyan price. That is too expensive, please reduce your price”

Back and forth we go, trying to knock a few shillings off of our make-believe elephant carvings, sunset paintings and wooden spoon sets. In the back of my mind, I am thinking about the lavish Pier One store in Tacoma where the prices are often marked up 50-100 fold for international artwork. It is really ethical for us to barter? I would rather have the artist reap the benefits of my white skin and inability to speak proper swahili than corporate America. What about the rich Kenyan at the kiosk next to me who is exerting his pocket power to make his living room look pretty. I deserve to be treated fair compared to him, don't I? I searched around the house for remnants of a Sunday market to find nothing. Our lesson fees covered her family's rent, food and school fees but apparently we didn't pay enough to send her to the market with her leftover money at the end of the month.

At the end of our lesson, she gives us her two cents on how she perceives us white wanderers. Careful not to offend, she points out the realities of mzungus that we try to avoid yet are confronted with many times each day. The concept of travel is within grasp of a very small percentage of this world. Planes, trains and private automobiles are few and far between in some circles. Crossing an ocean seems impossible to some while taking a bus to visit family 300 km away also poses its own set of problems. We thank her for her willingness to integrate Kenyan culture into a language lesson, say our farewell and wander on to our next engagement-an afternoon with a pastor in the same informal settlement.

We find him in the midst of an election rally waiting at stage 2, the last stop on the matatu route. He spots our complexion from afar and welcomes us to his turf. Because of the heat, he decides to cut back our schedule for the afternoon a bit, the main engagement being lunch at his home. We first walk to his church to find 10 of his members waiting for a 5 minute greeting, a prayer and a promise of return. We agree to the terms. Our walk through the community is insightful as he highlights the struggles, triumphs and some of the overarching issues that inform how and why it is the way it is. We have a great deal of respect for this pastor, his commitment to his community and the vision that he has for transformation.

Very similar to the home of our swahili teacher, we sit on a couch which is facing the bedroom and kitchen with no walls to separate the three. His wife graciously prepared a delicious stew, Sikumawiki (cooked Cale) and ugali for us. It was absolutely delicious. We enjoyed a conversation about hopes, dreams and goals for the future of his ministry. He also took the opportunity to learn about us, what it is that we are passionate about and how we feel that our experience in Kenya will change us. We spoke honestly, openly and without the cultural barriers that often hinder one's ability to feel comfortable in being themselves.

Minutes later, a neighbor arrived. Also a pastor, he had lots of questions about what we thought of Kenya, the people and specifically the church. We shared a few thoughts and took the opportunity to learn from his insight in the process. As if he were on cue, he began saying things that no longer corresponded with eachother and digressed from conversation about us as individuals into a conversation about “you people in America”. Over the next ten minutes, we were gawked at because of the amount that we paid for our plane ticket, we were told that our lives would be longer if we gave money to a church to buy land and that we should help bring pastors to the U.S. to be trained. Our wonderful afternoon had taken a turn for the worst.

We often find ourselves in much tension over the power associated with money. Our skin color and ability to travel to Kenya target us as having bulging pockets. It is somewhat ironic that Mandy and I have had many discussions on how things here are much more expensive than we anticipated, how we feel the need to spend wisely as some of our financial support has come from others and that we feel the need to live frugal lives here in comparison to many Kenyans and virtually all Americans. Kris Rocke, the CTM Director reminded us that money is a sacred subject, one that reveals something about the parts of ourselves that we want to cover up the most. I would add that in our situation, money is also a public subject, one that finds us in all situations. Although talk of money does not scare me amongst those that I know and trust, I am not sure how I feel about the sacred meeting the public in this instance.

Our bulging pockets, however slim we might perceive them to be have caused us to feel ashamed, to resent people's motives and to take a closer look at our own constructs of money than we may have ever wanted. Yet in the process, we are learning how to bless people appropriately, whether financially or in other ways, out of obligation, calling, crisis or the fulfillment of a lofty dream.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

AIDS and Advent

December 1 marks the beginning of Advent, a purposeful season to explore and prepare for the flesh that dwelt among us. Often times plagued by last minute shopping, hectic schedules and the ulcers that batter the holiday cheer, it comes and goes...perhaps a few days off from work, confusion when looking at the next month's visa bill followed by resolutions to change our behavior in the year to come. December 1 also marks a day in which we acknowledge one of the deadliest pandemics that millions of people cope with (or perhaps can't) throughout the world. This is a day when we acknowledge a deadly flesh that lives among us. Each day people wake up to the advent of a deadly disease manifested in their doesn't do the trick, busy schedules add to the suffering and life itself becomes the resolution for the following year.

Spending my first World AIDS Day and beginning of Advent in Africa has raised some interesting questions in my mind around the concept of preparation. The statistics and stories of HIV/AIDS in Kenya cannot be avoided as it has impacted everyone in some way. I have wondered how it is that those infected prepare themselves for what is to come? What does the advent of their declining health look like? What are they preparing for? What if this Christmas had the potential to be my last one? What would I shop for? How would I schedule my days? What would I commit to do in the next year?.

Perhaps, my friend Banuwa has it all right as he opens his eyes with a sense of relief each morning as yesterday wasn't his last. He has declared victory for one more day in his fight against the terrorist inside of his body. Perhaps his level of preparation far exceeds mine and yours as the holidays approach. Perhaps his priorities are more purposeful. Perhaps, there is something that we can learn from him.

World AIDS Day in Nairobi looks very different from western Washington. I have experienced times in the states when this day comes and goes, without a thought of those infected by this deadly disease. NGO's, CBO's, churches and government entities alike be sure to pause and acknowledge the impact that HIV/AIDS has on the Kenyan people. We spent our day partnering with the Inspiration Center in Mathare where we held a youth rally. Through the arts, youth were given an opportunity to share their story, the stories of others and to offer a renewed sense of hope within their community. Hundreds of people showed up throughout the day to share their appreciation with the performers and to inhale a breath of hope for the future. (See “Ode to Boyye” for pictures from the event)

On a national front, the decrease in HIV/AIDS prevalence has decreased over the past 10 years. Kenya is a leader throughout Africa in sustainable education models and access to medicine for those infected. This being said, there is still much work to be done! The infected rate hovers around 10% nationally and 15% in the slum areas. For those of you that are teachers, imagine 2-3 kids in your class carrying the weight of this burden with them and the impact that it would have on the dynamics of your classroom. 10-15% is a large number of people. While this rate remains lower than other parts of sub-saharan Africa, I cannot adequately explain the impact that it has on the entire population. Whether infected or not, there are ties to this deadly disease all over that span throughout the country, throughout generations and throughout the landscape of society.


“This morning, a white girl went for a run outside wearing shorts.”

In the American context, this sentence sounds like it came from a “Learn to Read” book for a first grader, and there would not be much thought regarding what it is saying. I am currently learning by experience the power of context. In Kenya, this sentence creates a lot of stares when it is put into practice (which I do about 3 times a week).

Step for a moment with me into the context of a Kenyan living in Nairobi. People are on their way to work (most likely) and they see me running by. Some could care less, and yet some stare so hard I wonder if I'm missing a major article of clothing :)

After many runs I've come up with some possible interpretations of this sentence:

White girl: power, money, what is she doing here?
Run: Exercising? Willingly? Doesn't she walk enough?
Outside: Why is she not an athletic club with the other mazungu?
Wearing shorts: What? In this weather? It's not nearly warm enough for shorts.

I cannot say if this is an absolute truth...but after so many runs, and so much staring and several comments, my mind begins to wonder about how I am perceived.

So if we were to flip this scenario around and think about context in the US... What/who do we stare at? What's out of our context? How should we react to it?

Ode to Boyye

These are pictures taken by a friend of ours from Mathare. Boyye, whose father past away this month is 19 years old, has grown up in Mathare and now shares a piece of who he is with the children of the Inspiration Center. This is his first time behind the viewfinder portraying a few glimpses of our World AIDS Day event through his lenses. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

More to come....soon!

Needless to say, having visitors around makes things a bit more busy. A few highlights since the last time that we posted:

  • Visiting Dagoretti 4 Kids, a youth program aimed at street kids in one of the many hard places around Nairobi. We were incredibly impressed with their organization, their thoughtful planning and the commitment that they have shown to their own backyard community. Check out their website at

  • Joining the Seattle crew for a delicious dinner at the infamous Carnivore Restaurant. It was great to see people from home, to be reminded of seeing Kenya for the first time again and catch up on happenings in the NW. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your team.

  • Welcoming Andy Guinn (PLU) and his friend Bryce to lovely Nairobi for the weekend. We weren't sure if it would work out to get together during Andy's semester abroad in Dar e Selaam, but we pulled it off. Thanks for making the trek guys. We shared a bit of our experience with them by spending time with friends in Mathare, playing some ultimate frisbee, eating delicious Ethiopian, Indian and Kenyan food and playing a few rounds of cards!

  • World AIDS Day event in Mathare...see AIDS and Advent

  • Joel's first shot at preaching in a church service...Since arriving in Kenya, we have been approached by many of the pastors to share in their churches. We explain that we are not pastors, that we have utmost respect for them and their work and see ourselves best supporting their work in other ways. This usually is followed up by, “When will you preach to us?”. So, Joel gave it a was much too short for their liking (Much to long for Joel's) but people seemed to be remotely interested and it went pretty well. Having a translator mimicking everything said is a bit distracting!

  • Our first bed bug epidemic-Not sure where they came from...but we have the bites all over our bodies to remind us that they are around. Itch, itch itch.

  • Christmas Celebration with the pastors: Last week, we met with the pastors and their spouses for a Christmas breakfast. Many of them will take off for the holidays to visit friends and family in their hometowns. French toast, Mandozi and fruit was the food of choice.

We will write more soon but wanted to let you know that all is well, the week has been busy and that life in Nairobi is picking up before the holiday and election lull.