Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hi Mom....Call back please!

Thank God for technology! Yesterday morning as I was getting ready to go to work, I checked the clock as I do many times a day and considered what time it was in Kenya. Until we change the clocks in a week, Kenya time is 10 hours ahead of California time. So, to calculate, I always say "Flip it and subtract 2". By 'flip it', I mean that when it is morning here, it is evening there (and vice-versa). So, if it is 8 am here, it is 6 pm there. In a week, it will be an 11 hour difference, since Kenya doesn't "Fall Back" with their clocks as we do. Of course, when in Kenya, I have to calculate it backwards to figure out the right time to call America. 

An evening at 'home' in Kenya with Moses, Edwin and Martin...calling my mom in America.

Anyway, I usually call the kids in our group homes every week. The best time to call is around 7 pm their time. At that time of evening, they are all home...doing homework, playing in the yard, preparing supper. It is a noisy time of day, to be sure!

So, as I said, I was thinking about calling yesterday around 9 am and then realized that since it was Friday night that the three wonderful 20-something Americans that are staying in Kenya for 6 months and who work with Oasis 3 days per week would be at House 2 having supper with the boys. So, I decided not to disturb them and to wait to call another day. (You can check out their blogs at the right of this page)

Daina with Edwin    

Allison with Paul
Chris with John

Just at that phone rang. The caller I.D. announced "unknown caller". I picked up the phone and said "Hello". Then a very familiar voice said, "Hi mom. Call back please!" It was the voice of Stuard from House 2.

He had been thinking about me at the same time I had been considering calling them!


So, using my international calling plan (which brings my rates down to cents a minute rather than dollars!) I called back to their house dad's phone. The great thing about Kenyan mobile phones is that only the person calling gets charged; unlike our phones where both parties pay. So, as long as they have their phones charged, I can call and it doesn't cost them anything.

After greeting Dad Robert for a few moments, I asked him to put Stuard on the phone. "Hi mom! Thanks for calling back. We just really wanted to speak with you!"

Each of the 7 boys in the house (Stuard, Johnstone, Martin, Joseph, John, Moses and Timothy) took turns with the phone. Our conversations have a predicatable sequence. First come the Kenyan greetings. Greetings are essential in Kenya. "How are you? I am doing fine. How are you? I am good too." They always inquire about my mom, whom they call 'grandmother'...making sure that she fine as well; and always making sure that I promise to "give their greeting" to my mom.

House 2 (from bottom right): John, Joseph, former House dad Simon, Steward, our good friend Heidi, Timothy, Martin, Moses, Me and Johnstone (photo from February 2007) 

They usually ask "How is America?" or "How is California"  and until recently, I always said "Fine, the same as always". But, because I am always truthful with them, this week I said "Things are pretty tough here. Our economy is having some problems. Pray for America." They each replied in earnest sincerity that they would and that America should "Trust God." Hmmm...out of the mouths of babes, eh?

I always ask about school. They all just completed mid-terms exams (in primary school!) and they each told me which subjects they felt that they did well in and which ones they struggled with (usually math!). They told me how they were all going to my house tomorrow to do a Bible Study with Allison, Chris and Daina and get a little tutoring from them as well. 

Some of the boys had special concerns or questions and I did my best to give them encouragement and insight. This week, they all wanted to talk about Edwin (from House 1) running away and tell me what they knew about the situation. I told each of them, "When God opens doors for us, we  have to walk through them. God gives us free will. Edwin used his free will. We have to pray for him and hopefully he will come back soon. He is part of our family. We love him." They all assured me that they would never run away and that they didn't understand why Edwin did. For these boys, who have little family except each is a huge loss to have one of their brothers leave home. They wanted to talk about their feelings and I did my best to council them and reassure them....from half a world away.

Edwin...still not home.

We always end our talks with "I love you and I miss you." Sometimes I get kisses over the line and the question "Did you receive my kiss, mom?". And always the question, "When will you be back?"  

It isn't the same as being there. But, these calls are a lifeline for all of us. I can tell from their voices if they are well and happy. I can tell by the order in which they talk to me if one of them has an issue he doesn't want me to bring up. They know that I always find out about their grades and their behavior from Geoffrey. If one of them has gotten in trouble....he will always be the last one on the line and his hello will always be quiet and tentative. 

I wish I could have this moment back with Edwin. 

I want to be there every day. I want to sit and look into their eyes when they have a problem to discuss. But, for now at least, that isn't possible except for a few months each year. So, as families do.....we make the best of it. Thank God for technology!

Friday, October 17, 2008

They'll break your heart if you let them...ah, but don't you let them.

That title is a line from the old James Taylor song, "You've Got A Friend". I am old enough to remember when that song came out and for some reason I have been hearing that one line in my head for the past several days.

Loving others is the most wonderful thing in life. In the Bible, Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love others. Along with the joy of love, comes the risk of pain. Pain; when those that you love disappoint, hurt or leave.

This blog is not about the romantic kind of love....I am referring to the love that has resulted from opening my heart up to hundreds of kids in Kenya. Loving these kids has taught me the true meaning of love and has transformed my life. It has also made me vulnerable. Moms worry about their kids...they want them to be happy and safe. When my kids are hurting...I hurt too. It's all part of what comes along with loving others.

Now, people that know me will say that I am a "glass half full" kind of girl. I mostly choose to look on the bright and shiny side of things... believing that people are good and that things will just work out right. When it comes to the street kids in Kenya....I really believe that most of them just want a chance for a normal, home, family. Like that Field of Dreams movie line, "If you build it, they will come."....I came into this work believing that if Oasis of Hope provided that chance...that every single kid in need would gratefully come and their lives would be magically transformed into something wonderful and they would live happily ever after. Ok....I know that is a little (ok, a lot) naive. Happily ever after only happens in storybooks and movies. Real life is; much realer!

First of all, there is this little thing called "Free Will" that God gave us....and sometimes it works against what is best for us. Everybody else can see that we are making a really bad decision. In fact, even WE know that we are making a bad decision...but, we do it anyway.

This past week brought some really disappointing news.... 3 of the kids that I love very much have been making some really bad decisions. One, has been choosing to sneak out of his boarding school and hang out with friends on the street for days at a time. Another, after years of coming to the Children's Centre...was finally given his chance to go to school....and now he is getting into fights with his new classmates almost daily. And the hardest of our boys in a group home...who has lived in that home for over 3 years....packed up his stuff and ran away last Sunday and we don't know where he is.

My first reaction is always shock, "I can't believe that they would DO that!"....but, then I stop and think about how many teenagers in America make equally bad decisions....even after growing up in loving families their whole lives. Sometimes I forget the lives that our kids at Oasis have had....watching parents die at a young age and fending for themselves on the streets. I realize that I often don't understand the depth of the damage that has been done to their emotional well-being.

And then there is the whole "teenager rebellion" factor to take into account, as well. Sixteen year olds all over the world are busy breaking the rules, I guess. It is a natural part of the growing up process.

So, as I sit here, half a world away, I am frustrated and sad that I am not in Kenya when these things happen. I want to sit with these boys and find out what is going on in their heads. I want to go out and look for our missing boy myself and hug him and encourage him to come home. But, I trust Geoffrey and the staff of Oasis of Hope to do these same things. I used to get all worked up and my heart would break every single time...but, I have learned that these dramas work tend to work themselves out.

In the meantime.... all I can do is pray that they will be safe. I believe in the power of prayer to change lives. I'd really appreciate it if you would take a moment and join me in praying that Elvis will get serious about his High School studies, that Silas will settle into boarding school and control his temper and most of all...that Edwin will come home.

I'll keep you posted on what happens....




Friday, October 10, 2008

Lights, Action...CAMERA!

I always bring my digital camera to Kenya. The photos from my trips are the primary way I share Oasis of Hope with others and I end up with thousands of photos every time. But, about 80% of those pics are not taken by me. The kids love to take photographs of themselves. Every evening, when I return home...I spend an entertaining hour checking out the photos taken that day.

The boys and girls from our group homes have gotten especially adept at staging themed "photo-shoots" of themselves that often incorporate props...usually with hilarious results.

Johnstone with my sunglasses and a dishtowel....

....this last one is especially funny to me since the photo-shoot was happening while supper was being cooked by Sasha (my business partner's daughter...visiting Kenya for the 3rd time this year) who was completely oblivious to the action taking place right next to her!

This group photo shoot was taken in August of 2007 one Sunday after church. It features Johnstone (of course!), Timothy, John, Martin, Paul, Elvis and Edwin:

The thing that I love the most about these photos is how they portray the spontaneous joy that these kids are now capable of. They aren't smiling because I am prompting them to...they are enjoying each other and exhibiting the silliness that can only come out of a kid that is comfortable and confident in their life.

It has only been a few years since all of these youth were Kitale streetboys....dressed in torn and dirty clothes, barefoot, hungry. Many of them were trapped in the addiction of sniffing glue. I look at them now and can't help but smile and shed a tear at the same time while I thank God that Oasis of Hope has been able to transform so many lives.

Many times the only photographs that come out of Africa are the ones that show the despair and the seeming hopelessness. While I run the risk of having people look at the photographs in this blog and think that these clean, well fed, nicely dressed kids are a world away from the typical Africa photos....I believe that it is important to show the HOPE. Our byline at Oasis of Hope is "Giving hope to the hopeless" and these kids are a perfect example of that sentiment in action.

Paul, Moses, Edwin, and Joseph show that a dog (in this Kenyan dog, Sky) can make a nice prop:

I couldn't resist being part of the action!

Sometimes the photographs that the kids produce take my breath in these dramatic shots of Edwin, Johnstone and Moses:

I can't wait to see what they think of next!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

They Grow Up SO Fast!

I know that I didn't get SHORTER!!!

top photo: Me with Johnstone and Martin in February 2006
lower photo: Me with Martin and Timothy in July 2008

I still feel like I am about 25 years old. I'm NOT saying that I LOOK fact, sometimes lately I catch my reflection in a window or a mirror or see a photo of myself and think, "Oh my! When did I get so old!!?!"

That being said....all in all, I feel pretty youthful. I think a big part of this denial/young attitude is a result of not having kids when I was in my late 20's or early 30's like many of my peers did. I am always surprised when I meet somebody that is about my same age and they comment that they have kids in college or even more surprising....that they have GRANDKIDS! And then I do the math and realize that had my life taken a different path that I too could be a grandmother right now!

Over the past few weeks, I have been organizing the thousands of photos that I have taken of the kids at Oasis of Hope. As I look at some of the photographs taken 4 years ago and compare them to pics taken just a month ago....I am finally starting to understand how the passage of time is most reliably felt as you watch your kids get older.

Taking a boy or girl out of life on the street or life in a slum where food has been a luxury and not a given and then just feeding them 3 meals a day causes a remarkable a really short period of time. Geoffrey (managing Oasis in Kenya) and I have finally learned not to buy too many sets of clothes for a child that is just coming off of the street because they outgrow them in just a few weeks when they start to eat regularly!

I have seen some of our boys actually grow over a foot in height in just a year!

So....I guess I am finally starting to "feel" my age a little bit as these boys and girls that I met as little kids are turning into young men and women. Of course, there are always new little ones coming into the program....the sad fact of Africa. I always say that the best day will be when we can hang a "closed" sign on the children's centre because there aren't any more kids in need of help. Wishful thinking on my part, I'm afraid.

I know for sure that some of these kids wouldn't be alive right now if not for Oasis of Hope. Malaria can kill a kid in a few days when they are on the street. Life is violent on the street too. I thank God every day that Oasis has been able to transform the lives of so many children.

But, there are so many more...waiting...waiting for THEIR go to school, to live in a home, to be safe and warm and dry in a bed at night. That is what keeps ME awake at night...praying for more people to come alongside me and the growing family of people who love these kids and who share the blessings of their own lives so that another child can be set free from a life of hunger, sickness, violence, and separation from God.

So here are some 'then' and 'now' photos of my "sons" and "daughters" in Kitale.
And like any mom would...I have to say I very proud I am of ALL of them!

But they do grow up SO fast!

Shaaban in January of 2005 and now (just enrolled in 7th Grade!)

Timothy (Timo) in January 2005 and now (a future Chef!)

Steward in January 2005 and now (doing great in 6th!)

Adorable Donald in January 2004 and now ( a busy 3rd grader!)

Beautiful Centrine in January 2005 and now (doing so well in 6th grade!)

Paul in September of 2005 on his first day of school and now (doing great in 6th)

Martin in February 2006 and now (top of his class in 7th grade!)

Elvis in January of 2005 and now (in his first year of High School!)

Johnstone in January 2006 and now (thriving in 7th grade!)

Ann, Nancy and Sheila in January of 2005 and Nancy, Ann and Sheila now (all doing well in school!) March of 2006 and now (an active 6th grader!)

Bramwel: January 2005 and now (6'2" in the 6th grade and still growing!)

"Little" Evans in January of 2005 and now (doing awesome in 3rd grade!)