Friday, December 3, 2010

Oasis of Hope is...... "Hoping for Change"

When Oasis was born back in 2004- our dream was to be able to help the street children, orphans and vulnerable kids of Kitale. We reached out to children who slept on the street at night, to children who slept in tiny mud huts in the slums surrounding Kitale. We reached out to kids that couldn't go to school because despite Kenya's "free" public school laws-they didn't have money to buy a uniform. We reached out to children who are the cast-offs, the unwanteds, the ones that Jesus called the 'least of these'. We reached out and they came.

They came from the middle of Kitale town and they came from the slums. These slums have names like Namanjalala, Matisi, Tuani and Shimo la Tewa...musical names that roll off of the tongue - but, in actuality places where no child should live. These are slums full of violence and hunger and sadness.

Oasis of Hope was formed to be exactly what its name implies - an OASIS from the struggles that no child should have to contend with. And so, six years later - over 200 children eat, and have decent clothes to wear, are receiving an education and are routinely cured from illnesses like malaria and typhoid that most likely would have killed them had they not come to Oasis of Hope.

When we began this venture, we knew that we were following God's call on our hearts to help the children of Kitale, Kenya. And when we succeeded in doing this - we rejoiced! But, sometimes when you set out to do one thing - there are other happy results that you never anticipated.

Since the doors of Oasis opened in September of 2004 - well over 500 visitors from American, England, Germany, Mexico, Holland and other parts of the globe have come through the doors of the Children's Centre thinking that they were there to 'help'. And help they did. But, they also went home profoundly changed. As I always say to people who mention that they want to visit Africa, "Be very, very sure before you go. Because there is no such thing as going to Africa once. Your life will be never be the same and you need to be ready for that before you go."

Oasis has taught people that joy is something that can be felt in the most humble of circumstances. The people - especially the children- of Kenya are joyous. They have so little.... much less than the average American would be comfortable with. And yet, there is that pervasive joy....and the kind of faith that we rarely see in our busy, technology-filled, too-much-stuff lives. Hundreds of people have told me that going to Oasis was a turning point in their lives. They have told me that the children of Oasis - in their humble poverty and illuminating joy taught them more about the gigantic love that God has for us than anything else that they had ever experienced.

Over half of these visitors have been teenagers and young adults from Saddleback Church. They come with the Saddleback HSM and Wildside Ministries to put on an annual 3-day 'camp' at Oasis. It is 3 days of games and crafts and singing. It may not sound like much - but to the kids at Oasis of Hope it is a trip to Disneyland and Santa Claus and Heaven all rolled into one. Saddleback has put on this camp every year for the past 6 years and some of the Oasis kids have had the joy of attending all 6 times. For kids whose lives consist mostly of a kind of poverty that we can barely imagine - the 6 years of 'camp' memories to savor and remember are quite possibly the very best memories of their lives.

But, it isn't just the kids at Oasis of Hope who take memories away from camp. The Junior High and High School Students go home with new eyes and new hearts and a burning desire to go back to Kitale and to Oasis of Hope as soon as they can.

Over the past 3 summers- Saddleback Church has also held the Kitale Leadership Institute where up to 20 College aged young adults have spent 2-3 months in Kitale. Oasis of Hope has been the central meeting place for their summer ministry and I have been amazed to see how God has changed the hearts of these students. They came to Kitale for a summer adventure and to 'help' people and they leave utterly transformed - with broken hearts and eyes that have been completely opened to God's love, mercy and grace.

I have come to expect the emails and the Facebook posts from the students upon their return. " I love Oasis...I love those kids....I can't wait to go back.....I want to help." And so, this spring, when a new group of students flew back from Kitale - there was an Oasis of Hope USA event planned and waiting for them.

The "Hoping for Change" program was born! On a sunny April morning, over 50 high school and college students who had been to Oasis of Hope sometime over the past 5 years, along with seasoned Oasis of Hope veterans: Allison Hibbard, Chris Wohlers, Matt Gillen and Pastor Steve Rutenbar joined with me to put on the first Oasis of Hope event here in the US. A pancake breakfast was mixed with a slide show and photos and graphic representations of the programs at Oasis. A presentation about these programs and their costs and the need for young advocates for the children at Oasis was met with enthusiasm.

Each guest took home at least one "Hoping for Change" jar to collect their spare pocket change at the end of each day. But, more than money - a label on the jar and a photo of an Oasis child on top of each jar requested that the students pray for their child, for Oasis of Hope, for Kitale and for Kenya. It was a wonderful event full of memories, stories and a shared love of Oasis.

These are difficult times all over the world. The U.S. economy has struggled and worsened over the past 3 years. The rest of the world struggles with us. When millions of formerly employed Americans lose their jobs and their homes and their comfortable lifestyles - charitable giving all but vanishes from their spending. And like most other non-profit organizations - Oasis of Hope has seen a dramatic decline in donations as well. The "Hoping for Change" program was formed to show that a lot of people joining forces to give a little bit can combine to make a huge impact.

And we were correct. The Friday after Thanksgiving - almost 7 months after the first event- Allison and I sat at the Starbucks in Foothill Ranch hoping that our last minute Facebook announcement directed at the students who would be home for Thanksgiving would result in lots and lots of change being turned in.

We weren't disappointed. In the 5 hours that we sat in the sun, delighted to greet one member of the Oasis of Hope 'family' after another - over 2,000 dollars in change (about 120 lbs!) was delivered by these same students who had taken the jars home seven months before. Many had re-filled their jars several times over the months. And when we were done, we realized that even with the giant mountain of change sitting in front of us - at least half of the jars were still waiting to be collected! We are hoping to get the students who have been collecting change to bring that change in this coming week. In fact, Allison will be at the High School Ministry Church Service at Saddleback on Saturday night and we are reaching out to all "Hoping for Change" participants to put their change in a ziplock bag with their names written on the outside of the bag to come and drop off their change with Allison.

We have dedicated this change to Christmas 2010 at Oasis of Hope. Camp is special at Oasis - but Christmas is even better! Christmas means a new set of clothes, new shoes, a special meal and a party complete with a movie! This has been a hard year at Oasis in terms of funding and as difficult as money is right now - we don't want to cancel Christmas at Oasis.

It took us a while to think of the name "Hoping for Change". Believe me, we came up with a lot of silly names before we hit on this one. It expresses exactly where we are right now with Oasis. Yes, we are hoping that we get a bunch of coins in. But, even more...we are hoping and praying to change the lives of the street kids of Kitale, Kenya. And, we are praying and hoping that the economy of our country changes so that people feel that they can begin giving again.

The Hoping for Change program proved our point. Many people working together to share a small bit of of the blessing of their lives (and we all still have so many blessings despite these difficult times) can combine to produce a miracle....a Christmas Miracle, in fact!

As I said in the beginning of this post - We set out to positively change the lives of children of Kitale. The added bonus was that we were also able to do the same for hundreds of youth in America. Isn't that exactly what God's love looks like?

From the Oasis Family to your family....Merry Christmas ...... Hoping for Change.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Girls are fun too!

I often am accused of spending more time with the boys than I do with the girls. When I hear that, I feel badly..but, I have to admit that it is the truth. Not because I love the girls any less. It is just that I knew the boys first and mostly because they learned to speak English before the girls did. It is so much easier to spend time with them because we can communicate easily.But, I decided that this trip, that I would make a concerted effort to make sure that my time was equally divided amongst all of the kids.

Little Alice at the front door of Oasis of Hope's girls' home.

So, on Wednesday evening, I arrived at the Oasis Girls’ Home at 4 in the afternoon to join them for supper carrying “juice” and biscuits as my contribution to the meal. The girls’ home is located in Shimo La Tewa, which is located about 2 miles from my house in Milimani. It was pouring rain as I arrived in my taxi. The girls’ house mom, Rebecca ran outside with an umbrella in hand to greet me and escort me into their tidy home.

At that time of day, only the youngest girls are home. The girls in class 6 and above were still at school. While I prefer spending time with small groups of kids- unfortunately this group of girls had very little in the way of English speaking skills. But happily, I had brought along a game that was one of my favorites as a child: Candy Land. As I knew that they would, the girls loved the game immediately and the rules were easily understood without much language required.For some reason, Sarah was particularly lucky and won the first 3 games!

Clockwise: Alice, Janet, Sarah, Christine and Helen playing Candy Land

Ajix, Christine and Dorcas challenged me to a game. I lost!

As we played , word got out that Mama Lydia was in the neighborhood and soon a group of 5 neighbor children arrived. Three of the kids are regular attendees at the Oasis of Hope- pretty sisters Jennifer and Selena and cute Lucy (a great favorite of many of the Saddleback college kids who were here last summer). Lucy brought along two of her siblings: Erika (5) and baby Peter. These are the 3 remaining children from a family that already has 4 children (Patrick, Ajix, Christine and Irene) being assisted by Oasis either in one of our group homes or in boarding school.

Me, with the 5 visiting children

Unfortunately, the parents of this family are unable to provide a stable home environment. The mother brews the local brew, Changaa, which she sells and drinks herself and sometimes shockingly feeds to her baby! The father, also a drinker, does not have regular work and is unable to provide sufficient food , clothing and care for his family. We try to help as much as we can, and I predict that the remaining children will eventually make their way to the care of Oasis as they become a bit older. I can only pray that these parents stop producing children!

Sweet tiny at 5 years old.

But despite their difficult living situation, these children are playful and often smiling. It is hard for Americans to understand that children can be allowed to live like this… and it took me a long time to be able to visit families such as these without breaking down in tears. As hard as it is, I have come to believe that they are under God’s protection and that He has a plan for their lives. I can only pray that more people will open their hearts to Oasis and that with increased regular funding, we can help more children like these to have better lives.

From the back: Selena, Lucy, Peter and Erika

The older girls began to make their way home…Dorcas and Rael returning first; followed by the class 8 girls; Centrine and Nancy. It was now 6 pm and they had arrived at school at 7 that morning. The Kenyan school system is so much more rigorous - both in quality and quantity of education than is ours in America.

Gorgeous Centrine...just home from school- ready to change out of her uniform.

The first order of business is to change out of uniforms into ‘home clothes’ and then to inquire as to whether Rebecca needed their assistance preparing the evening meal: chapatti, rice, green grams (mung beans) , and meat stew. The older girls helped and I kept the youger girls (Sarah, Helen, Alice, Ajix, Janet, and Christine) occupied taking photos, dancing and playing Candy Land. In the past year and a half since I have been here - the girls have grown comfortable with their home and have developed very distinct and charming personalities. They are often quiet when in a mixed group with the boys - whose strong personalities tend to dominate. But, when alone with each other - they are hilarious!

Janet , so quiet when she moved in a few years ago - now has one of the boldest personalities in the girls' house.

Helen...after a fit of giggles!

Tomboyish Christine (Amlango) doing gymnastic moves on her bed. a rare serious moment.

We once feared that Alice-so small and sickly- wouldn't live to see 7. Today, although still tiny- she is healthy and in possession of a quirky personality.

Supper was delicious as it always is at the girls home. I have to laugh because unlike at the boys’ house- the girls always offer me hot water to wash my hands before eating and they do the same. The boys just dig right in dirty hands and all. Boys!!!

We finished our meal by dividing up the biscuits (cookies) and with a few more songs and dances. The girls taught me some new steps..and I think kept up pretty well although I am not blessed with the skill nor the natural rhythm that they possess! Promptly at 8, my taxi arrived and I hugged them all and promised to return next Wednesday.

Beautiful Ajix teaching me some dance steps!

Those girls are so much fun. I can't wait to return next week. I think I will bring along Chutes and Ladders!