Tuesday, August 2, 2016

She's home!

She's home!  We waved our Kenyan flag as she made her way up the international arrivals ramp. It was a perfectly embarrassing way to welcome her home. 
We're so happy to have her home, safe and sound. 
Maddie was the perfect bunk mate. She allowed Syd to use her phone to FaceTime me a few times. 

Ok...the phone story. After Sydney and her group packed up and headed for the airport in Kenya, the house maid found Syd's phone.*** FLASHBACK: Syd had left it on her pillow on day 2 when she ran to the 'shower'. When she returned, it had disappears. *** The maid was doing laundry for the tenants that are still there and she found it in the bottom of her laundry basket. Since Syd's group had already left, another group brought it to the airport for her and she had her perfectly fine, passcode locked phone returned. Too bad she missed EVERY SINGLE PICTURE TAKING OPPORTUNITY!  I missed out on all her emails and pictures. I will now force her to sit at the computer and blog the next few days. Hopefully lots of pictures start rolling in from her friends, too. She did ask them to take pictures of her in their nice cameras. 👍🏼 Welcome home, Syd!!!!  -Mom

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Church in Kenya

We have had a powerful, beautiful day!  Impossible to believe this is our last night here.  I overheard Sydney Stewart saying " I am going to be so homesick for Kenya when I go home".  I think we are all feeling that, although a nice hot shower and clean towel/ bed will help ease us back home.  

Amazingly, after our crazy late day yesterday, all were up and dressed and ready to go this morning by 9 to get to church (except Lainey and Jake who were not feeling well). In sacrament meeting,  Bowen and Abi gave the most wonderful, spiritual talks.  Abi spoke about faith during difficulty and shared the story of "footprints", Bowen spoke on families and how we can each make a positive difference in our family.  After two of the Kenyans also spoke, our entire group and all of the Kenyan youth, stood and sang "A Child's Prayer".  AHHHH the room was ringing with their voices and radiating with their smiles.  They truly did all look like brothers and sisters!  Becca, Sydney, and Cal taught primary.  Brooke, Naomi, and Olive taught Young Women,  Jason and Jacob volunteered to run the nursery for the last hour so the nursery leaders could go to a combined meeting.  A woman in the ward had brought a bag of Chipati for our youth because she had been so impressed with them last week, (The Kenyan version of a homemade tortilla).  This was lucky, because the missionaries grabbed us to say there was a baptism of two converts taking place right after church, so our "starving" youth agreed to stay another hour.  Isaiah and Drage spoke, (they were phenomenal).  Of course after the meetings we were swarmed with members wanting to speak with our youth, get their email addresses etc.  I asked a few of them to help us find the house of the woman who was preparing our lunch.  We walked to this humble home, which was literally a 15' X 15' corrugated metal lean to.  All 33 of us, plus the 4 youth who accompanied us, and the Young Women's Pres., all piled into this room and sat around on the floor and bed.  She brought out two trays of the most delicious samosas and sandwiches for us.  When we had finished eating, we asked her to tell us her "story".  She had been a political activist in Zimbabwe.  She was torutured and burned, and fled to Kenya in 2009.  The Kenya government wanted all refugees to go home, but she would be killed because of her political activities.  She lives day to day making samosas and selling them on the street for  $.20 a piece. She is now married and has a 2 year old son.  She shared her conversion story and the spirit of her sweet words was palpable in this tiny humble home.  Brian left a blessing on her home, and we gave her an extra $100 with our payment for lunch.  She tearfully walked with us to the bus stop, and expressed how that simple monetary gift from us would change her life!

I am so grateful to share these amazing, sacred moments with your beautiful children.  They are a light to everyone they come in contact with.  They are ambassadors of everything that is good in the world, and Brian and I feel deeply humbled and blessed to be with them.  I am grateful for your prayers for our safety, they have been felt and provided a shield of protection throughout these 2 weeks.  If all goes well, you will not hear from me tomorrow night because we will be on a plane on our way home!  Fingers crossed.  Brian did point out that we all ate sandwiches with salad on them today,  that was probably rinsed in very unsanitary water......keep praying!


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hell's Gate...literally.

 Today was a crazy long day.  We started off on a bike ride along a dirt road with zebras, wart hogs, and gazelles along the way.  We were supposed to stop after a few miles and walk up to "Pride Rock", but there were buffalos on the bridge over, and evidently buffalos cause the most deaths in Africa, so they circumvented us over a different route and we didn't get to climb the rock.  Next we hiked up through a gorge and free climbed up a rock face to get up to the next level.  They had guides climbing up next to us and guiding our feet to make sure we made it up safely, a little sketchy!  Next we hiked up to a lookout point, found monkeys in a tree, had lunch, swam in a geo thermal hot spring pool, and finished up on the MOST beautiful lake.  We rode in a boat and saw giraffes, baboons, zebras and wart hogs on the shore, but the crowning moment was the 10 HIPPOS we saw wrestling in the water only a few feet away from us!!  They were so cool!  We thought it had been a perfect day and returned to the bus totally exhausted at 4, ready for the 2 hour bus ride back......the driver and our guide helped us onto the bus, started the bus,  then disappeared, we sat on the bus with it running  for 30 mins. I  finally ventured out to figure out what was going on, but noone was anywhere to be seen.  I hiked around the lake, and there found our driver and a group of men squatted in a circle behind some bushes....long confusing story, the woman who managed the bus, had never been paid by the driver for the safari he had driven yesterday, so she was demanding more money.  Our guys wouldn't pay, so after 2 hours of shouting and discussion, they told us to get off the bus with all our stuff and they would call matatu's for us.  I assured them we would pay the difference and just wanted to get the kids home, but they flatly refused, saying this bus driver was no longer trust worthy, and we would not do business with him.  It made no sense, as I am sure this was more expensive, and it was now getting dark, we had run out of water, and it was dinner time.  The taxi's finally came, we arrived back in our neighborhood at 9 p.m., but were stopped at the end of our street and had armed police board our matatu's to ride in with us.  We arrived at the house to see police cars in the driveway and the guards walked us in.  They assured us this is all just precautionary, "better to prevent than cure", was their remark, but we were all a little confused and exhausted!  Luckily, Mama Mary had a lovely dinner of beef stew waiting for us, and Izzo had picked up the birthday cake I had ordered, so all was well.  Most of the kids are already in bed, and I am heading there now.   Tomorrow we will lay low, go to church,  have a final group meeting and get ready for our last adventure before heading home.  I had met a woman at church last week who told me she struggles to support her family because she is a refugee from Tanzania and Kenyans do not like Tanzanian refugees.  She makes Samosas every day and sells them on a corner.   I offered to buy 100 of them for our lunch tomorrow (they are little fried triangles with beef and spices in them) so we are walking to her house after church where she will fry them up fresh for us. this will be an adventure in itself!


Friday, July 29, 2016

African Slums

A sobering, amazing day at Kibera slums.  The largest slum in the world, housing nearly 2 million people.  Many agencies and governments have tried to assist, but there is so much corruption, nothing ever really makes its way in to make a difference.........but our kids spread sunshine today!  Laden once again with donations, we trudged through the sewage running in the streets to a small 3 room school house (kind of) housing 66 students.  We made bracelets, gave love, and learned from those amazing children.  Then we were taken to a pub in the slums (not sure why) and told about the 100 proof alcohol sold there that is poisoned with ethanol.  We went to two look out points where we could see over the entire slum area, (while we stood at this overlook, I started quietly singing "Because I have been given much", within a few minutes we had a quiet chorus singing, "because I have been blessed with thy great love dear Lord, I'll share that love again according to thy word.) and then we were taken to a bone grinding shop where they make jewelry and other gifts from animal bones........finally we went to the city and the kids got to do their shopping.  I must say that I HATE cities in third world countries, where traffic comes to a total standstill, there is no order as to who get's to proceed through the intersections, sometimes lasting 20-30 mins.  What should have taken 20 minutes took almost 2 hours!  But when we finally arrived, they were in heaven!  baskets for $3, jewelry for 1$, happy shoppers!  We hurried home to host a birthday dance party for Abi, Alex, and Laura ( the refugee camp teacher).  I made pans of brownies, we hooked up speakers on the patio, and the kids are all out having a dance off.  I wish I could teleport you here to see the joyous abandon of these youth out dancing with some neighborhood kids and the boys that work at the house.  Laura just came into the kitchen with tears in her eyes and gave me a big hug " this is a historical moment in my life that I will remember forever, noone has ever had a birthday party for me!"

Tomorrow is Hells Gate at 6 a.m., I am hoping Sunday will actually be a day of rest!

Thursday, July 28, 2016


"This little girl was so cute! She was from the Maasai tribe. She didn't speak English or Kiswahili very well, which was surprising. I didn't get to find out what their language was called:( " -Sydney
A picture Syd posted from her safari in Maasai. 

More from Mindy (thank goodness):

We just returned from the Safari.  It was a wild ride....literally.  I am sure your kids will fill you in, but it was a VERY bumpy, windy 5.5 hour drive each way, we had a few car sick, I was white knuckle praying the whole way that we would travel safely.  Several times there were herds of Cows, goats, and sheep that were being shepherded by a Maasai farmer down the middle of the road, which slowed things down.  On the way home, we had the thrill of 20 baboons out on the road in the middle of traffic.  It was crazy!  I wanted to stop and get out and take pictures, but the drivers on the road were just honking and swerving around them, muttering under their breath.

The paradigm shift for me came when I rode the first safari day with a maasai warrior sitting next to me.  He was 20, spoke great english, swahili, and maasai, had graduated from 8th grade, then at the age of 14, been circumcised down at the river with the group of boys his age, and headed out into the wilderness for 5 years.  This is their rite of passage.  At the end of the 5 years, they must kill a male lion with spears, and return home.  As I was asking about his life, he told me all this very matter of factly.  I asked if he was allowed to come home early if he killed the lion in the first few years, and he said, "no, it is only done at the end, but we would not want to come home early.  We love this time of being men together".  I had heard that you had to kill a lion before you could marry, but he assured me this is not true, you actually have to "jump high".  The Maasai's are very high jumpers, it is part of their ritual dancing, and the children at the school had demonstrated this for us (I will post their dance to facebook).  His parents will choose his wife, which he is fine with, then he will remain at home in his tribe and raise cattle and have a family.  It all seems so logical and reasonable to me when I am riding in a jeep with him hearing it explained.  I wonder whether our western culture, with anxiety, depression, teen suicide rates, would not be better off with this plan!  We were able to visit a school yesterday and again today before leaving.  How easy it is for your children to jump in with their whole hearts and give love.  This is definitely our most interactive, daily service trip we have done.  Every day there are multiple opportunities to connect. We saw amazing animal dramas played out on safari, hyena's eating a buffalo, Lions hunting a baby elephant and the mama elephant running them off, a pride of lions guarding their cubs up to a large rock overhang..... a million zebras and wildebeasts, and a tower of girraffes (did you know that is what a standing group of girraffes is called?)

Tomorrow we are going to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa.  We have been told that we will literally be walking through sewage, to wear sturdy/ dirty shoes, and are being taken to visit four families.  We will bring them gifts of food and bedding.  It will definitely be a day to put our "we can do hard things" motto to the test.  Tomorrow night we are hosting a neighborhood dance party to celebrate Alex and Abi's birthdays, as well as Laura, one of the teachers from the refugee camp.  We have invited her to come and are going to pay her taxi fare.  She is SO excited and asked to bring her mom with her.  She says she has never celebrated her birthday before.  We are going all out with ipod and speakers, bday cakes from the store, birthday banners and streamers.  Not really sure how it will all turn out, but the kids are super excited!

Until tomorrow!


Slow arriving note from Mindy

Our wifi isnt working and we leave at 4 am tomorrow for safari, so i dont know when you will get this.  Today we divided and went to 4 projects.  Some to the baby orphanage, two groups to womens rescue projects, and the other to a slum orphanage.  It is daunting to go in and work so hard to connect, only to say goodbye at the end of a few hours, knowing that you will never see them again.  The programs we worked at today were even more destitute than anything we have seen so far,  hard to believe.  Yet again, smiling faces, bare feet, horrific stories, 13 year olds w babies and scars, 10 year old  girls rescued from sexual abuse/ parents dead from aids.  We had more street experience trying to navigate the matatu system to arrive at our destinations.  We have a "house mom" Mary, who loves us and feeds us amazing food. We love coming back to the house at the end of our crazy days.  She greets us w  so much love and tonight she had made tacos w homemade tortillas.  The kids were thrilled, she is a magician in the kitchen w very few resources.  We have 8 suitcases of donations packed and ready for the maasai schools tomorrow.  We were listening to the radio on the matatu today and soon our whole group was singing along to "dont worry, be happy"  so that is our message of the day!