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!

Monday, July 25, 2016


There is a saying we have begun using frequently here, T. I. A. (this is Africa).  We use this phrase when our 8:30 taxi shows up at 10 a.m., when they send a bus with 20 seats for 30 people, when there are 5-6 new volunteers showing up every night and there are not beds for them, when our "Food Day" at the refugee camp today, which was scheduled for 12:30, finally happened at 4 p.m.  These kids typically only get one meal a day, which is a mash of garbanzo beans that they are fed at school.   I was so excited to help serve them this big meal, but it was just anti climatic when they have been sitting out on the field waiting for it for 4 hours, not to mention my own group of students who are not used to being hungry and waiting for lunch til 4!  There is always one moment on our trips when I totally stress out because things are completely off schedule and Brian steps in to smooth the waters.  That was today!  We had a beautiful ride through the Rift Valley and many of the kids saw a few baboons along the way.  The IDP camp and school were all that you might imagine, with the kids barefoot and in tattered uniforms, but huge smiles and hugs, following us around asking if we would "sponsor them".  We were taken to visit a few of the homes in the camp, which was a little awkward as it was somewhat propagandish to show us the dire straits in which these people live, and then ask us to think of ways to support and make a difference.  You can sponsor a child in the camp for $120/year, it is just so difficult to wire money here, so they need to come up with a simpler formula.  I think we could all afford the $10 / month.  They had them tell us their stories, similar to the story of Therese that we heard a few days ago.  It is crazy to think of our ridiculous, frustrating politics currently in the US, but it puts it in perspective to realize that regardless of who wins the election, we will not have house burnings, gang rapes, and massacres between the democrats and republicans (I hope).  I want you to know, that although a few kids did come up and ask me when we were going to eat, or what the plan was, when I had to reply, " I have no idea, TIA", there were no complaints.  I realized quickly that it was absurd for me to be upset that my precious Orange County teenagers were going to experience hunger for a few hours, that their blood sugar levels might plumet, we all survived!  We then distributed 30 suitcases of school supplies, shoes, socks, underwear, medical supplies, 150 soccer uniforms, they are using our flourescent green soccer pennies for their dance team uniform.  The miracle will really be if noone gets sick.  We had to eat with our hands, off the same plates the kids had just used, that we had washed in dirty water with no soap.  We ate boiled rice, beans with flies hovering, and a stew made with goat meat that had just been slaughtered in the nearby field...............but your kids say they love it here and want to stay forever!  Tomorrow will be our final service day at the women's rescue centers and orphanages.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday in Africa

Today we took the matatu 30 mins. away to attend church services.  On the way there, we practiced the EFY medley, in full voice.  We were quite a spectacle driving through towns with the full choir singing out the windows.  I of course was in tears listening to these amazing kids singing about being Children of God, Loving each Other, and working together.  Drage and Boen blessed the sacrament, Jayden and Cal spoke, Abi. Anna and Naomi helped teach primary, Becca was asked to lead the singing in sacrament, everyone sang and brought such a strong spirit to the meeting, attended sunday school, YW/YM, and helped teach the lessons.  Jacob Bingham was asked to go with one of the missionaries the third hour to teach a discussion.  After church, a member of the bishopric asked if any of our boys wanted to go home teaching with him for an hour.  Drage, Jake, Naomi, and Jayden volunteered to go, along with one of our leaders Matt Smith.  They were supposed to meet up with us at 4 p.m. in another village where we were meeting up with some kids from the slums.  We had a great time with the kids, coloring, bubbles, playing games, giving away Nick's pile of shoes, Derek's colored pencils, crayons, Ruth Ostergar's homemade skirts, Brooke Davis' headbands and bows......no matter what we had, it was a hot commodity.  Some little girls followed me out as we left, begging for something more.  I looked in my bag and said I was so sorry, everything was gone but a few zip lock bags.  "it's okay, I would love a bag".   My panic set in at 6 when we had still never heard from the group who had gone home teaching.  We tried to call the number we had been given, and got a message that the phone was turned off.  By now, the 1 hour of hometeaching had turned to 5 hours.  I found a corner to give an earnest prayer that these amazing youth would be protected and blessed for all of their service and faith.  We returned to our "home" and just as we started dinner, at 7:30 p.m., while Hayden was blessing the food and asking that our group return safely,  Matt, Drage, Naomi, Jake and Jayden walked in the door!

Reporting that these few hours had been the most amazing part of the trip thus far for them. 

Tonight for devotional, we had each person share what they have learned thus far.  I wish I could have recorded it for each of you.  Each of them expressed deep gratitude for their families, recognized that any problems or trials they felt they had experienced in life, were really inconsequential, acknowledged that true joy does not come from any kind of earthly possessions, and shared their feelings of gratitude for being able to travel and see how people are people and everyone just needs love.  Drage caught everyone off guard when he announced that although he had always planned to serve a mission, it wasn't until today when he was out teaching, that he realized what an amazing blessing this was going to be and he is TOTALLY PUMPED to go.  Olive shared how she has always been taught that you love those you serve, and how true this has been, Lainey spoke about how grateful she was to have come out of her comfort zone and try new things.........

Tomorrow we all go to the IDP camp and provide a food and medical day, these circumstances will be much more dire than what we have seen at the schools, keep those prayers coming on our behalf.  So far so good, Nick Wagener does have  a sprained ankle from his run, and Hayden has a bug bite, but otherwise all are well! Today was Cal's birthday and we have had some banners/ decorations, and several rounds of happy birthday.  The group has been THRILLED with the Oreo's Darin sent for the group. I believe there are some birthday games going down right now!


Saturday, July 23, 2016

The mural & an orphanage

*still no phone, but Maddie has been letting Syd text me a few times and she sent this pic. Sydney said these are her two best friends there. She's covered in paint from working on the mural. She did say she's the happiest she's ever been. Hopefully we will get more pictures soon: 
The latest from Mindy:
A million and one moments again today!  We are all exhausted but happy.  Today we worked for 6 hours at the school to paint murals on the classroom walls.  I was very skeptical as to how this would possibly work with 30 of us, only a few of which are artists, with minimal tools and paints.  Once again, the kids AMAZED ME! working non stop, sketching, brainstorming, cleaning up spilled paint, improvising by finger painting, palm painting, rag painting, to make it all come together.  When we finished at 4 today, it was another VERY EMOTIONAL tearing away to get our kids on the matatu.  We had committed to go to a baby orphanage from there, and I was concerned that it had gotten so late, and everyone was so tired (and covered in oil based paint), but we traveled over, and became emotional just passing through the gate which read "Angels House, for Abandoned Children".  What a volume that speaks.  We spent two hours rocking, changing diapers, mostly just loving, 36 children from 3 days old to 7 years old who had been abandoned by their parents.  Due to a child sex trafficking issue 4 years ago, the Kenyan govt. passed a law against any international adoptions, only Kenyans can adopt Kenyan babies........and they don't, so it has become a huge issue here.  The Pope just came and pled with the govt. to reconsider.  It may be lucky for you at home, because your children all selected a baby or two that they would like to bring home.  As you can imagine, when it was time for us to leave, we had to peel babies from our arms who were crying and clinging to us.  Not sure how much more of this heartache these guys can take!  Tomorrow is Sunday, although we could use a day of rest, we have singing practice at 9:30, church at 10, singing practice with the kenyan youth at 1 (for next Suday), and then a community outreach in Waithaka.  Hopefully my pictures will attach.  There have been literally thousands of pictures taken.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Still no phone 👎🏼

Every day is a million moments long.  The IDP group has honed their skills, they made 2 chairs the first day, 13 chairs the second day, and 24 chairs today!  They have a system going and have loved this experience.  Today they got to break the girls and boys up and have the "menstruation/ sex talks".  This piece of our trip has been amazing for our kids to reflect on the sanctity of life, pro creation, their roles, and the outcomes of the decisions they have made regarding this area of agency.  The kids at the refugee camp are in such great need physically, emotionally, spiritually, that it has changed life perspectives for our group. Nicole gave the devotional and shared a quote about how life is nothing without labor, and labor is nothing without love, then Bowen read a segment from his cousins email about some very difficult specific service he had given in Argentina.  

Our school group was under pressure to finish the classroom painting today and the outside of the kinder area, because we will be working on the artwork for the walls tomorrow.  During recess we had a "great race" with prizes for the winners.  This seemed like a great idea when there were 6 kids asking to race, but the race took off with 100 kids pushing past each other, then assaulting me at the finish line, each screaming that they had won and trying to rip the Angels Baseball caps out of my hands.........lesson learned.  We were able to use some donation money to provide a "fruit day"  at the school.  We spent an hour cutting up pineapples, watermelon, oranges and bananas, then went to every classroom offering fruit to the kids.  It was a big hit!!  There was also a crazy, rap dance party that took place in the 8th grade classroom with our group.  When it came time to say goodbye, there were tears and I literally had to tear our group out of the clutches of these clamoring children to board our "matatu" (taxi bus).  Some of the African students had written love notes to our girls, our boys looked like rock stars with THRONGS of children trying to hold onto them as they tried to make their way to the taxi.

Well, I thought our amazing day was over, but after dinner, I met a 19 year old girl named Therese who was staying at the house with us.  We asked her to tell us her story, so with our kids half asleep on the couches, she began with a day in 2008, just after the elections in Kenya where one tribe felt the election had been rigged by another group, her family was having dinner and she was working on her homework, her father was a pastor, it was a beautiful Sunday.  Suddenly they heard screaming and saw 30 angry men driving down the hill into their village waving machetes.  Her mother screamed for everyone to run, she and her best friend Hilda hid in a bush.  They watched the men come through and burn every house down, killing anyone they found.  After an hour, her friend had to go to the bathroom and stood up.  She was grabbed by the men and raped by three of them while Therese hid in the bush and watched.  Finally she tiptoed out to discover that her friend had bled to death and "passed".  She made her way to the river only to find the bridge with a dead pregnant woman and a family massacred.  She did not know how to swim, but had no choice but to cross the river and with Gods help made it across with a belly full of water, then had to run for 3 weeks with no food.  A violent legacy of tribalism that exists here that we cannot begin to understand.  Eventually she made it to a red cross camp.  She lived their totally alone for 2 years, doing nothing but wander the camp, no schooling, no family, in the same clothes she had escaped in 2 years prior.  I will let your kids tell you the rest of the story, but we were a tearful group, filled with awe for the safety, love, and agency we all enjoy.  At the conclusion of her story, she shared that Izzo, one of the Agape founders, had heard her sing and brought her to the Agape house and helped her.  We asked her to sing to us and our whole group joined her in "lean on me".  Sunday night we will hear from another previous refugee staying here.  Priceless moments.  Feeling so much gratitude and love for your amazing kids!


Syd's lost phone

So, Syd lost her phone. 😁 Which means  no pictures!  😢 All communication now is through her trip parents. Here's what they had to say: 

We woke up this morning and had a breakfast of toast, chicken sausage, and hot chocolate. We had a combined prayer service (devotional) with the Kenyan's working with us as well as other Agape volunteers.  One of the other volunteers was a man and his son wearing a BYU shirt.  We had a thought from Cal Nielson about service, then Marta from Agape gave us a message about serving, forgiving and healing.  Some of our group went to the IDP center today.  Their day included sanding and cutting wood as well as playing with the children at the IDP.  Most of us went to a school that serves some of the poorer areas of Nairobi.  There we cleaned several school rooms and scraped paper off walls that had been glued on for years.  Then we painted the rooms with primer preparing for the regular paint tomorrow.  During recess, and lunch breaks, we played with the 350 children that overwhelmed us with enthusiastic hugs, high-fives, and fist pumps.  These were some of the most adorable kids you could ever find. Although english is their second language, they were very poised in their uniforms coming up to us to shake our hands and introduce themselves to us.

We came home tired, with the IDP group getting home after 7 at night.  We had spaghetti for dinner, and the kids are playing a raucous game of signs.  It is fun to see how well they are all getting along together.

We mentioned that there was a father and son (BYU shirt) that joined us this morning for prayers and devotional.  They shared with us that the Hell's Gate tour they did was their highlight of the trip for them and that we should make all efforts to do it.  They said that in addition to the biking and hiking to Pride Rock, that they swam in hot springs and took a boat trip on a lake and saw hippos and other things that they did not see on the safari.  Needless to say, the kids want to go now and we are going to try to help them make it happen.  We will negotiate the best price we can and those that can't afford to go at this time, we will pay for them and work out some kind of payment plan.

I tried to post some pictures but the band width is not big enough tonight.  We will try again tomorrow.

Thanks for your well wishes and prayers. We feel them.


Where to begin....one thing Brian didn't mention yesterday, was that the walls we were prepping for paint, had huge old construction paper posters that had been GLUED to the walls a decade ago.  Think of your worst wallpaper removal nightmare, then think of trying to complete it with 2 bent rusted spoons.  That was all we had to remove these bits of paper covering the walls....along with a few pieces of broken brick.  I think one thing that we learned yesterday was the value of tools!  The IDP camp kids also had the experience of trying to build 30 chairs yesterday, with raw wood, only one saw and hammer, and no measurements tools, but there has been no grumbling!  Only humor at these predicaments, and appreciation for the value of having the right tools to complete a job.  
A few of you asked me to make sure your kids worked hard, I want you to know that EVERY ONE of the kids we have with us, have gone above and beyond, and worked til they literally dropped, then kept going.  As I watched them today, I started taking pictures and thinking, oh wow, I need to let Cal's mom know how hard he is working!  then I would look across the room and think that about the group painting,  then glance out at the field, and see the kids dripping sweat, with 20 kids all piled on top of them, pulling them and scrambling for attention.  Literally, we worked all day, scraping, painting, sweeping, then the bell rings for recess, and 350 kids swarm our group, begging for attention, the kids file out and play soccer, football, basketball, the girls are teaching dances, braiding hair, painting nails, after 45 mins., the kids go back to class, and our group files back in to continue painting, and this pattern goes on all day.  Yesterday, I ordered lunch for our group from the school, and it didn't arrive until almost 2, the kids were dizzy with hunger, and as they brought lunch in my heart sank.  It was a huge steaming pot of thick grits, a bowl of chopped steamed spinach and other greens, and a pot of seasoned meat, that was mostly bones and fat.  I thought I would have kids melting down, but they all piled in, expressed gratitude, and filled up as best they could, commenting on how delicious and well seasoned everything was.  So today I decided to order sack lunches, they were to arrive at noon, but 2:00 rolled around again, our kids had been working like dogs for 5 hours, a few questions about when lunch might arrive, but no complaints, and when it finally came, they ate with gratitude.....and fervor.  After lunch we had the AMAZING experience of dividing the boys and girls up for the 6th, 7th and 8th grades.  Our girls were able to spend an hour talking to the girls about puberty, menstruation, abstinence and girl power.  Sidney jumped up on the table and demonstrated (over her clothing) how to assemble and use the sanitation kits we had brought, she was amazing!  The girls broke into groups and answered questions, shared their own experiences, and talked about the sanctity of family and blessings of waiting to have sexual experiences.  Tomorrow we will distribute 60 of our Days for Girls kits to the girls at the school.  The boys meanwhile met with the 6-8th grade boys and talked about respecting girls, Aids, and abstinence.  You should have seen them!  It is overwhelming to try and meet the needs of these 350 kids all wanting attention at once, but you would  be amazed at how adept your kids are at drawing these kids in and making them all feel loved and involved.  They painted their nails, got them to sing solos for us, raced them on the field, let them braid their hair, jumped rope, played tether ball, soccer, spike ball, choreographed dances, exhausting but so rewarding.  We go back again tomorrow and then on Saturday, we are going to be able to design and paint murals on the walls of the classrooms (I will just be a grunt worker as I have no artistic skills), the kids are all going to come back to school on Saturday just to be with us.  Our IDP camp kids are also engaged in manual labor, but have reached out to the teachers at the school, and been able to go in and teach some of their classes, read to the kids, etc.  they have to travel farther and work later, not returning to the house until 7 p.m. every night, but when offered the chance to switch and work with the school group, they all wanted to stay with their assignments.
The boys stayed up til midnight last night so they could sing happy birthday to Jayden the moment it was July 21!  We sang for her several times today at camp with all the african school kids joining in.  Brian and I are exhausted, but so grateful for every minute of these experiences.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

First service day in Waithaka, Kenya

this is an extremely long email that you might not care about haha I apologize. I'm using my emails as my journal for now, so ignore it if you want<

Mambo! Today was the best day of my life! It was our first full day of service. We got to go to a school about a half hour away from our house and paint some classrooms (which was EXTREMELY needed) and play with the kids for a couple of hours. It was SOOO amazing. Words can't even describe how happy I felt to be with those beautiful kids.

I was proud of myself for staying decently clean... until I played with the kids! Haha but I loved every second. We danced with them and taught them the whip, they attempted to teach me some Kiswahili, and we got to teach them some math. They totally knew my one Kenyan song on my phone, Sura Yako! I learned that that means beautiful face.

One girl tried to steal everything of mine including my hair ties! She kept saying "yangu! yangu!" which means mine. I had to literally chase her to get my phone back haha! But it was innocent, she was young. All the kids were so respectful and sweet:)

I had this one boy who was totally making some moves on me haha! I sat at his "desk" with him and he had his arm around me the whole time, it was adorable. He kept lying to me saying he was 15, but I knew he was 12:)

My favorites were four 12 year old girls, Edith, Nancy, Faith, and Jen. They were gorgeous! I told Jen that was my mama's name and she totally got a kick out of it.

I did have one semi scary experience, not that I was in danger, I wasn't!! After the kids' first break, I decided to walk with these two boys to their classroom. Next thing I knew they pulled me in with surprising strength and everyone in the class was so excited to see me. The kids immediately left their desks and swarmed!! They would not let me leave! I was scared that the teacher would be mad so I tried to go but I literally couldn't. They were saying "teach us!!" I eventually fought my way through but it was insane.

I actually know the most Swahili out of our white kid group haha. They were all impressed with my one long phrase that I know even though it's pretty much all I know! I thought that was funny.

Our house is seriously the nicest building here, but by American standards, it's definitely not even close to luxury. We have very limited electricity and the water only runs sometimes, but we have wifi so that's awesome!

I slept really well last night and I was actually one of the first to wake up which really surprised me. Ruth and I went out to see the sunrise, but we had barely missed it. I'm still very tired though, those kids have a lot of energy! The only thing that's bugging me though is my foot. We have a little roof thingy at our house (with an amazing view btw) that we can climb and I jumped off and I think my heel landed on a piece of glass. I didn't even realize it until I saw some blood on my sock. It's a really small cut, it's just bruised too so it hurts to walk on.

The food is actually really good here! It's super flavorful. For dinner our mama made this Kenyan dish that's just like spaghetti but even better. I didn't really like lunch though. We thought that the corn flour and water was mashed potatoes haha so we all took huge scoops. But it was gross as you can imagine! And it's super bad to waste any food here, so we just wolfed it all down. And we had some strange meat that was like 85% fat. None of us dared to ask what kind of meat it was haha!

It's so beautiful here, nothing like I expected. It's actually super super green. On our drive from the airport we got to see a giraffe and two ostriches! It was an awesome way to start off our trip. Also, the airport was like a closet compared to the airport in Dubai. We got to exit the plane off the back on to the ground which I thought was cool! Haha I've never done that before.

One of our Agape guys drives us around on a bus and it's nuts. They are crazy drivers here and I feel like there are no laws haha just speed bumps to slow you down. But oh man! We seriously catch air on every speed bump, it's awesome. It's crazy how close the cars drive next to each other, even though it's not even necessary; they just do it! And our driver will literally just stop and turn around in the middle of the highway. He's done it three times now, and every time it just blows my mind. The only nice thing here is the roads. They're pretty decent.

I can't wait till my adventures tomorrow! Asante sana! Hope you all are as happy as I am :)

I thought this was a cool picture! There's this one tribesman that lives in this room connected to the house. He doesn't speak English and no one knows who he is or why he's there 😂

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Layover in Dubai!

Hailey, Maddie, & Syd on top of their hotel in Dubai during a dust storm

Here's the group email from their group organizer:
We are here!  All safe, happy, healthy in our "manor house" in Waithaka.  The kids are all downstairs having their swahili lesson.  They have been amazing and we have truly felt so blessed in every step.  Matt and Sara arrived safely last night and connected to get their ride out to the house.  Our group flights were delayed by 2 hours from LAX, which made for a 18.5 hour flight, arriving at the Dubai hotel at 4 a.m.  Silly me, I thought the kids would want to sleep, but there were all night card games, early morning swims and roof top viewing.  The weather report in Dubai was 113 degrees and "dust", we had never seen "dust" listed as a weather condition, but indeed, the city was covered in it, thick dust blocked most of our view.  At 4: 30 a.m., we were awakened by a city wide broadcast from the prayer towers to come to prayers.  The tower blasts went off again at 5 a.m., I don't know if that was to wake up anyone who had fallen back asleep, or if they have prayers at both those times.  We had a great breakfast buffet at the hotel and made it to the airport in plenty of time this morning.  It was a 45 minute walk in the airport to our terminal which would have been fine, but we all had so much carry on baggage.  Your kids all jumped in and helped each other carry bags, then I discovered the magic of luggage carts and scurried through the airport passing them out to the kids along the way.  My 3 main concerns were 1. getting through the first check point with our evisas.  Sure enough, then stopped our first 16 year old and said the evisas were required for anyone born in 1999 or earlier, regardless of their current age.  This would have applied to 10 of our group.  Surprisingly, when I went and pled our case, they waved us through, no big deal.....miracle #1!
miracle #2  Our group was not stopped or  questioned about the contents of our suitcases, we never even had to show the letter
miracle #3  They fit our group of 30 passengers, and 78 suitcases/backpacks, into a 20 passenger bus to transport us to our home! AND we saw a girraffe and a Giant Ostrich off the side of the road along the way!

I challenged the kids this morning to all sit next to someone new, get to know them, and introduce them to the group.  They loved it, and already are all bonding.  As far as I can tell, everyone is feeling connected, happy, healthy, and VERY VERY TIRED.  It is quite cold here, @50 degrees, which is good because it means NO MOSQUITOs.  Rebecca Olsen is giving our devotional tonighttomorrow morning Izzo, our program leader here, said he is coming to do a morning "prayer" with us for an hour, so we are interested to see what that is.  After that we will do our orientation and get to work!

We have Wifi, so you will probably be hearing from your kids.  I will do my best to send a daily update.
Thanks again for your prayers and entrusting your kids to us, 

Leaving for Africa!

group hug before she left
 On July 17th, Sydney boarded a plane to take her to Kenya, Africa.  She will be doing humanitarian work for 2 weeks and I will be attempting to share her memories on here while she's gone.
-Jen (Syd's mom)