We flew back to Kenya a month ago today. It seems like yesterday....and it seems like a year ago. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement while we were stateside. We are grateful for the people we could see and sorry for those of you we missed.
We hit the ground running at Tenwek....Here's a quick look at what's happened since we landed.
Mike's first weekend on call was not uneventful. He had three patients who came in having been shot in the face with arrows. This isn't as common as it used to be at Tenwek. Thankfully, all three are doing well.
The renovations for the Children's unit at the hospital is now underway. We are so, so very excited when we see the facilities for the kids being improved!
Eden and Caleb started back to school three weeks ago (fifth grade and kindergarten). We had been praying for the teacher to be here for the opening of school to help with some of the co-op classes. She has been waiting for her visa from immigration which still has not been issued.
(This is what happens when the kids get to pick their first day of school wardrobe!)
This is our MK crew this year!!! We love all the energy and enthusiasm this crowd brings.
We were able to go out last week as a family with Peris to bring a solar powered audio bible in Kipsigis to a man named Richard who has been blind since 5th grade. He had such a strong testimony of God's faithfulness to him when things have been hard. "There has never been a day when God has not stood with me." He and his wife had been married for 27 years!!
We had our September Tabitha meeting and it was so good to be back together again. I have really missed these ladies. We are working through the book of James and will be finished by the end of this year. Its such a blessing to me to learn together with these women every month.
We are so glad to be back in Kenya, and so grateful for the support and prayers that make it possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!
Thank you for praying us back to the states. We've been traveling and adjusting and consuming all kinds of foods that aren't available in Kenya!
Since our time is so short, we are trying to have a few open house times of sharing both in Springfield, MA and the Albany, NY areas to get to see as many faces and hug as many necks as we can. Message us if you'd like more details about either of those. We are sharing on Sunday Morning at Cornerstone Church in East Longmeadow, MA on July 14th at 10:30am. We are also giving a short update at Loudonville Community Church in Loudonville, NY on Aug 4th at 10am. We'd love to have more time in each place we are visiting, but we'll take what we can get this trip.
(The key to being a good traveler is to be able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime...no matter who's watching...and taking pictures of you. We travel with pros.)
We are headed out for a short trip to the US this summer. We are looking forward to seeing family and friends. We haven't completely figured out when we'll be where, but we'd like to have a few gatherings to catch up with friends and supporters during our brief time. More info to follow. Would you please pray for us as we travel? Mike has been traveling a ton in the last couple months and is still jet lagged from the last trip he took and a bit sick. We fly on Saturday and these last few days are always crazy!!! Thanks so much for lifting us up.
In 2017, I visited a place called Kuresoi that is about three rough hours from Tenwek with the most senior Tabitha bible study leaders. Word spread to this place near the forest about a bible study in which women could earn a bible in their mother tongue and study for themselves. You can read the full story here. Last weekend, I had the chance to go back!!!! They said more women had memorized the 17 verses required to earn a bible. They were ready for our leaders to come and listen as they recited. AND I GOT TO GO!!!!
At first, I was impressed with how many women were able to complete the required verses. But the more I talked to the ladies in the crowd, I realized something more impressive, more inspiring and convicting. I began asking how they got to the meeting that day. Their answers were astounding!! After talking to a few women, I began asking each one the same question,
"How far did you travel to get here today?"
"We walked a half an hour to get here. We will not be tired in the work of the Lord."
"Footing it is a half an hour."
"I don't know how long it took, but I know it cost 200 shillings."
"Just one hour walking, half an hour on the back of a motorbike."
"Two hours walking...."
"We rented a vehicle and came from four hours further to be here today."
This woman walked three hours to get to the meeting.
(White head scarf) Four hours. On foot. One way.
"I don't know how long it took. I started walking yesterday, slept along the way, and continued until I arrived this morning." (blue head scarf)
And after all that, this is the sacrificial gift I was given for making the journey in a comfortable vehicle to the meeting.
The Lord is doing amazing things in these hillsides of Kenya!!!!!
One hundred and eighty-eight women earned their bibles that day.
"Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done."
Things have been busy, so we haven't slowed down enough post anything here recently. We are still here. God is still on the throne. And there has been a lot happening!! So at the risk of having an even longer silence here, I'll just share quickly some of the things that have been going on.
First and most exciting is that we are halfway through the homeschool year!!!
Caleb and I are working through a preschool curriculum at home. But he has two age mates here who are from Germany and have different required material. So I have been doing 2-3 days a week of a co-op with all three of them for socialization and language learning. It's been SO MUCH FUN! We go back and forth talking about words in english and in german. They really are the cutest.
Once a year we have a snow day for the kids. A teacher or parent calls the kids early in the morning and says there's NO SCHOOL and we do snowy activities all day! So, of course, sledding down a hill in a cardboard box is on the schedule.
We were able a few weeks ago now to go to mud a house together with the older missionary kids (MKs). It's always a long, hard day, but so rewarding and fun day.
I love when Eden comes out to the village with me. This time all the older MKs went together and the first layer on the house was done before 1pm! That's the fastest its gotten done on any of the times I've been out!
Yup. That happened.
The top Tabitha Bible Study leaders are still meeting together once a month here at Tenwek. We just had my favorite meeting of the whole year. The month of January is set aside to study a specific Psalm together. The final week of the month is set aside to put the Psalm to music to help with memorization. Then when we get together in February, each song is presented to the group. We then vote on one of the songs to be the theme song for that year. It's so, so exciting to hear all the different versions of the same Psalm and then carry that song with us to open each meeting for the year!! I absolutely LOVE it!!!
And last, but CERTAINLY not least, the pediatric bronchoscopy equipment that Mike has been working on getting here for two years finally arrived this month!!!!!! It's like christmas all over again!!!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU to those who prayed and donated and worked on logistics to get this vital equipment here. We are so grateful!!
Each morning patients who had surgery the day before lined up in the hallway and had their patches removed. The spontaneous singing and dancing was so moving. These are some captured moments.
This mama saw her newborn baby for the first time after her surgery. She didn't believe that this boy to the left was her son, he had changed so much since she saw his face!!
In the midst of the dancing and singing, this mama gave thanks to God in her own way.
Asunta (above right) hadn't seen her daughter's face, Elizabeth, in over a year.
"Today, God gave me a new eye. In heaven, I'll get my new teeth!"
"What is the first thing you're going to do when you get home?"
"I'm going to cook my boy some food. From now on, I will be the one taking care of my household. He has been feeding me, but now I will be feeding him. He has been grinding the seeds and cooking. Now I will do it for him. My son will never cook again."
Now that I've gotten my feet back under me, I wanted to share a few more stories from the trip to South Sudan. My role was to document with pictures all that was happening. I sat with patients waiting for surgery, talked with those who weren't able to have surgery for one reason or another, and tried to capture those whose sight had been restored.
The more people I talked to the more I realized that each person's story was hard in more ways than it was easy. A missionary who lives in South Sudan said if I really wanted to hear some things, there were four topics to ask about: the war, the famine, their children, and lastly, if they had ever seen a lion. Here is a sampling of the responses...
Deng'ng'ong' said his eyes started getting bad 3 years ago. He believed it was because his son was killed and no one had answered for it even up till now.
The next morning, when Deng'ng'ong' had his eye patch removed, he was absolutely beaming.
"The toughest lion to kill was one that came into the camp to kill a person, not a cow." Kiir went with 9 other men, tracked it down and killed it with spears.
"I've seen a lot of hard things in the war, but the worst thing above all of that is this blindness."
The following day her patch was removed and her eyesight was restored.
Patients are led cautiously and carefully to the clinic.
It was our goal that each person coming to the hospital would hear about the steadfast and saving love of Jesus Christ. Many had heard the gospel before, even if they didn't believe it. Many had not. Amuor (the woman in the center) said this was the first time she had heard the gospel. She knew children in her village that went to church, but thought it was a school just for children. After hearing about God's unconditional love she said, "The success of the surgery is because of the power of God alone. As soon as I go home, I will be going to church with the children."
Led in by the hand, but walking out on her own. For this we praise God!!
I am SO happy to be back home at Tenwek after our trip!! Thank you to all who prayed us through. It was hard, but so, so rewarding. Before I share a little about it, I have to stop and give HUGE credit to Mike for staying home and homeschooling and doing life at home so I could go and do this!!! He was so encouraging and supportive!! Love you, Mike!!
This trip to South Sudan has been an answered prayer for me. When Mike and I were at Tenwek from 2006-2008, we tried to go to Sudan but it was just not stable enough to travel then. I’ve wanted to see this country, and these people, since then. So, when the Roberts asked me to go on this cataract surgery trip and as the photographer, I was SO EXCITED (read excited in a white knuckle, butterflies in my stomach kind of way).
There are so many things I could say about the trip: the missionaries who live here full time with their children, the most strikingly beautiful faces, the hundreds of patients, the shrieking and dancing when eye patches were removed and sight was restored, the HEAT, oh the heat, the testimonies from patients, the incredible loss written on faces from 20 years of war, and famine, the redemption and hope people claimed because of God….all of it. There are pages to be written. (And hundreds of photos taken). You know when someone comes back from a trip and they want to show you HOURS of photos that you really weren’t that interested to see…..I don’t want to be THAT person. So, I’ll share one story here.
A woman named Rose came into the clinic for cataract surgery. I asked her if she could tell me her story. She readily agreed. She had had leprosy, but couldn’t get to treatment right away because it was too dangerous to travel during the war at that time. So she stayed home without anything. She eventually snuck out of her village to go to the Catholic Mission and was treated and recovered. Her missing fingers and toes were a powerful narrative.
She bore 14 children before her husband was killed. Of the fourteen children, only two were still living. Four had been kidnapped and another two had been shot in front of her. Then she showed me her own scars from the same incident. Her face was solemn as she recounted so many painful memories from the years of conflict.
Her foot had been amputated and healed over. I wondered if it was from the leprosy. She pointed to her left leg and said that cattle rustlers came a few years ago and stole her cows that were providing her with milk. And when she chased them, they shot her. In the foot. That’s why it’s not there anymore. And as if all that wasn’t enough for one person to carry, she was almost completely blind from cataracts.
Then, the most shocking part of the story, is when she started talking about her faith in God. I told her that so many people in Kenya and the US were praying for her and that her surgery would be a success. And she responded.
“We are all God’s children and He is the one responsible for each of our lives. I am really so sure that God is faithful. If it wasn’t for God, I never would have survived any of these things in my life. I surely would have died.” Sometimes I get to share the gospel. Other times I get to hear the gospel.
When I had gone in to talk to Rose, she had just had her surgery but she still wasn’t sure if she would be able to see. She willingly shared her story with me and we talked for a long time. Then the next morning it was time to take off all the patient’s eyepatches to see if their surgeries were a success. There were about 90 waiting the following morning. It was a bit chaotic to say the least. When a lot of patients realized they could see again, they would throw down their walking sticks and jump up singing and dancing. The BEST thing. The very best thing.
In all the chaos I kept looking for Rose to see if she could see again. But I couldn’t find her. I got a little panicky. Where was she? She was missing this. I took a bunch of pictures of patients but still couldn’t see her. After people started filing out and going home, a woman I hadn’t seen before came up and started talking to me. I didn’t know what she wanted, so I looked for an interpreter to find out. IT WAS ROSE!!!!! She could see again!! She was so completely transformed that after talking to her for such a long time the day before, I still didn’t know it was her. God’s mercy and grace. We treat, Jesus heals.
One of the coolest parts of clinic is watching patients being led in by family members but walking out on their own. Dignity restored.
Julie texted me last night that the team arrived safely in Tonj, South Sudan.
The flight was indeed crazy - troublesome logistics before they could leave Nairobi - taking TWO planes - followed by the worst turbulence my wife and fellow Tenwek-ers have ever experienced. Knowing how many flights they've taken over the years, that is indeed a statement. Five of the team utilized the vomit bags. Julie, who threw up for 9 months with each of our children, said it was the worst nausea and vomiting she's ever experienced. (yes, the photo was before takeoff) So a challenging start - but this is the first team we could send back to S Sudan in four years. The people really need so much there.
The operating room has been set up and they should have operated on several people by the time you read this. We pray that many receive their sight back this week. May Jesus provide for these neighbors of ours who have suffered so much. And may they experience the love of God through this team.
Julie will spend the week as the team photographer - taking the time to sit with people, hear their stories, share Jesus' love with them, and, when given permission, take their photo so that people like you can see whom you are helping. A local pastor will be her translator between Dinka and English. I pray God uses the two of them to love on many.
Thank you for enabling and encouraging us to be here in this region. It is such a privilege to serve.
Mike (pediatric surgeon) and Julie (nurse/mother to two) living in Kenya, East Africa