Saturday, 9 November 2013

Message to America

I woke up this morning and watched Billy Graham's message to America.

Honestly, I wake up some mornings and still wonder why I am in Kenya... or, Connecticut.  Then the Lord reminds me that there are still people that don't know Christ. What is it to know?  What is it to believe? I learn more about what this means everyday.  And, there will never be a point where I'll sit back and say I know everything about what it is to know and believe in Christ.  It's hopefully a daily progression.

I don't think I even realized what it means to take up His cross until I came to Kenya.  I'm still relatively young, and I have had modern conveniences my entire life.  Joel and I were skyping with my grandparents a few weeks ago and I was telling them how it takes me two to three hours to wash my clothes via buckets.  And, they promptly replied "I remember doing that." I still remember the first day here that I did my laundry.  I pretty much stared at three buckets deciding one was for detergent and two were for rinsing.  Then I plunged my arms into the suds of bucket number one and tried to imitate a washing machine agitator. When I got tired of that I tried mimicking the tumbling of a high efficiency wash machine.  I also laughed to myself thinking wash machines take close to an hour to finish their cycle. Forget that!  I just want my clothes to be passable not impeccable!

Another reminder that I'm still young and a new wife is the kitchen.  Kenya does not have a lot of the grocery shelf items that my local CT store has.  So when you get a craving for things like sweets and potato chips you'll have to make them yourself.  One night I was busy trying to finish our newsletter and processing accounting items for Capstone, and I got a terrible craving for something sweet.  I thought... "I'll just make a cake!"  Since there's seldom cake in a box in the grocery store, I started making a cake from scratch.  Did you know that making a cake from scratch for the first time in your life with homemade icing can take about 2 hours? That was a pretty late night, but the cake was a success! ...The icing a failure.  I am also now a pro at baking potato chips!  The thought of making potato chips never even crossed my mind before this adventure.

There's also small battles here that make life a little more difficult, like the power went out last night before dinner was done. And, the water stopped on the day that I was planning on another laundry adventure.  As little frustrations mount, as fear of this new place still lingers, and homesickness grows, I really can get worn down.  But, every time I'm at my lowest point the Lord carries me. 

Isaiah 46:4
"Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you."

Wednesday, 30 October 2013


This mission trip is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  Often with great challenges come great revelations.  And, I’ve certainly had my fair share of those.  One of the first amazing feats was when Joel and I decided to embark on this mission we were greeted with so much support.  It was overwhelming, and humbling. Receiving monetary and prayerful support from so many people makes you think, “who am I to receive such a blessing?” I realized through this that if Immanuel wants to support something they will!  We are all stronger together than apart. 
Jen & Tabitha at the Mohaya moringa growers group meeting.
Joel and I also had so much support from members of Timothy Lutheran in Missouri,  members from Good Shepherd in New Fairfield, family, and friends.  It’s pretty difficult to pay bills, water plants, and keep cars running from Kenya, so I really appreciate my Mom and Dad for helping with that.  I have a dear friend who is watching over the parsonage while we are gone as well.  There are so many working parts to a mission trip.  And, we thank you all for making this work!
I don’t have to worry about my home in Connecticut because our family is taking care of it.  I don’t have to worry about finding funds for food, electric, and water- our church family already took care of that.  I have friends reaching out to me and sustaining my need of being a social creature (which is way more important than I would have ever guessed). Because of you, I can focus on the task at hand. 
Capstone staff member Fred & Joel. 
And, the task is going well!  Dan and Patty are touring together successfully in the United States, and Capstone Ministries continues to reach out to street children every week here in Kisumu. 
I can’t stress enough how important your prayers are to us.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting missionaries from around the world here, and we all agree that spiritual warfare is heavy in Africa.  Satan is an opportunist, and you are a prime target as a missionary because there are many more ways that he can attack. Fear of the unknown, exhaustion from unfamiliar surroundings, and the frustration of being out of your home leaves a wide open door for attack on our mental and physical strength.  God continues to carry me through all of these hurdles, and knowing your prayers are with us fuels my spirit.  The Lord has shown Joel and me great victory here over fear, exhaustion, and frustration.  I want the Lord’s  victory to be a celebration for you too because it is through you that He has accomplished this. 

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Psalm 46: 1-3

What would you say to them?

This week I had the opportunity to share a Bible study with one of the two HIV women's support groups that raises moringa for Capstone. What a blessing to be able to share God's Word and encourage these hard working ladies. On second thought though- what would I say to them? What would you say to encourage them?
I kept coming back to something inspiring that I have seen in these women. We have been visiting these HIV women's groups almost every week since we arrived here in August and every time I see the same thing. These women exude true Christian joy! They always have a smile on their faces. When you hear about their circumstances and their obstacles in life though, you wonder how they manage to put a smile on at all. One lady this week walked 10 km (6.2 miles) on a dusty gravel road during the hottest part of the day with a heavy sack of morninga slouched over her shoulder and her first response when she arrived after two hours was, “Praise God, I can't wait to hear your message today pastor!” But then again, I am not talking about happiness. I am talking about Christian joy. Happiness is something that is based on our circumstances. We are happy when life is good and we are sad or even angry when life is difficult. But, Christian joy is something completely different. It is something that nothing can take away. It is not based on our circumstances. True Christian joy comes from knowing Jesus and what He has done for us through the Cross.
That is why my Bible study for these women was about encouragement from the Apostle Paul. He is known as the greatest missionary ever! He planted churches all around the known world by walking thousands of miles. You would think that by being God's servant that nothing EVER went wrong and he ALWAYS had a good day. Not true- when we read 2 Corinthians 11:23-30. Here Paul doesn't just share with us his bad day, but a series of unfortunate events throughout his walk as a Christian. He writes:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak...If I must BOAST, I will BOAST of the things that show my weakness.”
What? Paul is boasting about his hardships!? He is proud to have suffered difficult times? He isn't angry with God? What is going on? You have to read the rest of the story in the book of Philippians. This is the book that Paul wrote during his time in prison. In this small four chapter book, Paul mentions JOY more than any other book of the Bible. He is in the middle of his worst hardship and all he can write about is “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” How? Well, Paul explains it a couple verses later when he states, “I can do ALL things through HIM who gives me strength.” With Jesus we have a hope and a future, despite the circumstances we are facing right now. Even when things are as bad as they can get, Jesus has won for us eternal life. Jesus has done it, so it is not left up to wonder or speculation. Our destiny IS secure. The message of Christianity is about HOPE in the midst of DESPAIR. It's a paradox for the paradox of the human condition. When all hope is lost, we don't give in to despair because the same Jesus entered the despair of this world by being crucified, died and buried. Yet, when all hope was lost He did something that has never been done before or since in the history of the world- He rose again to life. He broke the stronghold of despair with the triumph of hope. When all hope seems lost, we put our trust in Jesus who has never failed us. This is what Christian joy is all about.
Today, these women came from far and wide, with numerous circumstances against them, but they all had one thing in common- a smile revealing their joy. They have taught me an invaluable lesson of faith in these few months. God's Word calls all of us to continue to fight the good fight of faith, despite our circumstances. When we are having a bad day or a bad week, we can always find joy in knowing that we are children of God.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Do you see what God sees?

The Bible doesn't tell us as Christians not to judge, but to judge rightly and in a way that is different than the world. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” It is no wonder that we often judge wrongly then because we are drawn to look upon the wrong qualities in people.
So what does this have to do with street children? The perception of street children is often negative. People believe that they are lazy or even useless. No body wants them hanging around their place of business because the perception is that they are only thieves and beggars. When you think of a street child's future, you often picture them soon ending up in jail or even worse. Yet, Capstone is different. Capstone does not judge street children like other men, looking at the outward appearance. No, Capstone ministers to the heart of a child and knows that God has the power to change their direction and future.
The work here at Capstone reminds me often of the story of how David became king in the Bible (1 Samuel 16). God told the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king because Saul, the previous king, had become corrupt with power and greed. Interesting how absolute power corrupts absolutely! God revealed to Samuel that the new king would come from the family of Jesse in "little" town of Bethlehem. The only stipulation that God gave to Samuel is that He, God Himself would indicate which son Samuel would choose to be the next king. Why? Isn't the prophet Samuel, who is a man of God and faithful religious leader, already qualified to know God's will! Yet, we see that when Samuel arrives, there are many sons of Jesse and Samuel even remarks “surely the Lord's anointed stands here!” But we know that he wasn't there. Samuel goes on to describe the boys as being tall, handsome, intelligent and strong- all the things we look for in a good leader, right! Yet, God reveals once again to Samuel that none of the boys standing before him are to be chosen. What! Samuel is confused. What is God doing? Finally, Jesse discloses that his youngest son is out in the fields tending to the flock. He is sent for and as soon as David arrives, the Bible describes him as being very young and in no uncertain terms, a pretty boy! Oh, and if that isn't enough he is a shepherd as well. Shepherds are the lowest in society. They are on the same level as the poor and no one expects great things from them. But as soon as he arrives, God reveals to Samuel, “He is the one!” Yes indeed! David would become the greatest and most faithful of all the kings of Israel. Yet, not without his faults like all of us. Thank God we are saved by God's Grace! Good thing God was with Samuel that day to judge the heart of David, instead of his outward appearance.
How is this similar to the work of Capstone. Capstone is changing the destiny of a nation, by changing the hearts of street children and their ultimate future. If we only looked at a street child's outward appearance, we would deem him unworthy. Thank God that Capstone has been called by God to look at the heart. Who knows who these street children will become one day- a pastor, a teacher, a doctor, a faithful and generous Christian businessman! How different this is to how we normally think. What about even becoming president one day? We think of a president coming from a good pedigree, so to speak. He must have been educated in the finest ivy league schools and universities. He must have had all the “advantages” that others have lacked. He must be tall, strong and handsome. Yet, who knows- one of these street boys might have the chance to prove everyone wrong and God right one day!
Who do you know in your life that doesn't look like they will make something of themselves by their outward appearance? What does God see in them? How can you be a part of touching their lives through the power of God? You never know how God will use you in the life of an individual. Judge not like the world, but judge as God judges by looking at the heart! ~Joel

Sunday, 6 October 2013

One Saturday at Westgate Mall

A main street in Kisumu where Joel and I frequently travel
On September 21st, the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya was attacked by the Al Shabaab terrorist group.  Watching the news unfold I had this depressed, distressed, and disgusted feeling, but I've had this feeling before.  We all had it on September 11, 2001 when our hearts sank with the Twin Towers in New York.  Again, I had this feeling on December 16, 2012 for Newtown, CT.  Again, April 15, 2013 with Boston, MA.  I had it again, when I was in Uganda in 2010,  when Al Shabaab attacked a night club with bombs killing at least 74 people. I was in that very town the week before this attack.
The news from an array of sources, and the briefings from the Kenyan government have conflicting stories about the resolve of the Westgate attack.  Some say terrorists were caught, others say that they escaped by changing their clothes and running out with the victims. Am I scared that the terrorists might still be out there? Terrorism is everywhere.  Evil persists through the workings of Satan and demonized men.  How else do you explain horrific events that you or I cannot even think up? 
This terrorism will not stop Joel and me from performing our duties here at Capstone, building up God's kingdom, and recognizing that God is in control of all things. All of this has made me a stronger Christian. It's made me think about how God is in everything.  Thinking about this event makes me trust him more through understanding that we will never know why some things happen, but we do know that God is God and He reigns. He will keep His promise no matter what happens.  The theme of Psalm 91 is "God's protection in the midst of danger.  God doesn't promise a world free from danger, but He does promise His help whenever we face danger." (Life Application Study Bible) And, Psalm 91 states"

This is what the guards look like on the street
"If you make the Most High your dwelling-
even the Lord, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

Kisumu does look a little different since the recent events. When we go to the grocery store now our car is checked for bombs upon entry. Security has been tightened in town along the main street with several guards in military attire and guns at their side. I do appreciate this as our senses have been heightened. 
Pastor Isaiah, Associate Pastor at the ELCK church we attend here, and Capstone staff member wrote the poem below about the attack.  This poem captures that way we all feel during this time, and how we will continue to glorify God through all this.

One Saturday at Westgate Mall
By Isaish Apiyo

Dew dripping form the leaves
Along the streets of Nairobi, trees singing in rows
Children playing in rows, cooking for fun and fame
People sipping and shopping in circles
Beware! Men in full combat gear here
Soldiers not aware of their waywardness
The center cannot hold
One Saturday at Westgate Mall

Boom! Crack! Bang!
Sound of gunshots
Helter skelter people run, tables turn upside down
The hunted huts in a day
Heartless, ruthless, faithless
Heat in the heart of the city
Hurting our hearts
One Saturday at Westgate Mall

Happy Saturday - now turned dark
Like a bird in the snare
Hearts bleeding, little hearts crying
Where is Daddy?
Help me Mummy?
Bullets pulled us apart
No tale, color, nor tribe
One Saturday at Westgate Mall

Who are you terrorists?
What do you believe?
Smiling in death; stealing destinies
Like Hitler, you crush our hearts
Even the Kidneys for the King
Helpless bodies lie on the floor
In the heart of our city
One Saturday at Westgate Mall

In God we trust, "Jesus will save us all"
One Kenya indivisible
Together we stand, bravo my brothers and sisters
Names called for the roll
At the trumpet call
Never say die soldiers declare
You terrorists! We picked up the pieces
One Saturday at Westgate Mall

Friday, 27 September 2013

World Weekend of Prayer

It is so amazing, so comforting, and uplifting to know that we have so many praying for us at home.  These prayers have sustained us in everything we do.  Our God is an awesome God, and hears our cries and our praises.  Praying is the most powerful tool we have.
This is why Capstone Ministries participates and helps coordinate a large gathering near Kisumu, Kenya called the World Weekend of Prayer.  This event is promoted by Viva Networking, and their mission is to inspire "lasting change in children’s lives through the power of collective action because we have a vision to see children safe, well and fulfilling their God-given potential. The World Weekend of Prayer for children at risk is held every year over the first weekend of June. This global initiative brings together hundreds of thousands of adults and children across more than 40 countries."
Pastor Zadok's children
The Director of Capstone Ministries, Patty Schmelzer describes the event as "an opportunity for children to come together and consider that the challenges that they face are also faced by other children throughout the world.  So they have the opportunity to pray for others and with others including children in America. The kids here love it.  We’ve done it since 2005. The last couple years its become a full weekend.  You just find lots of excited kids."
I asked Patty to share any particular memory she had about the camp, and she shared "I think it was during a prayer that one of the girls prayed for her parents to be better parents. And that was so touching to me because that’s what Capstone is all about."
Capstone Ministries also invites their supporting churches in the US to join in praying during this weekend as an opportunity to participate with Capstone in lifting up the children of the world.

The Reward of the Year

George working at the Capstone office
Joel and I have experienced a lot of what Capstone does, but we won't get to experience everything.  For example, the Capstone Camp occurs once per year and is described as a pivotal event that rewards rescued children as well as the staff. 
Twenty boys are selected out of those that Capstone has reintegrated back home from the street.  In order to be a candidate, a boy must currently be at home, and be someone who the staffs feels would most benefit from the camp. They also take into account which boys are the most vulnerable of being influenced to run back to the street. It is a week long event that involves spiritual enrichment, scouting activities, and crafts and games.
The camp acts as a support group for the boys.  They are asked questions that prompt them to think about life on the street versus life at home.  On the street the boys have a freedom without restrictions and responsibility. Upon returning home they have to learn once again to follow the rules of their parents or guardians. At the camp, the boys come to find that they are not the only ones struggling with this change.  They see other boys that also have to fetch firewood after school, and tend to livestock. Interaction at the camp helps the boys focus on their future by being with other boys that are going through very similar struggles.
The Capstone Camp supports spiritual well being with Bible teachings and lessons on baptism. Capstone Director, Patty Schmelzer describes baptism as a highlight of the camp: "...children learn what it means to be baptized and they have the opportunity to make that choice.  If they’ve already been baptized we discuss what it was like and why they don’t need to be baptized again.  On Friday, baptisms are done and about half of the camp gets baptized. Eight to ten boys.  It’s amazing to see how serious the boys take the ceremony."
On the last day of camp, the parents are invited. Patty shares that "during the parents day the children give presentations, poems and songs. But, we also ask one or two parents to give testimonies and it seems like often others will feel led to also share.  It is just really encouraging to the kids to hear their parents say how grateful they are to have their child at home....We’ve even had mothers stand up and cry." 
The Capstone Camp acts as a reward for the children on many levels.  Patty shares: "I think that the greatest growth comes from the spiritual lessons in the morning, the greatest fun comes from the scouting and activities and games in the afternoon. And, I think one particular meaningful event is the community service – where the children go into a public market area and clean it in the early morning.  This is the typical area where a street child would hang out and beg and be called names and chased and be considered not much more than the trash on the streets.  Now when they come in and clean, the same people that treated them like trash are thanking them and admiring them.  And, they learn what it is to give something to the community, and contribute to the community without expecting something in return."
George, a Capstone Street and Family Coordinator, describes how the staff is also rewarded through the Capstone Camp in the video below.  My apologies for the poor sound quality.  I have added captions to help.  Please listen to what George has to add.

Video Dialogue:

[Jen] Can you tell me again how you've been inspired by the Capstone Camp?

[George] I think that in my life this was the most difficult work that I've done in my life.
Sometimes when you do it you find that sometimes you rescue a child, you take a child home,
you find that the child is far, which is really discouraging.
And the next time you feel like, "ah, I've wasted my time."
"I've wasted my energy."
And, the next minute you wake up you are tired.
You feel exhausted so you say "let me try."
Another time I mean. So, you go, you get a child. You rescue a child.
And, the child goes home. And, the child stays home.
The child accepts home. The child goes to school.
The next time you do a follow up you find that the child is doing well.
Amidst all this, this [the Capstone Camp] is the climax of everything. This is when you see the whole fruit of what you are doing.
Whereby you can meet children smiling. You can see parents giving testimony.
Then you feel like, "ah"
I've touched.  Maybe I've touched the heart of-
I've done something worthwhile. An undertaking.
And, it makes me so happy, so inspired, so encouraged because of that.
Because now you can see the whole face.
I saw this. I saw this. I saw Moses.  I saw Titus.
I saw so many boys there.
So I feel very very happy and encouraged.
And, I thank God for the [work] that He is doing through that.
It is a whole reflection of the entire work throughout the year. You can really see it.
And, also it gives each and
everybody also an opportunity to see, maybe of seeing each and everybody.
Because they are not able to go and visit each and everyone.
So, through that they see something actually worth his hard work.
This is the Titus that we are talking about. This is the Moses that we are talking about.
Here is Titus, here is Tim. He is standing.
So, it is the climax of everything that we do.
And, we have become so much happy, and so much encouraged.
And, I really thank God for all that God has done.
Because it takes the hand of God.
Without Him we can't.
We are just an instrument.
It is not us. It is Him.
Because through Him.  That is when we succeed. Without Him we can't.

[Jen] Would you say the same is true for theother staff. So how has the camp encouraged
the other staff?
It's probably very similar right? They see the fruit of their work.

[George] Yeah, we work together as a team.
And, that is the climax of all that we do.  We move all around. Every day.
Every day we are in homes. Every day we are in villages.
So, it is a total reflection of everything that we are doing.