Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wanawake meeting of the Kenya Assemblies of God
     Today, I was able to attend a session at the WWK meeting in Kitengale, Kenya. Once a year, the ladies of the Kenya Assemblies of God gather together to fellowship and worship God.  They ride for hours on a bus and arrive excited.  For some, it is the only break from hauling water each day to the house for washing and cooking.  I imagine for some it is the one time a year that during the weekday, they can sit and listen to sermons, hear words of encouragement, sing praises to God instead of taking care of the garden, feeding the children and washing the clothes by hand.  Many of the ladies slept in a large hall in the conference center.  They had a thin, foam mattress to sleep on in a room with hundreds of other women.  Perhaps that does not sound inviting to most of us, however, the laughter and chattering all during the night is evidence that most of the women were thrilled to have the company of other women.
     During the altar call today, women flocked to the front and cried out to the Lord to help with their burdens. The guest speaker for the conference, Deanna Shrodes, encouraged the women to live in unity with one another based on Psalm 133.  The message is one that is universal.  We have a choice to make in our relationships.  We can chose to speak words of life to one another or we can chose words that destroy our relationships with others.
     Our words can either bring unity or discord.  For me, I often allow words to flow too quickly from my mouth.  I do enjoy a relaxed conversation among friends.  However, I want to be more careful about speaking words of compassion and encouragement.  This life is filled with so many hardships and as believers, we should uplift one another and show the world our brotherly love.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

RKTC in Ghana - Part 2 - by Andy Whitman

We concluded our classes Friday afternoon despite frequent power outages, some water outages, and the intense West Africa heat. The final session was a model "Day Camp" complete with practical demonstrations of puppet shows, outdoor games, Bible studies, and Ranger advancements that could be done with the 5, 6, and 7 year olds of the local churches. We were also visited by the Men's Fellowship Director of the Ghana Assemblies of God and his staff.

a very hot Africa Coordinator

Friday night we held our dedication council fire. The staff silently led the trainees to the fire and one by one a staff member lit a torch and recited part of the Royal Ranger Code as the trainees formed a ring around the fire.

Dressed in a cowboy outfit, I shared a Royal Ranger story known as "The Most Valuable Horse" and then proceeded to talk about a Royal Ranger leader in my home church in Fredericksburg, VA who has faithfully served in our local outpost (and even in our district) since the early 1980's. I told them about this leader's effectiveness and how many boys have been saved and have gone on to serve the Lord or even into the ministry because of him, and I challenged our trainees to commit themselves to reaching the boys and girls of their nations. I also explained that it was no "accident" that they were present for this conference, but rather that God had a plan and purpose for their lives. I challenged them to come forward and throw a green leaf into the fire if they accepted the calling into the RR ministry.

I threw my own leaf into the fire to symbolize that I was continuing on in Rangers until God called me home or He called me to something else, and every trainee came up and followed suit. We had a moment of silence and then I offered the opportunity for anyone to share a testimony of the ways God had touched him or her in the camp.

For a few moments no one moved, and then one brave soul stepped forward and shared he was extremely happy to have been in this conference and God had showed him many things.

Another person shared that he had been to many camps in his life, but none with a spiritual emphasis where God was so honored and worshiped. A young woman shared that she finally understood how to work with the boys and girls and make Rangers interesting. Yet another trainee shared that he had been trying to sell a car for many months and that he was also very discouraged with Royal Rangers. He had no money to come to the conference and was considering dropping out of the ministry, but told God that if he was really to go to the conference, please let him sell the car. The Friday before the training began someone miraculously came and bought his car and he used money from the sale to pay for his registration fees and other expenses - he shared that he now knew why he was supposed to come and was committing himself wholeheartedly to the ministry and was ready to use the training he had received from us. In all, about 25 or so trainees came forward and shared that God had given them a new vision and breathed new life into them for reaching children.

The next day was graduation. Graduation is a big deal in Africa and the graduates sang and danced and celebrated for about 3 hours - it was hard to settle everyone down long enough to hold a ceremony! One of our graduates was the Children's Ministry Director for the Ghana Assemblies of God, by the way.

A group of young boys from the community was hanging around on the outskirts of the camp and had been watching all the activities. They came up afterwards and asked if they could join Royal Rangers, so we connected them with a local leader that had an RR program in his church.

Mathias, Stephen, and I left the conference center feeling tired but knowing that God had done a powerful work among the RR leaders of Ghana. On the way back to Accra, our host's car went in to a really deep hole and knocked the muffler loose. We had to stop by the side of the road and remove it completely and then tie it and the exhaust pipe to the top of the car to get back to town. In town, we went to a guesthouse and got showers and had one more spicy meal before going to the airport to return to our families in East Africa.

We thank God for making this training possible and for sending more laborers out into the harvest fields of Africa!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ranger Kids Training Conference (RKTC) in Ghana - Part 1 - by Andy Whitman

(I am doing the blog spot this time, as a "guest writer" and as the Royal Rangers International Liaison to Africa)

In October we finally held the long anticipated RKTC in Ghana. RKTC teaches Royal Ranger leaders from local churches how to work specifically with the youngest age level - the 5, 6, and 7 year olds.

This event was to be run by a team of American instructors since the specialized training is relatively new to our continent. The American team ended up missing their Aug. 2013 date and postponing their trip until August this year, and then notified me and the Royal Rangers (RR) in Ghana that they were cancelling altogether.

Walter Atsutsey, the national RR commander of Ghana, informed me that his leaders were extremely discouraged and appealed for help to save the RKTC. Although lacking in experience, we quickly put together a team of All-African instructors (I include myself, with the permission of our African RR leaders, as an "honorary African" since I reside in Kenya with my family). We believe in hindsight that this is the team that God really wanted and He did great things in this conference.
Stephen, Andy, and Mathias
Our international staff included Stephen Macharia (left) from Kenya, a very good friend. He is a dairy farmer and has long been a faithful laborer in Rangers, staffing many events in Kenya and even travelling with me to Malawi in the past. If you notice his tie, he is apparently always ready for Christmas, too.

On my opposite side in Mathias Kawerama, the national RR commander of Malawi. We have been all over Africa together and he is a first class instructor. He was the only one among us with experience running an RKTC.

Despite the Ebola fears in West Africa we flew from East Africa to Ghana to do our best, with God's help. Our flight was delayed approx. 11 hours so we were really tired when we arrived.

We joined additional instructors in Ghana on Tuesday and spent our first two days holding staff meetings, setting up classrooms and instruction sites, testing equipment, rehearsing our lesson plans, and tending to other logistical matters.

Pan Africa Staff

Our venue was a conference center in a remote region about an hour out of Accra, the capital. Even in West Africa, the classic baobab tree defines the landscape and we ate some wonderfully spicy food.

setting up the main meeting hall

On registration day, 79 trainees showed up - some from Togo and most from Ghana.


We divided the trainees up into eight patrols and held orientation. The official camp languages (all 3 in use at various times) were English, Ewe (pronounced like "a-way"), and French.

 Our West Africa Chaplain opened our conference up with prayer.

For the next two days we held intensive classes on working with Ranger Kids - classes such as day camping, puppetry, games, council fires, counseling, classroom management, music, nature craft, outdoor safety, using visual aids, etc., etc.

- To Be Continued -

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A New Term: Kenya Part 2

     After a long hiatus from the blog and 2 years in America, we returned to Kenya.  When we arrived at the airport, Patrick Kawe and his family stood behind the barriers as we exited the basement of the airport also known as the baggage claim/customs area.  Patrick is the National Commander for Royal Rangers in Kenya.  He is also the Men's Fellowship Director for the Kenya Assemblies of God.  But, to us, he is much more than that, he is our family in Kenya.  His three boys stood with homemade signs welcoming each one of us.  For the next 20 minutes, our families took turns greeting one another and hugging and giving handshakes.
The Welcome to Kenya Signs
     The feeling of saying goodbye to family members in America is heartbreaking.  Despite knowing that God sent us here to work in a ministry that has a goal to bring children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to equip adults to reach those children, it does not lessen the human heartache for us to say goodbye to two 90 year old grandmothers, a mom and dad, a brother and friends who are like family.
     The love that poured out from people in America while we were on furlough was overwhelming. We were spoiled rotten by people who jumped anytime we were in need.   God opened doors to churches and people's hearts.
     We rented a house on a 120 acre farm.  The farm was not a stranger to me since it was a farm where my husband worked as a young adult and he brought me for a visit on one of our first dates.  The peace and tranquility wrapped around me every time I stepped out the door.  No house was visible even when the leaves fell off the trees.  An unpainted wooden swing sat on the edge of the simple porch.  God blessed us with a treasure that we never imagined possible.  It was simple and perfect.
     So, now that we are back to life in Kenya I plan to resume the life of a blogger.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Girl with a Great Destiny: The Royal Bridging Center for Girls

     In August I taught for the second time in the Royal Bridging Center for girls (RBC).  RBC is an extension of our Royal Ranger ministry in Kenya and was started by Rev. Patrick Kawe as an “alternative rite of passage” for adolescent boys and girls. In Kenya, tradition dictates that a boy is circumcised around age thirteen. This pagan ceremony involves a one to two week period of recovery in which boys are encouraged to prove they have become “men” by experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Also, they are expected to “cleanse” themselves by seeking out a sexual relationship.
     Many Kenyan Christians allow their boys to participate because of cultural and social pressures, much as a parent in the USA might feel pressured to allow their child to celebrate Halloween or for their teen to go on a questionable spring break trip. As a result of the ritual, many boys do themselves great spiritual harm. Furthermore, there was also a big church dropout rate for the ones that had been attending a church. Rev. Kawe describes it, in a classic African way, as "leading a child by the hand until we reach a river, and because there is no crossing, we ask a crocodile to ferry the child to the other side. Of course the child never arrives because the crocodile eats him on the way. Instead, we should be building a bridge across the river to safely guide the child on the way to adulthood."
     So, the Royal Bridging Center was created as a one week alternative event where boys are circumcised by a Christian doctor and then surrounded with a godly environment during the recovery period. Pastors, special guests, and Christian counselors teach the boys what God’s word says about manhood and help them prepare to be a godly husband and father one day. As a result, 100% of the boys who have gone through the program so far have stayed in the church and also have grown spiritually. Some non-churched boys have even found Christ through the Bridging Centre. The program has now been expanded for adolescent girls to spend a week learning how to become a godly woman and keep themselves pure until marriage.
     With such success among the boys, we wanted to offer solid training for girls.  Debbie Barthalow, a fellow AG missionary, and I created a curriculum on purity for the girls attending the center.  Last year we graduated 9 girls.  The subjects tackled in the teachings make most Kenyan moms squirm.  Purity, abstinence, marriage, dating, self-worth based on biblical teachings and much more are included in the teaching.  After the first girls graduated, so many mothers thanked us over and over again for presenting this information in our center.  The generation of churched mothers that exist now never had parents that were open about these sensitive subjects.  In some parts of Kenya, Female Genitalia Mutilation (female circumcision) is still practiced.  Parents just do not know how to talk openly and unashamedly to their children about abstinence because it involves a taboo subject.
     This year, we took on the girls at Kenya Kids.  This summer, I was thinking about the girls at the children's home and realized that most of them do not have parents and might never be taught about purity and their destiny as a woman of God.  After I told a men's class in Florida about the need for the girls to go through the program and to be sponsored, the men overwhelmingly donated the money for the girls to attend our center.  In August, 12 girls graduated and 10 were from Kenya Kids.  During the graduation ceremony, the girls smiled and received their certificates, roses, and a necklace as a reminder that they had "crossed a bridge" into womanhood.  My favorite gift which the girls received was their shirts.  I posted a picture below. 

We gave each girl a journal to take notes. They had fun decorating their notebooks. 

The girls in church during their graduation.

     I consider it a privilege to invest in young girls.  When I was young, so many women took the time to teach me the ways of the Lord.  My heart is full of thanks for all the ladies from my mom to my Sunday school teachers who took time from their busy schedules to fill me up with the love of Jesus and His teachings.  In a few years, I hope the Lord allows me to see where God takes these girls.   

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Blending of Dreams - Part 1

     Last weekend, a dream came true for me.  I took a trip which blended ministry and a little literary history.  Our family volunteered to help a medical outreach team heading to Masai Land.  We packed a few sleeping bags, two days worth of clothes, some snacks, and our adventurous spirit and rode out into the Wild West of Kenya.  The Overlander Truck picked us up at 5am from our comfortable compound and departed to a place with no electricity, no running water, and no cell phone reception. I never imagined the lack of cell phone reception would be harder to live without than running water.  The party of about 20 people went by highway until the road ran out and then took a left on a dirt road.  We continued on until a chain of hills appeared in front of us.  A church sat in the fork of the road and that is where we pulled in and called home for the next few days.   (At the bottom of the post is a button labeled "location".  If you click on the button, a map will appear and the area at the foot of the Chyulu Hills is where we spent the weekend.)

     A fellow missionary couple ran the medical clinic.  The wife is a nurse and her husband coordinates the logistics of running the clinic.  His years of running the business end of a large church comes in handy.  On this assignment, 5 people from the US flew in the night before and helped minister in the clinic. After we arrived and unloaded the medicines and equipment, the clinic started.  Andy and I were stop number 2 in the line up. After the local people registered outside and received a number, Andy and I welcomed them in and weighed them.  Then we took their temperature, blood pressure, and then asked them why they wanted to see the doctor. 
      Our first 15 or 20 patients were older men.  In the Masai culture, respect is shown for the older men by allowing them the privilege of being first.  Their dark, deeply creased skin and holed earlobes are the images I hold in my mind.  I remember the cloudy eyes looking at me as they explained how they could no longer see well. The older women followed the men.  On average, most ladies were 10 kilos heavier than the men. 

     Throughout the next 2 days, we met 9 warriors who had killed lions with their spears.  I am an animal lover and hate to hear that any animal was killed for the sake of tradition but I have to say that I was impressed with the skill it takes to kill a lion with a spear.  Since arriving in Africa, I have been about 10 feet away from a huge lion.  I sat comfortably in a safari vehicle but my heart raced as I took an up close look at the lion's massive body.  I would not want to meet the lion on foot in the wild with nothing but a spear to protect me.  The Masai said, "If you miss the right spot on the lion when throwing the spear, you are dead."  So, if the spear hits a few inches to the left or right of your mark then you have only made the lion more angry and able to kill you.  The people who came to the clinic are people who live among the lions.  It is like living in the woods in the US and when you go for a walk and come upon a deer.  The lions live in the area like deer live in the woods.  

     At night, we camped in tents.  Thick, thorned branches cut from the bushes surround the church property.  The fence of thorns served as our only protection from the local wildlife.   In the middle of the night we heard the hyena roaming around for dinner.  During a one of our short walks, Spencer and Andy saw jackals eating a gazelle.  Early one morning I heard there was a giraffe over the hill so I hurried out to see.  I found a baby giraffe eating branches from an acacia tree with his mom.

     The name of the town which hosted us was Otiaseka which sat with the Chuylu Hills on one side and Mt. Kilimanjaro on the other.  Most days clouds surround Kili so she is not visible.  On the last morning of our stay in the area, the clouds cleared and the view of Mt. Kilimanjaro was magnificent.  The largest mountain in Africa took my breath away.  Our departing gift from the land appeared from the clouds.  I shared the moment with my kids.  A feeling of gratitude filled my heart as I thanked God for allowing us to make this memory  together. 

     Below I posted a few pictures from the trip.  In my next post, I will write about my time discovering Ernest Hemingway's campsite from his 1953 stay in Kenya.  A doctor named Joseph saved a woman's life a few years ago and because of his act of kindness, I was able to take a tour of Hemingway's old camp.  Stay tuned. 

The long dusty road to the site.

Our accomodations for the stay.  Notice the thorny fence on the right that served as our fence and protection.

The Chyulu Hills were a beautiful sight in the morning.

A Panaramic View

Baobab Tree and my favorite scenic path

Mt. Kilimanjaro in the early morning hours

One of our first patients in the clinic