But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.    Acts1:8 (NIV)
I'm one of those people who can multi-task pretty well and actually love trying to juggle those balls!  But I've finally learned that even though I can do that, there is great value in saying no, in order to focus on "the one thing".  Remember that line in the movie City Slickers?  There is a danger of dreaming big dreams and trying to start at the "ends of the earth".  But that isn't what the verse says.  What I now know is that spreading myself out to the ends of the earth doesn't produce much fruit or lasting power.

Of course the temptation in Africa is to try and do it all.  To respond to the zillions of requests.  To try and help almost every person you meet every day.  It's hard.  But my experience with St. Andrews Secondary School here in Naivasha has taught me to focus.  How?  Because to water the seed with one small project, sprouts many flowers, all of which can be nourished to produce more seeds!

But it starts with one.  The lasting, sustainable power that comes from focus is truly amazing.  Let me give you an example.  Joining the Board of Governors of the school opened doors to an awareness of not just finding trying to help one child, one term, one year to pay school fees.  Because if you only help him or her for one year, then what about the next year?  Will that child have to leave school then?  Read the stories of our Eagles Wings Project updates on this website.  Read the story of Sebastian.   

And what about the depth of other problems with the youth from the slum who attend St. Andrews. Issues of poverty, which leads to dysfunctional families in despair, child abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, wife beating, and more.
It's like peeling an onion to get to the core of the complicated issues that need to be addressed to really, truly help.  So my primary focus is to do what I can with this school and community, and to stick with the one person, the one family, the one project as God reveals them to me. 

My work at St. Andrews has brought into my view dreams of mine for youth that can expand to serve the school as well.  Like the Summer Camp (read about that in the website as well!)  And for Greg, working with the pastors in the community will help to strengthen the core. 

Rather than responding to all those unrelated requests with Band-Aid temporary help I have chosen to focus.  Not just at St. Andrews where there are more projects than you can imagine, but here in the community of Lake Naivasha, our home and the home of ministry from Eagles Wings.  THIS is my Jerusalem.  Greg joins me in our Eagles Wings projects here, but his Jerusalem is with the students and programs of ICM in Kitale, where he is  academic dean, alumni coordinator and teacher.  

And you know the blessing of this choice?  It is not me, it is not Greg that will be the witnesses in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth, but those we educate, encourage and empower to take what we offer beyond our Jerusalem.  And for those like these young students and others in our Jerusalem of Lake Naivasha to have a chance to realize their dreams and be lifted up to serve others in the name and with the heart of Jesus.











  

  
Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary they will walk and not be faint.               
Isaiah 40: 28-31 (NIV)
 
I do not have a personal written journal.  Those thoughts and moments are lived in my head and they are usually fleeting, so often I wish I did write them down.  People tell me I should write more.  Well, today was one of those moments for me that I knew I wanted to share because it was so amazing! 

Lately I have had a heavy heart and it has been hard to find beams of light. The circumstances are personal and it is not necessary to share them, but like people who journey through struggles, I know that the "personal nature" is also a common one for many others, so I write today for you.

I have always found God in nature much easier than in other places.  So from the deck of Eagles Wings in the dawning morning light on most days, I read from a wonderful, small devotional book by Sarah Young called Jesus Calling, and also from Henri Nouwen's Bread for the Journey.  Henri Nouwen is my very favorite devotional writer - he was a Jesuit missionary, pastor and lecturer on the faculty of Harvard and Yale Divinity Schools.  If you have not read any of his writings, DO SO!  I was catching up from the last 3 days, so today as I read the writing for January 8th it seemed remarkable.  They both had the same message.

From Jesus Calling:  Softly I announce my presence.  Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your consciousness, seeking entrance.  Though I have all power in heaven and on earth, I am infinitely tender with you.  The weaker you are, the more gently I approach you.  Let your weakness be a door to My Presence. Whenever you feel inadequate, remember that I am your ever-present Help.  Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self-pity.  Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven.  The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus, you are lightened.  Heaviness is not of My kingdom.  Cling to hope, the My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.

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As I lowered the book and looked up across the still cloudy, dark plains below, an amazing ray of light began to shine on the hills.  The sky was heavy above the breaking light underneath it as the light slowly spread across the top of the hills.  Over the next 10 minutes it crept slowly toward me, lighting the plains and the animals below.  It was truly breathtaking and I knew it was just for me.  It warmed me as I sat there, it was as though God was gently covering me with his blanket.

His message was enhanced with my reading from Henri Nouwen:  Often we want to be able to see into the future.   We say, "How will next year be for me?  Where will I be five or ten years from now?"  There are no answers to these questions.  Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step:  what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day.  The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark.  When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go.  Let's rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.

So although the light eventually filled my space this morning, it needs to spread yet further.  I cannot tell you how important it is for me and for you to find a still, quiet beginning to your day and "be still and know that I am God", where He can encourage you in some way. For me, my epiphany moments are always on the "deck" at Eagles Wings.  It is our special place - God's and mine - and although my heavy heart and circumstances are still there, I feel some of the burden and load lifted.  It is good to be reminded that my God knows all and walks with me, carrying much of the load.  I know that this message is going to bless others of my dear friends who are struggling now (you know who you are), and I really only share this so that we also know that we are not alone in our journeys.  I pray for you and ask your prayers for me, and through our prayers I know the Lord will bless us.

 
Well, there isn't any "road rage" in Kenya except for me.  They don't honk, they don't know how to drive, they think nothing of passing on hills around curves and expecting that you will "let them in" with about 2 inches to spare or the whole drivers side of your car is gone. 

Someone once said "I would give a million dollars to be inside an African's head for 10 minutes".  I don't think that would do it.  I will NEVER get it.  The "Africa Nice" way of living lends itself to rudeness, selfishness, and just plain nonsense at times.  Now don't get me wrong.  There are wonderful things about "Africa Nice" too - people care about each other, families can be counted on to help, and they are almost too nice at times for their own good.  I suppose we can all learn from each other.

But this road nonsense makes me crazy.  I am the ONLY crazy mzungu (white person) that lays on my horn and mutters loudly in my car - "IDIOT"!  My good friend from England doesn't lay on her horn but does mutter loudly "BLOODY IDIOT!"  The road rage comes when I see them completely ignoring me and probably shaking their heads and laughing at the crazy woman.

I read the other day that over 2500 people were killed on the roads in Kenya last year  INSANE!  Kenya is the size of what ... Minnesota?  Most of those deaths were from IDIOT matatu and bus and lorry drivers who take unbelievable risks and seem to think they are invincible.  Unfortunately, when there is a fatal accident many people are usually killed.  So why?  Well, lack of enforcement of traffic rules doesn't help - the policeman (or woman) who will look the other way for "something small" from the person who does not have the money to keep their vehicle in good shape or pay the insurance or whatever.  It kind of reminds me of the mafia asking for "protection".  But none of this is a surprise to most of us who live here.

So I was on the road to Nakuru about an hour from Eagles Wings, and as my blood pressure was just on the way down after almost wearing out my horn needlessly, a bus passed me (on a curve uphill as usual).  It was a new shiny white bus with the school logo and name emblazoned on the side...Ruiru Boys Secondary School.  For the next 10 kilometers I dodged paper bags, yogurt containers and even a dirty baby diaper (Pampers have come to Kenya - shame), as they were casually tossed out the windows of the bus.  Now the rage really hit me!  I was furious!  This younger generation of privileged, fairly wealthy children at a very good high school didn't care. They didn't care about the environment, they didn't care about personal responsibility, and what is even worse if that they probably never even thought about it.  After all, it wasn't THEIR highway.  I doubt if they even thought selfishly that someone else would come along and clean it up.  There IS a law against littering here but of course it is never enforced.

I thought to myself..."I am going to board that bus at the first opportunity when it stops and chew them all out".  Oh oh - it's a crazy old mzungu woman.  But I've learned that my age will get their attention - I'm sure most of those kids are scared to death of a mother's rage.  Then I thought to myself - it won't make any difference at all.  But I AM going to write an article for the Nation, our newspaper here, and I will name the school.

SO what is it?  Do they not care?  Probably not.  It is not a learned value yet.  Heck, I remember as a high school student in Wayzata, Minnesota going to the first McDonald's in St. Louis Park and casually throwing the hamburger wrappers and the red cardboard carrier out the window of the car and never thinking about it.  So values development happen over time and habits die hard when replaced with them.  

But this crazy mzungu woman is NOT going to stop honking her horn, muttering IDIOT or challenging people (mostly drivers) until then!  (Actually, there are matatu drivers who tell me I should be one of them because I'm such an assertive driver.)  They don't intimidate me at all! 

And as for those kids?  Well, I'm going to send a letter to the Headmaster of Ruiru Boys Secondary School and tell him to find a way to instill values and pride in those kids as future leaders of Kenya! 







 
Picture
So okay.  I'm not making a snow angel, but it was the only picture I could find.  My friends and I were making a snowman.  But my sister Vicki and I made snow angels that winter I'm sure.  50 years of winters in Minnesota means childhood memories of snowfalls, snowmen, snow angels, snow forts, ice-skating, ice-fishing, freezing fingers and toes, sledding, blowing "smoke", and breaking off the icicles dripping from the roof to lick them like popsicles (carefully - I ripped my lip more than once!). 

I don't remember making Christmas cookies when I was a little girl (although I'm sure I did), but I do remember making them with my children.  And amidst the gingerbread men, the Christmas trees, reindeer, snowmen, and other cutouts there were always the angels, and we would decorate them with white icing and colored candy sprinkles.

Then there was the Christmas tree.  Lights came first (always done by Dad(s)) and then hanging the ornaments (every year we 4 kids would be able to hang them a little higher so that they weren't all clustered at the bottom of the tree), and then the tinsel.  In those days we had the tinfoil kind of tinsel and would wear our socks and scuff across the floor to touch it and get a "shock".  But hanging tinsel was a bore - dad wanted us to carefully hang it over a branch one strand at a time.  When he left the room we would throw it and couldn't figure out how he knew.  But one last thing.  At the top of the tree we always put a star, or an angel. Then the lights would be turned on - WOW!  Breathtaking.  It was the best part!

One of the great traditions I like and began with my children, was reading The Night Before Christmas and then The Christmas Story from the Bible as told by Luke to them on Christmas Eve.  I love the blending of the traditions with the original true meaning of Christmas. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite pieces I bring out every year is a wooden Santa Claus kneeling at the manger of the Baby Jesus.

So back to angels.  I never thought really about their significance much until this morning.  I was reading the Christmas story in Luke.  The angel Gabriel was sent by God to tell Mary she would bear the son of God and name him Jesus.  Angels came to the Shepherds in the field outside Bethlehem to tell them of the baby's birth.  They were messengers.  And guess what?  Nobody questioned the truth of what they said.  As a matter of fact, when the angels left, the shepherds said to each other, "Come on! Let's go to Bethlehem!  Let's see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."  When they told the others there about the angels, they expressed astonishment, not disbelief. But there was great rejoicing and singing and praising going on.  Naive?  Nope.  Unbridled belief and faith in what they could not imagine humanly.

I suppose I always "knew" the connections and the stories of angels in the Bible and the prayers I pray for others, asking God to wrap his angels around them. I see the angels in traditions, and have seen them in lives of those around me as they are "sent" by God for protection, comfort, or peace, and yes, the symbolism of the angel on the Christmas tree and cookies and snow angels.  But this year it has a deeper meaning for me.  They are in the forefront of my mind this Christmas.  I see them gently floating above my precious grandchildren as they go to sleep Christmas Eve, with visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads, eagerly awaiting the sound of little deer hooves on the roof.  And I see them in the lives of those dear parents, grandparents and famillies of the children lost in Connecticut and around the world, gently folding them in their wings. 

My prayer is that I will be open to seeing the angels that are sent to me as God's messengers to guide me through this life on earth.  I am counting on it.  Expecting it.   

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Newborn King
Peace on Earth, and mercy mild
God and Sinners reconciled.



 
Quite the meeting I attended at St. Andrews Secondary School day before
yesterday.  It was on the surface a budget meeting to fix the school fees charge
for 2013.  I was invited to come as a guest member of the committee,
representing the Board, because the budget is determined by the parents!  It is
chaired by the Chairman of the PTA and everyone on the committee is a
parent.

But...it was a meeting of hearts for me.  I serve on the Board of Governors of this school whose students come from a very poor community - and I mean VERY poor.  I am priviledged and humbled to see into the real lives of parents who struggle to educate their children.  Even for me - who has lived and worked among the Africans for over 15 years - I can honestly say that until that day "I HAD NO IDEA".  There was a switch flipped.  For the first time I was an insider and not an outsider.  I now understand and it has changed me.  I knew these people, these moms and dads, these kids, and I empathized with them.  But my empathy was on the surface.  Arthur Rouner (our former senior pastor) was right.  PRESENCE is how you grow in your understanding.  PRESENCE with them over time.  PRESENCE so you really get to know them, one woman, one man, one child, one story at a time.  PRESENCE that moves you from your head to your heart and THEN back to your head!  

I came armed with my facts.  I wanted them to think critically about the situation at the school.  I knew the answers.  I wanted to tell them that they had to be realistic.  I wanted to tell them they had no choice but to send those kids home that couldn't pay their fees.  I wanted to tell them to prioritize the budget so the school could conntinue.  I wanted them to be tough on those parents who just sat back looking for a handout and for somebody to pay the fees for their kids.  I wanted...I wanted...I wanted.  What choices were there?

And then Peter, the principal, in a very kind way said "we are so glad you are here so that you can undertand why your way won't work and understand the truth about our families." WHOA!  Every parent there was looking at me with a smile on their face, while I wanted to crawl under the chair.  But I'm a learner and a listener (finally, at this old age)!

Peter and the PTA chairman reminded me that yes, there are those parents with an attitude problem - with a dependency, entitlement attitude.  But, they are truly the minority.  Still, we need to be careful about how we partner with them and the school as we try to come alongside  As I listened to the stories of parents doing unbelievable things to find money for school fees, I began to feel complete and utter frustration and a feeling of a hopeless situation.  Let there be light!

A mom with few resources.  Renting a donkey and walking up hills about 10 km each way to buy peas and transport them back to sell.  Arriving exhausted at dark only to have to fix a meal for her family and drop into bed thanking God for giving her the strength to walk those 20 km.  Would I have been thankful?  Would I have been feeling like there is no hope?  Would I have done that walk?  Let there be light.

A father who lost his work, his wife, children to care for...coming to the Principal literally crying and begging to be allowed to keep his child in school.  Men in Africa don't cry...

Or the father who begged the school not to send his child home because it was the only meal (lunch) that he gets every day. I thought, when was the last time you didn't have a meal in a day unless you are fasting?
 
Story after story of hardship.  But what was most humbling to me was the compassion expressed by the parents in that room. They were approaching the school's financial situation FIRST from a place of compassion and not from the reality of the numbers.  The question was "what can we reasonably expect from the parents".  THEN we will worry about where to get the rest.  We began to talk together.  The budget committee was going to address the parents the next day to give them the news about the new fees for 2013.  

The meeting started at 3:00.  It was now 6:45 and nobody even cared.  But it gets dark at 7:00 and the school has no power.  Where was my camera?  I wish I had a picture to show you!  Now seriously, I looked around the room and couldn't see anyone - they are dark, the dark has come and we still had work to do.  Out comes the handheld calculator (no backlight) and the person next to him is giving him light from his cell phone.  It was normal for them.  I was thinking about budget meetings in the US and how "they would never believe this".  Was I the only one that thought this was just too much and I began to laugh.I made a joke of it by saying that the only way I knew where they were in the room was when they smiled and I could see their teeth!  They all laughed hysterically and the room lit up.  Let their be light!

The bottom line was that they had to increase the fees by 10% and so in 2013 each parent will be asked to pay 15,250 Kenya shillings (about $200) for the entire year.  That pays for teachers, food, some supplies, any building projects, and a parent project to add value and need to the school.  This year there will be a 13% debt from unpaid school fees that will be the start of the 2013 budget.

At the parent meeting yesterday, the parents accepted the budget and when asked for a commitment, they said they could commit to paying 1000 shillings a month (about $12).  Times 9 that equals 9,000 shillings per student a year - against an assessment of 15,250.  Let there be light!

So now the struggle.  But here is the amazing thing.  The first course of action was prayer.  Faith that God would find a way to help these families so they could
pay the fees.  NOT faith that God would find a way to help the school.  Amazing. They actually believe the school logo - they own it - they have faith that "With God We Excel"!  And you know what?  I believe that God will honor these hearts.  He sure prepared MY heart that day... and there was light...
Picture
A student's home in Kasarani
Picture
The Prinicipal, Peter Ngugi on the right.
Picture
A mom...
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A student's one meal a day at the school
Picture
Humbling...
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Parents standing proudly next to their project last year - a kitchen!
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Need we say more?
 

I recently returned from a visit to the US to visit family, friends, churches and supporters.  It was a wonderful time, and as always, emotional for me when it comes time to leave.  I've noticed that as missionaries living in a far away country, "home" takes on new meaning.  I've also experienced the feeling that I am always saying good-bye.  I had to say goodbye to my children, grandchildren, sister, best friend and so many.  Yesterday I said goodbye to American friends who came to visit us at Eagles Wings here in Africa.  Feeling settled is not easy. 
I have placed a slideshow here in this article that I used as a presentation and update of Greg's and my lives here in Kenya.  I hope you will enjoy it. 

 
Picture
As I was leaving St. Andrews high school on the rocky, steep road leading to the gate at the bottom of the hill, before I rounded the corner I noticed an African "mzee" - old man - hunched over with a huge bag over one shoulder hanging down his back.  He had no shoes on and his clothes were torn and dirty - if I had taken a photograph there would have been no color - just shades of grey and black. 

I thought...oh, boy...I just had my car cleaned (confession time).  But that thought was gone in a flash as I knew he would have to walk the almost 3 miles down a terribly dusty road made even worse by the herds of cattle, matatus or piki-piki's barrelling past him enveloping him in a cloud of fine, volcanic dust. 

I stopped, got out of the car and went to open the trunk so he could put his bag in and opened the passenger door - motioning him to get in.  His toothless smile told me everything.  His eyes were red from the dust and he looked like he was 100 years old - but was probably about my age.  Such a hard life.''

As I looked at the bag I realized it was charcoal.  My first reaction (confession time again) was anger.  Eburru, the mountain he had come from behind the school and next to Eagles Wings, is one of the very few indiginous, virgin forests left in Kenya.  They are all being cut down illegally - and burned into charcoal.  From an environmental perspective?  I was angry. Looking at this poor man, beaten down by life, I was still angry.  But my anger came from a different place. 

It was mixed with compassion.  HE HAS NO CHOICE!  Solar? HA!  An oven?  HA!  Propane stove?  HA!  He has probably never been to school, never had options, and is only worried about how to feed his family every day we wakes.  His life is the same every day - make charcoal, walk endless miles, sell it for practically nothing, use the shillings to buy food - none left for clothes or shoes - and do it all over again. 

It is the one time in my life that I was glad that there is no enforcement of the law (or very little) in Kenya!  Charcoal burning is illegal.

Why aren't there other options?  I don't know...but it is a moral dilemma for me. But not today.  I eased his day by giving him a simple ride to town, and I pray that he made enough money to feed his family.  I'm going to carry a pair of shoes in my car and if I see him again, I hope to God they fit!









    Deb Snell

    I have lived in Kenya for 16 years and I still know very little!  Every day I experience things that change my presuppositions about how things should be and wonder why life isn't easier.  Living among people not from my American culture exposes me to these "teachable moments" - I learn something every day - the whys, the hows, the values, the lives of those living in mostly difficult situations.  I hope to give you a glimpse into the dilemma, the hope, the ever present questioning, the learning... in these occasional blog posts.

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