At devotions DCPC Youth answer the question, "Where did you see God today?" This blog recounts our stories, the places we find ourselves in God's story, and the ways we see God working in the world around us.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let's Get It Started: The Urban Poverty Train Trip 2009

Day 1: Travel and Tourism
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Everyone met at the church at about 5 (am) – all of us half asleep. Upon arriving at the airport, we checked in the large amount of luggage and made our way through security and onto the plane. The ride was relatively short and everyone made it to New York safely. We were picked up at the airport and escorted to the church that we were going to be staying at via Party Bus. From there we settled in a little and started on our journey around New York for the day. We walked a few blocks to Central Park which is amazing. I took a brief nap, and we did devotions on a rock.
Greg Kuras

After we left the park, we went out to see New York. And what better place than the Top of the Rock. We passed NBC studios and 5th Avenue on our way to Rockefeller Center. After a probably 15-second, 67 floor elevator ride, 2 floor escalator ride and and a flight of stairs, we reached the top. The view was simply magnificent. We saw Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, the Ball in Times Square, and EVERY other part of New York. My favorite part of being on Top of the Rock was that I heard people speaking at least 7 different languages.

We left Rockefeller for our next trek to “Juniors.” This All-American restaurant was suurprisingly run by mostly people from other countries including Malick from South Africa and Sergy from Latvia. However, it was our unfortunate luck to be sitting outside when the rain started. But it cleared soon and burgers, salads, and very good cheesecake lifted our spirits.

One slide of the DCPC credit card and two blocks later, we were entering the Palace Theatre on our way to see West Side Story. More on West Side Story Later.

Becca Powell

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Friday, June 26, 2009

A Few Pics from Kenya

Shelli writes: We're back, safe and sound with few travel hitches. Alas, we still have a number of days to tell you about. They're all logged in our handy-dandy journal, and when I get a free second, I will fill you in on all we did and the reflections of our group, but I thought you might want to see a few of the pictures of the adventure. So here goes:

Top two: Field Trip with the children from the preschool.
Middle two: Kibera, the largest slum in Africa
Bottom two: Social Sunday

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tuesday, May 15th with Hannah

Tuesday morning we headed to a coffee plantation about a little ways from Sigona. As always, we were joined by a few of the Sigona church members; they make any trip more fun! We toured the plantation, and saw how coffee beans go from seedlings to trees to ripe beans, and then I forget the rest of the process... but it is long and laborious. I'm sure I'll never forget watching two coffee-farm-working women pick through the beans, one by one, to weed out any beans that weren't good. Certainly adds a new appreciation to each cup of coffee. When you head to summit to buy your $1.46 small coffee, remember that for each 15kg bucket of beans picked, the picker gets 50 cents (remember that a 15kg bucket would produce many small cups of coffee, and it takes a long time to fill a 15kg bucket). From the coffee farm, we got a quick bite to eat, and headed to Kabira, the largest slum in Africa. 

Kabira was a jarring experience for all of us. It was a new level of poverty, and on a scale none of us had witnessed before. Much of our conversation since then has returned to our few hours in Kabira, as we begin to process our time there. They are images that will stick with us forever, and surely shape the way we view the world. We were hosted in Kabira by KENSUP, a government agency that works with UN-Habitat and other NGOs in the slum, with the goal of providing infrastructure, housing, and basic social services for those who live in the slum. It is made up of 12 villages, and we saw only one, which seemed big enough as it was. KENSUP has undertaken a big goal, and hopes to, by working one village at a time, provide sturdy homes, roads, clean water and sewer systems in all of Kabira, thus transforming the slums. It is certainly an ambitious task, but there were tangible signs of change in Kabira. 
We were all taken back by the children of Kabira, who were quick to yell out 'how are you?' as we passed by. As big as their smiles were as we paraded past, it is difficult to imagine what everyday life must be for a child of the slum. I wonder what it is like at night, when electricity is scarce and crime is abundant. There are many organizations working in Kabira, we saw several schools, and one youth center, as well as places that provided (at a small cost) clean water and decent bathrooms. Our only prayer can be that with God's help, the tremendous dedication of these organizations will bring a better tomorrow for the residents of Kabira, because the obstacles are plentiful. 
We finished our evening with another delicious meal, good devotion and reflection time, and a shorts night rest before we were off for the Masi Mara. 
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Thomas' trip reflections

It has been an incredible journey to Kenya. It started out a little rough with all of our flight troubles, realizing that our time here in this incredible country would be shortened but as soon as we arrived in Nairobi we felt like we had come home. We were welcomed by a group from our partner church PCEA Sigona and immediately went into the activities of this trip. Going into our first worship service in Kenya we were all very tired as most had not slept since thursday and it was now sunday. It was certainly a different experience for us and especially me as I have grown so accustomed to the traditional DCPC services where standing up to sing and dance is nearly frowned upon and to go over an hour is just plain cruel. I really enjoyed the service though, I met new people and experienced a new type of worship where I felt as close to God if not closer than I ever have at DCPC. With all of this swirling around us we then went to visit the homes of children who attend the pre-school at PCEA Sigona. Though I had experienced poverty before the first house I went to really hit me hard and I could not believe the conditions this family lived in. On top of this I was shocked when she offered us tea and snacks at her grandmother's house. All of the houses we visited welcomed us with shouts of "karibu" and "jambo" and welcomed us into their houses without knowing us at all. This welcoming atmosphere has continued throughout our time here and will continue as part of the partnership that our two churches share. After several days in the Kikuyu/Nairobi area we had experienced many things that left us in need of a recharge. Kibera was rough for the whole group as we experienced poverty on a level we could not imagine, and as we spent time with the pre-schoolers in Nairobi. After these days we headed to the beautiful Masai Mara game preserve, a six hour drive away from Kikuyu. While there we experienced the beauty of this land and God's work. It was incredible to see all of the animals and to look out on miles upon miles of open savannah. We recharged in this beautiful place while being treated like royalty at the wonderful lodge we stayed at. We made a new friend there named Wilson and he told us many things about his tribe, the masai. After a great trip to the "mara" we headed back to spend our final few days with our partners at Sigona. After our return on Friday we went to dinner at Joseph and Isabella's house and had a great time playing games and enjoying fellowship with one another. It was certainly one of the highlights of the trip and it was certainly one of my favorite parts. We played games that many of us had not played since we were younger and it was a great night that I certainly will never forget. Tired we went back to rehab and had a good nights sleep in preparation for our day with the youth of PCEA Sigona. Saturday with the youth was another great day of fellowship and fun as we enjoyed playing more games and great food. We all made many new friends and talked to kids our age with such different lives. I learned a new game in rugby as Cameron and I played with new friends and slowly picked up this interesting game. After this we went home to prepare and lead the sunday service the next day. We had homestays saturday night and all of us were welcomed as family and had a memorable night with our friends. Today, was a day of fellowship and worship as we spent the morning at services leading one and participating in the other. While our singing left quite a bit to be desired in the second service we felt that we had done well and had praised God. Though usually our church day is done after the service we still had social sunday where there were presentations galore. We had several awkward dances, one of which was mine and Im sure Cameron will have on youtube soon and many where we all joined the womens guild in traditional Kikuyu songs and dances. It was a great afternoon and a memorable one. Gifts were exchanged along with emails as we swapped information with our new friends so that we may continue to talk even though we are far away. This trip has been an experience that we will all remember for the rest of our lives and we all look forward to sharing these experiences with everyone when we arrive in a few days time. Thats it for me and I look forward to seeing everyone in a few days. 
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Lisle's Reflection

In all of my life I have never met a community of people so welcoming and generous as the Kenyans we have interacted with this week.  The Swahili words, "Jambo," (hello) and "Karibu" (welcome) swarm around us everyday.  Adults come to us and pull us near to kiss our cheeks.  Children and youth run to us to shake our hands.  Pedestrians stop to wave when we drive by.  Every moment of every day we have been welcomed so warmly that I have rarely felt uncomfortable in a place so different from my home.

The very first morning we arrived in Nairobi (after many flights and having not slept in a good 48 hours), we rushed straight to Sigona PCEA church to participate in their 10:30 service.  This service is mostly in Kikuyu, the tribal language of the Sigona community.  We were pushed into the aisles, encouraged to spread apart and sit with people we did not know.  A woman sitting on a center pew grabbed me and squeezed me in between herself and another woman.  As the service began, everyone stood and the room filled with music, singing, clapping, and dancing.  Everyone participated and everyone seemed filled with joy.  The words we were singing were in kikuyu but I joined in the the best I could.  
I have learned that all Kenyans sing.  They are not shy about their voices and they are never insecure about lacking the ability to sing well.  They all join in, and together they create beautiful harmonies.  Rebecca Clark, a member of the DCPC crew, said it quite right the other day: "Americans talk very loudly but sing so soft.  But Kenyans, they speak softly and sing as loud as they can."  Kenyans sing because they want to praise God all the time so that when Christ returns, they will be praising his name.
Later on in the service that first day, during the passing of the peace, the lady next to me turned and shook my hand to greet me.  Instead of saying the expected, "Good morning," or "Welcome," she looked directly into my face and said, "I love you."  I was stunned.  Never have I ever had a complete stranger tell me such intimate words, especially with such sincerity.  It could be that she did not speak much english and confused her words.  Regardless, she was willing to take the risk of speaking to me so that she could greet me and make me feel welcome.  Despite being exhausted from jetlag and finding myself in a completely foreign environment, I felt glad to be in Kenya.
Kenyans also welcome others shamelessly.  The poverty in Kenya is very widespread and can, in certain areas, be much more extreme than most places in the U.S.  Many of the roads are not paved and have serious bumps and holes and ditches.  Litter and trash cover much of the landscape.  Open markets made of tin and wood line the road side.  People walk along the roads wearing tattered clothes and donkeys follow behind them to transport their few goods.  Also on our first day here, we went on a walking tour of the families of the preschoolers who attend the Sigona Child and Youth Center.  Every home we went to was made of sticks, held together with mud and holding up a tin roof.  A piece of cloth often served as the door.  Most of the homes were hardly as large as a single bathroom or a walk-in closet.  I was appalled at the sight of these structures which, at first, I did not believe could actually be a family's home, and certainly not a family with young children.  But every single family welcomed us inside their homes.  They urged us to squeeze into their tiny "living room" space so that we could visit with them briefly.  Despite their obvious poverty, they did not expose any shame.  They appeared eager to have us come so that they could share with us about their lives (no matter how painful they were).
Later on in the week, we also toured Kibera Slums, the largest slum in Africa.  We walked through the "streets" that covered our shoes with mud and sewage.  The air smelled of roasting meat and human waste (not a pleasant combination).  Rows of homes made of tin, sticks and mud lined the streets.  "Flying toilets" (plastic bags containing excrement) hung in tree branches.  Just walking through what hundreds of Kibera inhabitants call home made me feel dirty and sick to my stomach.  But the children smiled when they saw us walk by.  Groups of them ran up to us wanting to shake our hands.  They yelled the one english greeting they knew how to say: "How are you!"  Some children would jump up and down, repeating the phrase: "Howareyou! Howareyou! Howareyou!"  They gleamed, waiting for our expected response: "Fine.  How are you?"  Some of them even followed behind us continuing to chant their greetings and wanting to shake our hands.  Though some of the adults glanced our way with scorn, most of the people and all of the children welcomed us joyfully and without shame despite the overwhelming dirtiness of their living environment.
My favorite part of our time here in Kenya has been our interactions with children.  On our first Monday, we took the 50-something preschoolers to the Nairobi History Museum and animal orphanage.  All day I had little hands reaching to grab my hands or even fingers as we walked.  The children came to me, wanting to sit on my lap, or by my side.  They would touch my hair, inspect my hands (careful to observe every finger and nail), and wonder at the peculiar shade of my skin.  Many of them took joy in trying to read my name from name tag.  They would point at my name and repeat after me as I would say, "Lisle...Lisle...Gwynn...Gwynn.  Lisle Gwynn!  Lisle Gwynn!"  They would do it over and over again, never tiring from the game.  They were so trusting of me, even though I was a complete stranger and I looked pretty funny compared to the people they are used to seeing.
Today we enjoyed our final event with the Sigona Church.  After both Church services, we participated in Social Sunday, which brings together all the members of the community for food, music, performances and fun.  As I sat on the side while different groups sang and performed, children swarmed around me.  They sat on top of me, behind me and beside me.  They grabbed my arms, fighting over who could hold my hand.  They took my sunglasses from my face and placed them on theirs.  They found my digital camera and fought over who could take pictures of me.  Many of them did not know much english, but would ask questions like, "Where you come from??  USA?"  With so much attention from such young kids, I felt almost like Jesus and the children.  Not a bad feeling at all.  One girl snuggled up beside me and kept tugging on my shoulder to get my attention.  She asked where I came from and what my name was.  After a few minutes, she tugged on my arm again and pulled me close.  She whispered into my face, "You are beautiful."  I could tell she didn't know much english, but she began to whisper complements to me as soon as she would think of a new one: "You are smmmart!  You are a beautiful girl."  I told her thank you and that she was an especially beautiful girl.  The children here in Kenya truly are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met.
Kenyans are quick to welcome complete strangers.  They constantly sing praise.  They give thanks for everything they have and remember to stop and give thanks to God before everything they do.  Their voices join together.  Their hands grasp one another.  Their words greet complete strangers: "Karibu!" "How are you!" "I love you!"  They are a community.  Some have very little and some have quite a lot.  But they join together to constantly sing praise.  It is my greatest hope that the memory of their joyous voices will not fade as we cross oceans and travel all the way home.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Day Two - Field Trip

Here's a glimpse of what Monday, June 15 looked like:

  • Rise and shine and Breakfast at the guest house
  • 9:00 AM - Headed to the Child and Youth Development Center (Tour of the center, welcome songs from the Nursery and Preschool Children, tea)
  • 10 AM - Loaded up 48 preschool kids, staff from the preschool and our crew into two mini busses and headed out for the great adventure.
  • First Stop - National History Museum in Nairobi, where we took the whirlwind tour of Kenya's history and animal life - pace set by 4 year olds.
  • Second Stop - Animal Orphanage. Here we pulled out the 70 bag lunches we had packed earlier in the day. Each packed in it's own blue insulated lunch box. (PB & J, raisins - which were not a big hit, and candy - which was a huge hit.) After we ate lunch we played soccer with giant inflatable soccer balls and decorated lunch bags with sharpies (not the most well thought out plan.)
  • Then we headed into the animal orphanage - a small zoo, where you can get within 5 feet of lions, only separated by chicken wire. (Here we realized that we actually had 50 kids with us - oops.)
  • Left the animal orphanage (and one teacher, oops again) and returned to the preschool with lots of sleeping youngsters curled in our laps.
  • 5 PM - Headed to Rev. Elizabeth's house to meet her beautiful twins, Onesimus and Mercy Ann. Here we learned the art of carrying bags on our heads - actually quite comfortable.
  • 6:30 PM - Ate dinner with Fred and Eunice and their family - delicious! Great company.
  • Headed home and to bed

Reflection from Betsy: After spending a day with the pre-schoolers, I think I can say with conviction that I believe we should all be more child-like - not childish, but child-like. We are never too old to revel in amazement at small wonders. We are never too old to laugh hysterically when something is really funny. We are never too old to remove ourselves from the surrounding activities simply to rest. And we are never too old to be loved and cared for by another. We should all be more child-like - this I believe.
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Day One

Sunday, June 14
  • 6:05 AM - Arrived in Nairobi
  • 7:30 AM - Cleared Immigration with all of our luggage!! (Yes, that is huge.) Joined Joseph, Judy and Pauline on the busses and willed ourselves to stay awake.
  • 8:00 AM - Pulled into the PCEA Orthopedic Hospital Guesthouse where we found out that they thought we were coming the day before. (Woops. So did we.) Showered. Willed ourselves to stay awake.
  • 9:30 AM - Climbed on the bus to head to Sigona Presbyterian Church
  • 10 AM - Reunion with dear old friends. Gathered in the vestry to prepare for worship. (Worship preparation and gathering after worship with the leaders is as worshipful as any formal service.)
  • 10:30-12:30 AM - Worship with our partners. Rev. Elizabeth preached in Kikuyu and English, and we sang old familiar tunes in a new language (at least to us.)
  • 1 PM - Headed out for home visits of the Preschoolers. We divided into 3 groups and walked through different areas, visiting 12 total families of preschoolers and high schoolers supported by the Sigona/Davidson partnership.
  • 4 PM - Late (really late when you're tired) lunch at the home of Hannah Sr. Such good food and joyful company.
  • 7:30 PM - Returned to Guesthouse and off to bed.

Donja's Reflection BoldMy experience today was amazing. The home visits really touched me and showed me how much we take for granted (or how much I take my mom for granted). These children love to learn and they know about the lord. They can even recite Bible verses without a Bible. The people are so friendly, and I'm just so glad my dream finally became a reality.

Shelli's Reflection - Today I visited five homes of preschool students from Sigona. All five houses would have fit together into the bottom floor of the front half of the house I live in. The transition from travel to home visits was so abrupt I found myself initially detached. Lisle said it best at devotions this evening when she said that our home visits started so quickly, we were inside the first house before she even knew it was a house. When we were standing outside the rusted aluminum structure was assumed to be a garden shed. It was only when Sigona members, Teacher Martha and 4 from our team (9 in total) were packed in knee to knee with no room to spare and one in the doorway that it began to sink in that we were in Nancy's, Paul and his siblings living room.

Nancy told us of her love of Christ. Our group has reflected about what it sounds like to hear a person in Kenya tell us that they are"saved by Jesus Christ." It sounds sincere. It sounds like a part of their identity and gentle and true. It sounds different somehow. Nancy told us that her greatest hope is that her children will finish school. Paul is 8 and part of the nursery. His brother is also over 2 years behind. "I want my children to have education and daily bread." That was the answer that all of the mothers (in our 5 home visits, there were only mothers) gave. I wonder as you are reading this, what your hope is for your family. I hope that I will allow all of the generosity and need wash over me and that I will return to you changed. I always hope that . . .

Anyway, Nancy said something like this to us. "In our country, when you have something and when you have someone in your home, you share. I know it doesn't look like I have much, but I would like to invite you to tea. I was late coming to the door because I was getting it ready." And so, we 4 Davidsonians who had paid more for our plane tickets than Nancy would make in 4 years of work , were humbled, honored and served tea and biscuits.
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Flight Delays

I am beginning to think that DCPC has a bit of a jinx on it when it comes to travel. I choose to believe that it is not simply that I, personally, am cursed. But since I have been on flights when we have lost our luggage for months, had spontaneous overnight stays which involved 2 AM trips to IHOP, and had more travel with problems than kink-free, I might just need to take a little responsibility. So I wasn't tremendously surprised when I heard on the Friday before we left that our flight was cancelled and that they wanted to reroute half of our group to Ghana. 

Here's the short version of our long, long, loooong trip from DCPC to Kenya.

  • Friday, June 5 - We learn Delta's new non-stop flight from Atlanta to Nairobi is stopped at least for a couple of months. After 2.5 hours on the phone with Mark from Delta, we have new flights and will only arrive 12 hours later than intended.
  • Wednesday, June 10 - Gather at DCPC and pack up all our team gear.
  • Thursday, June 11, 2 PM - Meet at the pull through at the church, load up the van, give kisses good-bye and pray for safe travels and God's will to be done. 
  • Thursday, June 11, 4:30 PM - Learn we don't have a flight to JFK due to weather. Spend 2.5 more hours on the phone and bonding with the Delta employees at CLT and return to Davidson.
  • Friday, June 12 - Head to Cincinnati to JFK to Heathrow in 2 separate groups.
  • Saturday, June 13 - We are only slightly shocked when our meet-up plan works out as group 2 rolls into Heathrow. We had a rushed visit in London and then caught our flight to Nairobi.
  • Sunday, June 14 - At 6 AM, we arrive in the Nairobi airport, exhausted but ready for our journey. After a couple of bumps with immigration (Don't wipe your nose when you're filling out the swine flu form.) we were picked up along with ALL of our luggage by smiling familiar faces. (Joseph and Judy, how we'd missed you.) Hugs, greetings and a quick trip to shower before worship.
When I half-wonder about the hex I sometimes feel about my travel plans, I cannot do so without giving thanks to God that I have always been safe. And maybe, if I am honest, it makes a better story - the long and weary journey. But that was just the travel, and as I sank into the seats of our bus with the familiar song-like voices of our Kikuyu friends wrapping around us, I knew that the real journey hadn't even started.
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