Thanksgiving

IMG_1685
Our beloved boys and Upendo family members in Kenya..this is love

On this day of intentional thankfulness, my mind is set on things in ways far different than ever before. In the few weeks following my season in Kenya — and from one of the most profound experiences of my entire life — the things I am grateful for have come into clearer and more meaningful focus. While I strive to live a life of gratitude and optimism, and believe I succeed in this desire most days, this year as I give thanks, I am also mindful of and grateful for others that were not in my life at this time last year. In this post, I am desiring to share thanks on behalf of these dear ones as I believe they would want to if they were able to do so themselves.

Perhaps you’ve been following my recent journey as I have taken what most call “courageous” steps toward a redirected life. While I agree my decision to leave the security of my corporate career for full time ministry is the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken, I don’t call it courage…I call it obedience. But whatever it is called, I know it was right. Perhaps, even, you are growing weary of hearing about it…or seeing me post about it…or asking for your help. While I pray this is not the case, I am not deterred. Why? Because while knowing that you felt that way would certainly be discouraging, there is something unrelenting in my spirit as I seek on behalf of others, especially those who are most vulnerable and in desperate, life-or-death need. Surely, there are many who can be described as vulnerable and in need. Surely, we should all be looking — rather, be willing to see — those put into our paths, so that we can stand in the gap for those who need such help the most. Surely, there are others who are advocating for others, as I am.

For me, God has firmly and unexpectedly opened my eyes to see those I am called to help in my path. In my view are the ‘abandoned, unseen homeless street orphans’ of Kitale, Kenya and a cherished eight boys who will no longer only be known by such a dreadful yet applicable moniker. What has come to life before my very eyes — what I had the incredible privilege to do while in Kenya — is described this way in Scripture:

Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless. Psalm 82:3 (GNT)

So it is today, on this American day of Thanksgiving, that I give thanks for these eight, and on behalf of these eight – Junior, Joseph, Arafat, Meschach, Davis, Joshua, Ibrahim and Mike. These are not just any boys now; these are my boys now. And they are the boys of a team of dedicated, loving people both in Kenya and here in the states.

If the boys could tell you something themselves, I’m pretty certain they would say that just mere weeks ago, they were frightened…heartbroken…hungry and cold. Further, they would share that they never believed that they’d ever know life to be any different from the destitution and hopelessness of a life on the streets; to freedom from the compulsion to sniff glue to the point of unconsciousness to ease their hunger, pain and loneliness. I think they would also laugh as they say that even if they ever did dream of such help coming to them, they would have never imagined it coming through the hands of a mzungu (white person) from the United States who would not stop hugging them, nor one so unable to stop the tears from seeping from her eyes when she had to say goodbye to them. Nor did this mzungu ever imagine being so humbly honored to be called as the hands and feet of God for these precious ones!

The boys would tell you that now, their lives are so blessed. They live in a simple but comfortable home where they sleep in a warm bed every night. They are loved by an amazing guardian family who have taken them in and love them as their own. They eat fresh food daily. They go to school and church. They love to play soccer in the nearby field, to laugh and play karate games. They know what it feels like to feel real joy now, as they no longer have to hold their breath, dig through garbage or beg for money to eat; nor rely on glue to help them escape their reality. Because today, their reality is so good. So for all of this, they would say thank you. And to many of you, their personal thanks are so deserved, because it is through your generosity that we were able to perform what they will always describe as a miracle in their lives  – the day that they were rescued from the street as nobodies and are now known as part of this beautiful family that now calls Upendo Home their home. They would say that their lives are living proof of Psalm 68:6 in action:

God makes homes for the homeless (MSG) and settles the lonely in families (NIV)

Many of us have mostly known a life of ease and comfort. Sure, we have our problems, but in comparison to what these dear ones have known – and the desperation that so many still live out as a daily reality – our problems will only ever pale in comparison. Are we meant to feel guilty for being so blessed? I say no! But I do believe we are meant to look beyond our own blessings to see –really see  — those who so desperately need our help, and take action to do something about it.

So in addition to ministering to God’s daughters as I have for the past few years, God has also called me to stand in the gap for these precious children. Those in Upendo Home and those who are still hopeful that I will return and help them too. And I must. And I will. But as I have said before, I cannot do this alone and I do not believe I am meant to. The fact is, that in the United States, we have a wealth of resources, both individually and corporately. We have the means to change the lives of many, and many of us are already working hard to do that. To that, I say bravo! But I believe we can generally do more. It is for this reason I will continue to share my plea. I hope you will remain a part of this journey. And if you’re ready to step onto the path I now share with these precious ones, kindly let me know — there are several ways you can help, not all of them financial. If you are able to help with a donation, you can do so either via PayPal to lovewithoutbordersca@gmail.com or via our open Indiegogo fundraiser. Blessings to you.

Two

image1 (2)It’s been a little over two weeks since I returned to the states from Kenya. The transition back to life here has been one of much introspection, emotion, seeking; both within me and in observing this life around me. It has caused me to remain pensive and quiet for a time while I consider what my life is meant to look like now…what my new normal is.

Little did I know how deeply my heart would be touched, changed, broken and challenged during the months I spent in Kenya. But is was and it continues to be. Before going to Kenya, I knew some of what I was meant to do in God’s call to me to minister to women. I answered that call and it was truly amazing. But it was my unknown assignment that has left me so introspective.

I never expected to meet and fall in love with the street orphans of Kitale. I never expected to be one who would know what it feels like to rescue children from the utter desperation and hopelessness of a life abandoned and forgotten on the streets. I never expected to leave so many loved ones — especially so many sons — and a big piece of my heart in Kenya. But that is precisely what God had in mind. And that is precisely what happened.

During my privileged opportunities to speak to women and church congregations in Kenya, one of my messages was a challenge to live outside of ourselves…to help another. I cited a verse from scripture that speaks of the power of such an effort:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

So often in life, it can be overwhelming to look around at the deep need and do nothing to help another up because we question the difference a small effort can make in the face of such great need. In challenging others to rethink this, during my message, I asked several people to stand next to me in a line. I described how it felt to look at each of them, considering they each had a great need. I shared that if I focused on the overall need, I could easily feel discouraged and overwhelmed not being able to help them all and decide there was no point in helping anyone. But this is where the challenge came in.

Instead, I said I would choose to focus on what I could do for the one most immediately close to me, then I would take their hand to demonstrate my effort. In turn, I would have the person who’s hand I held — who had been helped by me — to then turn and help the one next to them and so on. At the end of this demonstration, when we all stood hand in hand, I asked the audience if through my influence of helping one, if I had not actually indirectly helped them all? Clearly, the answer was yes.

As I sit here today, my heart is overjoyed to know that for eight little boys, my hand was used by God to start the chain of change in their lives. Where there once was the pain of daily hunger, there now is regular meals. Where there once was a cold hard street to sleep on at night, there now is a warm, soft bed. And where there was once only the identity as a street orphan, these boys are now surrounded by a loving family of people — both in Kenya and the states — who love them and know them to be Junior, Joseph, Meshach, Arafat, Davis, Joshua, Mike and Ibrahim. Sweet, talented, adorable little boys. None of this would have happened if one hand of hope was not outstretched to start the chain of change.

For me, I know I cannot stop here. As I sit in the peaceful, warm comfort of my home, my precious boys and the remaining children in need on the streets of Kitale are always on my heart. There is a need to sustain what we have started in our little Upendo Home, and there are so many more kids still waiting to be known. One thing I promised them all was that they were seen by me, loved by me and that I was continuing to work to expand the work of hope that had begun.

Here’s the thing. I cannot do this alone. More so, I don’t believe I’m meant to. Before even leaving Kenya, I was amazed to witness an unsolicited team of women at home eagerly rising up to the larger task of securing the resources we need to sustain Upendo Home. To come home to a team already formed and engaged was a dream come true. So firmly beside me now on this journey are Nina, Laurel, Megan and Kristi and we have precious others such as Joyce and Stephanie supporting us through selling their handcrafts. These women have all said yes to stretching out their hands to the chain of change; to trusting the power of two. The equally amazing Kenya team is Paul, Mary, Titus, Caleb, Caroline, Enoch, Patrick and Rose. Everyone on the entire Upendo team is a volunteer. But the needs are great and we have a long way to go.

So I am going to ask you — yes you  — for a favor. Will you please take a moment to let this sink in? Really sink in. Once you do, will you challenge yourself to stretch out your hand to lift another up through the chain of change? If the answer is yes, there are many ways, great and small, that you can help; I’d love to talk with you. You can message me @ karenmichaelle@icloud.com or in comments. Thank you ever so much.

Wanted

Meschach, “Mama Karen” and Enoch

This has been an amazing, whirlwind week. As I shared in my last post, we have successfully opened the Upendo Home in Sikhendu, Kenya. Seven precious boys who were previously abandoned orphans on the streets of Kitale are now living in Upendo Home…these are our “Upendo Boys.” I say our boys because although I was instrumental in coordinating this effort here in Kenya, Upendo started as the vision of Pastor Paul Odari of Divine Life Kenya and took the dedicated help and effort of many others who now love these boys as their own, just as I do.

Upendo means love in Swahili. I am proud to love and be an advocate for these precious ones. Jesus himself was an strong advocate for children. In fact, Jesus actually scolded the Disciples publicly as they tried to shoo children away from him. He said:

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37

In these days following their rescue from the streets, the boys’ personalities and experiences have started to surface. Although they are clearly happy to be at Upendo — elated is more like it — these dear ones suffered a great deal before they were liberated.

All of them suffered the rejection of their families when they were left on the streets to fend for themselves. In our first group of Upendo boys alone, we have boys as young as five and as old as twelve. Most have been on the streets for years. Imagine a young child in this scenario. They also suffered the rejection of the society as they are ignored or scolded as they beg for food in their filthy clothes, many without shoes.

So what did the rescue look like? First, Pastor Titus went to pick up the boys at a designated rally spot. When he arrived, the initial six boys were there, however, there were also nearly 20 others who had heard about what was going to happen. Pastor Titus had the heartbreaking job of looking into all of those hopeful faces and telling many that this would not be their day. When Titus came to meet us for the start of a long day of transitioning to Upendo Home, he had seven boys total. Two of the boys we had previously expected to rescue were MIA but Pastor Titus had found two really young boys among the group — truly our targeted audience — so this made seven total in a plan for six.

When the seven were presented to me, I immediately recognized several that I expected would be there. These were precious boys that I have formed a relationship with over the weeks I have been serving here — Meschach, Davis, Arafat, Joseph and Joshua. The two new boys — Mike and Ibrahim — were unknown to me until that day. If you know my heart, then you already know we did not leave that day with six boys but seven. I just did not have the heart-strength to look into Mike’s face and tell him he would be left behind, nor could I leave the older boys I had already fallen in love with. So instead, I quickly reasoned that although we had prepared everything for six, including beds and clothes, the two smaller boys could bed share and we could quickly get another round of clothes and shoes. So that’s what we did.

Next on the agenda was to go to the Kinyozi (barber) to get the boys’ hair shaved. Many times, kids who live on the street have skin problems, worms, fleas and jiggers (burrowing, flesh eating fleas). Once the boys’ heads were freshly shaved, a bath was next on the agenda.

But this was no ordinary bath. Where does one take seven boys to bathe in a city where they are not welcome? The car wash of course! Here locally, the car washes are done by hand and when we previously rescued Junior, the car wash worked perfectly. So we carted all seven boys to the car wash. They strolled across the street to an open field, where they stripped off all of their worn, filthy clothes and got a washing from head to toe. Of course for this part, I remained at a distance as I did not want them to be embarrassed. After all were clean, they got dressed in their new clothes and shoes. Talk about bright and shiny new! They felt so proud and I imagine so acceptable.

Following the bath, it was time for lunch. We took the boys to the local Nakumat center where there is a nice restaurant. The boys were so happy and confident as they strutted right past the guards that would previously have stopped them. Meschach laughed as he told us these very guards who would have previously scared them off or even caned them to get them to leave were now “saluting” them as they walked by (that is Meshach saluting in the picture above). No caning this time and not ever again. Our precious boys sat at a nice table with linens and were able to order whatever they liked. Most chose chicken and chips (French fries) and a soda. All were very grateful.

Next up was a trip to the doctor for a head to toe check up, including blood work. Most of the boys thought getting their blood drawn was cool. We were elated to learn that not one of them is HIV positive…such a common issue for many kids here. In addition, not one of our boys had jiggers either. Aside from a few mild and treatable ailments, all were in good health. Praise God!

After this, we took the boys to the Upendo Home. They were shown their new surroundings, including their own room stocked with six new bunk beds and more clothes and provisions. You have never ever seen such joy and gratitude than what we saw that day.

On Sunday, the boys came to church and I had the opportunity to introduce them and talk about them with the great pride I have. These boys — despite all they have suffered — are truly amazing. They are sweet, happy, and very talented. They all have dreams and aspirations like any child should. It made me so sad to think that because of some horrible circumstances they had faced, their gifts to the world could forever be hidden if left on the streets. Nearly every Upendo boy has already spoken of wanting to help the other kids who remain on the street. The older boys on the streets are pleading for their turn too. These are boys who did not have an early intervention like our Upendo Boys. But we are not giving up and we have told them not to either.

I leave my beloved Kenya in just over a week. My heart is already breaking at the thought of leaving these precious ones that I love so much. With the help of translation by my equally beloved Enoch, who is working with the boys as a Social Worker and mentor, their “Mama Karen” was able to explain to them that I must return to America very soon. In fact, the last day I will see them is Friday — just four days away.

While I watched a range of emotions pass across their precious faces, I also assured them that they are welcome and wanted, that I love them deeply, am so proud of them and am committed to continue to help them. They asked how soon I would return and I told them I would come back as soon as I can. I also let them know that I have made sure we have a strong Kenyan team in place to support them. And we do, including an amazing Upendo guardian family who already had three boys of their own. These precious people are now are raising ten boys! Finally, I told them to make me proud and to remember that they’re so blessed to be at Upendo. They promised me they would do their very best. I just don’t know how I will be able to walk away from them on Friday. I know my heart will break in a million pieces.

Friends, this has been the most incredible ministry experience I have ever been a part of. To have the love and devotion of these precious boys is unlike anything I have ever known. I am fiercely committed to seeing this through…and looking forward to watching these boys become strong men who will make a difference in Kenya. But I cannot do it alone. I don’t believe I’m meant to. Most everyone I know lives a life of great comfort, well above anything that a street boy in Kenya will ever know.

I am asking you to help me by sharing financially whatever you can to help support Upendo. Trust me, we will make excellent use of every dollar so even if you can only support a little, it will help immensely. Will you please consider either a one time or monthly donation or perhaps commit to sponsor a boy to help us? In my next post. I will share pictures and more details of each boy who needs to be sponsored. Perhaps you can forego buying coffee or dinners out on occasion, team up with a work group or with the holidays approaching, how about considering scaling back what you will spend and donate the difference to Upendo. We would be ever so grateful. You can either donate online via our fundraising page or for a tax-deductible donation of $100.00 or more, message me @karenmichaelle@icloud.com for instructions.

And would you also please spread the word? May you be ever so blessed as you bless our boys with your support. To see more of Upendo, including many photos, please visit our Upendo Facebook Page.

Miracle

Everyday miracles really do happen. I know, because I’ve just participated in one. This miracle began, was formed and unfolded and completed right before my very eyes. To have had a hands-on role in this miracle is something that I will never forget – it has truly been one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.

In John 14:12, Jesus spoke of the miracles that modern day believers would be empowered to do:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

By this, I believe Jesus was saying that His followers — if they remained open to being used by Him — would be called far and wide, across the earth, to be used as modern-day miracle agents with the Holy Spirit as the guide. I can tell you this is how I would describe the experience I just had.

When I came to Kenya, it was primarily to focus on women. This is a clear call of God on my life. But I also knew God would have other plans for me as well and a calling to step in the gap as an advocate for the orphaned street children of Kitale was soon set before me.

What started out as participating in a weekly feeding ministry with Pastor Paul and Pastor Titus of Divine Life Kenya then became a determination to rescue just one boy – Junior — who had instantly captured my heart. Within just three weeks of arriving in August, we were able to do just that. That itself felt miraculous. But what I would soon learn is that this act of advocacy for one boy was not the end of the story; not even close.

As I continued to visit the boys each week, my heart continued to expand for them and my motherly concerns for their plight grew. When it rained outside (a regular occurrence here) I’d wonder where they were seeking shelter. When I had a fresh meal placed before me, I’d think back to the first day I met some of the boys and saw the garbage heap they’d pick from to eat. My sense of injustice and restlessness grew as my days in Kenya became fewer. I just knew I had to do something tangible had to be done before leaving for the states. And guess what? We have!

I am SO exited to share that we have opened Upendo Home! Thanks to the fundraising efforts of a few precious ladies who leapt into action without even being asked and the generosity of supporters, in just three weeks we were able to build a simple home — our first Upendo Home! Just yesterday, we rescued seven more boys from the streets of Kitale! This new home now hosts a guardian family and seven precious young boys who have started an all new life. For them, gone are the days of constant hunger, exposure to the elements, rejection from the society and no one to love them.

It is with great love and a whole lot of mama pride that I introduce you to our first seven lovies:

2014-10-24 23.11.312014-10-24 23.11.31

Joshua, Meshach, Joseph, Arafat, Mike, Ibrahim and Davis

In the coming days, I will be sharing more details about the stories and these precious boys. Think miracles don’t happen today? Ask our Upendo boys…my bet is they will assure you they do!

Want to help? We surely need it! Please visit our fundraising page.

Love

In my last blog, I shared that “hope” is what brought me to Kenya. It is indeed that desire that brought me here. It is that hope and my love for others that resulted in my decision to commit to a three-month season of serving alongside my brother and sister in the faith, Pastor Paul and Mary Odari of Divine Life Kenya (DLK). The best way to describe these two amazing people is that they are the real deal. They are humble servants who are actively shepherding their community as God has called them to do, most times sacrificially.

While some of you may not share my faith, you are likely familiar with one of the most known Scripture passages about love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and 13

It is that kind of love that brought me to Kenya. I arrived in Kenya on August 22 with the primary goal of ministering to women; a calling on my life that God has made undeniably clear. Following my primary commitment as key note speaker/teacher at a three-day women’s conference at which, to my surprise, I saw that many local pastors were also in attendance, I have been invited by these pastors to teach their congregations at various churches nearly twenty times now. Every time I have prepared a new message, God has used it for just those present. It’s been remarkable to hear how my messages line up with their current issues or concerns.

So ministering to women has most certainly been a key focus for me. In addition to groups, I am also providing leadership training to the church staff and mentoring ladies one on one. One in particular, a single mom who had really suffered some serious life-blows, meets with me weekly. Her transformation through God’s truth and hope has already been amazing and inspiring!

So while I’ve certainly been used to minister to women while I’m here, what’s been unexpected — what I could not possibly have known before coming to Kenya — is what else God had in mind for me to do. First, God has given me a deep love for Kenya and the wonderful Kenyan people. And while I desired to serve this community, what I didn’t expect was this community to become my community. Yet they have. I love this community so much and it is an honor to be here. I have never felt so respected and appreciated and so well-cared for. The name Kenya does not technically mean love. But to me, it surely does.

This leads me to some of the other projects I’ve been working on here and to my bold “ask” of each of you. First, as you read this post, kindly take the time to read the details I will share below. And while you do, please consider how you can help. In return, I know you will feel the incredible satisfaction that comes when you show love to others who are so in need of someone to care.

I know some of you can help a little, some a little more and many of you can help a lot. I’m going to be so bold as to say that nearly everyone can afford to help, even if it means to sacrifice a bit. For a little perspective, the average Kenyan family earns $1,246 Kenyan shillings (KES) per year. This is equal to around $14.00 US. You read that right…fourteen dollars! The good news is that the exchange rate is far in our favor here so every dollar equals an average of $80 KES which is much stronger buying power. So here we go:

  • Upendo Home: Upendo means love and love is our goal. There’s an estimated one thousand orphans on the streets of nearby Kitale Town. Think of them like this. They have no parents or protection, no food, no shelter, no school…no love. About two months back, I helped rescue one of these boys, Junior, from the street. I shared about this in my post “Rejected.” Junior now lives with the Odaris and is doing remarkably well. Since rescuing Junior, the other boys recognize me and are wondering when it will be there turn. Every time I see them, I assure them we are working on it. Each time I have to walk away without taking another boy, my heart breaks for them a little more. This last week, as we were giving the boys food, they were telling me God was going to bless me! Yes indeed. While our initial large goal is to raise $70,000 US to build a permanent home to house 20 boys, this week after leaving them yet again, I knew that I simply could not leave Kenya without getting something started. With many thanks to the dedicated fundraising efforts of just two ladies stateside — Joyce Pratt and Nina Olivos — we’ve figured out that for around $1,000 US, we can afford to build a simple, temporary home to get six more precious boys off the street by the end of October. In fact, we broke ground today on the church property and by the end of October, six more precious boys will learn just how much love we have for them as we welcome them to their new home! How you can help: Your one-time or recurring donation will help with the monthly costs to support the boys and toward the funds needed to build the formal home. Before I leave for the US in early November, I’ll also be posting pictures of our fist six little loves and asking for personal sponsors for each of them.
  • Single Mom Hand Up: This dear woman is the one I mentioned above who I am mentoring. When I first met her, she was in dire straights. She could not find work and was risking eviction. I was able to pay her back rent to prevent eviction and give her grocery money for her and her three young children. She’s now working at the school in exchange for living expenses as currently none of the teachers are being paid. All are working on a volunteer basis (see below). How you can help: Your one-time or recurring donation will help ensure this single mom is able to maintain her simple home and food for her family while she waits for a paid position. (These are very hard to come by here!) Also, this woman has a large orange-sized Lipoma (non-cancerous growth) on her dominant forearm. This limits her full use of her arm and causes her a great amount of discomfort. Surgery to remove this growth at its current size is $570.00
  • School / School Teachers: Amazing Love Academy is the school branch of DLK. While the simple school has been built nearly to completion, we are in need of $1,500 US to finish the building. In addition to this, there is no money for school curriculum for this year which would cost $250.00. Also, DLK is unable to pay their staff! These five dedicated teachers, one cook and custodian are working for free as they believe that strongly in educating the youth. The monthly wages to support all seven staff members is $530.00. How you can help:  Sponsor the purchase of the school curriculum Your one-time or recurring donation

I will stop here. This is an incomplete list but three of the most pressing needs. I will share others in a future post. I give you my solemn promise that every dollar you donate will go directly to the ministry need with no overhead cost deducted whatsoever. You can donate for a specific cause or you can make a general donation and we can share what we do with it.

Love. The greatest gift we can offer. We need you to help share love with others. So will you please? I hope you say yes and I am awaiting your reply. Please message me at karenmichaelle@icloud.com, via blog comment or send your donation now via PayPay to karmib@msn.com. (If possible, please round your donation up by the 3.1% service fee) Thanks so very much from the bottom of my heart and the hearts of the amazing people of Kenya.

Nawapenda! (I love you all)

Hope

If I could use one word to share why I left my traditional life behind and came to Kenya it would be this: Hope.

Many years ago, I lacked hope. In fact, I was in such despair after my unexpected and heart-shattering second divorce that I thought I would never feel anything but despair. When I looked at how my life had been up until that moment, my wake of relational-failures and my downward spiral into self-disdain left me feeling utterly hopeless about my future. But I was wrong. After seeking for years, nearly my whole life really, to find that which my inner heart and soul needed most–in relationships, in substances, in so many things–I found the real solution to my need. Or I should say, my solution finally got my attention. Christ.

There is a Scripture in the Book of Hebrews that describes this so perfectly:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. Hebrews 6:19-20 

In hindsight, I actually knew that God had been tracking me for some time; trying to get my attention. But I was running, wanting to do life “my” way; not live by some sort of rules. It sounded like foolishness to me. But as I finally admitted doing life my way was not working for me, and I began “kicking the tires” of Christianity a bit, it wasn’t long before I realized it was me who had been so foolish. I accepted Christ and my life has never been the same. Yielding my desires to seek the way God instructs his children to live — for their own benefit — has resulted in the most dramatic personal transformation for me. Those who know me well know how true this is. Today, hope always prevails.

So it’s that hope, God’s hope, that brings me to Kenya. I am not here to convince others of Christ…that is God’s job. But what I am here to do is to share the hope I found in Christ. My primary call is to teach, encourage and equip women in the faith. This strengthens them to live lives better-rooted in God’s truth, which then influences their families and so on. And that is primarily what I have had the privilege to do. In fact, since arriving on August 25, I have already shared messages of hope and God’s love and promise at fifteen events with many more to come. This is such a privilege of great blessing. The women here are often abused and mistreated and they are so eager for a word of hope. My heart expands every time I get to share God’s hope. Why? Because I am a firm believer that we all need it. Regardless of the status or condition of our lives–even if we are wildly successful from society’s standards–I am convinced that in each of our souls, there is a place that is God-shaped that only He can fill.

When hope fills the darkness, we’re then also able to look outside of ourselves and help others. There is something remarkable that happens in our own spirit when we do. In my next blog, I’ll share some of the tangible things I’ve done to help those in need here in Kenya. I’ll also share how you can help bring hope to another. I hope you will read what I share, More than that, I hope you will respond to help. The needs are great. The workers are few. The resources are limited. But if many people do a little, it all adds up to something big; something life-changing for the one who so desperately needs to know that someone cares enough to step in the gap for them.

Hope. It’s why I’m in Kenya. Who else will join me?

Rejected

Junior is the sweet smiling boy on the right.
Junior is the sweet smiling boy on the right.

Most of us know how the sting of rejection feels. It comes to us in many forms, but regardless of how it comes, it always stings. Today, I got a first-hand look at one of the most tragic examples of total rejection in the life of others. It’s been twenty-four hours since I experienced it, and still I am feeling stunned. It is rare for me to be at a loss for words, yet I am finding it hard to write this, even now. What hurts even more is that very young children are involved.

On Monday, I had the opportunity to travel with Pastor Paul Odari and his wife Mary, of Divine Life Kenya, to the town of Kitale, the larger town near where I’m staying. I guess you could say Kitale is the equivalent of a small town big city. The reason for going to Kitale was actually a positive one. Twice monthly, as one of his ministries, Pastor Paul and his leaders feed children who are total orphans on the streets of Kitale. Essentially, this means that their parents decided for various reasons to abandon their child to live on the street, alone, to fend for themselves. Some were as young as babies when street life became their new normal.

When we first rounded a corner entering the town, one of the first things that struck me was something Pastor Paul said. We could see a group of boys hanging around on the side of the road. Pastor Paul pointed them out and said “there is my family.” I could tell he meant it. Pastor Paul has such a sincere, loving and passionate heart for those who are in need. Most especially hurting women and children. In an earlier trip into town, the boys instantly spotted him and ran up to talk to him. He was fatherly, assuring them of when they would see him again. I can tell by their response that they know Paul is a man of his word. He is.

So on this most-recent trip into town, it is time for the meal distribution to orphans. We go through a small restaurant, exiting the back into an outdoor area and there I see them. Boys. Paul’s boys. I would guess maybe 20 of them, thought Paul estimates there are as many as a thousand boys and girls living on the streets of Kitale. The boys are instantly happy to see Paul and react with surprise when they see me, several coming up to me to say hello and shake my hand. These boys look as you would expect abandoned children on the street to look. Their clothes are a mismatch of whatever they can find. Most are in bad repair, torn and all are very dirty. I would guess their average age to be ten years old, maybe a bit older.

While they are eagerly awaiting their lunch, possibly the only real meal they’ve had since the last time Pastor Paul fed them, they are rough-housing. There is one boy in particular who catches my eye. I later find out he is called Junior. He is one of the smaller boys and the others are picking on him. At one point, he is pinned under a pile and one of the bigger boys bends Junior’s hand back really far until he starts to cry. I felt so bad for him.

When I pull out my camera, the boys get very excited to have their picture taken and to see what they look like. I take a few photos and then, Junior comes up. Of course, I already have a stronger affinity for him since he is an apparent underdog in this group. I ask him if I can take his picture and he breaks out in the most beautiful smile. This sweet, precious, smiling face is the one that was streaming with tears, just a few minutes before.

I notice that most of the boys are toting around these little bottles. The look like a small bottle of alcohol. I inquire about this and Pastor Paul tells me that these are bottles of cheap glue. The kids sniff the glue to ease the pain of their circumstances. They are constantly sniffing their bottles while we are there. The only time they stopped sniffing was to eat. Who can blame them?

Around this time, food begins to be served. The boys eat as they are–ravenous. Their lunch is a full plate of food and I can tell it’s not going to take them long to finish their meal. Junior is one of the last boys to be served. I am watching him as he gets started eating. He doesn’t get very far before an older boy strolls over and swoops nearly all of the food from Junior’s dish. He immediately starts to cry. Their overseer does not see this happen so I can’t help but to rise to his defense. I told Paul what happened and he was able to get Junior another plate of food. He is brought inside to sit with another Pastor, Titus, to be sure he is able to eat. I find out later from Titus that he sat with Junior the whole time. They chatted and Junior asked why Pastor Titus could not take him home with him. If only it were that simple. Most of the pastors I have met here already have several children that are not their own living with them, but the means to continue to provide for more and more children are limited.

We leave soon after this. I’m devastated at what I just saw. I think of my own son when he was around Junior’s age and I simply cannot imagine my child in this situation, completely fending for himself on the streets, day and night. How must it feel to be so rejected, so unloved, so afraid? What is it like to dig through garbage to try to find something to silence your empty stomach? Even worse, what other horrors do they face in their vulnerability?  I had to work hard to hold my tears when I was with the boys but as soon as we get outside, I can barely breathe and start to cry. If I had not been in public, my cry would have been an agonizing wail. I’m just heartbroken.

I asked Paul about any social services or options for these boys; no such thing currently exists; they are truly on their own. Paul’s goal is to set up a boys home in Sikhendu, near his home and church, where they boys can be taken completely away from their current situation, rehabilitated, restoring hope. If I had the means, I would immediately get those boys into temporary housing and fund the restoration house that Paul has planned.

Last night, it started to rain and of course, my mind was on these boys, especially on Junior. Where was he? What was he experiencing? What will the future be like if no one intervenes for these young ones in a big way? I pray that God will call up just the right people to start making this right. Many people do have the means. Maybe it is many people doing some. All I know is that has to happen. Soon. If you can help in any way, please message me @ karenmichaelle@icloud.com. Thanks.

Called

This subject of this post has been in motion for a long time — since June of 2013 in fact. It was then that I had to back out of my commitment of co-leading a mission team to Zimbabwe. I’d agreed to that trip for the opportunity to minister to women as part of our visit; also the reason I participated on a team to Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2012. So when an ongoing issue with health caused me to step out of this trip, I asked God what He wanted me to do next. He told me to “focus on His daughters.” He had already impressed upon me that I was to serve in women’s ministry. But this time, He seemed to be adding emphasis that I was to focus on His daughters as my priority. I committed to Him that I would hone my focus and wait to hear what purpose he was calling me to next, as talked about in the book of Romans, verse 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

In August 2013, I learned that my church was considering sending a women’s team on mission to Africa in 2014 and I was asked to consider leading. Of course, I was very excited at the thought of leading a team that would focus on women. What I didn’t expect was the strong reaction I had in my spirit when I heard the country the team would be visiting this time — Kenya. I had never been there, never even thought of going there really. Yet I just knew there was more for me in Kenya beyond the mission trip…but what?

By January 2014, the mission trip was confirmed, the process of selecting the team members was underway which, combined with my full-time corporate job, kept me very busy. I had not really thought much further about what the “more” in Kenya was supposed to look like. But then, on February 1, I received an inquiry through my ministry website – A Journey of Faith. The email explained that this person had come across my website, here is a snippet of that email:

 Dear of God Karen,

It is by the grace to have come across you and learn of the great things the Lord is doing with you in enhancing His kingdom. Very much touched and interested in working together with you as we GO FOR THEM.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

I am always excited to receive ministry-related communication and this was such a nice message. But what really caught my eye more than anything was who sent the email; a pastor totally unknown to me — from Kenya. I was curious, of course, especially as I knew there was no way this person could have known about my sensing about Kenya. Still feeling a bit guarded, I responded kindly, yet conservatively, inquiring how it was this pastor had found me. Here is some of what he said:

You have asked on how we came across you, its a miracle sister. I had just been talking with my wife Mary about ministry and thinking of many names in spirit. It has been our prayers of many days the Lord to connect us with saints In His service. And here is when the name Karen came in our mind, and we Google searched Karen ministries and we found you!! praise the Lord. 

Now, we count this to be divine connection! For before the foundation of this of this planet the Lord had this plan with Him. we request that you come as we work together. Your testimonies encourages so much. you need to come sister Karen.

Wait, what? They wanted me to go there. Wow! His words alone touched my heart in such a profound way. What was especially puzzling was that my ministry website address was not Karen ministries. I bet you can guess what I did next. Yep! I Googled it myself, just to see. Did my website come up? No, indeed. I heard myself ask out loud, God, is this you?

What followed was months of communication and relationship-building with Pastor Paul Odari of Divine Life Kenya. I also had the opportunity to talk with another woman from the U.S. who knows Paul personally. She assured me of what I had been sensing for myself; Paul is an honest man of God with a sincere desire to minister to the women of Kenya. Paul invited me to visit Kenya to serve as the key-note speaker at his 6th annual women’s conference. While I knew I wanted to do so, I also began feeling that I was meant to spend more than a short time in Kenya. But how could I do this?

It was around that same time that the amount of passion I was investing into corporate life was really beginning to weigh on my heart. I was really enjoying what I was doing, more than any job I had previously held. I was at the height of my career with more room to grow. But while that was appealing, at the end of the day, the fact that all my efforts were not benefiting people in an eternally meaningful way was making me increasingly uneasy. I’d long sensed that God was calling me to full-time ministry at some point, but was beginning to experience a growing sense of what has been called “holy discontent” with the deep need of so many women to hear about God’s restoration and hope.

I lamented about this to a friend, sharing with her that I felt I was supposed to remain in Kenya for a season, to really invest in the women there for more than a few days. I’d even looked at the option of taking a short-term leave. But the only thing that seemed to make spending a season in Kenya possible was to leave my job. I considered how to approach this topic with my boss, a man I deeply respected, just to see what other options there might be without shooting myself in the corporate foot.

Before I even had a chance to decide how to approach this conversation, God showed me that He already had a plan in motion. In an unexpected turn of events, during a routine conversation with my boss, I sensed there was a previously unknown option that I could initiate to resign my job while maintaining some of my security for an extended period of time. I knew without a doubt that God was opening this door and this is what I was supposed to do. So in February, I resigned from my corporate position, one I had invested nearly twenty years to build, to serve in full-time women’s ministry.

I did what? Oh yes, I did. And from a human logic perspective, this made no sense at all! Yet I have never felt so at peace about anything. In fact, I’m experiencing the exceptional peace described in Philippians 4:7:

 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

There are many things I do not know. What I do know is that I did not leave the security of my corporate job for one with a regular salary, nor do I have unlimited resources stored up in the bank. But God has always provided for me, even through many financially nail-biting years of single motherhood. I also know He has in mind for me to increase my efforts to do what he Has created and called me to do, and what I am passionate about, which is the write and teach women about who He is and how much He loves them.

With the June mission trip to Kenya now behind me (yes, I got to meet Paul!) I will return to Kenya on August 20, where I will serve alongside Paul and Mary with Divine Life Kenya through November. I will concurrently be writing the first of many Bible studies for women that God has impressed upon my heart, with the goal of publishing this first edition in early 2015.

So like me, maybe you are wondering why God choose me for this? I’m just a simple girl, saved by Faith in Christ. Before God’s transforming power came into my life, my life was a mess. But He has redeemed all of that and set me on a new path. I know there is still more for me to learn and ways I need to grow. So my answer to this question about why me? I believe God knew I meant it when I told Him I would do whatever He called me to do and that I had stopped holding my breath while waiting for Him to reveal to me what that would require. In my case, this next step has required a gigantic leap of faith. While I did it, I still feel a little like I am also watching God’s plan unfold. I am very excited to see what He will do and I want to be a part of it.

I’ll continue to post updates on what we are doing in Kenya, and I hope you will follow my blog and share your comments and especially your prayers with me!

Blessings and peace to you.

Roots

In recent months, a potted tree in my garden had grown really large. While it had formerly been taking it’s time to grow, it seemed that overnight, it had grown very fast and the canopy had gotten enormous. Upon further inspection, I came to realize that though potted, the tree root had found it’s way through the pot drain hole, then rooted into the ground itself. Though the increased canopy size caused the tree to begin leaning, the root was so secure, the tree remained upright. Kind of how our ability to remain upright is also influenced by how we are rooted.

Colossians 2:6 tells us that once we accept Christ Jesus as our Lord, we are to let our roots grown down into Him and to build our lives on Him. It is from Jesus that we gain our strength for life, whatever may come. This is the source I have drawn from many times when faced with adversity or heartbreak. It is from this source that many are able to demonstrate incredible peace and grace in some of the most horrific circumstances.

The more I grow in my faith, and deepen my relationship with God, the more that the superficiality that often accompanies faith grieves me. Why? One reason is that the world sees it. We can proclaim to be Christians, but when our behavior does not reflect the identity of Christ — He who Christians are to model our lives after — it causes others to disregard His beauty because they attribute our ugly behavior to Christ. My heart breaks when this can describe me.

So many people who proclaim to be Christians approach faith like a box to be checked every Sunday, then live their lives as everyone else does during the week. I know…I used to be one of them.

But I have learned there is so much beauty in the authentic depths of faith. The more I have truly yielded my life, not just my Sundays, to Christ, the more I have experienced the greater depths of who God really is. And He is remarkable! I have been a born-again believer since 1995. That term — born again — used to really sound freaky to me. But Jesus himself actually used these words to describe a spiritual rebirth:

John 3:3: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Rebirth to something new is the whole point. Authenticity starts when we recognize that we cannot try to live like Jesus, who demonstrates strength, grace, mercy, peace and so many other amazing things, if we do not start with a spiritual rebirth and go deep with Him. We must choose for ourselves who we will follow. Then, we must learn about who He really is and what He says by studying the Word, allowing him into all the dark places we try to hide. It just won’t work if we are not authentic. It is not meant to.

The inauthenticity of trying to live like this is usually pretty obvious. People play their role, say all the right things, demonstrate the motions, yet their lives do not reflect an authentic reflection of the Savior. Here too, I speak from experience having been like this before. What about this demonstration of faith would cause someone to want to know more about Jesus? What indeed.

Sadly, when we try to “do” faith, not only are we not good representatives of the beauty of God, but we also cheat ourselves out of the most beautiful, life-altering relationship we would have if we chose to live an authentic life of faith. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes this so beautifully:

“Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!”

It just doesn’t get better than that.

So back to that tree for a moment. Because I knew that leaving it where it was would become problematic, I had it transplanted. While it seemed secure, this morning when I was out in the garden, I realized that it had completely fallen over. Why? Because the tree roots were no longer deep, rather, they were shallow. At first glance, it looked strong and beautiful. But it had no depth to keep it upright. And so it can be with us.

Kindness

Kindness. One simple action, capable of such significant impact. I wonder if like me, when recalling the last time someone showed you unexpected kindness, you remember being caught by surprise. Sadly, it seems that people simply being kind because they choose to be has become the exception and not the norm in our busy, self-focused world.

Maybe this is why when hearing positive human interest stories, we’re often so touched by them. They offer encouragement that the human race is still more decent than it often seems to be. Many people are familiar with the Scripture that speaks of how we are to treat others:

Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Treat others as we want to be treated. That verse really sums it up quite simply. But do we regularly do this when our only motive is to be kind?

The good news is that every day, we encounter at least one opportunity — likely many more — for intentional kindness. Recently, I saw a wonderful example of someone who truly went out of their way to be kind.

A man in an electric wheel chair was crossing the street and when he was only part way across, his chair completely stopped working. Here he was, clearly disabled, and the chair would not budge. He had to climb out, on two very crooked and precarious legs, to push the chair across the crosswalk. I imagined he felt so vulnerable and embarrassed. It broke my heart to witness it unfolding. Even more so that I was not in the right place to help.

The good thing is that there were many cars stopped at the light. I just prayed out loud “somebody help him!” Thankfully, a woman ran up and helped him push the chair to the other side. I was so proud of her and so grateful! I honked and waved, mouthing “thank you” to her when I passed. She smiled back.

Clearly when more obvious opportunities like this come to us, most people I know would rush to help. But what about all of the other less than obvious times we have to extend intentional kindness, every day?

These opportunities present themselves in small, seemingly unimportant ways. For example, greeting service clerks warmly, allowing other cars to merge, saying please and thank you and truly meaning it, or smiling as we actually make eye contact. It may not seem like much. But to the recipient, it may make all the difference between a good day and a bad day; feeling seen or unseen…maybe even the decision to choose life for someone who felt invisible before you came along and offered them encouragement. Sound dramatic? The impact of simple kindness can be.

Even though extending kindness should be done without any expectations of receiving in return, the truth is that the giver is often left feeling great and sometimes, even benefits tangibly too.

A personal example of this is with my 80 year old neighbor, Bob. I love to garden and a few years back, I was out in the early morning planting flowers and saw that his little flower bed in front of his house was sorely in need of some freshening up. So I walked over and planted flowers there for him. To me, it was simple and I loved doing it. To him, this was a big deal…he was so touched and so happy. That alone made me feel great. But guess who now takes my trash cans to the curb every week. Yep, Bob. He walks with a cane and can only see with one eye. But every weekend, he insists on doing this for me. Kindness…multiplied.

Beyond being kind to others because it is the right thing to do, Hebrews 13:2 tells us “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Maybe even angels in wheel chairs and 80 year old neighbors.