Monday, December 05, 2005

Kenya Email Update #12

I’m alive!

So that should put to rest any doubts you might have. I haven’t been shot, poisoned, thrown off a cliff or, despite the popular rumor, eaten by a camel.

But I have just returned from an exhausting, arduous and absurdly uncomfortable two week trip to the desert. We visited desert villages and experienced missionary life in one of the most hostile environments on earth. Being eaten by a camel would have been a lot more fun. But whatever the difficulties, I made it through and lived to tell the tale. Here’s what happened…

On November 18th, we took a bus to the desert city of Garissa. As we rolled along, the same thought kept running through my head. “What have I done?” Because of my insistence on experiencing village life before leaving Kenya, I was doomed to live for two weeks in a place that makes hell seem chilly. A place so hot that flies sit panting on the wall after flying across the room.

Traveling with me was Boniface, a Nairobi University student. He was part of Mavuno’s first Foundations Class, and the only person brave (or crazy) enough to come along. At one point during the bus ride, I noticed that we both wore the same expression of hopelessness and despair. I would have felt really guilty for bringing him if I wasn’t so distracted by the pain in my stomach.

That’s right. I was sick. For two whole days before leaving, I had been lying on my bed reliving the wonderful intestinal infection I had enjoyed back in February. Now, as the bus flew over speed bumps and swerved to miss goats on the road, I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming.

After six hours of travel, we arrived in Garissa. The first thing I noticed after stepping off the bus was how filthy the city is. The roads are literally paved with trash. Well, trash and cow dung. It’s funny. Because there is absolutely no grass, the cows and goats wandering the city eat whatever they can find. Trees, bamboo, tomatoes… I saw one cow chewing on a plastic bag.

This is where we spent the first four days. We lived with a Kenyan pastor who is trying to make headway in the thoroughly Muslim community (there are over one hundred mosques in Garissa alone!). He was supposed to take us around and orient us to the culture of the place. Which is what he did… I guess.

You see, the pace of life is so slow there that we spent most of our time sitting around, fanning ourselves and staring off into space. For example, one day’s schedule was “At seven, we’ll eat breakfast. Then, in the afternoon, we’ll visit a man who lives down the street.” Yeah. That was it. A full day.

Every hour felt like a day. Every day felt like a week. With the heat, the sickness and the boredom, I was miserable. We had no running water or electricity, and the only toilets were holes in the ground. Each night I woke up five or six times bathed in sweat with mosquitoes buzzing around my head, the useless mosquito net (with several large holes in it) stuck to my skin and my “pillow” (a rolled up Massai blanket) soaked through with sweat.

After four endless days of misery, we finally traveled to a nearby village called Madogo. We spent six days there, living in a Kenyan missionary training school. The weather was a bit cooler and my sickness had finally abated, but there was still very little to do. I spent so much time daydreaming about home that eventually I ran out of stuff to think about. So I started re-runs of my daydreams. It was that bad.

After staying for about a week in Madogo, we prepared to travel to Mulanjo, a small village 10 miles into the bush. We were going to be taking a flat-bed Land Rover that makes the journey once a day. When the vehicle pulled up to the stage, I was a bit confused. You see, it was already full. Bags of maize, boxes of supplies and two hundred jerry cans roped onto the back…

Imagine my surprise when everyone sitting around us began scrambling onto the top for a seat. We climbed up ourselves, trying to settle in among the other passengers. Boniface was sitting on a rail, holding on for dear life, and I was leaning off the back, hoping the jerry cans would support my weight. A man was sitting on my lap. In total, there were 23 people miraculously seated on the top! That doesn’t even include the 5 people sitting in the front seat. It was insane.

After about thirty minutes of re-shuffling and settling in, we finally started to roll. And then, the most ironic thing happened. In a place that gets rain a few days every year, it started to pour. Yeah. A heavy shower in the middle of the desert. And we were sitting on top of a Land Rover. Of course, the problem wasn’t getting wet. It was the fact that now, the road was one giant stretch of mud and wet sand. We got stuck at least six times, requiring all of us to jump out and push. Talk about cruel irony!

After two hours, we arrived in Mulanjo soaking wet and exhausted. Luckily, the following four days were not nearly as long or boring as the ones before. I mean, we still sat around a ton, but we were getting really good at it by that point. Plus, the couple we stayed with had an adorable baby girl that kept us entertained.

The day before we were to leave, the Land Rover never came. Of course, Boniface and I started picturing another week spent in the desert, desperately waiting for a vehicle back to civilization. That wasn’t exactly our idea of a good time. So, when I jokingly said “You wanna walk back?”, and when Boniface replied “Yes,” we knew what we were going to do.

We set off at 6:30am the following morning. Walking back to Madogo. As I mentioned before, it’s a little more than 10 miles… through the desert. But we weren’t dismayed by the distance, or the heat, or the sand. We were headed home. And that’s all that mattered. After four and a half hours, we arrived. All that was left was one more night and a bus ride back to Nairobi. We had come to the end of our journey.

Three days later, I’m wondering if it was real, or all just a dream. I’m surrounded by wonderful luxuries like electricity and real toilets. It’s hard to imagine that one week ago I was sitting on a mat under the stars, eating ugali with my hands…

I can’t help but stare at the calendar in disbelief. In less than two weeks, I’m leaving Kenya. This incredible year of spiritual growth is drawing to a close. In a way, I feel like enduring the desert somehow earned me the right to go home. It was like a final exam for all the things I learned this year. Well, I passed the exam. Now I’m gearing up for my return…

I want to thank all of you who stuck with me through this experience. The year has honestly flown by. It has been amazing to know that so many people were praying for me through it all. Thanks for reading my updates and writing me emails. Thanks for taking care of my family while I was away. And thanks for not selling all my stuff to a pawn shop.


See you in 13 days!


p.s. While I was gone, I grew a beard. When I got back and finally saw myself in a mirror, I shaved it off immediately. I looked like a serial killer. :)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Mombasa Re-visited

Last weekend, Will and I took a night bus to the coast for a two day, budget vacation. Now, when I say budget, I mean BUDGET. With a capital everything.

It took us an hour to find a place to eat breakfast. We ended up at this really sketchy bar with waiters who didn’t understand much of anything we said (I guess they translate “We would like coffee please” into “Get us tea! And take as long as you want!”).

From there, we took a matatu up north to Watamu (the coastal village where we stayed). The ride wasn’t all that bad, except for the fact that in the front seat were about 10 cardboard boxes full of baby chickens chirping their heads off. For the first hour, I was thinking about how many animal rights activists would have been furious to see so many chicks crammed into those little boxes. By the second hour, however, I was planning to throw the boxes out the window and end the incessant chirping. Forget the activists!

In Watamu, we stayed in this tiny, run-down room that cost the equivalent of two grande lattes at Starbucks. It was really, um… nice. You see, the screen on the window only had one fist sized hole in it. The sheets smelled bad, but it was clear that they had been washed at some point. Oh, and the giant wood-beaver sized cockroaches were actually quite friendly!

But oh, the ocean was worth it… Right beyond our door was a sandy path leading to giant coral cliffs and a beautiful blue lagoon, where happy Italian men went swimming in their disgustingly small Speedos. Ok, we could have definitely done without the Italians. But otherwise, the beach was amazing!

Oh yeah, I am a BIG fan of the Kenyan coast now. I thought that my trip down with Chris in June had shown me all there was to see. Man was I wrong! Good times!!!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Good news, bad news...

Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.

The good news is, our house is finally starting to come together. I now have a bed, curtains and sheets! Granted, the bed is a little too big for my mattress, the curtains don’t completely cover the window and the sheets feel like the ones they have in hospitals. But hey… they exist!

Also, our pantry is beginning to fill up. Now we can have bread with peanut butter and jam!

But here’s the bad news… We haven’t had water in a week. That means we can’t use our new gas cooker, because all our dishes are filthy!

Oh, and one more thing. A bunch of cows walked past my window this morning. Not sure if that’s good new or bad news…

I think there might be an ancient tale about a heard of legendary cows that bestow blessings of abundant running water and comfortable sheets to all who gaze upon the gentle herd.

Or maybe it was the one about the abundant cow dung that now litters the road I walk down every day. Can’t remember…

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Kenya Email Update #11


Here I am, writing to you again. I mean honestly, can time really be going this fast? I freaked out the other day when I suddenly sprouted a nearly full beard. It took me almost two minutes to realize that I had actually shaved days before. Still a little shaken up about it though…

Anyway, where to begin? So much stuff has happened since I last wrote. I suppose the biggest news right now is that I finally moved into a new house. This was supposed to happen back in July, but hey…

Those of you who have seen my blog recently know that it hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk. Because the five of us are such poor bachelors, we’re living in hilariously destitute conditions. For furniture, we’re sporting mattresses on the floor and a couple of plastic chairs. We have yet to buy a cooker, refrigerator, table, couch, or desks. I did find a plunger the other day for around a buck. That was exciting…

So far, we’ve been surviving on sliced bread and peanut butter, boiled water and coffee. Lots of coffee. Oh, and the kiosk outside our gate has some really good chapatis and mandazis (which, if you read email #6, you would know that I love…). So I’m not starving or anything (but I’m not gaining too much weight either!).

There have been countless problems with the water supply. Either our pump is broken, or the city is fixing the pipes or the running-water gods have frowned upon us… Ice cold bucket baths, 45 second showers, shaving with one cup of water… I don’t know why we’ve had such bad luck, but I know one thing – I’m definitely learning to appreciate the little luxuries of life.

Now, I’m not going to be one of those guys who says “Oh, I’ll never take running water for granted again…” because I know it won’t be true. Seriously. Give me a week back in the states and I’ll be enjoying 5 hour showers every morning. But the whole experience has definitely given me a new perspective.

For the first time in my life, I’m really (I mean really) looking at the prices of things in the grocery store, and picking the cheapest stuff. My parents will be shocked when I get home and instinctively buy stuff like Bran-o-Wheat cereal because I can save 17 cents. Like I said… a new perspective.

Hmmm… I don’t know if this is related, but I'm becoming scared at how patient I am now. It’s a character change that totally snuck up on me. I can’t figure out when the change actually happened. When I got here, I used to wring my hands and get all upset about every little delay (like any good American), then all of a sudden I became really patient. Weird.

Just the other day I was in the middle of a terrible traffic jam, after being in the matatu for almost 25 minutes. That's when I realized that I hadn't once worried about when I'd get there, I hadn't once thought about alternate ways to get there faster, and I didn't once start fiddling with stuff in my bag. I just... sat there. Perfectly content to spend the time thinking. Cool huh? Hope I can keep that going back in the States!

The first Mavuno Church Foundations Class has come to an end. This was the new-believers class I mentioned briefly in my last email. I was sort of the administrator for the class. That meant that I had to run all over town looking for biscuits and lugging mountains of photocopies up Mamlaka Road (you feelin’ me GCC team?). Though it was a lot of work, I had a blast. Plus, I made a lot of good friendships through the class that will undoubtedly continue for years.

There was one amazing experience with the class that I just have to write about – the Foundations Class retreat. On the last night of the retreat, we had time for everyone to gather and share testimonies around a campfire. I was amazed at how much God had done with the class. It seemed like everyone there had something to say! But the truly jaw-dropping part of the night didn’t begin until Pastor Muriithi and Pastor Simon anointed each of the class members with oil (symbolizing the Holy Spirit)…

I was praying quietly in my seat when I heard a yell. I looked up just as the girl Pastor Muriithi was anointing fell over onto her back, shouting out in tongues! Um yeah, I was a little shocked. That sort of stuff only happens on TV right? Not with people I know!

Just as I was thinking that, another guy fell over. Then Pastor Simon asked me to stand behind the others to make sure they wouldn’t fall into the fire!!! Here’s me, never having seen anything like this in person before, catching people as they fell over in the Holy Spirit. Three people fell, some were trembling and shouting prayers, others were bawling their eyes out… It was, to say the least, a powerful moment.

At that time, I felt God telling me to receive prayer as well, so I went up to Pastor Simon. When he finished praying over me, I went off into the darkness. As I was leaning against a tree speaking to God, something hit me. I began to weep. The more I reflected on the things God had done for me this year, the more I lost control.

The other thing that made me lose it was the recent calling God has put on my life. As many of you know, I quit Moody Bible Institute with only a year of school left. I walked away confused, cynical and rebellious. My spiritual life was flat-lining. It was only by God’s power that I was able to get myself here to Kenya. But now, after this incredible and life-changing year, I feel that God wants me to return to Moody!

That’s right. God is calling me to go back to the environment that almost killed my spiritual life, to help the other students avoid my mistakes, and to put into practice all the things I’ve learned. He also wants me to begin a massive movement of purity on the campus, to change the face of the student body from the inside! I’ll be going back with a purpose.

Can you see why I was weeping? Not only has God completely changed my life… he now wants to use me to change the lives of others! In the darkness that night I kept asking God “Why me? What have I done to deserve your blessing???” The gentle answer I kept receiving was “Because I love you and want to use you. You are my son!”

I don’t know how long I sat there, but when I came back to the campfire I was completely spent. I shared all of this with the others, committing myself to this course of action. A few days later, I sent out a prayer update giving a more detailed description of this calling (If you’d like to read the update and/or be on my prayer list, let me know).

This calling is the real reason behind wanting a well-paying job for the next 6 months. I need to save up money so that at Moody I won’t have to work. I still haven’t found anything, so if you can help me find one, I’d greatly appreciate it!

Whew! Writing all of that got me worked up again! I’m so pumped about this whole thing. To add to the excitement, I’ve been hearing all about Grace’s “Imagine” campaign. I can’t wait to come back and be a part of it! With the Nairobi Chapel church plants gaining momentum and GCC really taking off on a new initiative, I’m getting to see God’s work in two continents at once! I love it.

Well, there you go. My longest email update yet. I told you that a lot has happened! I hope that you are all doing well and enjoying the first few weeks of Fall (as it becomes Summer over here!).

Be sure to stay in touch, and don’t hesitate to email me. Just be a little gracious if I don’t get back to you right away. My new house is a billion miles from anywhere, so I check email a lot less than I used to.

See you in 80 days!


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mavuno Kids!!!

Thought you guys might enjoy seeing a few pictures of the absurdly cute kids we have at Mavuno. Wish I could show them all!

Aren’t they the cutest?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Luxurious Decadence of Opulent Proportions

Well, we’re all moved in. Apart from the fact that we have no furniture (except for two plastic chairs and mattresses on the floor), no cooking utensils, no stove, and no curtains, we are living in veritable luxury!

Oh, and there is no running water, because the city decided to work on the water supply just as we were moving in. But other than that, we are living like kings!

Our first meal was a delectable feast! We had pasta and some random vegetable stew made by soaking it in boiled water until it was edible. Mmmm….

Here are a few pictures that will give you an idea of the absolute decadence we are enjoying!

Our comfortable sofa (also pulls out into a bed!)...

Our wide-screen TV…

My expansive bedroom…

Now you have a better idea of the opulent lifestyle I have begun. I know that at times, it’s a bit much, but I feel like I deserve it. I mean, I’ve really worked hard this year!


Enjoy your food and running water!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Well, it took months, but we finally found a place to live. On Saturday, I’ll be moving to South C. I’m going to be living with four other poor young bachelors. It’s going to be great!

At this point, I think we’ll be able to afford mattresses, but I’m not sure what else. I’m going to borrow a sleeping bag from Mo and Marcy. Hehe… I figure that if we ever have guests over, we can all drag our mattresses out into the living room and watch movies on my laptop.

I’m actually really excited about the whole thing. It’s sort of ironic that the first time I’ll be living on my own, forced to provide food for myself, will be in a distant country with a bunch of Kenyan guys!

Oh, one more thing to get excited about… On the other side of the wall of our compound is the National Park. Zebras, cheetahs, giraffes… all sorts of animals live out there! I told the other guys that we should have a competition. Some day we’ll all jump the fence naked, with raw meat draped over our bodies, and see how long we last. :)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

New logo!

Thought you might like to see our new logo. Mavuno means “Harvest” in Swahili (thus the wheat).

Now, I wanted our logo to have flaming ninjas chasing a monstrous horsebeast through a field of ripe grain, with the word “Mavuno” being spewed like fire from the mouth of a nearby dragon. But we decided that simplicity was probably better…

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Kenya Email Update #10

Wow. It feels like I haven’t written in years. Life has been a bit crazy around here. I didn’t really grasp just how busy I was until I looked at the time the other day, realizing to my dismay that it would be the third day in a row that I’d be eating lunch after 3:30pm!

I have now stopped counting how many months I’ve been here, and have begun the big countdown for my return home! As I’m writing this, I have less than 4 months left! It’s crazy to say, because it feels like I just got here. Only 112 days left until I get on the plane…

It’s been really tough recently, because I’ve been missing home a lot. As much as I love it here, I’m really feeling the loss of my family and friends! I think that after the GCC team left, I was vividly reminded of how much I missed everybody!

Oh, and even though I’m getting used to life here, I still can’t wait to enjoy all the conveniences of American culture again! My own car, a microwave that makes perfect popcorn every time, television with more than four channels… I’m probably going to weep the first time I load a webpage in under a minute! Yeah, it’ll be nice to live once more in a land where you actually have to work out to stay skinny (here, you just have to exist).

Of course, everything changes when you put it into perspective. Joy, one of my great friends from Moody, came to Nairobi for a few days after a short term trip to the north of Kenya. We got a chance to talk and hang out before she left for home. Her experience here made mine look so cushy! I mean, I’m “roughing it” by walking everywhere and drinking boiled water. She lived for two months in a hut, ministering to a people group that treats women like cattle, trekking through the desert to end an inter-tribal conflict with day-long prayer services.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had said that they lived off scorpion meat and rainwater. When she asked me what the toughest part of my experience has been, I was like, “Well, um… It’s been really tough, um… to work with people that aren’t as concerned with being on time… And when our electricity goes off I can’t use the microwave… Oh, and I can only check email once a day…” Hehe… You get the picture.

In other news, our church plant has finally taken off! We’re having our services down in South C and we have a new name... “Mavuno Church.” Mavuno means “Harvest” in Swahili. It reflects our desire to reach the surrounding community with the gospel. This challenging vision was made even more clear on our first Sunday…

After our service, we were taking a group photo on the bleachers of the soccer field (our venue is a sports club). As the congregation was getting assembled, the nearby mosque began blaring the mid-day call to prayer. When everyone finished their nervous laughter, other mosques in the area began adding to the call. I don’t know who else thought this, but I was struck by such a tangible reminder for our purpose in the community.

The following week, a large group of fully garbed Muslims began playing soccer and having relay competitions outside during our service. We clearly have our work cut out for us!

There are an average of 420 people attending each Sunday, but we hope to see that number double by December. We actually have a goal of bringing 400 people to salvation by the end of 2005! That, of course, would be completely impossible without God’s help. Here’s another lesson I’ve been learning here… how to be a faithful visionary. I’ve learned to stop asking God for little things and to start expecting big results instead!

Quite a departure from the way I used to pray (if I prayed at all)… “Dear God, can you please help John to become a Christian, or at least to maybe be nicer? If you have the time of course…” Now the same prayer would be more like “God, I know it’s your will for John to be saved. But I want you to go farther. I want you to make John into a pastor!” Definitely a step in the right direction…

One of the coolest new ministries at Mavuno is our involvement at a nearby prison. The Nairobi Remands Prison is a dilapidated, colonial era jail built to hold 300 inmates. It holds 5000. The most depressing thing is that over 60% of the prisoners have not yet been convicted. Because the legal system in Kenya has so many issues, people thrown in jail without money for bail can wait even years to go to trial. That’s right. Hundreds of innocent men wallow in this run-down jail under inhuman conditions, simply because the courts are so slow and inefficient.

Even in this dark place however, there is a spark of light that provides the prisoners with hope for the future. The light I’m referring to is the inmate-led school that seeks to teach prisoners elementary courses and basic technical skills (computers, mechanics, etc.). To support this school, Mavuno has donated hundreds of textbooks and materials for upgrading their classrooms. The other day, we took our new believers class to paint the classrooms and pray with prisoners. All I can say is ‘wow.’ Mavuno Church is going places that nobody can imagine!

So, yeah! My time in Kenya is still intense and life-changing. Even if I am pining for Starbucks coffee and meals with cheese in them! Ohhh… Cheese… How I long for thee! Before I know it, I’ll be home, wishing I could be back in Kenya! Funny how life works isn’t it?


Hey! I almost forgot… I have a big request to make of you! Since I will be home for six months before finishing school, I need to find a job! Maybe some of you know people (or are people) that are hiring. Here’s what I’m looking for:

-Contact with people (I need to be somewhere that I’ll be able to work a lot with other human beings… a.k.a. no courier or janitorial work!)
-Decent pay (Starbucks was awesome, but I didn’t make enough money! I’m looking for perhaps $9 or $10 an hour)
-Consistent schedule (I’d really like a reliable schedule that will allow me to practice my new disciplines, maybe 30-40 hours a week. Again, Starbucks was great, but my schedule was so random, I could barely convince my body that I was actually alive!)

I don’t know if you have anything in mind, but I’d love any suggestions you might have…


Ooh… One more big announcement:

I will be having an Instant Messenger chat session this Saturday, September 3. I’ll hop on at about 8:00am Indiana time and go for about an hour and a half. It’ll be open for anyone to join. My AOL IM name is ISlayWombats (I’ll try using the same name for MSN too, but I can’t guarantee that it’ll work). Hope to see you online!


Well, I’m on the home stretch now. If things keep going at this pace, the rest of the year will fly by, and in no time I’ll find myself on a plane bound for home. I’ll do my best to update my blog (, though I’m pretty bad at it when work is busy.

Have a wonderful September, and always remember… Stay Hydrated!


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My favorite thug...

Here are a couple more pictures of Wangai that I thought you’d enjoy… Tell me that he wouldn’t make the best gansta ever!

Oh, and here’s one of us going a little crazy with the camera… He cracks me up!

And how cute is this little one??? She’s Wangai’s younger cousin. Adorable!!!

Heads up for my latest Kenya Email Update! It’s in the works as we speak!

Thursday, July 28, 2005


I’m currently living in a house with two absolutely crazy boys. Let’s just say, they make life here interesting. Wangai, who turned four a few months ago is always coming up with some hilarious statements, and I started to keep track of them… Here are some of the funnier things he’s said. Enjoy!

*Don’t forget to read the italicized stuff… it really helps to give context!

Wangai: Uncle? What are you doing in there?
Uncle Barry: (sick with fever) Lying down, doing nothing…
Mo: Wangai, that was a question with no legs. Can you imagine a question with no legs? It doesn’t go anywhere.
(from a bedtime prayer)
Wangai: …and thank you for daddy, and my cousins, and for girls, who cry a lot, who cry like babies…and thank you for Jesus, who beats up Satan, and thank you for Uncle, and thank you for all the people in the world…
Uncle Barry: Wangai! Take your finger out of your nose! That’s rude.
Wangai: But it’s sticky!
(from another bedtime prayer)
Wangai: …Please Lord, help Spiderman’s eyes to not be so scary. And help him to run very fast. And help him to beat up all the bad people, who do bad things…

Wangai: Happy birthday to my muscles… happy birthday to my muscles…
Uncle Barry: Wow. That’s a cool car.
Wangai: (flying the car around the room) It is a flying car!
Uncle Barry: Does it go in water too?
Wangai: Yes, it goes in water and air and mud!
Uncle Barry: Even mud?
Wangai: Yes, and in water it goes so fast!
Uncle Barry: How fast?
Wangai: Like this… (driving car all over the bed) whishhhhhh…
Uncle Barry: How many miles per hour?
Wangai: (holds up 10 fingers) This many! A thousand hours!
Wangai: (at the dinner table) These are beans.
Uncle Barry: Where do beans come from?
Wangai: They come from cows.

Wangai: (wearing his lion costume) Lions can eat you! They take off your skin and eat your nyama!
Uncle Barry: They can? Wow!
Wangai: And they can eat houses!
Uncle Barry: Even houses?
Wangai: Yeah! And they can fly!
Uncle Barry: Lions can fly?
Wangai: Yes. They are strong.

*Nyama means “meat” in Swahili.
Wangai: (watching the Sound of Music, as the nuns are singing ''How do you solve a problem like Maria") They are mad at her. They want to kill her!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A stupid decision... an awesome retreat!

Well, I just got done with my second personal retreat (to read about my first one, check out Kenya Email Update #8). Like my last one, it was pretty dang amazing. Unfortunately, the “amazing” part didn’t really happen till last night and this morning (right before leaving). The rest of the retreat was pretty miserable…

You see, I made the brilliant decision to try fasting the whole time. 48 hours of only water. Of course, it sounded good on paper, but the longest I had ever fasted before was 30 hours back in Junior High. Hehe… Looking back it was a pretty stupid idea to go so long.

But I guess God still works through our stupid decisions. In fact, he did things for me that never would have happened if I had been eating the whole time!

Last night, as I was miserably swimming in and out of consciousness, desperately wishing for the retreat to be over, something clicked. I sat up in my chair, got a pen, and started journaling. The things that were written on the page totally surprised me. All of a sudden I was thinking logically, as if I was in my “zone” (which usually only happens after three cups of coffee).

I came up with some awesome next steps for the rest of this year. I had a clear vision of where I was headed and who I wanted to be when I left. Then, exhausted, I fell into bed. To describe what happened when I woke up, I’ll just copy straight from my next journal entry… (sorry for the length… I was really feelin’ it.)


Ok. So I gave in. When I woke up this morning I was miserable. My body was shaking uncontrollably, my head was spinning, and I honestly felt like I was in the midst of some terrible disease. Needless to say, it wasn’t my favorite experience ever.

So yeah. I went out to the dining hall (after a mindless and nauseating shower), and asked to have breakfast. Eggs and toast have never tasted so good. Believe me. I ate more than half of a loaf of bread and threw down two cups of coffee. Then I ran back to my bed, threw my Massai blanket over myself, and dozed as the food worked energy into my system.

When I woke up, I felt so much better. I grabbed the notebook on which I had written last-night’s thoughts and started praying over all my decisions. I prayed without interruption for 30 minutes! It was amazing! I actually sat there talking to God without letting my mind wander! Now, I don’t want to over-spiritualize the moment, but it honestly felt like God was right there, listening to me. Wow.

Right now I’m at Java, enjoying a wonderful lunch (burger and chips). In fact, I think I’ll go all the way. I’m getting ice cream (single scoop of course… don’t want to overdo it!).

As I look back on my retreat, I see a few interesting things emerging. As miserable as I was going without food for so long, I’m kind of glad I did it. Kind of! It did force me to rely on God and definitely taught me to appreciate food. Now, on my next retreat, I’m doing meals. It is hard to make serious life changing decisions when all I can do is stare off into space, barely engaging with reality…

But because I couldn’t do anything on my own, I believe that God gave me the insights I received. I think if I alone had been making those lists, they would have been something like 1) Yarp enoughly. 2) Find my do consistently 3) Happy my peoples between mountain goats…

As it was, however, I think I came up with some really good stuff. And my prayer this morning? Wow. I doubt it would have been so sincere if I was still fat n’ happy. So after all that, I think it worked out for the best. Or maybe God took my dumb decision and made the best out of it…

Whatever the case, I’m excited about what the next 5 and a half months have in store for me. It’ll be a wild, much-too-quick, life-changing, challenging and memorable time. Can’t wait!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Thinkin 'bout home...

Ok, so now that the GCC team is gone, I’ve been thinking about home a lot. Which is dumb, because it will be a good five or six months before I can actually get there! I’m trying to get my mind re-focused on Nairobi, but it’s hard.

I’ll be sitting in the matatu, when suddenly I feel the loss of video games intensely… or I’ll be walking through South C, when out of nowhere this urge for Starbucks coffee hits me… or the worst… longing for food items that don’t exist in Kenya! Do you have any idea how awful it is wishing for Lou Malnati’s pizza, when all you have in front of you is a steaming pile of ugali???

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being here. It’s an amazing experience! It’s just that… after having the GCC team here for two weeks, they sort of forced me to remember all of the things I missed! People talking about driving to church (mmm, driving…) or playing video games (mmm, Xbox…) or hanging out at night (mmm, being in a place where I can go outside after dark without the fear of being mugged...)… *sigh*

Honestly, I never thought I’d miss getting stuck in traffic on 465. I never knew how much I loved the old, squeaky wood floors in our house. Most of all, I totally took for granted the accessibility of my friends and family all the time! Hopefully this experience will teach me to value the little things that make my life what it is each day!

Ok, I’m done. I’ve got trees to climb, lions to kill and loincloths to make*. Man. It sure is tough being in Kenya!!!

*I do not actually wear loincloths. I do, however, kill a ton of lions. Seriously. All the time. With my bare hands.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kenya Email Update #9

June 2005. Without a doubt one of the most crazy, enjoyable, stressful, unique and surreal months of my life! In less than 30 days I drove through a herd of Cape buffalo, walked around a filthy slum with a kid I used to baby-sit, ate fresh lobster while staring out at the Indian Ocean, wandered through a strange Kenyan city with my old Xbox playing buddy and listened to a sermon by a guest preacher from a far away country (who also happened to be my dad). Hah! Just reading that sentence makes me laugh. Did it really all happen last month???

Yes. Yes it did. And I survived to tell the tale! Barely…

After a week and a half of crazy, last-minute preparations, June 11th was finally here. The chapel pastors and interns rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes, and drove out to the airport as the Saturday morning sun began to rise. What we met there was a sight that must have chilled the blood of the customs worker – 67 young Americans with bloodshot eyes and confused expressions, staggering off the plane into a country they’d never visited before! If it weren’t for the fact that I knew many of them, I too would have been paralyzed with fear!

A barrage of bleary-eyed greetings and hugs kicked off a trip that would deeply impact many young lives, affecting hundreds more in the process.

Now, there’s no way that I’ll be able to give a detailed account of the entire GCC team experience, so I’ll just give a really broad overview. The Grace team was divided among the five church plants of Nairobi Chapel. Each of the five teams did some similar activities, but had completely unique experiences. For example, all five churches had a slum visit day, but this looked completely different for each team. Our team (Mombasa Road) visited the congregation members of a church in the slums, while other teams helped at slum clinics and showed evangelistic films. You get the idea…

Of course, some of the differences were really unfair. Hehe… The meeting place for Mombasa Road was only a few minutes walking distance from just about everywhere in tightly packed South B and C. The Ngong road team however, had to walk roughly a billion miles each day (give or take a few). At the end of the week, all the members of that team could have easily walked from Grace to I-465 without even flinching! Seriously! They all had these weird, sculpted leg muscles that looked like the mannequins in some sporting goods store…

Each of the GCC team members (kids and adults alike) were hosted individually or in pairs by Chapel’s congregation members, which led to more than a few interesting stories. Some of the kids stayed in gigantic houses with like 30 guard dogs, roses decorating their room and hosts who would tuck them in at night. Other kids stayed in these tiny, run-down apartments that make inner-city Chicago look like Beverly Hills.

I believe the whole experience was life-changing for everyone involved. The Grace team was obviously impacted deeply by the things they saw and experienced. The Chapel staff was totally energized about the many new ministry opportunities offered by the GCC team’s presence. The Chapel congregation was also exposed to things they had never done before (most of our Chapel team had actually never been inside a slum!). The list goes on… I didn’t even mention the way this trip influenced financial supporters, families of team members and people in the communities where we worked all week! This was a huge event in the lives of both Grace Community Church and Nairobi Chapel!

Oh, and where do I even begin to describe all the things I personally felt, heard, experienced, and learned while the GCC team was here? For one, I discovered just how much I’ve changed in the past 6 months! Chris Yonan and David Byers (the only Mombasa Road team members who knew me before I left) were both surprised at how much I’ve grown.

I spent some real quality time talking and laughing with my family too! Lucy was part of the Ngong road team (she probably walks to church now!), and my parents came to discuss partnership issues with the Chapel pastors. I was amazed at how easily we picked up where we left off. As many of you know, my family is absurdly close (though absurdly small by Kenyan standards), so it was easy for us to reconnect and share.

During the second GCC week, the whole team (my family included) went out to Massai Mara for safari and debrief. The debrief was great. The safari was… not quite as great. We saw very few animals (it was off-season according to our driver) and spent our morning safari getting our van pulled out of the mud, imagining what safaris with real animals must be like…

On top of all that, our driver kept trying to make up for the lack of animals! Once we were cruising along, enjoying the view, when all of a sudden he slammed on the brakes (throwing us all over the place), pointed out the left window and nearly screamed “Look! Warthog!!!” We looked, straining our eyes to find this glorious animal. Finally, after almost giving up, I saw it… One of Kenya’s most majestic warthogs, walking along the horizon about 3000 miles away. Of course, at that distance, it could have been a Ravenous Rift Valley Horsebeast and I wouldn’t have known the difference… Good times!

Sadly, the GCC team left a couple days after Massai Mara, just as I was getting used to having them around! The whole experience felt at once like 3 months and 2 days! Does that make any sense? I was so sad to see them go so soon, but so relieved that we could get back to reality again. Our usual day-to-day stress was amplified into 2 weeks of veritable chaos (just imagine hosting, feeding, transporting and watching out for 67 Kenyans for two weeks and you’ll know how we felt)!

While the rest of the Chapel staff was unwinding and getting back to life-as-usual, I was hanging with Chris Yonan, who stayed in Nairobi for an extra week. We had a great time watching movies, eating food, riding matatus… and of course being really stupid (it’s good to know not much has changed between us!). Our trip to the coast was one of the best vacations of my life, but I won’t write about it here. If you want to read my account of our experience (as well as a few updates written about the GCC week), check out my blog ( The best option if you want information about our adventures would be just to go talk to Chris himself! You’ll find him wandering around Grace daydreaming about Mombasa and the most perfect beach in the world…

Well, that about brings me up to the present. As I write this sentence, I’m at a church planting team retreat. We’re vision casting, planning, and praying at this nice retreat center about an hour outside of Nairobi. In less than three weeks we’ll be moving to our new venue in South C! From that point on, we will be a completely independent congregation, handling every aspect of our church by ourselves. I’m so pumped!!!

I’ll be sure to update you more as things develop. For now, enjoy your blazing hot summer (We’re struggling through bitterly cold 65 degree weather right now! I think I’m turning Kenyan… You should have seen me blowing on my hands and jumping up and down as these Grace guys walked around in T-shirts!).

Anyway, gotta run! We’re meeting to discuss our volunteer raising strategy in 10 minutes! Keep in touch!


p.s. Thanks for all of you who have sent me pictures! It’s great to see all your smiling faces!

Monday, July 04, 2005


Last week, Chris Yonan and I did something we’ve been dreaming about for years. We went alone on an adventurous journey to the coast of Kenya! We had no plans, no reservations, and no knowledge of the city we’d be visiting. What came from such a last-minute, disorganized trip? The most adventurous, exciting and memorable vacation either of us has ever had! Here are a few of the stories that came from this crazy trip to Mombasa…

We didn’t want to dish out money for a plane, couldn’t take a train, and had no transportation of our own. So we decided to take an overnight coach bus that would drop us in Mombasa 8 hours after leaving Nairobi! Our seats on the way there were right over the back wheels (so we felt every single bump!). Chris slept because he can sleep anywhere, but I only dozed off a few times. Good times!

We arrived dead tired in a city we've never visited, vague directions in our hands, knowing only that we'd be spending the night at the house of a sister of a friend of a friend. A year ago, I would have curled up in a corner and cried. Now, however, being lost in some strange foreign city is an adventure! I led a sleepwalking Chris onto a matatu, hoping that it would get us where we needed to go…

Needless to say, we found the place without dying. We spent the day exploring Mombasa… Buying red bananas at a crowded market, wandering through the winding streets of “old town,” and exploring an old Portuguese fort that looks out over the water. We ended up sitting on one of the high walls, drinking freshly squeezed lime juice, and watching tug boats sail into the Indian Ocean. And yes, it was just that idyllic!

The next day, we took two matatus, a crowded ferry, and two more matatus (about an hour traveling time), to arrive at Diani beach. Our amazingly complex plan was to get there, find a place to stay, and stay there. I guess it worked, because 45 minutes later, we were staring out from the porch of our beach-side cottage at perfect white sands being washed by the beautiful blue-green ocean. Because it was off season for travelers, there was almost nobody on the beach. The picture below doesn’t do justice to the beauty of where we stayed!

Swimming in the Indian Ocean, eating fresh lobster at a gorgeous restaurant only feet from the water, and soaking up the eternally perfect view… I’ll be honest. It didn’t seem real. Chris and I kept looking at each other and laughing. How in the world did we find this place??? Let’s just say Florida will never be as exciting as it used to be.

Before we knew it, it was time to leave. We had to get back to Mombasa to catch another night-bus back to Nairobi. As we were re-packing our backpacks, the most amazing thing happened!

We were in the bathroom putting our toiletries away, when a rustling noise came from our room. We both thought, “Why are they cleaning our room now? We haven’t even left yet!” I peeked my head around the corner and said “Umm…” Until Chris looked too.

There, in the middle of our room, was this huge baboon eating the rest of our Twizzlers! We were mesmerized as he downed these things like it was his job! I cautiously snuck over to my backpack for my camera. I started snapping away as the baboon began looking around the room for more food. I guess he was looking for a buffet table or something. Seeing nothing edible, he stared at the rest of the Twizzlers, deciding whether to finish them right then or save them for later. I guess he chose the latter because he grabbed the bag and bolted out of the room!

While we were still laughing about our amazing baboon friend, Chris noticed something out of the corner of his eye. The baboon was back! He knocked over our trash can, licking candy wrappers, and then went into our bathroom, simply unwilling to believe that we didn’t have any more food. Finally, after searching through Chris’ backpack, he left for good, content that he had found it all.

Quite an experience… let me tell you. We’re already planning to go back some day. Especially because we found this great Cantonese place in Mombasa (I’ll be sure to give you directions next time you’re in town…). It’s funny. Those of you that knew me back in Junior High and early High School… Would you have ever believed that this jittery little band-geek would grow up to become a world-traveling, baboon-befriending, Swahili-speaking adventurer?
Yeah. Me neither.

Friday, June 24, 2005

What do you mean it's already over???

Well, today is the last day for the GCC team to be in Nairobi. After a grueling week of ministry, a couple days of safari and debrief, and today’s souvenir shopping, the team is going home. I can’t believe it is over! It was a barrage of whirlwind days that slipped by faster than I ever thought possible! My grandiose schemes for updating this blog every day were clearly a bit off! Hmmm… Maybe next time 67 Americans come over to Nairobi for two weeks, I’ll have more free time!

I won’t write too much about what they did during their ministry week, because they’ll be home to tell stories really soon! I guess I’ll just share a few highlights.

On Wednesday, we worked at Mama Ngina Children’s Home. Our team cut grass, washed clothes, cut potatoes, and played with orphan babies. These babies were so heart-breaking! They receive very little physical affection, and were actually reluctant to be held! I could see the GCC team having trouble playing with these babies. Each one was struggling with a mix of emotions – joy at the presence of such tiny little lives, confusion that babies could live the way these ones do, and rage that parents would simply abandon these children!

On Friday, our team visited a church in the Fuata Nyayo slum. Part of the experience included visiting congregation members in their homes. Having already had similar experiences, I was able to step back and watch the reactions of the GCC team as they witnessed extreme poverty for the first time. Visiting a slum is one of the most eye-opening things a person can do. Visiting a home in the slum and talking with fellow Christians living in poverty is a whole other matter. These students will never be the same!

This Tuesday, we arrived at Massai Mara to enjoy a few game drives and debrief sessions. The group talked and shared for two days, working through some of their experiences, processing the shocking things they saw, and simply sharing their hearts. It was an amazingly valuable time.

Though the animals were a little scarce at this time of year, we got a chance to see at least one of just about every kind (lions, giraffes, elephants, etc.). I was able to enjoy the company of my sister and parents while we did our game drives. Other than a one hour-long incident involving a lot of mud and several broken tow-cables, we had a really great time together (although I sure had a good time getting stuck in the mud)!

Well, that’s about it for now. I will put much more information in my next Kenya Email Update (which will also be posted here). Right now, I look forward to spending a week with Chris Yonan, who will be staying in Nairobi until the 3rd! Later!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What happened to sleep?

I originally planned to update this every day this week. Ha! I’ve been so busy with the GCC team; I haven’t even had a chance to make it to the internet café since Sunday afternoon! Seriously, I’m barely getting enough sleep, while these jet-lagged Americans are showing up fresh and chipper! Isn’t that backwards somehow? They should be the ones dragging their feet each morning! Not me! I live here!!!

Anyway, about the week… On Sunday, the Mombasa Road team was given an awesome Kenyan welcome. They were all brought up front to the beats of a traditional Kenyan welcome song. Then, to their great surprise, several church fathers and “mamas” came up, draping Massai blankets around the guys and wrapping kangas around the girls, then prayed a blessing over each of them. The Massai blankets symbolized their nature as “spiritual warriors,” while the kangas (traditional Kenyan garments) represented the servanthood of the girls. It was so cool. The best part? They got to keep their gifts!

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself serving chai to a few members of the Waiyaki Way GCC team. It was the first time I’d ever made tea for so many people. The tea was a little strong, but I don’t think they knew any better, so it was ok! Hehe… After tea, I sent them off to enjoy their first night with host families (the GCC team has been living in houses and apartments all across Nairobi since that night!). From the conversations I’ve had with our team, living separately with families has been a great experience so far!

From this point, I have no idea how the other teams have been doing. The only GCC members I’ve seen all week have been for our church plant (Mombasa Road). We had a good time doing some team building on Monday morning. I led the team in some fun discussions and a crazy Kenyan game called “Shake.”

In the afternoon, teams of four went walking and praying through different parts of our district. This “prayer walk” was a great way for the team to see exactly what our area really looks and feels like. It was really good, but we all came back totally cooked by the sun!

Tuesday was definitely the most intense day so far. We took our team to a small prison in the industrial area completely overflowing with over 5000 inmates. We presented the gospel and played some Christian music with a group of DJ’s called “K-Krew.” It was a little overwhelming to see a sea of prison-hardened faces light up at the extremely rare entertainment we were able to provide. The stench of sewage and body odor (which I’m getting used to here) added to the surreal and shocking experience for our team.

Tomorrow we will go to Mama Ngina Children’s home to paint the walls, cut the grass, and play with the young orphans. Thursday we will be receiving training in Muslim Evangelism, then doing a community survey that will hopefully open up doors into some deeper conversations. Add that to the slum visit on Friday and Saturday’s “Crazy Olympics” outreach event, and these guys going to officially have the busiest and most culturally challenging week of their lives!

I guess I’m learning that coordinating and leading an international team in all these events is pretty exhausting! It’s just a good thing dad and mom are bringing me some Starbucks coffee when they arrive on Thursday morning! I’m going to need it!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Mzungu Invasion!!!

I can’t believe it! After five months of preparation and anticipation, the mzungus have landed! Pulling gigantic suitcases and bulging carryon bags, the Grace Community Church team greeted Nairobi for the first time! Unfortunately, the airport experience wasn’t perfect. Eight pieces of luggage never showed up! To the amazement of all, there was no complaining (despite the prospect of sharing underwear and toothpaste!). These guys are such troopers!

I got to see my sister for the first time since leaving in January! It was great! With a couple inside jokes and small talk about her journey here, we were right back where we left off! Honestly, it is so great to have her in Nairobi with me! Though we won’t see each other much this week, we’ll have plenty of time to catch up at Massai Mara next Tuesday and Wednesday…

After finally getting transportation sorted out, it was time to leave the airport (about 2 hours after they landed!). With bleary eyes and dazed expressions, the GCC team filed onto three shuttles bound for the Methodist Guest House, where they spent their first night here. Many of these guys hadn’t slept in two days! But guess what… They weren’t allowed to go to bed! Following the advice of several “jet-lag experts” in the group, the team was required to stay awake until at least after dinner!

They did whatever they could to stay awake. Playing cards, talking, drinking tea, playing more cards… drinking more tea… Honestly, I admire their efforts. I know how hard it can be to fight the urge to sleep! If only there was an easier way to get on the rhythm of a country halfway across the world!

I don’t think have any idea what they are in for this week! After receiving a very Kenyan welcome at church tomorrow, they’ll be spending the rest of the week living with host families. During the daytime, they’ll be visiting prisons, helping at children’s homes, experiencing the slums, doing street evangelism and prayer walks, etc. When they go home at night, they’ll be eating Kenyan food, enjoying Kenyan hospitality, greeting visitors, and trying to figure out this extremely different culture! It will be a busy week!

Stay tuned here for more updates and pictures!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

White People - We're Hopeless...

Ok, being white here is SO weird! Especially being a white American! When I walk down the street, I feel like a circus parade, with everyone staring at me all the time! Sometimes I just feel like throwing down my bag, raising my arms and yelling out “Are you not entertained???” like Russell Crowe in Gladiator…

There is this basic mindset in Kenya that all white people (mzungus) are filthy rich. Because I’m pretty much as white as they come, taxi drivers wake up from their day-long naps to holler at me, street kids stop playing with their friends to hobble over and ask me for money (“Brother? Buy for me bread? Five shillings?”) and random people will stop me on the road just to say hello. I guess they think that I, being the ignorant and absurdly wealthy mzungu, would like nothing more than to shower them with money!

One of my intern friends said that when he was growing up, he honestly believed that you went to America when you died. Another man I met here was shocked to realize that we actually grow crops in the states! He simply thought that we imported all of our food.

The other day I talked a matatu conductor down from 20 to 10 shillings because I wasn’t going very far. When I got on, I heard a woman behind me asking in Swahili “Why does he need to save money?”

I often get ripped off when I ride matatus because I’m white. Ok, I used to get ripped off. Now I’m armed with an arsenal of Swahili words and phrases to totally make the conductor feel stupid. “Wewe! Ulisema mbau!” (“Hey, you said 20!”), “Hapana. Silipi thelathini. Kila wakati mbau!” (“No. I’m not paying 30. It’s always 20!”), or my favorite, “Unafikiri mimi ni mzungu mjinga???” (“You think I’m a stupid white person???”).

I’m learning to live with it. There’s really nothing I can do, so what choice do I have? Whenever I take the time and energy to gently realign a matatu conductor’s mindset about white people, the next mzungu he sees will inevitably be a chirpy, camera-toting American holding a 1000 shilling bill and asking “Jambo! Is this enough to get me to the Hilton hotel? Do you know what hotel means?”

White people – we’re hopeless…

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kenya Email Update #8

Hi everyone! What’s up??? Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. Time is flying and I’ve had trouble getting inspiration for what to write about!

Anyway, check this out… Since arriving in January, I’ve lost close to seven pounds! It’s weird. It’s not like I’m eating less… In fact, whenever I can find any chocolate or candy I just wolf it down! No, I think the weight-loss comes from the actual food that I’m eating daily. Most Kenyan dishes are actually healthy and organic – not laced with sugar, cheese and butter like most dishes in the states (I miss good ol’ American cheese almost as much as Halo 2!).

Oh, and an even more obvious reason for the weight loss – I walk a TON! Seriously! I got my map out and did a few calculations. To get to and from Chapel every day, I walk 1.5 miles. And most of that is up a steep hill! Add that to the 10 and 20 minute walks I take all the time (just to save a few shillings on bus fare), and I’m getting used to making long these long treks without complaining. For example, to get a good cup of coffee, I have to walk about 2 miles… A little different from pulling up to a drive-thru Starbucks!

A couple of weekends ago, five of the guys from Chapel went for Nyama Choma at Kenyatta Market. Tim and Njau ordered FIVE KILOS of meat (that’s almost 1.8 pounds for each person)!!! A normal person who hasn’t eaten in three days might be able to force down a half kilo… You see the problem we had. I ate more meat than I ever thought possible. We kept on encouraging each other to eat more and more even though we had no hope of finishing. Whenever I knew I could speak without throwing up, I would turn to whoever was slacking and say “You’re going to stop now? Be a man! You don’t see me slowing down!” Guys are so stupid.

Turns out girls aren’t much better! Last weekend, in honor of the release of Star Wars: Episode III, we had a huge Star Wars marathon over at Angie’s place. A bunch of us gathered in her living room, surrounded by piles of junk food and all of the Star Wars movies ever released. From Sunday evening till Monday afternoon we watched all five movies with only a few hours in between for sleep. It was great! Except for how miserable we were the next day…

Will and I went on Friday to see Episode III, which totally rocked! It was actually one of the few movies released here at the same time as in the States… We got there an hour and a half early to make sure we got good seats. Um, so yeah. Only 15 other people showed up (3 other white nerds like us, a handful of very single Kenyan guys and this crew of French kids talking excitedly about all the stupid movie trailers)… I’ll be honest; the real disappointment was that nobody came wearing a storm trooper outfit!

Ok, so not everything here has been a big party. In fact, some of the stuff I’ve been doing is quite intense. I’ve recently begun getting involved with a church in the Fuata Nyayo slum (near South B, where our church will be planted). I was originally just doing some contact work for the GCC team coming in June, but felt a deep urge to get more involved. Over the next few months I plan to spend time with the pastor evangelizing door to door in the slum and working with their congregation!

The slums of Nairobi are some of the poorest places on Earth. Trash fills every sewage lined “street.” In one area of Fuata Nyayo, kids play along a 15 foot cliff that drops directly into a disgusting river of human waste and industrial pollution. I don’t think you can ever fully imagine what a slum is like until you’ve visited one. The sights, sounds and smells are just too much to explain in words. I believe wholeheartedly that visiting a slum is one of the absolute most eye opening experiences on this earth. You cannot enter a slum without being changed forever.

But that’s not the only amazing thing I’ve been up to! On April 17-19, I took my very first personal retreat. I went alone to a Jesuit retreat center called Resurrection Garden. It was amazing. For 48 hours I wrote in my journal, read scripture, prayed, and totally examined my spiritual life. Chapel only allows its interns to bring a Bible, notebook, journal and pen, so I was forced to focus on hearing God’s voice.

The experience was truly life-changing. I explored my spiritual gifts and passions while unearthing my sin habits and unconfessed sins. It was so eye-opening to see my list of sins growing longer and longer. I had a lot of junk in my life that I had never confronted! I spent time confessing my sins before God and decided the steps of repentance for each. One of the greatest moments of the retreat was when I walked through the garden, stopping at different depictions of the crucifixion to confess individual sins to God.

I left a changed man. When I walked out of the gate (for the 30 minute walk to the main road!), I knew that I had heard God’s voice. I honestly felt like I truly understood myself for the first time! Since the retreat, my spiritual life has skyrocketed! I am disciplined, committed to ridding my life of deep sin habits and replacing them with godly virtues. I’ve begun confessing my sins to others, seeking ways to continue my growth, and reading the Bible as God’s Word, not just a textbook. A few Sundays ago, I cried during worship for the first time in four years!

Anyway, I don’t know if that even begins to describe the amazing things that are happening in my spiritual life. I mentioned in my last update how much I have been growing. I was only in the foothills of this mountain! In fact, I’m beginning to realize now that this year is not just a spiritual mountain… it’s a mountain range! Of course, the implications of that are clear. I have a long way to go yet! There are many more mountains, and many more valleys to cross before I reach my destination. It will be long and it will be hard, but I am committed to seeing this through to the end!

Ok. I have two requests to make!
Please send me any digital pictures you have taken recently of yourself or your family! I’m realizing now that I have almost no pictures of my friends back home! What’s that about???
I made an update with similar content (but lots more pictures!) using Publisher, but it doesn’t work with all email providers, so I went with the old fashioned one. If you’d like me to send you the fancy one with all the pictures, let me know!

Well, it’s been 4 1/2 months and time is flying by faster than ever. Before I know it, the GCC team will be here and I will be reunited with Mom, Dad and Lucy! Thanks again for your prayers and I hope this email finds you well! Keep in touch!


Monday, April 11, 2005

Kenya Email Update #7

Hi everybody! What’s up???

I’m just enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon here in Nairobi. Thought I’d hop on my computer and finish this update since our power just came back. It seriously goes out at least once a week. I picture this evil little man sitting behind a large switchboard, laughing as he vindictively turns the power on and off at random. Poor guy. I should probably send him a letter or something. :)

Anyway, I want you to know that it’s getting harder and harder to cram everything into these bite-sized email updates. It just seems that whenever interesting things start happening, I have less time to write! Do I even need to mention how fast March flew by? I turned 22 and didn’t even notice! We spent my birthday visiting Will (the other American intern) who had been in a pretty serious car accident (he’s ok now). It really shows one of the big differences between our cultures. If the same thing had happened in the States, we would have all been trying to figure out who was going to send him a party favor!

One cool thing that did come from my birthday was that I was treated to dinner at a restaurant called Carnivore. It’s an all-you-can-eat gluttony-fest of meat (No surprise that most of the people eating there were white tourists)! They serve beef, chicken, pork, ostrich, crocodile, camel… Yeah. I even ate the crazy stuff… It’s becoming habitual. Anyway, at Carnivore, Waiters just walk around holding big skewers of roasted meat, carving off pieces for whoever can still cram more animal flesh into their already bulging stomachs. Good times!

Speaking of meat, I had another memorable first a few days ago. I got to see my lunch slaughtered before my eyes! We were out at Camp Malta, which is a team-building site owned by Tanari-Trust (Mo’s company). In good Kenyan fashion, we were having Nyama Choma for lunch. Will and I saw these two guys with machetes escorting goats to a corner of the property. Like real men, we were mesmerized as they killed, hung, and skinned the animal that in a few hours would be our meal. How cool is that?

On the way home, I introduced the people in our van to Twizzlers (my grandparents sent them to me). I was the only person there who had even heard of them! I explained that in the States, we always have Twizzlers when we go on road trips. After devouring the bag, we pulled off at a roadside kiosk and asked if they had any more. They must have been fresh out. We bought mangos instead.

In other news, the internship is going full blast. Right now, I have the responsibility of finding and training a production team for our church plant’s Sunday service, writing dramas and promotional materials, making a detailed map of our district, helping to organize the activities for the GCC team coming in June, and participating in a counseling class, discipleship group, and numerous intern meetings. That’s about it… except for the research, event planning, teaching and counseling that I do. Oh, and I’m studying Swahili on the side… and serving refreshments at worship concerts… and finding clipboards for volunteer sign-ups next Sunday... (It really doesn’t end!)

It’s funny. I think after a year living in a foreign country, the most valuable thing I’ll learn is not cultural adaptation or different paradigm of ministry… it’s time management! Seriously. You should see my calendar. It’s so organized it hurts. If someone told me that Microsoft Outlook was a direct gift from God to man, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I think I am finally able to grasp the fact that I’ll be here the whole year. I’m starting to see the bigger picture, and I’m realizing how awesome this year will be for my development. I come home at night filled with the stuff I’ve learned about myself – my leadership style, my emotional weaknesses, my spiritual gifts, my opinions, my past mistakes, my purpose in life, etc. That doesn’t even include the things I’m learning about ministry, cultural worldviews, church planting, and how to be a good uncle to a couple of absolutely crazy boys!

Thanks a billion for your prayers! I’ve had a few really tough emotional experiences that ended well, I believe, because of your dedication to pray for me! Keep it up!

I attached a little picture that I made with Photoshop (it puts to shame the last picture I attached!). If you like it, I can make more of ‘em. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures. Keep your eye out for a little email I’ll be sending soon. It will announce an AOL Instant Messenger chat session I want to do some Sunday Afternoon (well, it’ll be afternoon for you… I’ll be up in the middle of the night). I’ll just open up a chat room to answer questions and talk in real time with you guys! Cool huh?

May your wives be many and the wind be always at your back! Sounds like a cool Kenyan farewell. But it’s not. I just made it up. :) Sorry for the letdown!

Have a wonderful April!!! Bye!


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Kenya Email Update #6

Well hello there! Guess who’s still alive and kickin’???

It’s me! It’s that Barry kid who left the States TWO WHOLE MONTHS ago! Can you believe it? That means I’m already a sixth of the way through the year! Crazy.

Ok, let’s clear something up. In my last update I mentioned that I was really sick and that I had eaten roasted goat intestine. A lot of you thought that the two were somehow connected. Alas, the events were separated by 2 weeks, so I doubt it. Still, it should have probably made me a little more wary of eating gross stuff (that’s why I’ve only eaten gizzard, cow innards, and goat liver since then…).

Speaking of eating stuff (now that you’re hungry), I have eaten some amazing food. Right down the street from Chapel is an awesome fruit stand where they cut up a bunch of fresh fruits (mango, pineapple, banana, watermelon, etc.) and give it to you it in a big bowl with a spoon. Sooo good. And it only costs about 40 cents! I’ve also discovered the beauty of roasted maize (for those of you who aren’t farmers, its called corn). The taste is basically a cross between pop-corn and corn-on-the-cob. Awesome. A whole cob is about 12 cents (where in all of America can you get food that cheap???). I shouldn’t even mention how much I love chapati and mandazis and chai masala and samosas!!!

Oh here’s something new: Taxi drivers have stopped harassing me whenever I pass by. They used to see my blindingly-white skin and call out “Taxi? Taxi?” Then, as if I hadn’t heard them, they’d yell louder “TAXI???” and gesture to their car in case I was deaf or German or something. For some reason they don’t do that anymore. Perhaps it’s because now I’m tan and I walk like I know where I’m going. Or maybe it’s because I shout Swahili swear words at people as I walk down the street (just kidding… I don’t shout in Swahili!).

I’ve been reading a ton. Since leaving Indianapolis, I’ve finished 10 whole books. I’m currently in the middle of 4 others. I guess that answers the question of what I do in the absence of XBox!

Alright I’ll be honest with you. The experience here has not totally been a bed of roses. There are some days where I really, desperately, tragically wish I could be back home. There are some Kenyan foods that I just can’t stomach. I miss having a car. I can’t escape into video games here. I’m tired of people staring at me when I walk down the street. You get the picture…

Something that has led to quite a bit of frustration is the fact that in general, Kenyans are much more comfortable with chaos than Americans. Working at Nairobi Chapel, I have been consistently confronted with tasks that I am expected to complete without any directions. Good communication between staff members is a rarity. Unclear expectations are totally normal. Basically the environment here makes Grace Community Church’s history look like a study in sharp, disciplined effectiveness (those of you who work at Grace are probably chuckling right now)!

Anyway, even though some of these experiences are frustrating, I am learning from them. I’m learning that immersing yourself in another culture is one of the best ways to truly understand your own culture! I’m learning that following the Holy Spirit’s guidance often doesn’t come with a bulleted list of goals and expectations. I’m learning that walking everywhere is great exercise, that reading is a great escape, and that Kenya has some great food!

So all in all, my experience here has been difficult but valuable, painful but formative, frustrating but life-changing. To answer my old roommate Erik’s question “What percent are you?” I would have to say roughly 76%.

Sorry again for the length of my email updates. They seem to be getting longer and longer don’t they? By December I’ll have to have my emails bound hardcover and shipped overseas! Thanks again for those of you who have kept me updated on your own lives. Checking email has become the highlight of my day (other than dragging myself out of bed at 5:30am of course…)!

Here’s the address where I can receive letters/packages/etc. I hesitate to give this to you because now you’ll all feel obligated to send me something. Don’t. This is just for the people who actually care about me (totally kidding!). Seriously though, I just figured that since several people have asked about it, I should just put it out there for ya’ll.

Barry Rodriguez
Nairobi Chapel
P.O. Box 53635, 00200
Nairobi, Kenya

Well, I’m off to begin another month of fun, challenges, and intense life-changing cultural adaptation! Later!


p.s. What percent are you???

Monday, February 14, 2005


It took me several moments to understand where I was. The transition from city to slum had come too quickly. It was not until the stench of a gigantic trash heap washed over me that I could truly register my surroundings. We were walking into one of the biggest slums on the face of the earth…

A map of Nairobi shows Kibera slum as a large blank area without any roads or landmarks. A simple glance at a map makes it look like a forest or city park. Kibera is not a city park. It is a sea of ragged metal shacks stretching to the horizon. It is a desolate expanse filled with thousands of hopeless Kenyans living minutes away from a world class city. Kibera is poverty.

We walked fast. My eyes darted back and forth, trying to take in the quickly passing scenery. On my left was a small river of sewage. Gagging, I tried to focus on the other side of the street – a ten foot high wall of rusty corrugated steel. We passed tiny stalls where residents of the slum tried desperately to sell overripe fruit, hand-woven baskets, and cell phone credits. I was intensely aware at that moment of how rich and white I looked. I could feel the gaze of children staring as I passed. I was extremely grateful to whoever had suggested that I take off my tie.
On the way to the medical clinic we passed a dog standing in the middle of the road, staring at us with vacant eyes. Its mangy fur was stretched tight over much too visible ribs. A toddler with a sagging diaper and filthy t-shirt waddled out of his home, sucking on his hand. I realized with pain that this child would more than likely live in this slum the rest of his life.
We climbed a high railroad embankment that gave us a shocking view of the slum. I was amazed at how big the place was. I turned to the man leading us and asked “Is that most of Kibera?” pointing at the vast expanse of shacks that stretched over a distant hill. He chuckled and said “Oh no. That’s just a corner of it. Most of the slum lies in that direction.” He gestured behind us. I was speechless.
We were given a tour of a small Christian clinic in the center of the slum. The clinic gives very cheap medical assistance and nutritional education to the people of Kibera. I was in awe of the selfless volunteers working at the clinic. I thought for a moment about the jobs any of them could have had. With skills in medicine and nursing, these capable servants could have easily made large incomes in one of Nairobi’s bustling hospitals. Instead they choose to give up everything to help those who have nothing to give.
After meeting the clinic’s volunteers and asking them many questions about their ministry, we began walking out of the slum, retracing our earlier steps. With my mind still reeling from the enormous sacrifice these servants had made of their lives, we came across a group of children. When they saw me they all started shouting “How are you?!?” – the only English words they know. I answered “Good! And how are you?” They gave me blank stares. Instead of giving up, I greeted them in Swahili. “Habari?” Their faces lit up and they shouted back “Nzuri!” They formed a line and wanted to shake my hand. I shook each of their hands, answering when each of them asked me “How are you?” again. It took me quite a while to lose the smile on my face, but in my heart, I was sobbing. How could children like that be so joyful in a place of such desperation? It was heartbreaking.

The experience ended just as quickly as it had begun. We walked as a group out of the slum. We caught a bus and within moments we were back in the Nairobi I knew. I went home, ate a full dinner, and lay down in my comfortable bed, acutely aware of the luxuries I had been blessed with throughout my life. As I drifted off to sleep, the shocking images of Kibera played over and over in my head. Something had clicked inside of me. It was as if God had walked me through the slum, pointed at the people I saw and said “Here. These are my children. These are the ones I love. It pains me to see them suffering; doesn’t it hurt you too?”
From that moment on, I knew I would never be the same…

Friday, February 04, 2005

Kenya Email Update #5


Can you believe it? I’ve been here for a whole month already! One down, 11 to go! This year is going to fly by! Again I want to thank those of you who have written to me. It’s so great to hear from my friends… Just be sure to keep me updated!

Ok, a couple of weeks ago a bunch of people gathered at Mark Kioko’s house (he’s on staff at Chapel) for nyama choma. Nyama choma basically just means “roast meat.” It’s a very Kenyan thing. Someone buys a goat, has it slaughtered, and then roasts it at home with a bunch of friends. I suppose it’s the same as having a barbecue in the States. Except in the States people don’t usually eat roasted goat intestine as an appetizer. In case you are wondering if I actually ate any, I’ll tell you this – it’s really really chewy.

I’ve been thrown head-first into ministry at Nairobi Chapel. Since the church planting process hasn’t really started yet, I’ve been working a lot for Pastor Linda (who does a lot of administration and stuff). She discovered that I like writing and sort of put me to work! I’ve been writing grant proposals, pastoral letters, etc. In fact, the very first thing I wrote for her became the bulletin insert that Sunday!

So on my last day off I went to see a movie in a theatre downtown. It was actually a really nice place! I was surprised. The funny thing is that when a movie is about to start they play this ancient video of the Kenyan flag blowing majestically while the National Anthem plays. I guess if you don’t stand, you can get kicked out! It’s a national law!! Right up there with the law that all places of business in Kenya have to have a picture of the president hanging on the wall. Weird.

As I write this I’m getting over a really bad sickness that hit about two days ago. I guess it’s some sort of intestinal infection (I won’t go into details…). Let’s just say I have been rather miserable these last few days. Oh well. I guess there has to be some downside to living in a country with perfect weather and fresh mango juice…

Since coming here I’ve had the chance to visit three huge slums in Nairobi. Each one was quite an eye opening experience. I really don’t think I’ve ever seen poverty like that in my life. If you are interested, I have written out a little narrative of my experience with the first slum I visited. Just drop me an email and I’ll send you the story.

Also, if you are supporting me with prayer, I am going to start a new email list to which I’ll send specific prayer needs as they arise. Those emails will be more frequent than these updates, and will give you a better idea of the things I (and Nairobi Chapel) need prayer for. If you want to be on that list, just drop me an email as well.

Ok. Keep in touch! I miss you all! For those of you in the Midwest, enjoy your freezing rain and ice and mud! I’m sure it’s just beautiful there!


p.s. For those of you who are wondering, I don’t really miss Xbox surprisingly, but man, I could use a big bag of spicier nacho Doritos right now… Oooo… and some pizza from Lou Malnati’s. Oh, and a big bottle of ice cold Mountain Dew! Oh well… I guess I’ll just go have some more roasted goat intestine. hehe

Friday, January 21, 2005

Kenya Email Update #4

Yo Yo Yo from Kenya!

It’s Barry. Obviously I changed email addresses again and I promise – this is the last time it’ll change (unless something changes of course). Now I can use Outlook for answering emails without paying to use the internet café all the time. Basically it means that I can actually respond to individual emails now! Which reminds me… I have loved the encouraging emails you all have been sending! Thanks a ton!

Anyway, I suppose I’ll update you on my life here in Kenya… I have finally become more independent, finding my way around the downtown area and taking matatus all over the place! Ok, so basically matatus are one of the primary forms of public transportation here. They are basically small 16-passenger vans (actually they fit 12 people but have 16 seats miraculously crammed in) that run along certain lines and stops just like busses do in the States. They usually cost only 20 Kenyan Shillings (only 25 cents!). From the shouting conductors to the crowded interior to the blazing music, it can be a pretty intimidating ride the first few times.

Automobile drivers in Nairobi are absolutely out of their minds (especially matatu drivers)! Imagine the worst and most reckless drivers in Chicago on drugs, trained in high speed automobile stunt driving, and late for a meeting with the President of the Universe… The basic mindset of drivers here is “I am more important than you. If you don’t get out of my way, I will destroy you.”

The other interns are so cool. Each one brings a different set of experiences and gifts to the internship. I can already tell that we’re going to become close friends! Angie (the other intern working with Pastor Muriithi) is a lot of fun. She and I have a whole lot in common. It’s going to be quite a trip to see what God has in store for us (not to be cliché! We seriously have no idea what to expect!). I attached a poorly done picture that shows who the other interns are (all I have for picture editing is Microsoft Paint – if falls a little short of Photoshop… sorry!).

I finally know what my main responsibilities will be this year. All I have to do for the next 11 months is help Pastor Muriithi with sermon research and book editing, make sure everything goes smoothly and help plan the 10am services at church, organize district events for the church plant, design the new church’s advertising materials as well as disciple a small group of youth that I first have to seek out and evangelize… not to mention my responsibilities as an intern which include reading several books, attending classes, and guiding short term groups that come in from partner churches in the states. Um, yeah… I’ll be pretty busy (especially considering that these are only my primary responsibilities).

Ok, forgive me again for the long email! I just have so much to write about! I bought a cell phone the other day, so if you want to try text messaging me (I guess it’s really called SMS or something) from your cell phone, my number is +254-0721-179000 (+254 is Kenya’s code, though you might not need the 0 in front of 721 – I’m not sure). It’s a really cool (and cheap) way to stay connected in real time. Just remember that I’m 8 hours ahead of Indianapolis!! I suppose you could call too, but that gets really expensive (if you do, call between 10am-1pm Indianapolis time).

Ok, enough. I’ll let you get back to your lives! If you think of it, please pray for me as I really hit the internship head-on. I am going to be sooo busy! Pray that I will continue to learn and grow, not just get swept away by all the stuff I have to do. I miss you all! Two weeks down, 48 to go!!!

Still happy and healthy,

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Kenya Email Update #3

Well, I made it!

After two 8 hour flights I thought my life was over. I wanted to chop my legs off so bad… When we made a really rough landing (seriously, swerving all over the runway), I was just like “Fine… Let us crash… As long as I can get off the plane…” After that I had the pleasure of standing in line at customs for 45 minutes amidst screaming babies and confused white people. Good times…

So Kenya… perfect weather. Seriously. Breezy, blue skies… perfect. A little warm in the middle of the day, but I’ll take that over Indiana weather any day.

I’m staying with Mo and Marci (remember them? They were at Grace Church for a while…). They have two extremely hyper boys… Their house is so nice. I have my own room with a desk and everything.

It’s a little weird being the only Mzungu (white person) around, but I don’t mind. It’s refreshing to be the minority for once. You guys would be surprised at how modern it is over here. I don’t know what I expected, but after passing 3 shell stations and about a million car dealerships on the way to Mo and Marci’s house, I realized that my mental picture of Nairobi was a bit off.

For those of you who want to pray for me, I could use it! Right now I’m loving the whole experience, but I know there will come a time (probably soon) where I’ll wish I was back at home. Please pray that I’ll be able to cope and get beyond that quickly.

Well, I don’t want to bore you with drab details of my trip. Have a wonderful January and don’t forget, I’d love to hear from you!

Alive and jet-lagged,