Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Tory, Emma, Tye, Claire, Levi, Josie, Jane and Ethan

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Memorable Family Events: A Gift from God

Easter Morning Sunrise Service, extra special with Grandma and Grandpa Kinkel.

"King George" the bacon- and sausage-eating Morey eel.

Claire amidst a sea of tide pools in Watamu, Kenya.

Sunrise on Turtle Bay (photo by Jeremiah).

Jeremiah's baptism.

The last few weeks have been incredibly memorable for our family, full of meaningful events. We were invited to the annual WGM (World Gospel Mission) spiritual retreat at the Kenyan coastal town of Malindi, and every year, the highlight is a baptismal service in the Indian Ocean. When I mentioned the possibility to Jeremiah a few months ago, he felt strongly that he was ready to make this commitment. Then, after Grandma and Grandpa Kinkel heard about Jeremiah's plan, they could not stand the thought of missing this important event, and immediately booked tickets! After picking them up at the airport in Nairobi, we returned to Tenwek for a few short days, which included the Easter Weekend services at Tenwek. The pinnacle was the Sunrise Service, where participates were invited to place flowers on a cross erected on the Robert’s lawn. Later, we enjoyed an Easter meal, at our house, of locally obtained roasted leg of goat!

A few days later, we were off to Malindi, a very poor, yet beautiful town off the Kenyan coast of the Indian Ocean. The timing was perfect, as we all were feeling rather spent from the constant barrage of homeschooling, patients, surgeries, etc. at Tenwek, and the spiritual renewal, connection, and relaxation were a gift from God. Heather and I awoke every morning at 6am for a walk on the beach while the sun was rising in the east, and then back for a perfect cup of Kenyan coffee. There was a new moon the last few days of the retreat, thus the tides were especially extreme, creating a huge mosaic of tide pools containing the most incredible montage of creatures: Morey eels, lion fish, red snapper, starfish, “Nemo” fish, sea urchins, brain coral, magic coral... Every pool was like a natural salt water aquarium designed by God. We all grew in amazement of God’s creativity, wisdom, and power in his creation, all for His glory.

The highlight was Jeremiah’s baptism (which also occurred on Heather’s birthday). After sharing his testimony of what Christ had done for him, he concluded by saying, “I just want to live my life for Him.” I had the privilege of baptizing my son with Roy Lauder, the visiting guest speaker for the retreat. We waded out into the high tide of the Indian Ocean, the water warm like a bath, as the sun was setting, and shared this moment with the 50+ people at the retreat. What a perfect event!

Thank you for the prayers and support you have given our family these last 5-1/2 months. We could not be here without you, and count it a privilege to partner with you in Kenya. Please continue to pray for our family, for Jeremiah that he would grow in his faith, for wisdom and peace and joy for Heather as she manages our home and home-schools, and for me as I continue the work at the hospital. We appreciate you so much!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Naphtali's Lesson in Love: Weekend Trip to Lake Victoria

Jeremiah showing the "termite queen" he unearthed to all the Kenyan children.

Fishing is the common trade to many on Mfanganu Island.

Jeremiah sorting worm medication during "clinic."

On the beach at dusk, with Mfanganu Island off in the distance.

Two weekends ago, Jeremiah and I were invited to attend a small medical outreach to Mfanganu, a small island with a population of approximately 30,000, directly off the Kenyan coastline of Lake Victoria. Excited to have a concentrated “father-son” time, we stuffed into the small SUV with 6 other people, Jeremiah and I essentially riding in the trunk for the 5 hour painful trek to Mbita, on the Lake Victorian coast. The following morning, we traveled, via an old, hand-made boat, across the strait, to the Island, Jeremiah riding high on the bow to avoid getting soaked like the rest of us (not his first rodeo). Once on the island, we checked into the “guest house,” which was essentially just us…and a host of the most concentrated and diverse variety of insects. I understand now why there is an Entomology Research Center at Mbita.

The most amazing part of the trip was meeting Naphtali, a brilliant Kenyan native of Mfanganu Island, and his family, who are living out daily, in the radical way, the Law of Love. As a young boy, he worked with his father as a fisherman, as so many on the island are employed. However, determined that he would not blindly follow the same pattern, he put his mind to study, and eventually entered the top schools in Kenya. As time passed, he felt called by God to return to the island to serve, and joined Wycliff Bible Translators, translating the New Testament into Suba, the local vernacular. During his translation work, he was moved by the need for practical application of what he was so engrossed in daily. He noticed the large numbers of orphan children on the island, many as a result of HIV/AIDS, and began to take the most needy into his own home. The ministry grew and now, he is the director of the Gethsemane Garden Christian Center, which houses and educates over 450 orphaned children (although now, he does not call them orphans because they have a heavenly Father and they have him).

The medical outreach was to the children of Gethsemane Garden, and once we set up a small clinic, the children began to pour in. Thankfully, Dino and Janice Crognale, both family physicians from Tenwek, were running the show, with Jeremiah and I operating our small, portable pharmacy. Jeremiah enjoyed the responsibility of dosing medications, cleansing wounds, and occasionally, making a diagnosis: “Dad, she needs mebendazole” (medication for round worms). We broke for lunch, and ate a hearty meal of freshly prepared goat liver, (of which Jeremiah ate seconds), and then it was back to work. Towards late afternoon, the "drug seekers" started coming (children who heard we were giving out tasty, grape-flavored, chewable Tylenol), thus I was “allowed” to start seeing patients. A young, and very shy girl sat before me and I asked, “What can I do for you?” “I have a disease,” she said, straight-faced. Expecting the worst, I leaned in and said “What is it?” She replied in the most serious voice, “It is called…the common cold!” I told her that sounded very concerning, but I was confident that she would get better without any tasty, grape-flavored medicine/candy.

On Sunday, before leaving the island, we had the pleasure, and honor, of worshiping with these 450 children of all ages, who were so empty, so poor, possessing only a few material goods, yet so full of God, and deeply loved by one man being practically obedient to the call of God. As part of the service, children were given the opportunity to sing songs they had created. One boy, in particular, sang a strange and powerful melody, a capela, that still goes through my mind today. The entire experience made me consider my own life. Do I have that kind of love, where I would be willing to lay it all down for others? If I am honest, I would say “no…” because I am still so infatuated with “me.” But we are all in process, being changed into the image of Christ, and my prayer continues to be “more of you, less of me,” because on our own, we cannot love with the deep love that is the Law of Christ.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:30-31

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Beyond Human Understanding…

Kipkorir is a young, eight year old boy whose mother recently died from AIDS and whose father is HIV positive. One could consider this enough sorrow in a lifetime for any child, however, the tragedy escalated. Kipkorir was struck by a truck, and dragged underneath on a dirt road for a ¼ mile. Somehow he survived and was rushed to Tenwek for medical care. He had multiple, severe injuries, including a skull fracture which resulted in a brain injury causing weakness on the entire right side of his body, a cervical spine injury causing his neck to be twisted to one side, and multiple abrasions, the worst of which being on his left leg, where the dirt road had completely shaved off the outside three centimeters of his ankle and foot during his horrific ordeal. From a medical standpoint, there was not much we could offer, and he was in severe and constant pain, leaving us with a profound sense of helplessness. We initially considered amputating his badly injured leg, but instead decided to give it time. Without proper imaging, or resources, the neck injury was treated with a Minerva cast. As so often occurs at Tenwek, the only real thing we could offer was prayer.

The daily dressing changes for his leg were excruciatingly painful, and, after a while, the cast which was applied for his neck injury caused a large wound on his chin, and had to be removed. However, beyond our hopes, he miraculously began to improve. After the cast was removed, his neck was no longer turned to one side and his pain was completely gone. His leg wound was eventually covered with a skin graft and he no longer suffered from the daily dressing changes. Then, the weakness of his right side began to resolve and he was able to take some steps. Now today, his wounds are healed, he is able to walk some distance with a walker, and he smiles continually. Whenever he sees me the courtyard of the hospital, he chases me in his wheelchair, laughing with delight. The most moving part of the story was, however, watching Kipkorir’s HIV+ father, himself undoubtedly scarred and saddened by his life’s circumstances, lovingly interacting with his son, offering courage, not once leaving his side.

Many times, events occur that are so far beyond our understanding. We may question God’s activity, or wonder why he allows this type of broad spectrum suffering in a young child such as Kipkorir, and thus we may pass judgment on what ought or ought not to be. But, perhaps, while the reasoning may elude us when viewed via our temporal human understanding, more divine purposes might be at work to change all of us, not just temporarily, but eternally.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9.