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18 September, 2014

A Porta Crib . . . A Ministry Tool?

Lizz with one of the babies
we cared for
We are rearranging our storage of things in our home in preparation for storing more things while we are in the U.S. for Homeland Ministry Assignment. Not long ago we shifted the portable baby crib, baby sheets, blankets and mosquito net. It stirred a flood of memories…

We received that pack-n-play as a shower gift when we were expecting our first born. It traveled on our first deputation with us. It was a priority item accompanying us on our first move to Kenya in 1990. It was the only bed our daughter knew there until our shipment arrived and was unpacked several months after our arrival.

It was where our newborn son napped, close to the fireplace fire in the living room when he was born into a very unseasonably cool and rainy January in Kenya. It remained set up in the living room for months as a safe play “pen” for our active and inquisitive male child.

Once our son outgrew the portable crib it stayed in storage for a couple of years or so unless visitors needed it. Then one day we got a call from the hospital nursery, explaining to us that they had a healthy baby girl in the nursery that had been found abandoned after birth and she was brought to the hospital. The nursery was very crowded and they wondered if we would be willing to care for Baby Mercy until an adoptive parent could be found.

Our family was very excited to welcome Baby Mercy into our home. Out came the portable crib, and the diapers, and the baby bottles and tiny little clothes. We had such fun caring for this special little girl. All of us were involved in her care and we poured our family love into her. We prayed for a forever family for Mercy.

But our hearts were not prepared for such a quick answer to the prayer! Mercy was in our home less than one week when the nursery staff called again, telling us the local authorities granted guardianship-with-intent-to-adopt to a couple in Bomet. The wife wanted to take Mercy home that very day.

So, with many hugs and a few tears we lovingly dressed Mercy back in her “hospital” clothes, gathered her personal belongings and I carried her back to the hospital. When I arrived at the nursery some mamas were seated outside waiting their turn to enter and feed their babies. One mama I did not recognize, and every time the nursery door opened she eagerly tried to peer in as if to see her baby.

I was called into the nursery before that mama was, and I formally handed Mercy back to the hospital staff. They thanked me, noted down a few things and then released me to go on back home. I walked out with an empty feeling, but I enjoyed the thought that another lady was going to leave that nursery later with a very full heart and a new baby.

Back at home we cleaned all the baby things and put them back in storage. Many months later we learned that one of our church missionaries had died a few days after giving birth at Tenwek. The father of the baby had a four year old and a two year old at home and he was trying to figure out how to meet the needs of his little family without their mother, so he asked if the baby could stay in the hospital for several weeks until he got things sorted out.

Jeff and I talked to the nurse in charge and said that if there was any way we could help this family to let us know. A few days later, while Jeff was in Nairobi, I was summoned to the nurses’ office. When I arrived I was introduced to the man whose wife had recently died and whose baby was still in the nursery. He asked me, “Why do you want my baby?” I explained that we wanted to help him and help his baby. It would be healthier for the baby to be out of the hospital, and it would help him not to have a hospital bill accruing.

He said that was what he hoped to hear and he was ready to accept our offer to care for his newborn daughter until he could find someone to help him care for his young children. The nurse in charge asked if we could take her home that same day.

I rushed home and our young son helped me get the baby things out of storage. He helped me set up the portable crib. Together we had fun anticipating the excitement of our daughter when we would arrive home from school and find we had another baby girl with us. We also laughed to think what Jeff might say when he got home the next day and found a baby here!

So that day Baby Cherono came to live with us. She slept in that porta-crib for the next three months. Her daddy came to visit her often, sometimes with her older sister and brother. A cousin of Cherono’s father agreed to live with him and help take care of his young children. After a couple of months that young woman visited often and learned how to properly prepare and feed the baby formula to Cherono. When all was in place for Cherono to join her family, we had the “handing over.” Her family was very excited and eager to have her with them full time. Our family grieved her absence in our home but she has never left our hearts.

Over the next week we cleaned and once again stored away the baby things. Another couple of years passed before we were called by the hospital nursery about the possibility of caring for another baby girl. She had also been abandoned at birth and brought to the hospital. We took this Baby Mercy home on Christmas day. She stayed with us a few weeks until her forever mama cleared all the paperwork and was able to take her home.

We no longer store baby bottles and diapers. Those items are readily available in this city. But we store the crib just in case we have visitors that need one, or a colleague needs to borrow one. And we store the memories of special little people that slept in the crib and made a permanent impression in our hearts, the most recent of whom were little chocolate drops in our vanilla family.

11 September, 2014

Struggles, Weapons and Choices to Make . . .

It was spring of 2002 (we think) when Jeff’s rheumatoid arthritis seemed to reach a peak higher than he had experienced before. His physician in Kenya recommended he make a personal visit to his usual rheumatologist…in Oregon. So off Jeff flew.

Meanwhile, Lizz was in junior high at Rift Valley Academy and Chris and I were keeping the proverbial home fires burning. Chris got a bit bored with fire tending, though willingly carrying the weight of “being the man of the house while Dad is gone,”  and along with some friends hatched the brilliant idea of making weapons and tools to sell so they could make money.

Off they went a stick-gathering. Once they came back to our patio with their woody bounty out came the pocket knives. Diligent whittling kept the young boys occupied for many an hour over that afternoon and the next day, in between homeschool studies. Hearing their great plans of entrepreneurship was highly motivating and almost equally entertaining, to say the least.

The second afternoon the friends decided they had prepared an adequate inventory so they opened their “shop.” The small table they carried up to the sidewalk where the majority of staff from Tenwek Hospital would pass by on their way home from work proudly displayed their assortment of “spears,” “knives” and “swords.” Each boy thoughtfully ascribed a choice price to his work and did his best to hawk their wares as the staff filed by.

I observed the enthusiasm of the shopkeepers wane after many encouraging comments from the passers-by but no sales. The boys began to look a bit downcast. I saw the mom of one go and loudly exclaim over their good efforts. She commented that maybe their prices were a bit more than the Kenyan employees wanted to spend that day. She offered to get a cold drink for the boys.

A bit later I went up to see the weapon and tool manufacturers to see if they had anything to offer someone that needed a tool to use in the yard or to help scare birds off the sukuma wiki (collard greens) growing in the garden. Immediately Chris stood right up and offered a very long “spear” he had spent hours whittling to a point. The long stick was somewhat pointed and I gladly paid the few shillings requested. That “spear” was long enough I would not have to step into the muddy garden to wave it over the sukuma plants and scare off the birds. What a great deal! That “spear” proudly stood watch over the garden from its prominent placement on the patio.

The next morning as I was preparing breakfast I surprisingly encountered a small furry rodent that had chewed its way into a baggie in my cupboard. Ugh! I wondered how to get the thing outside. I decided to use the broom and dustpan, but couldn’t figure out how to keep the door open while I rushed it outside.
Chris with his "goodies" Jeff brought
from America (2002)

Ah, the young man of the house could assist! I stood at the bottom of the stairs and called upstairs to Chris that I urgently needed his help in the kitchen.“Son, there is a rat in the kitchen cupboard and I need your help to get it outside.” Chris ran to the top of the stairs and dramatically commanded, “Mom! Get the spear! This is exactly why you have that spear! Get the spear!”

I nearly started laughing, well actually, loud guffaws were choked back as I answered, “Well, Son, it is a great “spear” but it won’t fit in the space of the kitchen to get the rat that is in the cupboard. Come on down and we will figure out another way.”

And so we did and the rat was successfully evacuated from our kitchen. I was so grateful for the thoughtful preparation of the appropriate weapon by my man-of-the-house and thanked him for his bravery in helping with this problem, being flexible enough to go with Plan B and all.

Fast forward to summer of 2014. Furry rodents are a problem on our Kampala compound from time to time. The day I discovered one had gnawed on a piece of our carefully guarded chocolate was the day Jeff bought traps. They are STRONG traps and it took all four of our hands to get them baited and set. Jeff carefully, gently, cautiously carried a trap into the small pantry off our kitchen.

I watched Jeff make it safely into the pantry and then I turned to place something on the kitchen counter beside the stove. As I did so, I was astounded to see the furry rodent calmly sitting just behind the stove. Ugh! That brazen little thing, sitting so proudly in the kitchen while we are erroneously setting a trap in the pantry. Ugh!

I got Jeff’s attention right away and we wondered how in the world would we get that rat in that location. We had to do something. We were not about to let this candy-stealing thief just run away! And then it came to me, “Jeff! Get the spear! Seriously, it is the only thing that is long enough and you can just spear the thing from above. It will never know what hit it!”

Jeff's "trophy"
It took a few minutes to convince him, but would you believe it, Jeff went to the living room where his spear (a real African warrior one, not the one lovingly made by Chris so long ago) is on display and actually thought about using it. But then, he chose the second best thing…our Pokot “coat rack” that has a more slender point.

Jeff skillfully wielded his weapon of choice. It found its mark and the rodent was successfully evacuated from our kitchen. I was so grateful for the thoughtful weapon selection by my man-of-the-house and thanked him for his bravery in finishing off the pest.

We know “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) But sometimes God uses my struggles over furry rodents and the dilemma of weapon choosing to remind me to be diligent in learning ever better how to wield His weapon of choice, “which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:17c)