Column by Peggy Dover from the Rogue Valley Times
Lynn Leissler was the subject of a former column a few years back. She’s the wonder woman and close friend who has gladly accepted the challenges with the joys of raising her teenage granddaughter, Renee. Yes, Lynn possesses an impressive list of grandmotherly requisites; she knits, she sews, she quilts, she bakes—and all skillfully. She also reads voraciously.
Let’s just say at nearly 78 years old, Lynn might be considered beyond the stage of dealing with teen angst, prom dress shopping, and boyfriend troubles. The affection return Renee gives is well worth the investment.
Because she neither looks nor acts her age (however that’s supposed to look these days) this grandmother recently surpassed expectation by taking Renee on a mission trip to Kenya, Africa. I’m a witness as to just how many and prolonged were the challenges in preparation to leaving—everything seemed to work against them. Obtaining visas online was an exercise in humility; forget about patience. Taking the required shots and typhoid medicine made them ill, especially Renee. Despite navigating the potholes to get there and the ridiculous flight schedule with long layovers, they’re eager to return. I spoke with them about their incredible experience.
The program coordinating the effort is called Hope’s Promise. Various churches work with Hope’s Promise on behalf of bringing hope to children in the Kuza Project of Kenya—Kuza means light. They’re a faith-based organization who send teams of individuals to some of the most impoverished areas to work with neglected children and help them understand they matter. I asked Renee what she loved most about her experience.
“Meeting the kids,” was her quick reply. One thirteen-year-old boy in particular touched her soul. “He doesn’t have a lot. I asked him what his favorite thing to ever do was, and he said ‘praise the Lord.’ I said ‘what’s your second favorite thing to do?’ He answered, ‘help people who need things that I have.’”
Lynn explained the purpose. “It was a school break program, so, like a vacation Bible school type deal. The church there is facilitating a program that helps kids stay with their bio families, if possible. And if not, to be with non-relative caregivers to help them attend school—to care for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and help these kids develop a sense of worth on their own, because they’ve had a lot of trauma in their lives.
They are westernized there and also proudly aware of being Kenyan. The children of Mathare watch movies that they believe represent the typical American family. It was quite an eye-opener for them to learn that our country shares the same issues, with dysfunctional homes, and less than ideal living conditions not uncommon. “We were careful to not go there as “White saviors,” Lynn said, ‘just to go there and walk alongside what they are doing.”
The small group visited the Mathare Valley Slum of Nairobi, where half a million people dwell within six square miles. They weren’t there to gawk and shake their heads. Renee explained. “We hung out with the kids. We sang, danced, and did art classes. There were singing and ukulele classes. Then we walked through the slum. We went into a couple peoples’ houses, which were small.”
“It’s a slum and it’s harsh, but there’s resiliency, determination, and joy,” Lynn said.
Those who escape the slum, though glad to be out, miss the community they shared. They no longer know and relate to their neighbors, but stay to themselves behind gated communities. Eight-foot cornflower blue iron gates surround neighborhoods.
The life-changing trip had a powerful impact on both of them and altered their perspectives. Renee’s least favorite part was saying goodbye. “I was a whole wreck.” She’s considering missions as a worthwhile investment for her future and that of the kids.
It was autumn there. The weather was cool and pleasant for the Oregonians, while Kenyans wore puff coats. Lynn added, “Kenyans are warm, friendly, welcoming people, and they smile a lot.”
Nana (sho-sho in Kenyan) and granddaughter made friendships and memories that will stand the test of time.
A REFLECTION ON THE LESSONS LEARNED DURING A CONNECTION TEAM TRIP TO KENYA.
By Keenan Morgan
While walking through the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, we would navigate these never-ending narrow walkways. Sounds of music, motorcycles, children playing, food cooking, and many others could be heard all around. The mod podge of wood and sheet metal surrounds you, almost making you feel claustrophobic. Ducking your head to avoid live wires and watching your step to avoid slipping on the mud and into the ditch is a daunting task.
One at a time we were waiting to enter the small home of an incredible woman who is trying to do everything to support her children. Waiting near the back I tried to use my senses to take it all in when I heard a small voice behind me say, “Hello.” I turned around only to be confronted with more wood and sheet metal. Until I realized there was a crack looking through to the next walkway.
Through the crack, I saw a beautiful little Kenyan girl standing in a doorway waving at me. I smiled and waved back before it was my turn to walk into the home.
Whenever God gives me the chance to travel internationally, I always wonder what He is going to teach me. This lesson might have been one of the greatest I have ever learned. In places of extreme poverty, we sometimes only see what is wrong. This causes us to go into “fix-it” mode trying to figure out what we can do to fix the situation. We have good intentions, but oftentimes we leave feeling like we haven’t even made a dent in the problem. But I don’t believe that God is always calling us to FIX what is wrong. I think God wants to use these experiences, like a Connection Team Trip with Hope’s Promise, to make a difference in our own lives so that we can return home with a passion and fervor to continue working to impact the lives of others. Could it be that our mission field is wherever we are in the moment? What may feel like a drop in the bucket can turn into a bucket overflowing over the course of a lifetime.
God always teaches me a valuable lesson when I am willing to listen to that still small voice saying, “Hello.” The lesson this time is this; when all we can see is the trash, the hurt, the brokenness, and the ugly dirty mess, God sees the beautiful potential. He sees the seed being planted in the empty desolate field that will one day be a beautiful forest flourishing with life. He sees the bad and despite it, redeems and restores it. We can see this beauty too and be vessels of the work if we are willing to peel back the layers of bad and look through the cracks. If we can put aside our motives, ideas, and wants, then we can look at the world through God’s eyes to see His plan and purpose at work. We can begin to see the beauty that exists despite the bad.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7b NIV
With Tax Day less than a week away (April 18th) it’s important for adoptive parents to know about the Adoption Tax Credit. Our Friends at the National Council For Adoption have the best resources and we want to share them with you!
At Hope’s Promise, we never stop caring for birth moms. Once a birth mother has placed with an adoptive family, we believe in providing continuing opportunities for healing, growth, and well-being.
Shared blog by FosterMama
At Hope’s Promise, we want to provide our amazing foster parents (and potential foster parents) with as many resources as possible so that they feel supported and cared for. This blog is full of great ideas for working foster parents.
When we first considered becoming foster parents, I joined foster Facebook groups to learn everything I could about the process. I quickly noticed that many foster families have a stay-at-home parent. I did worry a bit—my career is important to me and I wasn’t really willing to give it up. Plus, it would not make financial sense for me to leave my job. Similarly, my husband had recently graduated with his Doctorate so he was also not at a point where he would be up for staying home full-time. So could we do it with two careers?
Read more here.