Tag Archives: made in the streets

Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house.  That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner.  It was wonderful.  The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked.  We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.

All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country.  And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.

Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums.  It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.

I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers.  The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all.  They were neighbors after all.  Miraculously, no one was killed.

Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it.  One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.

I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief.  If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly.  Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.

Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence.  Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all.  I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things.  This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.

Jeremiah’s Joy

My daughter, Hillary, is in the middle of a summer photojournalism internship in Kenya and recently published her first blog post and set of photographs.  First off, she didn’t have to show up her dad by out-blogging him on the very first post, but what can you do with these millennials?  And second, her photographs are simply stunning.

With no actual reason, I immediately set out to narrow the 150 pictures to my favorite one.  This proved impossible.  There are several that feature little kiddos that are just too awesome.  Like, for instance…

MITS 3

But my quest continued, and I succeeded in identifying two photographs that go together in my opinion to tell a powerful story.

As its website explains, “[t]he mission of Made in the Streets is rescuing children from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs, loving them fully, equipping them to earn a living and sending them out to a new life.”  It is a beautiful thing to observe firsthand, and what is full of beauty are the children.

Now don’t be mistaken.  This is not some make-believe world where staff members ride in on unicorns and pick up innocent children off puffy clouds and ride off on rainbows while angels sing.  No, it is messy work, and these children have seen and done and had done to them terrible things.  But what is striking when hanging out with these rescued kids are their good hearts in spite of such a painful past.  Their smiles are contagious.  Their basic human dignity is unmistakable.

Which is why I narrowed down my daughter’s works of art to two particular photographs.  The first is of a young man still living on the streets, and I love this particular picture because his smile betrays that good heart although he remains in the frightful streets of Nairobi.

MITS 1

But there is a second picture that in my mind completes the story.  It is Jeremiah, the first student I met on my trip earlier this summer.  Jeremiah is a big boy, close to my height and twenty times stronger.  He could be intimidating, but he is just the opposite—a kind, thoughtful, funny, tender young man.  Jeremiah sits in the front row of his classes and is an eager learner.  He likes to act in drama productions.  He is a good friend to many.

Hillary took a picture of Jeremiah being silly, and I absolutely love it because at one point Jeremiah was that young man in the other photograph, living in abject poverty but with a smile that betrayed his good heart I’m sure.  And the “after” photograph powerfully shows Jeremiah’s joy.

MITS 2

(And, I can’t help but say it given the title of my entire blog, I love that he is looking up.)

Kenya Believe It?

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I woke up in the East African village of Kamulu under a mosquito net listening to a rooster that apparently got something stuck in his throat while learning to yodel; in other words, not in Malibu.  Appropriately, a man named Moses led our team’s exodus from the Nairobi airport the night before, but when the morning light replaced the darkness, I was surprised by my surroundings despite multiple reports from previous church trips, including my own family.  It was simultaneously more primitive and wonderful than I had anticipated.

Why did I travel to Kenya?  It isn’t wrong to say that my wife insisted but probably more accurate to say that I needed to see for myself what had stolen her heart. Well, mission accomplished.

Because so many friends have been to Made in the Streets (“MITS”) before me, it would be silly to recount the same observations, like the yummy-ness of chapati, the joy-filled singing of liberated street children, the endless skies on the Maasai Mara, and the beautiful kids jumping streams of raw sewage in the Mathare Valley slums.  Instead, I’ll just share a few personally unforgettable moments:

  1. Meeting Vincent, an impressive seventeen-year-old young man, covered with mud, living in the mud, high as a kite to stave off hunger and cold and yet still able to carry on an intelligent, respectful conversation. I liked him immediately yet left him in such terrible circumstances with a fist bump and will never see him again in person.  But he will never leave my mind.
  2. A sunrise run through Kamulu on a crisp morning with Paul (pictured above), a MITS graduate who has become a part of our family since my wife practically adopted him, and for a moment, matching him stride for stride while imagining what it is like to “run like a Kenyan”—and then watching him effortlessly leave me in the dust down the home stretch.
  3. Traveling with Jackton and Millie to meet four MITS graduates now working in Nairobi: (i) listening to reggae music and enjoying a vanilla milkshake at the American-themed Java House with George; (ii) eating scrumptious mandazi prepared by Chef Brian in his apartment; and (iii) sharing in an impromptu Bible study with the two Marys. Four glowing successes.
  4. Standing with my wife in the darkness outside our safari tent and looking up at the African sky to discover more stars than I had ever imagined one sky could hold.
  5. Sitting under the ceiling fans at church in Kamulu and listening to rescued street kids sing Amazing Grace, particularly the verse that proclaims: Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come / ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

If I’m honest, I think I went to Kenya to check it off my list.  Instead, it did a number on my heart, too.  Kenya believe it?

 

Crazy Dreams

I almost did something insane. My wife and I are on a team headed to Kenya this summer (note: this is not the insane part) to live for a couple of weeks alongside an inspiring organization called Made in the Streets (“MITS”) that rescues street children from the Nairobi slums. Our youngest daughter is going, too, but she will spend her entire summer there as a photojournalism intern. Both my wife and daughter are in love with MITS from past trips, and I must go see for myself what has grabbed their hearts.

Still not the crazy part.

I’m a runner. Well, I’m a runner who is struggling to find motivation to keep being a runner, so I emailed Dusty, our fearless leader to Kenya, to ask what opportunities there might be to run with the Kenyans while there. Dusty had an idea or two and then suggested looking for a race in Nairobi. Well, I didn’t find a race in Nairobi, but I discovered that one of the toughest marathons in the world will occur about four hours north of Nairobi while we are there.

Now to the crazy:
1. The race is held a hundred miles from the equator, so 90+ degrees.
2. Add high humidity.
3. Add the dust from running on a dirt road.
4. Add the thin air of a 5500’ average elevation.
5. Add that I don’t have enough time to train for a normal marathon (and this would be my first).
6. Add actual lions.

Yep, actual lions. The race is held in a game preserve, and in addition to 140 armed rangers it is stated nicely under the “safety” tab on the marathon’s website, and I quote, “A helicopter and Supercub light aircraft monitor the movements of the large species during the race.”

In. Sane. Cray. Zee.

I actually came to terms with going for it—until I learned how much it would cost (and by cost, I mean financial; for some reason, the potential human cost did not deter me). Registration is $250 (steep, but okay) along with a $1,500 fundraising requirement (steep, but I would have bugged all of you for it anyway); however, it would cost $2,000+ more just to travel there and back and sleep in a tent. I’m crazy but not crazy rich.

Here’s the deal. Somewhere in the insanity I found motivation to run again. Okay, sure, the nightmares featuring lion attacks helped, but for the most part, I’m back at it again even though I am not going to run this amazing race.

I haven’t exactly identified the lesson here, but if you are in need of some motivation in some aspect of your life, you might ask someone for suggestions and be open to considering possibilities beyond your wildest dreams. It somehow got me out of bed this morning.

Decide, Then Do

“Workouts are like brushing my teeth. I don’t think about them. I just do them. The decision has already been made.” – Patti Sue Plumer

I love resolutions and make them at any time of year, so yes, I have a new set for 2016. Three of them involve running:

#1: Set a half-marathon PR (under 1:37:10). I will go for it on Super Bowl Sunday alongside seventeen thousand new friends on a reportedly flat and spectacular course at Surf City in Huntington Beach.

#2: Enter the lottery for a chance to run the New York City Marathon. I have never entered a marathon, and if it is going to happen, it might as well be in the world’s largest marathon (fifty thousand runners!). (Running Resolution 2b: If I actually get in, complete the NYC Marathon without a corresponding hospital stay.)

#3: Run in Kenya with Kenyans. This is so incredibly awesome. My wife and I are part of a team headed to Kenya in June to work alongside a beautiful ministry that rescues children from the slums, and the chance to run with Kenyans in Kenya will be the highlight of the year. And if we are chased by a lion, then my ultimate fantasy of actually outrunning a Kenyan will also come true.

Resolutions are famously easy to make—and even keep for the first three days of the year give or take. Resolutions are famously difficult to keep past January, which is why this essay’s epigraph from Olympic distance runner, Patti Sue Plumer, is so curious in its simplicity. You simply decide and then just do? If it was only that easy . . .

What if it is that easy?

We give ourselves far too little credit. Listen closely: You (yes, you) and I (yes, me, too) possess the power to have true resolve. We really do. That resolutions are standing jokes is scandalous.

Marianne Williamson (often mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I know it better from the movie, Coach Carter) famously wrote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Do not miscalculate your strength: You are stronger than you think. Do not be afraid of failure: Your battle is the fear, not the failure.

Decide.

Then, do. Simply because the decision has already been made.

End of discussion.