Tag Archives: mits

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.)

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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.

Permanence

Nothing says next stage of life quite like receiving a text/picture of/from your youngest child in her Seattle tattoo parlor of choice. It is a real attention-grabber. The gentleman/artist in the photograph with her did appear to be wearing surgical gloves, which felt like a win all things considered.

She may or may not be my child; I am without tattoo, at least none that I have discovered, and I have been with me at almost all times. My tattoo-less status is not a moral stand, however; instead, my particular phobias include in no particular order: fear of physical pain, fear of permanent markers, and fear of misspelled words. If the tattoo artist was an actual boa constrictor, it would be my worst nightmare.

My dad had a large, prominent tattoo of a battleship on his bicep, which made perfect sense for a WWII sailor, but I am embarrassed to say that it took me a couple of decades to realize that “Ruby” was probably not the name of the battleship. The lack of texting technology during the Second World War worked in favor of the emotional state of my grandmother.

But our daughter is so cool. She carefully chose her tattoo, a Swahili phrase, and described it this way:

Nakupenda was the first Swahili phrase I learned on my first trip to Kenya back in 2012. It means “I love you” and is a constant reminder of my love for Kenya, for the students at MITS, for travel, for education, and for doing all I can to help bring more love to the world. This phrase has meant so much to me for the past 4 years and now, in the handwriting of my Kenyan brother, Paul, it will always be a part of me.

I love it. And her. But I confess that my first thought upon hearing that she was actually going through with it was, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Which, actually, was not a conscious thought, but a deeply-repressed and possibly unspoken lesson from childhood that said, “No, that is not a good idea.” Why not? The voices in my head said something about permanence. This youngest child of ours now has a message permanently imprinted on her body (laser removal technology notwithstanding).

Here’s the funny thing: She chose it because of its permanence. That’s the point.

“…it will always be a part of me.”

Yes, it will, sweetheart, and that makes me smile. You know, come to think of it, ink or no ink, all of us are tatted up by our life experiences and the deep values that shape who we are and what we hope to become.

Permanence has a negative side, but it has a glorious side, too.