Tag Archives: Kenya

The Beauty of the Hard Places

I had a piece I was going to write tonight, but I decided I’ve written enough about my thoughts lately. My thoughts can get tiring to me sometimes, so I can only imagine what it’s like for other people. So tonight I’m writing a very picture heavy blog featuring some of the amazing places I’ve seen in going to the hard parts of Africa. All photos were taken in South Sudan, Kenya, or Ethiopia. If you ever get a chance to go to these places for whatever reason, they can be utterly heartbreaking yet stunningly beautiful, sometimes at the same time.

Sunrise in Arba Minch, Ethiopia.

A man paddles down the White Nile in South Sudan.

Children in South Sudan with grass fires in the background.

A woman in a remote part of the Borana region of Ethiopia.

The beauty of Yabello, Ethiopia.

The desert near the Ethiopia, Somalia border.

A waterfall on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

A giraffe with downtown Nairobi, Kenya in the background.

Jeldu Gojo in the mountains of central Ethiopia.

A rain storm drenches South-Central Ethiopia.

110 degrees f at the top of Jebel Kujur in South Sudan.

Lightning over Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.

Children watching the massive cattle herds go by in South Sudan.

Morning in Addis Ababa.

Tea plantation in Kimunye, Kenya.

I could have kept posting pictures, as there are simply so many epic places in Africa, but I’ll just have to save some for another blog post.

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Generosity

Every time I go to Africa I learn something new. I learn new things about the places and cultures, and about how one country or one region or one tribe is different from another. And whereas when I first went to Africa everything was new and different and very black and white, over the years I’ve begun to understand the subtle nuances of why some things are the way they are. More exciting for me is that in coming to understand more about Africa and the Africans, I’ve come to understand more about myself.

My most recent revelation was on my last trip to Kenya. As a missionary, you grow in your relationships with the people you’re partnering with. As that happens, you begin to learn more not only about their interactions with you, but their interactions with each other. What I learned this time was that, with some notable exceptions, Kenyans are very hospitable people, but not very generous. They are willing to take people into their homes and spend time with them, but when it comes to giving money or volunteering for a cause, it’s a much more difficult proposition.

So I started thinking about that. How do we (missionaries) show a good example of how to be generous? Because we’re generous, right? And it was at that point that I learned the lesson about myself.

In the book of Mark, Jesus is at the temple in Jerusalem, and makes an observation to his disciples.

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

So how is this different from how we as missionaries act when we go overseas? We go to a foreign places, throw some money around, go home, and congratulate ourselves on how generous and giving we were. We give away used shoes and clothing, undermining the local merchants, and hand out money that creates dependency, ruining Africa one person at a time. Is this generosity? I think not. We give money because for us, relatively speaking, it’s easy to come by. They (the Kenyans) give of their time, because (again, relatively speaking) it’s easy to come by. Neither is really generous when it comes down to it, because, as we learned from the story of the widow’s mite, true generosity is when you give out of your lack.

I’m not saying that giving money is a bad thing, far from it. But what would it look like if we gave not only our money, but invested in meaningful relationships with those we are partnering with. What if we truly gave of our time and emotional reserves and truly bore each other’s burdens as if we were family? This is the model that Jesus set up for us, because we are brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore heirs of the same Kingdom. And that is the example of generosity.

Some people see life as a pie, and there’s only so much pie to go around. When you see life that way, you do all you can to get as much pie as you can, because the pie will soon be gone.

Others see a life of infinite pie. There will always be more pie. As Christians, we need to see life this way. We know the one who makes all the pie, and if we just ask for it with the intention of giving it away, he will give us more. But in order to receive it, there has to be less of us, and more of Jesus. That’s when we’ll see generosity take hold.

A Week in Kibera.

Recently I got back from spending a week in Kenya, most of it in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. It had been 3 1/2 years since I’d been to Kenya, and I was eager to see how our friends were doing. Though we’d been in contact with many of them, it’s much better to be able to physically see how people are doing than to just be told. Plus it’s the unspoken things that really tell the stories.

Some things had changed. More of the roads in Kibera are now paved, keeping down a bit of the mud and dust, but the trash problem has not gotten any better. Many of the children in the daycare are new, but that’s to be expected, as children get older and start going to school and are replaced by younger ones.

What didn’t change was the absolute beauty of the people in Kibera. As I came from a nation where material things are so important to people, but unhappiness and loss of purpose is rampant, I am reminded that there is as much blessing in not having what you don’t need as there is in having what you do need. The words of Proverbs 30 are brought to mind.

“Two things I ask of You—

do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me.

Give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with the bread that is my portion.

Otherwise, I may have too much

and deny You, saying, “Who is the LORD?”

Or I may become poor and steal,

profaning the name of my God.”

Before we think we have it better, look at the joy on the faces of the people of Kibera and remind ourselves that joy doesn’t come from what is outside.

Kibera, Kenya.

Just a short post today, as I’m still in the field in Kenya. we came back to check on some friends we haven’t seen in three and a half years. I’m happy to report that they are doing well. The daycare that Pastor Obedi and has wife Helen run under very difficult circumstances is also doing well.

I’m looking forward to what the future brings for them and those kids, and I’ll be writing about some of that in the future. But for tonight I’m just going to post some pictures from the last couple days.

Back to Kibera.

In just a couple of weeks, I head back to Kibera, Kenya. A group of four men will be going to minister in the largest urban slum in Africa. We’ll be going back to catch up with some good friends we haven’t seen in a long time.

It occurred to me today that I used to post a lot more pictures than I have been lately. I am a professional photographer, after all. So for those following my journey, here are some pictures from previous trips to see Pastor Obedi and His wife Helen in Kibera.

Kibera and Paul’s Fifth Missionary Journey

In less than three weeks I leave for Kenya. This will be my first trip to Kenya in about three and a half years. There will be a team of four of us going, two of which have never been to Kenya before. It’s hard to convey to people who have not been there not only what it will be like, but also what we’ll be doing there. It’s the second part, the what we will be doing, that I’d like to talk about today.

I think the best way to start explaining what we are going for is to use the Apostle Paul’s fifth missionary journey as a template. You say you haven’t heard of Paul’s fifth journey? Well, it’s not nearly as well known as his first four. It’s the one where Paul took a group of people to Tarshish, and they painted the walls of a church that didn’t need painting. After that they did some street preaching in a language no one understood, and then handed out flip flops and used shoes. After that, on the last day they went shopping and snorkeling.

This of course did not happen. And I realize that my sarcasm is biting. But I also know that when people read something that is true, the initial reaction is to be angry, but then to think about it. There is nothing wrong with going somewhere to do projects that need to be done, and there’s nothing wrong with having some fun on the last day you’re there. What I find distasteful is that short term missions has gone from an opportunity to build unity within the body of Christ, and to both be a witness to the lost and encourage and strengthen our indigenous brothers and sisters to do the same, and instead has become wholly about us. What is the project? What are we going to paint? What are we going to build? What are we going to do TO or FOR these poor people? The moment we ask these questions we put ourselves on a higher plane in our own minds than those we are going to minister to. There’s a song with the phrase, “the notion that we’re better than them; the ultimate delusional chant.”

Instead, we ought to ask things like, How can we work together so that we can all grow in better community with each other and with God? How can we learn from each other so we will not continue to walk in our own brokenness? When we ask these questions, it suddenly becomes less about projects, and it becomes a lot more about people.

So going back to what we’ll be doing in Kibera, I think it would be best to start with a description of what Kibera is.

Kibera is the largest urban slum in Africa. It’s population is unknown, though estimates range between 250,000 and a million people. The average family lives in a 12 foot by 12 foot shack. There is no trash pick up, and there are no sewers, so sewage runs down every gully and low point of ground. The average wage is $1 a day. Crime and violence are rampant.

In light of this, going in and painting something or doing some kind of project, or even feeding the poor would be the equivalent of putting a bandage on a dead beached whale. The truth is, a large number of the people there are either unemployed or sporadically employed. So if I go in with a team and start working on something that needs to be “improved”, all I’m doing is depriving someone of a paying job.

So what can we do? This is where the “working with” as opposed to the “doing for” is so important. You find the indigenous resources and skills that are already there and figure out how they can be developed with the help of the people who live there every day. You identify community leaders, like pastors, who already have the respect of the people. You find out what their own goals and vision for their community are and do what you can to achieve that. When there is a specific deficit, and only when there is a specific deficit that can’t be filled from within the community do you bring in foreign money and talent.

This doesn’t sound nearly as romantic as saying, “we went to Kenya and fed 1000 poor children”. And this is the reason that I decided to write this blog. One of our new people lamented that when he told people what we were doing, he had a hard time raising support. The response was, “So basically you’re going to Kenya to have a bunch of meetings with people?”

The answer was essentially yes. But we have to go and do what’s ultimately right, and not what makes people feel good about giving. After all, it really isn’t about us.

Leaving Home.

In four days I leave for Ethiopia. This will be my third trip to Ethiopia. I’ve also been to South Sudan four times, and I’m not even sure how many times I’ve been to Kenya. Every country I’ve been to, and every city, and every village has been different in some way or another. Cultures are different. Tribes are different. Nations that border each other have vastly different characters and cultures. I’m only talking about East Africa. I haven’t even been to central or West Africa, and only passed through South Africa.

I sincerely wish everyone could do what I do, at least once. I wish everyone could uproot and leave home, truly leave home and go somewhere so far out of their comfort zone that you couldn’t stand on a stool and see where your comfort zone is.

I hear so many people say, “We are so blessed here. We have so much we take for granted.”  Having traveled to the places I’ve been, I know how true that statement is. I also realize how little the people saying it realize what they’re saying. If you take something for granted, then by definition you do not understand what it is that you either have or do not have. It’s easy to say, “We have so much,” because that’s the more obvious observation one can make, but it doesn’t mean you understand poverty. There is so much depth to what we don’t understand that I can’t describe it without taking someone with me and letting them experience it for themselves. There is so much more than, “We have so much.” There are cultural things we have so engrained within us that we have no understanding of how other cultures think. Each time I go, I understand a little more, and I realize more how much I don’t understand.

The observation of “We have so much” also belies our idea that our culture is somehow superior to other cultures, because we see them as having so little, while having little understanding of what we lack within our own culture. What are the divorce rates within American culture? How much of this “We have so much” is actually things we don’t need that get in the way of family relationships and friendships? How many families have been broken up because we had a choice of either building a legacy with our spouse or children, but we chose instead that a career was important and having a nicer car than our neighbor? How many of us have heart disease, cancer, gout, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity because we are “rich”? While most Africans would be considered poor in our eyes, it’s not always because they lack basic necessities. Rather it’s because our idea of “richness” is so monetarily based that we fail to see our own poverty. I know many Africans that have a legacy that I can only dream of.

There are so many other things we take for granted that I could get into, but I fear that it would only evoke a deer-in-the-headlights look in many readers. I say this not to be demeaning or to look down on people. It’s because I’ve been there.  It’s fairly easy to describe some ways of doing things that are different, but it’s virtually impossible to describe the different ways people think. Which brings me back to the beginning. If you ever have the chance to do missions, by all means go. Get to know the people one on one. Build relationships. You’ll find you learn just as much what you didn’t know about yourself as you do about them.

People walking along an open sewer in a slum in Africa

Leaving Footprints In The Enemy’s Territory.

I’ve taken a break for about a month and a half, but I am back to writing. Exciting things have happened since the last time I wrote. I got to see a church come together with their brothers and sisters half way across the world. The video above was shown at our church in South Carolina. The purpose of the video was to make people aware of not only what life is like in the slums of Kibera, Kenya, but also to awaken people to the heart of the people there. If you only show gloom and doom without showing people that the needs and wants and dreams of people are the same everywhere, you rob them of their dignity and make the problem of poverty even worse. So I thought it was important to hear from the people there without overlaying my own thoughts about the situation.

Two Sundays ago, I saw our church come together and sponsor 45 children from Praise Assembly Kibera so that they can go to school, and begin the journey out of the slum for the next generation.  We have two church services, and after the first service, there were only 12 children left to sponsor. This is exciting, but it tells me that the vision wasn’t big enough, which is also exciting. I can’t wait to see what can be done when the size of the vision meets the size of the hearts of people to fulfill that vision. I fully expect God to stretch the idea of what is possible when people are obedient to his calling.

We also now have a new missions coordinator appointed, and I’m thrilled to see what can happen when there is one person to bring everybody under one roof, so to speak, and get us all moving in the same direction. Let’s leave our footprints in the territory the enemy thinks he owns, and move with boldness and without fear into the places God wants us to go. That is the kind of thing that brings me excitement.

A Year In Photographs.

Each year, I try to publish some of my favorite photos of the year. This year, as I went through my files for the various things I took pictures of this year, it became apparent to my the vast diversity of things I shot this year. Up until this point, I hadn’t realized this year was different from any other. Sure, I take pictures in Africa every year, but this year there was so much more than that. From Eastern Ethiopia to shooting a wedding in the Bahamas to documenting life on a fishing boat, I truly have a lot that I’m happy to have captured this year. I’m posting quite a few photos in this blog, and there are many more I could have posted. Some made it in for the technical quality of the photo, some for the backstory or the story the picture tells. Hopefully the latter two will represent well. Please enjoy. I look forward to the adventures that 2016 brings. All photos can be clicked on for a larger view.

Men working on a shrimping boat off the coast of South Carolina.
Men working on a shrimping boat off the coast of South Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wide panorama of the Kibera slum, largest urban slum in Africa
wide panorama of the Kibera slum, largest urban slum in Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

A patchwork of farms surround a small village in Ethiopia.
A patchwork of farms surround a small village in Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time goes by around a bride and groom in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
Time goes by around a bride and groom in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental portrait of Sarah Sanford-Rausch.
Environmental portrait of Sarah Sanford-Rausch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People watch as a whale shark and manta ray swim past at the Georgia Aquarium.
People watch as a whale shark and manta ray swim past at the Georgia Aquarium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite wedding shots of the year.
One of my favorite wedding shots of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can you not love this elderly man from Ethiopia?
How can you not love this elderly man from Ethiopia?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gratitude of a woman saved from starvation.
The gratitude of a woman saved from starvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A portrait I did this fall on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina.
A portrait I did this fall on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture for me sums up what Harar, Ethiopia looks and feels like.
This picture for me sums up what Harar, Ethiopia looks and feels like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A shot at sunset as the storm rolled in near my home.
A shot at sunset as the storm rolled in near my home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite of the wedding I shot in Hopetown, The Bahamas this year.
My favorite of the wedding I shot in Hopetown, The Bahamas this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The captain of the fishing vessel I was shooting on this fall.
The captain of the fishing vessel I was shooting on this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time lapse of the waves rolling in past the bride and groom.
Time lapse of the waves rolling in past the bride and groom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Candid portrait of a girl in Kibera, Kenya.
Candid portrait of a girl in Kibera, Kenya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Action portrait of dancers for a Beaufort Lifestyles Magazine.
Action portrait of dancers for a Beaufort Lifestyles Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

time exposure of young man standing in flowing water looking at dead flooded trees
time exposure of young man standing in flowing water looking at dead flooded trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman walking with a donkey in the highlands of Ethiopia.
Woman walking with a donkey in the highlands of Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Pat Conroy in this environmental portrait in his home.
Author Pat Conroy in this environmental portrait in his home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite Ethiopia shots ever, taken in Dire Dawa.
One of my favorite Ethiopia shots ever, taken in Dire Dawa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portrait taken for Beaufort Lifestyles Magazine.
Portrait taken for Beaufort Lifestyles Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastors totally lost in prayer in Ethiopia.
Pastors totally lost in prayer in Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time exposure of waves and driftwood in the ocean at sunset
Time exposure of waves and driftwood in the ocean at sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wedding portrait I shot on Fripp Island.
A wedding portrait I shot on Fripp Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian athletes playing football (soccer) at dawn.
Ethiopian athletes playing football (soccer) at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short time exposure of traffic in downtown Nairobi, Kenya.
Short time exposure of traffic in downtown Nairobi, Kenya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I photo I did for a couple's engagement this fall.
I photo I did for a couple’s engagement this fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids hamming it up for the camera in Kibera, Kenya.
Kids hamming it up for the camera in Kibera, Kenya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying a "Stoney" with my wife in Kibera.
Enjoying a “Stoney” with my wife in Kibera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my couples in an avenue of oaks.
One of my couples in an avenue of oaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Athletes receiving new shoes donated from Nike in Ethiopia.
Athletes receiving new shoes donated from Nike in Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple watching the storm roll past just after their wedding.
A couple watching the storm roll past just after their wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back From Kibera

Less than forty eight hours ago, we got back from Kibera. All in all, I’d say the trip was a success. We were able to build good relationships with the people in the church and help out in the daycare. We were also able to help in some financial ways, but I see these as secondary to the job we came to do, which was build understanding of the issues and the people so we can partner for the long term. None of that can be done if we go with blinders on and a singular goal to build something or feed somebody. We are broken in certain ways, some of us financially, some of us spiritually, some of us in other ways. The goal of missions is to help each other overcome these various forms of brokenness. As I think over the issues I saw and more is revealed to me over time, I will write about these more in depth.

The trip home was an ordeal. My wife got sick to her stomach half way through the first flight, and is still a bit uneasy two days later. It was to the point where she came that close (you can’t see me thumb and forefingers about half an inch apart) to not getting on the plane from Zurich back to the United States. A couple missionaries saw what was going on and came to pray for Lynn. She met someone in the last five minutes before boarding who had some prescription nausea medication, and she was able to settle her stomach enough to board. God truly puts the right people in the right place.  My friends wife also got sick to her stomach on the plane, but not to that extent. Then we had to get through the nightmare that is customs in Dulles (very close to dullard), where everything is done in the least efficient manner possible. Our plane was boarding by the time we got through that, but we still needed to get to a different section of the airport entirely. As I rounded the corner I saw the sign that said the next train would be coming in 23 seconds. I shouted back the information to everybody else, and we managed to get onto that train. After getting off, I ran ahead to the gate and found they were about to close it. I told them my group was right behind me, and they let us on. I can feel my blood pressure rising even as I write about it. Nonetheless, we made it on our last plane and back home.

I have been going through the pictures from the trip. I have far fewer this time. As I mentioned in a previous blog, my role was very different for this trip, and I was watching out for three other people rather than focusing all my attention on taking pictures. Nevertheless I have some that give what I feel is a good representation of our trip, and I will post more later as I have something to write about. Enjoy.

child in Obedis' daycare in Kibera.
child in Obedis’ daycare in Kibera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children on the outskirts of Kibera. They were there as I shot video interviews.
Children on the outskirts of Kibera. They were there as I shot video interviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking dinner together
Taking dinner together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carl having a good time with the kids.
Carl having a good time with the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn in her element, teaching the kids, and trying to learn some Swahili.
Lynn in her element, teaching the kids, and trying to learn some Swahili.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kibera right after a heavy rainstorm.
Kibera right after a heavy rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A child looking in the window of the daycare.
One of Obeid’s daughters looking in the window of the daycare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obedi making ugali.
Obedi making ugali.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nairobi shortly after dark.
Nairobi shortly after dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty in the little things.
Beauty in the little things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bunny and Obedi walking through Kibera.
Bunny and Obedi walking through Kibera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The market on the railroad tracks.
The market on the railroad tracks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An overview of Kibera.
An overview of Kibera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Masha and Gaz, great guys.
Masha and Gaz, great guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the daycare kids.
One of the daycare kids.