Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Please read first in order, How it All Began,
The Collapsed Latrine, My First Trip to Africa
(The following is written sitting near the manual clock in the Amsterdam airport)

Back in 1995, Vivian and I were living in Costa Rica while we
were attending a Spanish language school. It was there we were learning the language before we were to later move to Venezuela. It was also there where we became friends with a family from California, and who were going through the same language training.

Through the years we more-or-less lost track of our friends, but I had learned that for reasons unknown to me, after a few years of working in Central America, they ended up working in an orphanage in Kenya (of all places). Besides that, as I looked at the map of Kenya, their city seemed to be about an hour or a little more away from where Joel’s city was.

I found their contact information on their mission’s internet site and wrote to them.

“Are you still in Kenya?”

As it turns out, our friends no longer were in Kenya. Just like Vivian and I, they had retired. But also like Vivian and I, their retirement did not mean that they spent their days playing golf and shuffle board and traveling cruise ships.

“We are actually planning on a return visit to our orphanage at the same time that you will be in Ethiopia,” they wrote back to me.

In an exchange of correspondence with my Californian friends, who had already spent many years in Kenya, I learned that the type of letter that I had received from Joel in response to my blog site was not uncommon.

They told me that these letters were often sent to church websites, trying to elicit money from the churches, even though there is not actual orphanage.

“Briefcase Orphanages,” our friend called these places. The people who make the contact may have certain papers and permits to show that they are operating an orphanage, but there is no building and there are no orphans. There is only a man with a briefcase receiving money from American churches.

These scams are directed at pastors and churches by people who hope that someone will send them money, even though none of what they say about their orphanages is correct.

Like a trout fisherman floating an artificial fly just above the eyes of a likely trout in a stream, they are hoping the pastor or the church will take a bite.

I actually wrote these concerns in the blog I was posting at the time—the same blog that I knew that Pastor Joel would most likely also see. I entitled these blogs, “To Ethiopia I Go.”

Pastors and churches in the United States and other wealthy countries are often easy targets, because if we are true to the teachings of Jesus, we try and do good for people in need. After all, the Apostle John puts forth the question that “if someone possesses the world, yet closes his heart against someone in need, how can the love of God abide in that person?”

But the love of Christ does not require us to be gullible, which is why Jesus also instructed his disciples to be “shrewd as serpents,” as well as “innocent as doves.”

I knew that my words would probably be insulting to Pastor Joel, but these were my concerns. They needed to be expressed. Our Californian friends included in their correspondence cases of several American churches with whom this had happened.

They wrote to me, “Your story sounds very familiar.”

 Especially notable to me was the case of a well-known and large church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Some years earlier, that church had begun receiving similar emails as did I in response to their own website and online sermons.

Responding to similar appeals for money for the supposed orphanage, the church began sending money. The church did not actually at first send someone to see this orphanage—something that I did not understand, since with such a large church, surely they could have done so.

They did not do so for some months. When someone finally did go, they found nothing. No orphanage, no orphans, no staff.

As I suspected would happen, Joel read the words that I had put on my blog and appeared to be hurt by them. He wrote to me: 

"Daddy, come and prove me and the church whether we are scammers this statement on your website from your friend in Kenya. Daddy have do not want to be rich from you. Your friend has worked in Kenya but is discouraging you from not working in Kenya. God had a purpose to direct me to you. Welcome Kenya." 

Joel told me repeatedly that his desire was to profit spiritually, not monetarily. Of course this is something that a person would say, but with our many letters back and forth, I was coming to believe Pastor Joel. But of course it is also true one can give any impression one wants to in letters. 

Since my Californian friends planned on being in Kenya, I asked them if they were able to go, or better yet, send a Kenyan brother to go and visit Joel, to see if this was truly a legitimate need.

I even thought that if possible, I may even make the trip to Kenya in my free week, that is, if the cost would not be too high. I was not eager to do so, but I felt that if the Lord did open the way for me to go, I should do it. 

My friends did arrive in Kenya, and after a couple of days at their site, they asked a Kenyan brother to go to Joel’s city and to find out if there truly was a church and truly was an orphanage. Since they went to Kenya shortly before I went to Ethiopia, all of this was to happen before I arrived in Africa. The plan was that they would email me with their verification in my free week in Addis Ababa.

But the verification did not come during my week in the city
and before Levi’s conference was over and I took off to the hinterlands of Ethiopia with him. After I returned to Addis Ababa, I found out in an apologetic email from my friends that the internet had been down for several days where they were. They had not been able to contact me in time for me to go to Kenya.

In all honesty, in some ways, I was glad that it had not worked
out for me to go and see Pastor Joel when I was in Ethiopia, since the trip even to that single country with Levi wore me out physically. He had me trekking up and down hills, long hikes to the towns on trails, and sitting hours upon hours crammed into old-style school bus seats with my bag on my lap the entire trip. In these bus rides, I usually had no chance even to stretch my legs. All of the traveling was tiring me out.

Over in Kenya however someone from the orphanage of my friend had gone to see the church that Pastor Joel had written about. Reportedly, the reception that the man received was not overly warm. This is perhaps understandable, given that I suppose he could have been viewed as somewhat of a spy. I am sorry that it was like this, but it seemed to me there was no other way. It seemed to be the best option.

The man took a photo of the church building with a cow standing in front of it. My friends sent it to me over the email. It told me little about the situation, but it was very helpful in that it was a confirmation to me. I knew at least that Joel had more than a briefcase. 

I decided that, given all my history with Joel and the Log Church of Kenya, I would send them some money to help with their latrine. I attempted to do this in the last couple days I was in Ethiopia.

I went to a Western Union office that was near to our hotel in Addis Ababa.

“We cannot send money from here,” the attendant said to me. He told me to go to a larger office in another part of the city.

Sign in the first Western Union office of "Today's
Date." Above is the Amharic Calendar as used in
Ethiopia, and the calendar below that we all know
I went there.

“We cannot send money from here either,” the man told me. “Try the main branch in the city center.”

I went there. At least at the main branch, I received a straightforward response.

“In Ethiopia, Western Union is not set up to send money out of the country. We can only receive money into Ethiopia.”

“That sounds about right,” I thought to myself. But I did not say it. 

When I returned home to the US in early May, I finally did send Joel a little money from the Western Union desk that was in our local grocery store to help with the construction of their latrine. I did not send the entire $689 or whatever it was, but only a fraction to help them out—less than half as I remember.
He later wrote to me:

Dear Beloved Daddy, Mummy and Church,

Greetings in Jesus name, we thank God for the love and concern for the new family in Africa Kenya. We pray that God of heaven to keep you safe and guide you, Mummy and Log Church at large, we have received the gift of money you sent and we will give you the report on how it was used. Thanks God bless you. Welcome Kenya. Thanks for the post on your website they are inspiring and life changing keep posting them. We have groups in the church print them and use them to teach others in the church.

 Thanks God bless you all.
 Yours Son Joel and Church leadership. 

After that, our correspondence returned to its normal manner of him responding to the sermons posted on my blog page, and I writing to assure him of the prayers of our church for all those in Kenya. However, now that I had opened the door to sending him some money, I was a little uneasy about how this relationship was to continue.

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