Journal Entry – November 11, 2017
“Kindly help us with even 150 dollars to buy food. We are suffering.”
Those were the words of Pastor Joel as he wrote to me. The words of the Apostle John were these: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
Joel’s plea was a cry that received no response from me. Contrary to the fact that I had in my possession that which could help these brothers, I had decided to close my heart against them.
I had many questions, and although I had a growing conviction that these needs were real, I did nothing. I used the questions in my mind to rationalize my lack of action. I was being, “as shrewd as a serpent” in a world of ravenous wolves. I would not be deceived by some internet scam.
At least, these were the things I was telling myself. There was a problem with this rationale, however. It did not quiet the convictions of my heart.
I was experiencing an inner struggle with which I am well acquainted. It is the dichotomy that exists between the rationalizing of a mind that is in contradiction to the compassions of the heart.
The Sabbatical Year
In the days when the ancient Israelites were living within the borders of the land given to them by God, God was explaining to them the culture that they were to establish in their new nation. He was setting before them not only what the law of the land should be, but also the spirit in which they should observe those laws.
One of the laws was that of the “The Sabbatical Year.” The Sabbatical Year came every seventh year. It was a year which was to include several customs, among which was that all debts were to be forgiven and all Hebrew servants released. In effect, “the slate was wiped clean” for all who were under some type of bondage.
It was a year that was to be dictated not by the accountant’s ledger, but by the heart of compassion.
Nevertheless, God warned against using even this charitable custom in an entirely calculating way when it came to helping one’s brother. He gives the example that if a poor man should be at the gate in need of food, people should not use the coming sabbatical year to withhold a present need.
One should not harbor the “wicked thought” that the seventh year was near and that the man could hold out until them. One should not “look upon this poor brother begrudgingly and give him nothing.”
Rather, God told them:
“If there is a poor man among your brothers within any of the gates in the land, you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him whatever he needs…
Give generously to him, and do not let your heart be grieved when you do so…
I am commanding you to open wide your hand to your brother and to the poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-10)
Pastor Joel’s next letter, the one following the desperate plea for food, came some days later and was just a note. Apparently, they had gotten some food to get them through the first crisis, but very soon they were facing another. This was an additional appeal, and it read like this:
March 9, 2017
Daddy, Mummy and Church,
Greetings in Jesus name, kindly Daddy help the children under our care who have stayed without taking food this is the second day. Kindly help we are starving greatly. Help us with what is at your hand it will save life.
Yours Son Joel
I made some inner attempts to convince myself that this was all more or less a scam of some kind. Looking at it all from without, one could easily say that this was so. But I had a problem with this. The conviction of my heart told me differently.
Nevertheless, I responded in this way:
Dear Pastor Joel,
My heart is saddened in hearing of your troubles. I am so very sorry for the difficult situation in which you find yourselves and also the children. The aid that I can give you this moment is to cry with you to the Lord, that He would supply your need.
You are in my prayers always.
May the Lord show Himself strong to all of you.
Despite my refusal to send money, I did cry out to the Lord. I literally cried out. If what Joel told me was true (and after all this time, I had a growing conviction that it was true), then these people were also truly suffering.
I do not know how they made it through that crisis. He did not explain and I did not ask. But soon to follow was another letter, this one quite lengthy. That letter began:
March 13, 2017
Dear Beloved Daddy, Mummy and church,
Greetings in Jesus name, we thank God for grace of sharing and giving us favor to finish our service yesterday well, we prayed for you and for the victory to rest upon your life.
We thank God again for this great time to share by His grace. Thanks to God for the love that we were not valued as a human race, but bought us by the blood of His son Jesus Christ and for the work of the cross.
The Kenya church is moving forward and we press on looking to the author and the finisher of our faith. We are always joyful because who started this good work will give strength to stand anything that will come on the way. Continue remembering this congregation in Kenya.
The letter ended with references from First Corinthians 15 and Psalm 34, as written by Joel:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain (beloved keep the race, the reward and crown waits for you in heaven) let your treasure be in heaven where it will not perish.
We pray the presence of God to be manifested in your midst, sick to be healed, delivered and mores souls be added to God’s family. Thanks
God bless you as we look forward hearing from you. Continue remembering us. Psalms 34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Yours in Christ service Pastor Joel
In reading this letter, I was grateful that God had somehow provided some food for the children, but strangely enough, I did not have a feeling of relief that the crisis was averted.
Rather, I felt that I had been denied a blessing that had been meant for me. I felt as if God intended that the aid should have come from me, but at my refusal, He supplied the food by some other means.
I was the loser in this entire affair. The children had been blessed by answered prayers, but I had lost out on my blessing from God.
Journal Entry – November 12, 2017
It was some days later when I received this letter:
March 23, 2017
Dear Beloved Daddy, Mummy and Church
Greetings in Jesus name, thanks for your prayers. Surely am sorry to report to you that the toilet/latrine we were using on the church collapsed yesterday on our service time and left 2 children who were using the toilet during that time of collapse, with injuries.
The children were attended in hospitals. This did not let our service not finish well, as the officer of health came to us and told us within five day we have new toilet or else our service will be disrupted.
Pastor and Church, pray with us and stand with us. The church is in trouble because of this health facilities. We so unfortunately report to you that in our country we usually build the toilet separate from the church building. We build the toilet and because of the minor earthquake it collapsed. But the house of God is strong as its standard. Pastor and Church, from the little we have we need to build this toilet, and church has offered their labour.
We were told by the officer of health is good for us to continue service and fix the toilet as soon as possible within 5 days as they said.
Pastor and Church members comes from distance and cannot go their home for toilet use. This forced us to have this toilet on church ground but unfortunately it has collapsed; now we are seeking God and your help to fix this toilet and use it.
In the reading of that email, I realized that the conviction was growing in me that what Pastor Joel had been telling me all along was the truth. Nevertheless, I still refused to be involved in any monetary way. I was still holding onto my original conviction that my overseas work was over.
However, at the same time, I could not shake the feeling that the Lord was perhaps trying to get my attention. I believed that these were brothers and sisters who were suffering. It was especially true for the children.
Along with the letter that explained the situation with the latrine, Joel also sent me a list of the materials that the church would need to purchase:
Cement 20 Bags =Ksh.19, 000
Rentals 12 pcs =ksh. 9,560 (which I later found out was their word for re-bar)
Labour (will be offered by the church)
Personnel money =Ksh.12,400=
Doors are available
Sandy 1 lorry =Ksh.16,000
Put in terms of American dollars, in total it came to about $689.
In closing Joel said this:
We are seeking God to provide, Please help as the lord will provide, we trust together we can. Not our wish this to happen, but we trust God will raise the standard of our church and we will not remain in lack.
God will send his help to come out of this situation. Thanks for all your love and concern to us. Kindly help as the lord will provide to rebuild this toilet.
Although the implication to help them out by sending some money was very strong, Joel did not explicitly and openly ask for me to help. He only expressed faith that God would help. But I was still harboring questions about whether or not all of this was legitimate. I responded to Joel:
Dear Pastor Joel,
I am very sorry to hear about the collapse of your toilet. I want you to know that my heart pains for your situation and I always wish to help in physical ways.
So you understand my situation, I have spent most of my adult life working in countries in South America in areas where there was not much money to build and repair. Even here, in our own little Log Church, we have issues for which we, as a few people, have little resources.
Since I have worked in poor areas, people from those areas often ask me for help. Some I am able to help, but I myself am not of financial means that I can send money to everyone, nor is our church either large or wealthy. Besides that, I am an older man now and past the years of employment.
I thank you for sending me the price list of the materials that you will need. I, and the church will be praying for these needs to be met. Our hearts are one with yours.
God's Blessings to you,
My words may seem superficial and meaningless—just a wordy way to deny his request. You can see also how I was lowering expectations that he may have had about me being able to help them.
But my words did also express past and present experiences and realities. I have had many similar experiences in the past. I did not believe every plea.
However, I also discovered something else in what I wrote. I discovered that I actually meant the words when I expressed the sentiment that my heart was one with the church in Kenya.
The Hound of Heaven
The old English poet (Francis Thompson) called the Spirit of God, “The Hound of Heaven,” unhurriedly but constantly pursuing until you submit to what He is calling you to do.
That is what God was doing with me. He was always on my tail about this work in Kenya, not giving me a moment of peace about this. The work would not leave my mind.
That email came to me in March. It was one day in October when Vivian came down stairs early in the morning that I told her, “I have to go to Kenya. It has been almost a year since God first began to speak to me about this work. He will not let me rest. I at least need to go to find out if this is a legitimate calling.”
The Fool’s Journey
And now as I write this, tomorrow morning I am to begin my long journey to visit the church and the beginnings of the orphanage in Kenya. I frankly do not know what to expect, except that this will be a difficult trip. My mind is full of uncertainty.
I have arranged a hotel in Nairobi, but even that was with some difficulties, and I am not sure if the room is actually reserved. The confirmation that I received online was not as confirming as I thought that it should be.
I have also arranged for a taxi to meet me at the airport. But the website did not work properly, so I do not know if I shall find one waiting for me.
I have never been to that city or that country. I do not know anyone there, and in all candor, the person who is supposed to contact me may not even exist.
“Pastor Joel” is supposed to be coming in a day or so from Kisii, which is far to the west of Nairobi—in the distant western boundaries of the country, but I have to ask myself what I will do if he does not show. After all of the deliberations and thoughts back and forth that I have had with myself, in the end it may turn out he is simply a scammer.
In all honesty, I may well be acting a fool. I may be nothing more than the naïve and foolish mark of a rather well-orchestrated internet scam. I have to come to that admission.
I need to be honest with myself and admit that everyone who afterwards hears about what I have done may well find my experience all a good source of laughter and derision.
“He’s flown off to Kenya like a teen-aged girl chasing an internet dream—an old man who we should perhaps put away in a home.”
What drives me forth is not common sense. If I were to act with pure reason, I would just stay home. But human reason alone is not the most important motivation in this. What motivates me to continue is that I have a history with the Lord. God has had me do foolish things in the past—at least foolish in the eyes of “sensible” people. My life has actually been filled with these types of experiences.
My philosophy in living has long been this: “When God asks me to do something, I try to say ‘yes.’”
I have not always been true to this philosophy, but I can say that I think that I usually have been—and I have seen that God has always been faithful.
If I am to be a fool—then I will be a fool for the Lord.
As I told Vivian on that morning shortly before I began planning this trip, “I have to go to Kenya. I cannot continue my life and pretend that God is not calling me to this task. I at least need to check it out.”
Am I fool for going to Kenya? In a couple days, I will find out.
My First Trip to Africa
Journal Entry – November 14, 2017:
At some point between yesterday’s journal entry and today’s, I seem to have gained a day—or maybe I’ve lost a day. I’m not sure which.
Anyway, “yesterday” was November 12, but today my phone says that it is the 14th of November today instead of the 13th.
As a stopover on my way to Kenya, I am presently in the airport in Amsterdam. They have the coolest wall clock here that I have ever seen. It is not a digital-type clock, but one with an hour and minute hand. It is perhaps eight or nine feet in diameter, and the face of the clock of frosted glass.
The most striking aspect of this clock is that there is a man standing behind the glass. His image somewhat obscured or blurry because of the unclear nature of the glass, but there he is, standing in full height.
I should add that the man is not actually standing, because at every minute he is busy erasing the minute hand and painting a new one—except he advances it one minute. He sometimes has time to be still and rest for a couple of seconds, but very soon he is back at it, removing the old minute hand and painting a new one.
It looks like an actual man, and not some type of animation, but it is unimaginable that there could actually be a man there. So what is it?
Of course I had to Google it, and it turns out that this clock was created by Danish designer Maarten Bass, installed only last year (2016). It turns out that it is a twelve hour video that runs on a loop. The video is of an actual man doing exactly what it looks like—each minute erasing and then painting a new minute hand, and I suppose also the hour hand when that time comes.
The man is dressed in worker’s blue overalls, with a yellow rag and red paint bucket, meant to pay homage to Mondrian, the famous Dutch artist.
I’ll not go into any further explanation of it, but you can Google it for yourself. It’s worth five or ten minutes to read about it and even watch a short video clip.
But now back to the task at hand…
At this moment, I am halfway in my journey to see the need in Kenya first-hand. As I watch Maarten Bass or whoever it is paint the hands of the clock in the Amsterdam airport, I am also mindful of my departure time for Nairobi at gate E17.
But although I have never before been to Kenya, this is not actually my first time in Africa as a continent. As it happened, about the time that Joel wrote to me about the latrine back in March, I was in fact getting ready to depart on a different trip to Africa.
That trip last April was to be the first time I actually traveled to that continent, but that first visit to Africa was not to Kenya.
To Ethiopia I Go
Our youngest son Levi was at the time living in Ethiopia. He was there with the Peace Corps. Levi was living in such a condition that we rarely had news from him, and Vivian and I were missing him greatly. There was no internet connection where he lived, old fashioned letters only very rarely came from our son, and our letters to him likewise only rarely got through. There was no cell service where he was, so of course the telephone was out of the question.
I needed to go and see Levi. I needed to see where he was living and how he was doing. It was near the end of April that I would go to see him in Ethiopia.
I hesitated in telling this news to Joel, but at the same time, I thought that I should. By now my relationship with him had grown to a point that I thought that it would be deceitful of me to keep this from him. Ethiopia is, after all, right on the northern border of Kenya.
After some hesitation about this, I finally wrote to Joel:
On another matter, I want you to know that I have a son who is working in Ethiopia in a poor village in the north of the country. I am traveling to go and see him next month. I had thoughts that perhaps I could come to see you as well, but it is already very costly for me to go to see my son, and to add a trip to your area of Kenya is much too costly for me. Sorry to say I am not able to visit.
However, please know that as I go to Africa, I will be praying for you, your church, your country, and your entire continent.
With the love of Christ, Pastor Don
It was not a surprise to me that Joel responded to this news in the following manner:
God who connected us with you had a purpose, sure daddy i can send you even the picture of the ministry here and even my identification card to located me and see what I and the church doing for the lord. Please come to Kenya even one hour on your way to Ethiopia you will see us and the church.
Joel’s city in Kenya is not near the border of Ethiopia, so of course the “one hour,” was not practical. It would mean an extension of almost a week to the trip. Besides that, my mention of expenses was not merely an excuse. It was a real concern of mine.
Nevertheless, as it turned out, I did have about a week to spare on my trip. I had originally planned my arrival to coincide with the last day of a training that Levi was to do in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
However, after I had already purchased my ticket, the Peace Corps delayed the training dates by one week, placing my arrival on the first day of the week-long training instead of the last. Levi would be busy for the first week. I would have little to do after I arrived.
Since I had a full week before I could do much with Levi, a completely new thought came to me concerning the situation in Kenya. Strangely enough, included in these thoughts was someone whom I had come to know more than two decades earlier in the country of Costa Rica, Central America.
Next week: “The Costa Rican Connection,” and “I Arrive in Kenya”