beginning the orphanage in Kenya. So far in the story, I have not come to the point where I actually had visited Kenya yet, but in last week’s sermon I left off telling about how it came about that I did make a trip to Ethiopia, and unexpectedly learned that I was to have my first week there with little to do.
If you were not here for that part of the story, I do not have time to fill in any details again now, but suffice it to say I was wondering if I should use that week to go and see if my contact in Kenya was a legitimate pastor who was telling me of true needs that they were experiencing in supporting some orphaned children, or if he was a scammer looking for a victim.
As I thought about what to do during this week, I suddenly remembered someone whom I had come to know some twenty years earlier.
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 organization’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 an actual and physical orphanage that exists.
“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.
I realize that each case is different and that each individual involved in these types of scams have their own intentions, but in the beginning of their ministries, not all deceivers begin their ministries for selfish or perverted reasons. Some men (and women) have begun in the work of God with high motives, but have then fallen into various types of sin. This fall from grace produces all sorts of destruction in the lives of many, and the warnings against these corruptions of the work and word of God are severe.
Peter the apostle speaks very harshly against these deceivers, using the case of Balaam in the Old Testament as an example, saying, “They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.”
He also writes:
These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them… Their final condition is worse than it was at first. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known it and then to turn away from the holy commandment passed on to them. (2 Peter 2:15-21)
Jude says similar things in his one chapter book of the New Testament.
These men are hidden reefs… They are clouds without water, carried along by the wind; fruitless trees in autumn, twice dead after being uprooted. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 12-13 BSB)
What are all the theological implications of such statements for such men? It is difficult to say, but it is also difficult to imagine Peter and Jude making their warnings any more severe than what they have written.
Am I Dealing With A Man With a Briefcase?
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. 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.
Once again I must quote the verses that had come to my mind so often during this entire time. “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 about the trout fisherman 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 we 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 that Pastor Joel was telling me the truth. Nevertheless, it also needs to be said that one can give any impression in letters that one wants to.
Since my Californian friends planned on being in Kenya, I asked them if they were able to go and visit Joel, to see if this was truly a legitimate need. Or better yet, send a Kenyan brother to check it out.
I even thought that since my first week in Ethiopia would be more-or-less free of plans, I may even make the trip to Kenya, 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 town and to find out if there truly was a church and if they truly had taken in orphaned children. Since my Californian friends 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. Then, when Levi was free, I took off with him into the hinterlands of Ethiopia.
We returned to Addis Ababa after about ten days, and when we did, 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 during my free week and in time for me to go to Kenya.
In all honesty, 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 in fact 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.
While still in Ethiopia, 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 that country. Although I had been corresponding with Joel for almost a year, this was to be the very first time that I would send them any money.
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.
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.
I Arrive in Kenya
Journal Entry – November 15, 2017
All that I had written in the previous post concerning my trip to Ethiopia took place last March and April. It is now the 15th of November, a mere seven months after that first trip. After having never before been to Africa, this is now my second journey to that continent this year. However, right now, that trip that I made to Ethiopia a mere few months ago to see Levi seems like another lifetime to me.
I wrote the post yesterday while sitting under the clock of the silent worker at the Amsterdam airport, who dutifully erased and painted the new clock hand at each minute. But today I am in Kenya. I arrived in the middle of the night to the airport in Nairobi. By the time I made it through immigration and customs at the airport, it was about 1:00 AM. It was with some trepidation that I walked outside of the airport terminal.
Would I find a taxi driver holding up a placard with my name written on it? In preparation for the trip, I had first tried to reserve a taxi through the hotel where I hoped I had a reservation, but the website seemed not to work properly. I did finally receive some kind of cryptic confirmation that at least gave me some hope that I may have a room at the hotel, but none at all concerning the taxi that was to meet me at the airport.
It is for this reason I reserved yet another taxi from a separate website. This gave me a bit more confidence, but being used to some cities to where I had flown in the past, maybe the taxi would be waiting and maybe not. And it was 1:00 in the morning—not the time of night that I want to start to figure out what to do in a strange city of a strange country, and after a long and tiring trip.
I was uneasy on this huge continent, and all of this made me a little nervous. I told myself that if I had flown to a city in South America instead of Africa, I would not have felt this way.
In my previous work I had flown into several cities in Central and South America, so I was accustomed to doing so. I knew the language and I had previously interacted with many of the varying cultures of that continent. I knew about what I could expect.
But never in this way to Africa and never to Kenya. When I arrived in Ethiopia on the previous trip, my son Levi was there to meet me and to ease me into what to expect there. He could speak the language, and he knew what was and what was not reasonable.
But in Kenya I was alone and I did not know the national language of Swahili. Neither had I had any experience with the country. I assumed that at the airport there would be English speakers, but when you do not know the language of a country, it immediately puts you at a disadvantage. It is especially true if you are a first-time visitor. You are more easily manipulated by anyone who would wish to take advantage of your inexperience.
Thankfully, I saw none of this upon my arrival into Kenya. The airport staff was very courteous and helpful, but not overbearing. I was not swarmed by countless hawkers trying to get me to come to their hotel or on their safari. No one came up to me with a fist-full of bills, asking if I wanted to exchange money at a better rate than the exchange houses can give you.
I was also surprised at the high level of English spoken. It seemed as if everyone spoke English, even among themselves. Many of my fears about my arrival immediately vanished.
As I stepped outside the terminal, there was not one but two young taxi drivers holding up placards spelling out “Mr Donald Rhody.” Apparently, the hotel had received my request for a taxi, and so did the taxi company. Understandably, both drivers claimed they were the ones who were hired.
I expected there to be some harsh and competitive words, but I explained the situation to them—how I could not receive a confirmation from the hotel, so I felt compelled to find another before my arrival.
The taxi driver hired by the hotel handed me his phone. “Kindly talk to the hotel manager,” he said to me.
I took the phone from his hand and explained the predicament once again to the hotel manager. Again, I expected there to be some words of argument. After all, whether I rode in his taxi or not, the hotel would have to pay the driver.
Again to my surprise, there was no disagreement. The manager simply said that he understood, since they had had trouble with that website in the past. I took the taxi that I had reserved from the independent company, and heard no more about it.
Journal Entry – November 16, 2017
The hotel is small and quiet—a low budget one but quite comfortable. I rested well last night. Despite the mix-up with the taxis, the manager (who turns out actually to be the owner) is a very nice fellow and quite warm towards me. The hotel is called “Bermuda Garden,” I think because the owner had spent some time in that Caribbean island country.
I will be here for a couple of days before Joel comes. I planned it this way since I wanted a little time alone to recover from the travel, start becoming accustomed to the eight-hour time change, and just to begin to get a feel for the country.
I can tell that God has been helping me on this trip. I don’t think that I am a natural worrier, but several matters that I had been uneasy about have turned out fine. Also, there have been more than a few things along the way that have encouraged me.
Even on the plane down from Amsterdam, I found myself sitting next to two sisters from Kenya who had emigrated to Holland. They were returning to Kenya to visit family.
One of the sisters had apparently become somewhat successful in her business in Amsterdam, and was helping to fund some children in Kenya with their education costs and with living expenses. She became very interested when I told her about the reason for my going to Kenya, and about the connection that I had made with Pastor Joel from Kisii.
She encouraged me greatly in this, and also told me of some experiences that she had had in her similar endeavor. It all helped me greatly. In many ways, what she told me was not only educational and enlightening, but also a confirmation that I may not be such a fool in doing what I am doing.
Later, in the afternoon of November 16
I have taken a walk around the neighborhood of the hotel. It is mostly a residential area and there is not a great deal to see. There is one park several blocks away where I spent some time. Again I am surprised that I am not swarmed by people trying to get me to buy something or to go someplace.
People seem warm, but not overbearing. I am treated like a person and not an oddity, especially an oddity with money. In many of my experiences in developing countries, that is how I have been at first perceived. When people see someone from America, they seem to see me as not having white skin, but skin that is the same shade of green as a ten-dollar-bill. They cannot wait to come up to me and become my “friend.” It has not so far been that way here. How refreshing.
And now I am back at the hotel, sitting in the outside dining area. I have a quiet afternoon, so I will take this opportunity to write about another validation that I received from God about coming here. This confirmation was given to me even before I began planning the trip. It is something that I think not many more than Vivian and I know about…Oh, and the Log Church of Kenya.
Earlier this summer (just a few months ago), a dark mud-colored mark quite suddenly appeared on the upper part of my left forearm. I did not at first think much of it, and when Vivian asked me about it, I told her that it was just “an old man’s skin mark.”
But the mark very quickly grew into a bump, and then quite a large bump. It began to bother Vivian, so I covered it with an ace bandage.
“See, it’s all gone now,” I told her.
But I also was getting a little concerned about it and wondering what it could be. Of course, the thought that came to both Vivian and me was that it may be cancerous, but I was not yet ready to take it to the doctor.
One evening I was sitting in my chair and decided that I would try to pop it. The bump was now pretty large and seemed to be continually spreading. It was a full two inches long by one inch wide, and stood up from my arm about a half an inch.
I took a pin to it. It was surprisingly easy to pop, and when I did, it emitted a strong smell of rotting flesh. This finally got my attention. The next morning Vivian called the clinic.
“It is either MRSA (A flesh-eating bacterial infection), or it is cancer,” was the doctor’s initial assessment when I went to see him.
I felt I especially needed to quickly find out which of these it was, since in a couple of weeks, we were coming up to communion Sunday at our church. As we do it in our church, as the pastor I place the communion bread in each communicant’s hands when they come forward. I needed to know if it was something contagious. MRSA is a very aggressive infection, and quite transmittable. If it was this, I of course could not serve the communion.
After I had popped the bump, it was now again a flattish mark. It became a rather nasty looking sore on my arm that was not showing signs of healing. The final word from the doctor was that it was not MRSA, but cancer.
This made sense to me since it was on my left arm—the arm whose elbow stuck out of the car window in the bright tropical sun as I drove thousands of miles all over Venezuela when visiting our training classes.
“But it is not as bad as it could be,” the doctor told me. “It is not melanoma, but carcinoma.”
Without going into an extensive explanation, basal cell carcinoma can usually be healed. I don’t remember now what they do, but it seems to me he told me that they surgically remove it, and this usually takes care of it.
His nurse made an appointment for me with a dermatologist. However, the earliest that they had an opening was in about two and a half months from the time when they called it in. That would make my appointment right about now.
In the meantime, the mark kept growing. By now it was not a roundish spot, but was growing in length. It did not bleed and it was not healing. It was then some two and a half to three inches long, and seemed to get a little larger every day. I thought by the time my appointment date would roll around, the cancer might have spread quite significantly.
I do not deny that by that time, it had me plenty concerned. I was not so keen about telling everyone about it, however. I did not want the attention. Still, I felt an overwhelming need for someone to pray for it.
“Ask the brothers in Kenya to pray for it,” the Lord seemed to say to me one day as I was thinking about it.
I wrote a text to Joel about it and asked him to tell the church so that they could pray. The following Sunday, when they were all together, they prayed that my arm would be healed.
My spot did not disappear like magic, like when you see a time-lapse film of something going through a change. But the following day, I could tell something had happened. Instead of the raw-flesh-like appearance that it had before, the sore now looked a bit shriveled. I was cautious about being overly hopeful, but it even looked as if there was a healing taking place. No scab formed; it simply began to look better.
On the following day, it looked even better—almost healed. Within two or three days, the sore was completely gone. I was left with only a tiny whitish scar on my arm, one that is not even noticeable unless I point it out. To see it now, you would laugh at me that I was concerned at all about it.
I canceled my dermatologist appointment. What would she look at? There was nothing there! She would tell me to just go home.
I decided to use the money that I would have spent visiting the dermatologist and instead to go to Kenya to tell the Log Church about it.
In a few days, I believe I will have that opportunity.