But as we continue to learn, “normal” is a moving target. Instead of life settling down to any type of regularity, it seemed to be always constantly changing, and even in some ways becoming more difficult. Travel restrictions, for instance, were becoming not only more demanding, but also more unpredictable. Rules for where you can fly and from where you can return were always shifting depending on the latest covid numbers.
I could take it no longer. The craziness seemed to not be ending, so I decided it was time to go to renew our friendship with the people of the churches and orphanage of Kenya before it became impossible. I felt a strong pull to return and see with my eyes how the orphanage was faring, and how the churches were progressing.
I have a new appreciation for the first of the letters that Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. The circumstances were different, of course, but in those letters, Paul expressed a deep desire to return to visit the church that began with his first visit there.
Paul wrote to them, “Brothers, although we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in heart), our desire to see you face to face was even more intense. For we wanted to come to you—indeed I, Paul, tried again and again—but Satan obstructed us” (1 Thessalonians 1:17-18 BSB).
Such was my desire to return to Kenya. This may seem strange to some. It actually seems strange to me. It is not as if I have a long history with the churches there. Most of our ministry in our years overseas was in South America and in Central America. Vivian and I and of our boys all have fond memories of living in those places, and we sometimes talk about how it would be nice to visit once again those countries where we lived and worked and where the boys all graduated from high school.
But Kenya is a different situation. I have only recently gotten involved there, and I have never lived there. My time in that country has only been a matter of weeks, not a matter of years. The culture and customs of the country is almost unknown to me—and yet, from the very first day that I visited the church near Kisii, I felt immediately at home.
“These are my people!” I found myself thinking during my first visit there.
It was a strange sensation to me, because I had just arrived and still felt very uncomfortable with many things. To find myself feeling that way seemed premature. I can only attribute that feeling, and also my desire to return there to the fact that this is the work that God has given me to do in my later years.
But neither did Paul have a long history with the Thessalonians. These were people of another race in the far-off Roman province of Macedonia in a city that was a port on the Aegean Sea. Nonetheless, in the relatively short time that Paul spent with them, they became his brothers and sisters.
In a similar way, so is my desire to return to visit the people in Kisii. It is a tiring work and has taken much out of me, but it is what God has given for me to do. Often, I would like to lay it all down and be done so that I can rest. But I know that I cannot—not yet.
As the lockdowns, masks and social distancing came and never seem to be ever leaving, and as the discussion over vaccines and boosters continued to be the top story on the news every day for more than a year and also seem to show no signs of slowing down, my desire to see the children of the orphanage and the people of the church became even more intense.
Besides that fact, Vivian had never been there. She had never met the people. I did not bring her with me on my other trips, her health always on my mind. Indeed, it was also on my mind on this trip, but I know she would not stand for staying home. She wanted to meet the people. Also, I believed that I now had sufficient experience in Kenya that I felt that if we were careful, she would be alright.
Still another reason that I wanted to go was to see firsthand all that God had accomplished since we began. It has been amazing to me all that has been achieved at the orphanage. Not only has God provided funding for food, clothing and other living essentials for the children, but by God’s grace, we have also been able to pay the fees to send them to school. The kids now life in a very nice dormitory that we have been able to build, we have installed a water collection system with tanks and pumps, we have begun a garden with an irrigation system, and we have gotten a good beginning on our own school building on the orphanage ground—all by God’s amazing provision.
And the church, which began as one church with about 25-30 people, is now two churches with a combined membership of close to 800 (550 in the main church and 230 in the new church). Bibles there are so scarce, and the hunger of the people to learn from the Word of God is so great, that the churches conduct worship services every day so that the people can hear the teachings of the Bible.
So, with questions about travel restrictions bouncing around, and a new strain of the coronavirus surging in southern Africa, we began our journey. I suppose that if the Omicron strain had been detected before we bought out tickets, we would have reconsidered the trip. But the news of that new strain came out only two or three days before we were to leave.
I had all these things on my mind as we left, but unfortunately, one matter did not come to mind was something which actually was the cause of our inability to make the trip.
It had been almost three years since I last visited Kenya. Since that time, the nation of Kenya had undergone some severe trials. First there was the historically severe locust infestation that devastated the croplands of much of East Africa. This had driven up food prices significantly.
Then there was the same corona virus lockdowns that we also suffered. In Kenya, the restrictions were even more severe. The government there forbade travel between counties, and goods like food could not be trucked from one part of the country to another. This also affected the price of food and everything else.
There were also severe extremes in weather—droughts and flooding. Even at this present time there is a long-term drought affecting parts of Kenya as well as parts of Ethiopia and Somalia. No crops are surviving in these areas. Even the savannas are bare, and water cannot be found. Domestic cattle as well as wild animals are dying either from thirst or hunger or both.
Nevertheless, through all of these adversities that has hit the nation, we have seen God’s faithfulness to his children at the orphanage. Despite occasional reoccurring days of hunger, He has provided.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “When we could bear it no longer…We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for God in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that none of you would be shaken by these trials” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3 BSB).
The trials that the Thessalonians endured were not weather related of food shortages as in Kenya. Clearly, the trials of the Thessalonians were related to persecution.
Nevertheless, when Paul speaks of not being able to bear the situation of not being able to see first-hand how the people were coping, I can understand what he might have been feeling, at least in a sense. Though separated by thousands of miles, I had prayed for “my Kenya family” (as they refer to themselves) through all of these trials. Vivian and I had prayed that God would provide for them, sustain them and bless them. It was painful for me when I knew that the children were without food. Every time the school fees were due, I wondered where the money would come from.
When I could bear it no longer and before travel restrictions became more severe, I decided I must go. Unlike Paul, I had no one else to send.
In order to board the international flight, Vivian and I both needed a negative Covid PCR test—good for 36 hours before we boarded the international flight. We were to leave on Monday, so on Saturday morning we drove to the Marshfield Clinic to get tested. They both came back negative.
Kenya also requires the completion of a “Trusted Traveler” form, which also requires the results of this same test. Once submitted online, they then send you a QR code on your phone, which you are to present at customs. These forms we also filled out and submitted, our codes saved on our phones.
Of course, we also needed a visa, and here is where I failed to do things properly. In my years when I was in the ministry of training pastors, I was required to fly to many countries. Never was I concerned about a visa except for when we were applying for residency in some country.
I was spoiled in my previous travels when I could make a flight to another country almost on the spot and receive a visitor’s visa upon entry. Before this, I never worried about visas. It was even this way previously in Kenya. Previously, as I was going through immigration, they took my fingerprints, scanned my passport, and when I gave them $50, they pasted a paper-stamp visa on a blank page of the passport.
No more. I failed to keep up with the circumstances. When I could present no visa at the gate in the O’Hare airport in Chicago, they would not let us board.
“Didn’t they check your travel documents in Wisconsin,” the agent asked.
It was unfortunate that they did not do that at the check-in counter at the Central Wisconsin Airport. Apparently, they were supposed to have done this. If we would have been aware of this while still near our home, it would have been bothersome, but not devastating. We merely would have had the agent there delay our ticket, return home to complete the forms and wait for the visa.
However, when we were given hope in Chicago that we could still make the flight, we thought that we should try our best.
“The visa for Kenya is an online form and you still have 20 minutes before the hatch doors are closed. See if you can get the forms filled out and submitted before that time.”
Looking back, it would have been good to give it up at that point. It is true that it is an online form, but to do two of them in 20 minutes is nearly impossible, since it involves photographs that we did not have. It first requires a “passport sized” photo of our faces, one of the personal data page of the passport, and one of the cover itself.
So, for 20 minutes, Vivian and I sat on the floor trying to get these forms done. Vivian was taking picture of our passports and details with her phone and sending them to my email. I was downloading them, reducing their size (according to the directions of the Kenyan form), and uploading them onto the form.
We did not make it in time but I finished the forms and decided to wait until the next day to again try and make the trip. I changed the flight, both the international flight and the domestic one in Kenya that we were to make from Nairobi to Kisumu, a town near Kisii.
It was already quite late at night when we finally finished, so for the rest of the night, we found a spot in a more-or-less out-of-the-way part of the international terminal where there was a long bench seat. There we could stretch out and try to get some sleep and settled in for the night, at least as well as we could. Most young travelers know what it is to spend the night in the airport. It is something that is never preferable, but when one is young it’s not so bad. I never thought I would still be doing this at 70.
The next day we learned that our visa applications were not accepted. As it turns out, our “passport sized” photos of ourselves, were not acceptable. “You cannot use a cropped photo from your passport,” the visa agency later responded. By this time, our Covid test had also expired.
When we received the news of this second failure to fly, and then by the time we received our luggage containing the gifts for the orphans, it was too late to get a flight to return home on that day. We missed our opportunity by about a half an hour.
That night however, the airline gave to us vouchers for a hotel and a meal. We appreciate this, and I realize that it was sort of an apology for their own part of this failure. But I again say it was appreciated. We both had a good night of sleep in a bed and a hearty meal the following day.
Even on that day, the earliest flight that we could get to return home was late in the afternoon. We finally reached our home in the evening. Vivian was already in bed at 6:00 and I sat in my chair for a time to read and to consider what we had just experienced.
The main practical lesson learned from all of this is that it is a mistake to assume that international travel is the same post-covid as it was before. The rules and requirements are constantly changing and it seems that everyone is on a different level of understanding what is going on. Even those in the travel industry are at varying stages of absorbing all of the requirements. Post covid travel is much different and much less certain than it was before. It is an ever-fluctuating situation that requires everyone on their toes.
The requirements for various countries keep changing and getting more specific. In this one experience of ours, this difficulty in understanding travel requirements is especially true if your trip involves more than one carrier, that is, when the ticket is booked with one airline but it involves also partner airlines.
That is what I learned on the practical level. Those lessons are easy to learn, but the spiritual lessons are more difficult to discern. I am still in the process of understanding why all of this happened, and what is to be learned. Right now, I admit to a bit of confusion and discouragement about the whole affair.
I felt that I failed many people and I still feel that way. People in Kenya had gathered for a conference. When they learned that we were having trouble in coming, they all stayed all night to pray for us, including the children. I also failed several of our friends and our church who had helped us with our journey. They were so kind to give to us travel gifts to help us with our trip, but we ended up not going. These gifts I have returned to them, or at least tried to. A couple of them simply refused to accept them.
I also feel very badly for Vivian. She was so excited to go and finally meet the children, but she was blocked from doing this. I also had put her through many stressful hours, the very thing that I was trying to avoid for her on this trip. As I said, I am always concerned about her health.
But I also have to move beyond these failures. I cannot stay there.
What is there to learn about this entire affair? Was I wrong in deciding to go? Did I misread what God wanted me to do?
These types of questions are endless in their analytics and impossible to resolve completely. This is not the first time that I have failed in some venture. I am well acquainted with failure. I have asked these questions before.
What I do know at this moment is that God will not let me quit this task of the orphanage and churches of Kenya. It was never one of my own choosing, but one given to me by God for my later years. I have mentioned that I often would like to lay this burden down so that I can rest, but in my heart, I know that true rest can never be achieved in this life-time.
There is a sense that it can. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
What does it mean to “Come to Jesus”?
Of course, it means coming to Him for forgiveness of sins, but beyond that, for the believer, what does it mean? Coming to Jesus also means living in His life—abiding in him. Jesus is our reason for life itself.
John said, “If anyone keeps His word, the love of God has been truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him: Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:5-6).
How did Jesus walk? Was his goal to try and make his life easy? We know that it was not. He, in fact, left a life of glory and “emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
I could never understand the mindset of many retirees who believe that the goal of their retirement years is mostly to keep themselves entertained until they die—it all just seems so small to me (sorry). This was not how Jesus walked.
Many have the strange idea that our life with Christ involves only a one-shot deal. We accept Jesus to be our Savior from our sins, but after that we can live our lives for ourselves. It is true that our life with Christ begins with a one-shot deal—we accept Jesus, but where these people get the idea that this is all that is involved, this I do not know. They did not get it from the Bible.
Even from creation we learn that full sabbath rest comes only after all work is completed. God created for six days, and it was on the seventh day that he rested. Likewise, if it is this same true rest that we seek, then, “Whoever enters God’s rest can also rest from his own work, just as God did from His.”
The admonishment to us is, “Therefore, make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:10-11).
I cannot abandon this work in Kenya. If God someday provides someone else to pick it up, I will know then. Paul had those whom he could send in his place. At this point, I do not.
Like Paul, I tried to go and see the people that God had put in my life, but obstructions prevented me. But also like Paul, I can say that despite this—my desire to see the people that God has given face to face has become even more intense.
For those involved with this work, either by prayer or my donations, please do not abandon these children. I will not.
**************************************************************************If you would like to help the children of the Log Church Orphanage of Kisii, Kenya, you may make your check out to “The Log Church” and write “Orphans” on the memo line.
Send it to:
The Log Church PO Box 68 Tripoli, Wisconsin 54564
We now need to pay a wire transfer fee with every payment, which amounts to $50 each time, but other than that, your donated money will be used only for purchasing food, clothing, schooling, and other necessities of living. We wait until we have $4000-$5000 before we make the bank transfer to make each transfer more economical. Nothing is held back or diverted for any other purpose. Thanks!
By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments. If anyone says, “I know Him,” but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But if anyone keeps His word, the love of God has been truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him: Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked.
(1 John 2:3-5 BSB)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples (John 8:31)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)
And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14 ESV)
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.
For whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:1, 10)
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and we will receive from Him whatever we ask, because we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and we should love one another just as He commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments remains in God, and God in him. And by this we know that He remains in us: by the Spirit He has given us. (1 John 2:22-24 BSB)
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.