2016 - Kenya Grad Trip

Weekend relaxing and returning home

First of all, we're home! I write this as we're on a bus from Chicago back to Fox River. My apologies that the last few posts have been a bit delayed from the events they describe -- this blogging is time-consuming for a chronic perfectionist with attention issues and a weird sleep schedule while abroad!

Saturday was mostly a day to relax and recuperate from the exhilarating but tiring week at the schools. The team had free time to relax by the pool or enjoy the beach along the Indian Ocean just behind our hotel. Most of us did just that -- after enjoying the opportunity to sleep in a bit.

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to attend the wedding of two dear friends: Jenna Horgan and O'Neal Nyanje. Jenna first went to Kenya with one of Fox River's medical mission trips, returned on several short trips before deciding to spend a year in Kenya, and ultimately return to stay, O'Neal is a part of the Crossroads Fellowship family, where he serves on the audio team, among other things. Theirs is a long, beautiful story of God's working, but out of the scope of this blog. Suffice it to say, many members of our team consider them to be family so it was a joy to be there to witness two great people taking their next step together.

O'Neal and Jenna beginning their married life together

O'Neal and Jenna beginning their married life together

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Sunday morning was spent at Crossroads Fellowship church in Nyali. As you may recall from our first day in Kenya, this is where we spent the previous Sunday morning. This week, Susie Horne (Pastor Jim's wife) asked David and me (Jason) to sing with them on the worship team. That is always a special treat and a lot of fun to come together with our Kenyan brothers and sisters to praise our God. There's always a lot of energy and heartfelt worship when we come together in that place and Sunday was no exception.

This Sunday was also the Crossroads Fellowship Baptism Festival, so Pastor Jim Horne delivered a message on the importance of Baptism, looking at a variety of places in Scripture where Baptism either occurred or is discussed. With the significance of this crucial part of the believer's journey fresh in our minds, we walked next door to the church to Wild Waters water park, who graciously opened their doors for a large number of people to be baptized while their church family cheered them on. Over 60 men, women, and children were baptized in a fantastic celebration of faith.

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Sunday afternoon was another period of free time. Again, some took to the beach (there was even a small group from our two teams that went to find a nearby geocache) and some wandered up the beach to Yul's, a favorite place to get pizza, burgers, and gelato. We were blessed to have some friends from Crossroads Fellowship join us at the hotel to spend our free time in fun and fellowship.

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Of course, our last day in Kenya is always one of mixed emotions as many are sad to leave such a wonderful place with even better friends, but also eager to get home to our loved ones and our familiar surroundings. After we had said our final goodbyes, we had packing to do and a short time to sneak in a little nap before loading up the bus at 1am and departing for Moi International Airport at 1:30. 

The team departed the hotel in the very early hours of Monday morning.

The team departed the hotel in the very early hours of Monday morning.

Our travels back to the US were mainly uneventful -- which is just as travels through international airports after a tiring week should be. We had an almost two-hour delay in Istanbul (which may or may not have been a good time to blog about Friday's graduation day in Bomani...ahem), but somehow managed to arrive in Chicago more or less on time. It took longer than usual to get our luggage at O'Hare, but after a quick shock of the bitter cold in Chicago, we all made it to the bus and are still currently heading toward Fox River Waukesha. 

The team was pretty bright-eyed even after the first flight touched down in Turkey.

The team was pretty bright-eyed even after the first flight touched down in Turkey.

Thank you for following along and more importantly praying with and for us along our journey. There will, of course, be more stories to tell, photos to share, and videos to post about this short trip full of celebration and fellowship with our Kenyan brothers and sisters in the weeks and months to come. Not only that, but this blog continues to highlight work that Fox River Missions is doing in Kenya and Nicaragua throughout the year. So if you began reading here to follow this trip, we'd love for you to stick around and continue to read about God's amazing work that we are blessed enough to participate in. If you are a regular reader, please continue to share what you find here so that more people can know and hopefully join with us, and most importantly that God would be glorified in what we do.

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Graduation Day in Bomani

On Friday morning, the team arrived at New Life Academy in Bomani as the final setup for the graduation ceremony was being completed. Because the chapel in Bomani is a bit smaller than in Vipingo, the proceedings would be taking place outside, with tents setup for the Fox River team, teachers, the graduates, and their families. It was very encouraging to see a very large group of parents and family members gathered to celebrate their students' hard work and achievement.

The ceremonies began with a procession of the graduates and honored guests. In true Kenyan fashion, this was a slow moving processional moving in the rhythm of a celebratory dance.

In addition to the 34 students graduating from Standard 8 (8th Grade) and moving into Form 1 (freshman year of high school), the kids moving from KG3 to Standard 1 were also dressed in their little robes and graduation caps. Bringing up the rear were four Americans being very good sports to dress in robes on a very hot, sunny day: Pastor Bobby Bechtel, the director of the Hope Foundation of Kenya; Pastor Jim Horne, representing Manna Worldwide with whom we partner to administer the school; Pastor Mark Roberts, representing Fox River; and Denise Conn (or Mama Denise as she is often called), as the one who administers and coordinates our missions in Kenya and Nicaragua.

KG3 and Standard 8 grads filing in

KG3 and Standard 8 grads filing in

Pastor Mark and Mama Denise were very good sports about wearing the ceremonial garb on such a hot day. 

Pastor Mark and Mama Denise were very good sports about wearing the ceremonial garb on such a hot day. 

The students prepared several special performances to celebrate this special day. A student named Silas in Standard 3 (that is, 3rd grade) recited a history of the school, with impressive detail, entirely from memory. The choir sang two songs (one of which was quite familiar to the Americans in attendance - see the video below), and the school dance troupe performed a traditional Kenyan dance. Even the teachers performed a song as part of the ceremony. It was truly a celebration!

Silas did an incredible job reciting the history of New Life Academy by from memory. 

Silas did an incredible job reciting the history of New Life Academy by from memory. 

The school choir preformed two songs. 

The school choir preformed two songs. 

The school dance troupe performed a very energetic traditional Kenyan dance. 

The school dance troupe performed a very energetic traditional Kenyan dance. 

The graduation continued with addressed from several honored guests: Head Teacher Victor Kalama, Pastor Allan Owano (national Pastor overseeing New Life Academy), Bobby Becthel, Jim Horne, and Mark Roberts. Many thanks were given to the people of Fox River, whose generosity funds the school. One thing is very clear: the Kenyan people are exceedingly appreciative of the work we do.

Head Teacher Victor acted as the emcee for the graduation ceremony. 

Head Teacher Victor acted as the emcee for the graduation ceremony. 

Pastor Mark addresses the graduates

Pastor Mark addresses the graduates

Mama Denise was especially thanked as the one who puts so much work into keeping these missions running smoothly, it's amazing that it's not her only job. She was honored with a portrait of her spending time with the kids she loves so much.

Lisa Becthel and Pastor Allan pose with Denise holding the portrait of her and the students in Bomani.

Lisa Becthel and Pastor Allan pose with Denise holding the portrait of her and the students in Bomani.

Each of speakers had encouraging words to the graduates and thanks to God for the incredible work He is doing in the lives of these students and families. The theme throughout the proceedings was perhaps most succinctly summarized by Pastor Bobby's words to the graduates. He challenged them that as they continue to secondary school go with God and to follow Him wherever they go.

Bobby's message was clear: go with God

Bobby's message was clear: go with God

One by one, the students were called forward to receive their certificate of completion, invitation letter to attend Valerye McMillan Hope High School, and a book bag with a Bible and other gifts. The three boys and three girls with the highest scores on the KCPE, the national primary school completion exam, received special recognition and a special gift of their high school sports kits (shoes and uniforms) purchased for them.

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The students who received top scores on the KCPE were recognized and awarded.

The students who received top scores on the KCPE were recognized and awarded.

Cutting the cakes and giving small pieces to each of the graduates wrapped up the graduation ceremony. Since the Vipingo graduation day, there has been some debate as to the veracity of the rumor that feeding the grads is a widespread Kenyan tradition. We'll have to leave that question to the ages. (In other words, it's probably not, and we're not entirely sure where it came from.) In any event, this time the parents got in on the cake feeding action. After one more final prayer, the graduation celebration concluded.

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New Life Academy Bomani Class of 2015

New Life Academy Bomani Class of 2015

We got to spend the rest of the afternoon on the campus of the school, talking to teachers, graduates, and students. This trip is entirely comprised of people who have been to Kenya at least once, so many of us had students we wanted to connect with while we had the time.

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The graduation day in Bomani served to again underscore the incredible transformation that has taken place in these two communities. When we first began following God's lead to work in Kenya, these students were in KG3 - just barely beginning their education. Today, wearing caps, gowns, and smiles, they are ready to begin secondary education - something we often take for granted in the US, but is in no way a given here in Kenya.

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By working through people willing to show love to the least of these halfway around the world, lives are being transformed and the kingdom of God is continually advanced. If you are one of our partners working in Kenya and Nicaragua, you have made this possible by saying yes to God. On behalf of our first graduating class, and all kids who will fill their shoes, we say: Asante sana na Mungu akubariki sana -- thank you very much and may God greatly bless you.

On our way home: Landed in Turkey

First of all, my sincere apologies that we're a little behind on the play-by-play of the trip. More is coming soon. 

Just wanted to update you that we have safely landed in Istanbul, Turkey. We have about an hour remaining in our layover before boarding and then we'll have a long flight to Chicago.

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So far, so good! Please keep the prayers coming!

Fun Day with Bomani Grads

If you read about our Fun Day with the Vipingo Grads, today's post is going to sound very familiar. One of the perks about sponsoring two schools in Kenya is that when you figure out a good structure for a day or finish a really great activity, you can do it all over again with the other school.

We started out the day by meeting the graduates from Bomani at Valerye McMillan high school. As we did on Tuesday, we split into small groups and received a tour of the school with our group of incoming Form 1 (freshman) students. The Bomani graduates seemed very happy and even overwhelmed by the facilities and the high school students.

Checking out the school library

Checking out the school library

The current high school science lab. Another lab is being built that's even larger than this one.

The current high school science lab. Another lab is being built that's even larger than this one.

The girls dorms are still under construction but are coming along nicely.  

The girls dorms are still under construction but are coming along nicely.  

The grads loved the mall. We looked through shops, rode the escalators and elevators, and looked around at all the sights. Bomani is a village a bit further off the beaten path, so even more of the students were seeing new sights that they had only heard about from friends.

City Mall in Nyali

City Mall in Nyali

As we continued to enjoy the day, the students became much more outgoing. We've often noticed that the people from Bomani seem to be a bit more stoic at first, but really open up once you spend time with them. Our students from New Life Academy are no exception to this, so the trip to the mall really helped establish (or re-establish) those personal connections.

Making and eating pizza at Domino's was again a fantastically fun experience, for both students and the group leaders. It was fun to see the different toppings the kids chose to put on their pizza. Besides the usual toppings, the Domino's here had Kenyan ingredients like Swahili chicken and piri piri (spicy) sauce.

First spread your dough out... 

First spread your dough out... 

Then spread the sauce like this... 

Then spread the sauce like this... 

Then add the toppings and smile!

Then add the toppings and smile!

Pop it in the oven

Pop it in the oven

Box it up when it's done! 

Box it up when it's done! 

After the mall, we returned to the school for some additional time with the students. The graduates got to learn self-defense techniques with Ben and David, while other members of our team talked with the graduates more, or took the time to play with the younger kids at the school.

Some of the littles we got to spend time with in Bomani Thursday afte the trip to the was complete. 

Some of the littles we got to spend time with in Bomani Thursday afte the trip to the was complete. 

The day at the high school, the mall, and then back to the school was a fun way to celebrate this important milestone with the graduates. These students have worked hard and achieved excellent results. Not only is some time of fun a great way to celebrate, but it's a great way to give deeper attention and connection on an individual basis. It was a huge blessing to the team to have this special time with them.

Graduation Day in Vipingo

Today was truly a day 9 years in the making. As we said earlier, our school began in 2007 with KG1-KG3 in 2007. Today we saw that very first KG3 class wear caps, gowns, and be commissioned for secondary school. Suffice it to say there were plenty of sniffles, less than dry eyes, and tissues among the people who love these kids and have watched them grow.

The graduates filed in, excited for what was to come. 

The graduates filed in, excited for what was to come. 

Parents and other famlily, teachers, and the Fox River team watched and participated in the ceremony, proud of what these kids have achieved.

Parents and other famlily, teachers, and the Fox River team watched and participated in the ceremony, proud of what these kids have achieved.

The graduation ceremony was similar in structure to what you expect from a graduation ceremony. The school girls choir began with a beautiful song about the great things the Lord has done, and the newly formed school dance troupe performed a dance as well. Several people addressed the graduating students and the crowd gathered, including Pastor Mark Roberts from Fox River, Pastor Jim Horne who oversees the school in Kenya, Jenna Horgan who serves as the school administrator, Teacher James, the Head Teacher, and Pastor John, who pastors the church that meets at the school. 

 

Teacher James speaking to the graduates, the teachers, and the families

Teacher James speaking to the graduates, the teachers, and the families

Pastor Mark addresses the students, with Teacher James interpreting for those Kenyans who don't understand English (or southern American accents). 

Pastor Mark addresses the students, with Teacher James interpreting for those Kenyans who don't understand English (or southern American accents). 

Each student was presented with their certificate of completion, and some gifts including a backpack and a Bible. The students with top marks in each of their six subjects and top overall average scores were also presented with awards. Teacher James explained to the families about the students' invitation to Valerye McMillan High School and the sponsorship to attend for free, to which there was great applause. God truly is continuing to do a great work in the lives of these students and their families. 

Part of the ceremony that we in America would not be familiar with was cutting and serving of bites of cake to the graduates on stage. This is found in Kenyan weddings, graduations and other ceremonies. The Fox River team got to line up and literally feed a small slice of cake to the graduates. It made for some laughs and some good photos!

 

Cutting the cake

Cutting the cake

Each student was fed a bite of cake, while fellow graduates looked on with giggles. Apparently this is all part of a Kenyan graduation ceremony! 

Each student was fed a bite of cake, while fellow graduates looked on with giggles. Apparently this is all part of a Kenyan graduation ceremony! 

After the ceremony, we lined up the graduates for some formal group and individual photos. We were able to bring a small, portable photo printer so each graduate got a framed graduation photo later that day. 

Crossroads Academy Vipingo Class of 2015

Crossroads Academy Vipingo Class of 2015

These individual photos turned out very well and the students were happy to received a framed copy later in the afternoon. 

These individual photos turned out very well and the students were happy to received a framed copy later in the afternoon. 

The team got to spend the rest of the afternoon at the school, talking to the graduates, playing with the younger students, and enjoying our last few hours together. Eventually, the time came for the ever difficult goodbyes. It is always hard to leave on our last day at either of our schools. We shared many hugs, letters and notes were passed, along with encouragements to study hard and follow the Lord. 

What transpired today is just one of many testaments to the incredible work God is doing in these kids lives. I (Jason) was able to speak individually to a few of the graduates and talk to them about their school and their education over the last 9 years. The difference that this school, funded by the generosity of those at Fox River who have partnered with us, has made in the lives of these students and their families is unmistakable. Many of the students came to know Jesus at this school. One student I spoke with, who was a Muslim when he entered the school, came to know Christ through one of the teachers who poured into his life on an individual basis. That student was baptized in 1st grade, took a new Christian name, and sees himself as a child of God. 

I know it can be hard to understand what takes place in a country you've never seen with your own eyes, in a culture you don't fully understand, for people you've never met. Please believe me when I say the impact that you, our partners in God's work in Kenya, is having a huge impact that has literally changed lives for eternity. 

Fun Day with Vipingo Grads

The graduation team spent today with the graduates from Crossroads Academy in Vipingo. This is our very first graduating class. We began with KG1-KG3 back in 2007 and as they grew, so did the school. The school year here begins in January, and is comprised of 3 terms with 3 months on/1 month off. So, this class finished their Standard 8 year in November. After this, they took their national exam, the KCPE. They just recently got their exam scores back, and are getting ready to begin high school in February.

The gates of the high school

The gates of the high school

Each of our students will be invited to attend Vallary McMillan High School in Majaoni. We met the graduating class in Vipingo and headed to the high school from there for a tour of the facilities, since most of our students have never been there.

Some of our graduates, getting ready to enter Form 1 (freshmen year). They actually are excited, honest, but much like American teenagers, the also want to look cool. 

Some of our graduates, getting ready to enter Form 1 (freshmen year). They actually are excited, honest, but much like American teenagers, the also want to look cool. 

The students broke into groups and were led by upperclassmen from the high school. We got to see the classrooms, science labs, library, and the newly constructed girls' dormitories (the boys will be bussed in rather than live on campus). The high school students were very helpful, showing both the incoming students and the Fox River team where our kids would be studying in just a few weeks. The high school facilities are very impressive and will be an excellent place where these kids we've watched grow from Kindergarten can continue their education.

A few high school students led the incoming Form 1 students on their tour.

A few high school students led the incoming Form 1 students on their tour.

The girls' dormitory (still under construction)

The girls' dormitory (still under construction)

The high school has excellent facilities, including their large chapel that serves as a community church on Sundays. 

The high school has excellent facilities, including their large chapel that serves as a community church on Sundays. 

The high school has a small library with many books (with a larger library under construction), a computer lab, two science labs, and a beautiful campus the students can be proud of.

The high school has a small library with many books (with a larger library under construction), a computer lab, two science labs, and a beautiful campus the students can be proud of.

After the tour of the high school concluded, we loaded up our bus and vans and headed to City Mall in Nyali. If you are imagining that Kenya is nothing but mud huts and remote villages, you would be very surprised by this mall! It looks very much like a mall you would find in the US. Many of our kids had not been to a mall like this before, and enjoyed walking through the shops, riding the escalators (they thought this was hilarious) and the glass elevator up to the fourth floor and back down.

We had a unique and incredibly fun experience for lunch. Domino's not only accommodated our entire class and team, but they invited the kids and their group leaders to make their own pizzas. The Domino's staff were absolutely fantastic with the kids. They took their time to show them how to prep the dough, add the sauce, throw on toppings, and bake them in the pizza oven. They encouraged the kids and made sure they had a good time - and so did we!

Working hard making pizza. Well, mostly working hard. 

Working hard making pizza. Well, mostly working hard. 

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After we ate, the Domino's staff continued to impress us with a little show of their pizza dough throwing skills. You could tell these men and women enjoyed their work and loved having the kids work with them. One of our kids, Austin, said it best: "We have had a wonderful time!"

These guys were crazy talented and very entertaining. 

These guys were crazy talented and very entertaining. 

Our time at the mall concluded, we finished the day back at the school in Vipingo. Ben taught a short self-defense class, first to the girls and then to the boys. Meanwhile, we setup a photo booth and took some silly photos with the graduates.

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The significance of this graduation cannot be overstated. God has been working in the lives of these kids, most of whom have been at our school from the very beginning in 2007. This milestone not only represents a new stage for these kids, but for our schools as well. It is such a blessing to see these kids - now becoming young adults - move forward into the next stage of their education and their life. Please continue to lift up our mission, our schools, and our kids in prayer - especially this class that is taking their next step into adulthood!

Ice Cream and Coloring

What could be better than ice cream and coloring? How about sharing God's truth using both? 

Today was our first day in the schools - Crossroads Academy in Vipingo in the morning and New Life Academy in Bomani in the afternoon. Denise had some administrative work to do (January is usually her work trip), so the team helped out where we could, and also led the kids in some activities in the meantime. 

One group went to work with the Kindergarten classes. In Kenya, there are three levels of Kindergarten: KG1, KG2, and KG3 with ages 3, 4, and 5, respectively. These young kids do not speak or understand English very well, but what they lack in communication skills, they more than make up for in smiles and love. The group working with the KG kids spent time coloring a picture with them in small groups. They used the pictures they were coloring and songs to talk to them about how much God loves them, working with their teachers to interpret.

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Meanwhile, another group worked with the kids in Standard 1 through Standard 8 (1st through 8th grade), teaching them about Jesus feeding the 5000. Ben explained to the kids that the ingredients in Jesus' miracle were 5 loaves of bread, 2 fish, and one boy's willingness to share his lunch. To illustrate that point, we used ingredients of cream, sugar, and vanilla (shaken up in ziploc bags of ice and rock salt) to make ice cream. The classes passed the bags around shaking and shaking the bags, having a lot of fun.

Who wants ice cream? 

Who wants ice cream? 

You've got to shake, shake, shake.... 

You've got to shake, shake, shake.... 

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We have a new addition on the campus of our school in Vipingo: Life Spring Children's Centre, which opened in August. This is a rescue center where babies who have been abandoned or are otherwise in need of a stable home are cared for full time. Right now, the center is home to three children, ranging from 2 to 18 months. The team was able to see the new center, meet these precious little ones, and meet the incredible care givers who give these little guys their love.

Life Spring Children's Centre

Life Spring Children's Centre

Sleeping peacefully in a loving, stable home

Sleeping peacefully in a loving, stable home

Hello there, little one! 

Hello there, little one! 

The Rescue Center sitting room and kitchen

The Rescue Center sitting room and kitchen

Finally, we were able to distribute some letters that sponsors have written to the kids. They LOVE getting letters. It really makes them feel cared for. Most of them (perhaps not the littlest littles yet, but all the others) understand that their school, uniforms, daily meals, and education are only possible because of their sponsors' generosity, so they are very thankful to hear from you! If you'd like to contact the child you're sponsoring, look on the back of their photo or email missions@foxriverchristian.org

The medical team had an excellent first clinic day as well! Another post detailing there work will soon follow. Thank you for following our journey with us. We can't wait to share what else God has in store for us here.

Arrived in Kenya

We have arrived at our hotel in Kenya!

The team did a great job through each of the legs of our journey: a 10-hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul, Tukey; a brief layover; an 8-hour flight from Istanbul to Mombasa, Kenya with a brief stop in Kilmanjaro, Tanzania on the way, customs, luggage, and a bus to our hotel. That much travel can take a lot out of you, but our team held it together very well (Starbucks in the Istanbul airport didn't hurt).

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We arrived at the hotel around 4:45am local time and began the process of distributing supply luggage from personal luggage and getting settled in.

Sorting through our supplies and personal luggage is quite the process. 

Sorting through our supplies and personal luggage is quite the process. 

We plan to attend worship services at Crossroads Fellowship in just a few hours, so some of us are getting a few hours of sleep (in a bed rather than a airplane seat!) and some us will be powering through (and likely collapsing later this evening).

It has already been a blessing to know that so many people are lifting us up in prayer back home and around the world. Thank you so much for your continued prayer and support. Stay tuned for more updates!

On our way!

The team gathered at the Waukesha Campus this afternoon, did a final luggage (and passport!) check, and boarded the bus to Chicago.

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We're currently at O'Hara airport, anxiously awaiting the first leg of our journey. We fly to Istanbul, Turkey, have a short layover, and then fly to Mombasa.

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Please join us in praying for safe and expedient travel, quick and easy customs procedures, and that even in our travel, God's love would shine from each of us.

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