Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kwaheri Tanzania!!

Amani Home For Street Children
Our last couple days in Tanzania have been at a more relaxed pace. We spent all morning yesterday  with the kids at the amazing Amani Home for Street Children.

Later we enjoyed a peaceful lunch out on a huge deck that hangs over a big river gorge with a great view of Mt. Kilimanjaro at Kaliwa Lodge.

We climbed further into the hills later that night for dinner at Kilemakyaro Lodge. We sat outside as the sun set and reflected on our amazing and life changing adventure during these two weeks.

After the sun went down it became quite cold out but that did not stop Jada, Jillian and Molly from taking a dare to run and jump into the swimming pool with all their clothes on. If they accepted the challenge, they would each receive $50 and could choose which of the places we have visited to donate the money. The three soggy girls all chose to give the donation to the Amani Home for Street Children!

There was this moment, out there on a dirt playing field at Amani Home for street children. Out there on that dirt patch with almost no grass. This moment when the difference narrowed between these African children rescued from a life of horrors on the street, which often resulted from even worse horrors they have escaped from at home, and our suburban kids from safe, comfortable homes in the US.

There was this holy, extended moment, when the differences between us melted away. We were competing against each other. We were laughing and high-fiving. We were kids playing in the sun. 

Children of God. Just that. 

For me, these vision trips are about those moments. More than any other thing, including supporting schools or orphanages or even churches. For me it is about a curtain being torn from top to bottom. About a barrier being crossed. About a God daring us to see how far away from home we can go and still find a neighbor. These moments cannot be forced. They cannot be scheduled. These moments are given. And when they happen, every time, it takes my breath away.

Kids at Kikoro Primary School

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Cars and A Goat

Well it has been a couple full days since I have been able to post. Yesterday we attended a marathon of a worship service. We arrived at the church at about 8:30am and did not depart from the service until after 2pm!

The service was to honor and bless Rev. Aaron Urio and his wife Sophia for their many years of service at Ushirika wa Neema Deaconess Center. Rev. Urio was retiring from being the directer of the center and Mrs. Urio from being the headmistress of the Montessori teachers college, also located at the deaconess center.

Imagine sitting on hard wooden benches for that length of time without being able to understand anything being said because you don't speak the language. Then imagine doing this when you were a teenager! That's what our POP kids did in Africa yesterday. And they did it with grace and good humor. At our dinner this evening with the bishop and other church leaders Rev. Urio shared openly about how much it meant to him to have our young people present at that service. The bishop also shared his appreciation and joked that our youth will always remember that service!

There were moments during the service that engaged our imaginations in spite of the language barrier. For instance, during the gift giving portion of the service when they brought in everything from washing machines to coffee tables to billy goat gruff pictured above. Yes, two such goats were walked right up the center isle of the big church during the procession of gifts. The Urio's also received the gift of not one, but two, cars which were parked out front of the church.

The service was to be followed by a big luncheon out on the church lawn but I could see my group was hanging on by a thread and we quietly made our escape!

Today we moved into another new region to visit Agape Lutheran Jr. Seminary. This is the first time we have gone this direction and the landscape changes from the dry foothills to a gorgeous mixture of deep greens and golds surrounded by mountains.  Agape is a Lutheran boarding school for the brightest young people from about the ages of thirteen to twenty-one.

We saw the foundation being laid for the chapel being built on the campus.  The new church will seat 1,000 people and the students are helping to construct this holy space on the very location where the local tribes would make sacrifice in the old days.

Next, we made our way to Ashira Lutheran Parish.  This congregation has a fascinating history connected to the establishment of the Lutheran Church and the work of the German missionaries.  Back in the day this hilltop location was the sight where the local tribes disposed of dead bodies.  

Location of first Christian baptisms
The word Ashira is derived from the English pronunciation of the Chagga word for “place that stinks." Imagine telling people you are a member of Stinky Lutheran!  The chief figured that by giving the pesky missionaries this cursed ground they would soon disappear.  More than one hundred years later and the Lutheran church thrives everywhere you look in this region.  The gospel can take root and grow wherever it is planted!

We hiked back into the forest near Ashira to see the place where the missionaries baptized the very first Christians in this region. In fact, they continue to baptize people in this historic location to this day.

Our visit to Ashira was also special because this is the place where Candy Kvamme's Aunt served as the headmistress at the Ashira Lutheran Secondary School for some years back in the late 50's to early 60's. We all walked through the beautiful campus of the school and Candy was able to meet the current headmaster and even sign the visitors book in that special place.

Next we traveled to Marangu Falls where we heard a good history of the Chagga tribe and hiked to the base of the gorgeous falls.

We ended this full day by accepting bishop Martin Shao's invitation to have dinner with him and other church leaders from the diocese. Many heartfelt words were spoken about the profound blessing of being partners in ministry together. The bishop and others shared their delight that our youth are here for this trip as a sign of a strong future together.  The bishop had gifts for all of us and Sister Agnes ended the night with a long prayer of thanksgiving in her native Chagga language.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Least of These

On the way back to Moshi after our safari we stopped in to visit Hai Vocational Training Center. This is an amazing Lutheran outreach where students go to learn the trades of tailoring, carpentry or masonry.  These students create exquisite pipe organs from gorgeous local woods back there in the forest. They also build fine guitars, wonderful handbags and all kinds of other handcrafted items. Oh, and they also build the buildings in which they attend class!

Today was a very full day. We began in busy Moshi Town exchanging currency and visiting some great shops.  From there we made our way toward Machame and walked through the local market in Kwasadala. The sights, sounds, smells and vibrant colors of this sprawling local market can be a bit overwhelming for first timers. Our group marveled at the nearly perfect looking fruits and vegetables for sale. Many of them seemed unrealistically large compared to what we are used to. I will have some pictures to post of the market when I get the chance to download them from my video camera.

Next it was off to the Neema Orphange Centre and Helen Mcnulty School in Kalali. Both the orphanage and the college are run by the Lutheran sisters of Ushirika wa Neema and the campus has matured under their care with beautiful landscaping. As usual, our group was drawn to the children and spent the morning moving from house to house to interact with the different age groups. I will let the following pictures tell the story.

 We departed from the orphanage to move further up the mountain where we visited Machame Lutheran Hospital. While the skilled doctors and nurses provide excellent care at the hospital, this place is a striking reminder of how good we have it in the US compared to so many places in the world.

Our group got a kick out of learning that a "private" room in the hospital means only one roommate and your family must provide all your meals and even some of your care!  A "regular room" puts you in a large ward with about twenty beds.

Next we visited the nurses college on the hospital campus. We were greeted there by dozens of nursing students all gathered to express their deep gratitude for the donation of "Inspiration Hall" by members of our group, John and Carol Zillmer.

A group of nursing students sang for us. Their singing was so moving and powerful it would have been worth this whole journey just to hear them! Two students were chosen to speak words of gratitude on behalf of their school. John also gave some heartfelt remarks. It was a moving and emotional time in that wonderful new campus center.

After the nurses college we climbed back into the bus with a new guide, Mr. Muro. Muro is a scrubby looking little guy who would be easy to look past if you didn't know him. Muro is a palliative care nurse. He visits patients scattered all over the lower slopes of the mountain in that region.  It quickly becomes clear how important Muro’s work is on this mountain.  

Mr. Muro on the left
There are fourteen hundred such patients scattered throughout the area surrounding Machame Hospital and Muro knows exactly where each one of these people is to be found. You probably know flashier people than Muro, but you don’t know anyone doing more necessary or meaningful work than he is doing, day in and day out.

We visited both of the Houses for Health homes that were provided by the 2013 Vision Trip group. Both families were so proud and grateful to welcome our group to their safe, dry new homes. We also visited a family suffering from chronic illness and living in a terrible house not conducive to health and healing. I believe our Vision Trip 2014 group will have something to say about this situation.

We wrapped up this very full day with a great German dinner at a cool lodge hidden back in the forest. Tomorrow will be a long day at worship as we celebrate the retirement of Rev. Urio. Everyone in the group is doing well. Our teenagers are doing a fantastic job representing Prince of Peace!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Serengeti Sunrise

No internet tonight so this is just a quick post from my phone to say we had an incredibly full day and everyone is doing well. I will catch up when we get back to Moshi tomorrow.

OK, I'm back! This has been one of the worst trips for internet availability in awhile. We are safely back in Moshi after an incredible few days out on safari. We covered many miles on all manner of roads, trails and sometimes just out there driving through the bush following nothing but the signs only our three expert driver/guides could read. Buzzards circling, tracks left in the dust, a group of hyenas seemingly on their way somewhere, these are markers on a living road map it takes a lifetime to understand.

We drove through the Serengeti while the sun was setting and came across such wonders as dozens and dozens of hippos splashing in a river while making joyful hippo sounds resembling crazy old men laughing at their own jokes. We saw tens of thousands of zebras barking and playing chicken with our Land Cruisers as we passed by.

We drove through the Serengeti at sunrise and watched the plains come to life in a way that felt like the dawn of time. We sat with lion prides as their young played and the males asserted the hierarchy. We enjoyed large groups of elephants that never hide their affection for one another or their joy in being alive.

Their is so much I could write about our experience out there but I will let a few pictures here tell the story. Click on a photo to enlarge it. I will replace these with higher resolution photos when we get back home and even add some video clips. Remember this is just a tiny sampling of what we have seen in the last couple days! These are just a few of my shots but we had 18 people out there taking pictures from 18 different angles!


When mom lets you play in the mud!

Keep it down up there!

Loving sisters

We also visited a Masai Boma out in the Ngorongoro lands and were warmly welcomed into their village, their culture, and even their small homes homes made from sticks, banana leaves and cow dung!

Brent's more of a runner than a jumper!
Kathy joined right in

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Plains

We are all safely tucked away at the Serengeti Wildlife Lodge during an evening thunderstorm after a long day of game driving in the Serengeti plains. The weather has been beautiful all day and we are thankful to now have the rain knocking down the dust for our long day on the dirt trails tomorrow.

Going on safari is like fishing. You know the walleye and northerns are in the lake but that is no guarantee they will present themselves. So it is with cheetahs, leopards, lions and elephants. We know they are out here in the Serengeti, but 6,000 square miles leaves a lot of room to hide. even for elephants!  

So were we blessed to come upon a family of three active cheetahs only half an hour after leaving the lodge in the morning. We spent nearly an hour with them as they moved about in and out of trees and off through the bush. Many pictures will follow of these majestic cats when we get back to Moshi in a couple days and have better internet (hopefully).

As fortunate as that encounter was with the cheetahs, a few of our teens were beginning to grumble about all the driving through bumpy, dusty trails in the Serengeti without seeing another spectacular creature for several hours. What the kids don't realize is that a game drive in the Serengeti is like fishing. I have met plenty of folks on their tenth or eleventh consecutive day out on their safari, still hoping to get a close look at a cheetah. We are on safari for two days and we spent the whole morning with a family of three incredible cats!

As usual, Tanzania delivered as we came upon a leopard getting himself settled up in a sausage tree for a nap. This completed our "big five" sightings (lion, leopard, black rhino, elephant, and water buffalo), which again, is something that cannot be taken for granted on safaris that last for weeks.

Shortly after seeing the leopard, we found ourselves next to a big group of elephants taking turns rolling around in a mud hole (elephant selfie above). We were so close we had to duck to keep from getting splattered with mud! Surrounding this whole scene were thousands of zebra as far as the eye could see. Some late season rains have caused bigs segments of the great migration to turn back to this area to enjoy new grasses in these plains.

As if all this were not enough for one day (or lifetime for that matter), the Serengeti piled on and we found ourselves viewing a pride of lions with about 8 or 9 tiny cubs feeding on a zebra kill. The trees above were filled with giant vultures waiting their turn.  The elephants also had baby's in the group so they were not comfortable with the lions in the area and began to move the lions off the kill. My friend Peter, one of our three stellar safari drivers, was heard saying, "let's see who is REALLY king of the jungle!" Peter really loves elephants.

All in all, it was another amazing day filled with blessings beyond measure that ended with a gorgeous sunset followed by a rainstorm. Many pictures to follow when we get to some decent internet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God's Amazing Creation!

It has been a couple of long travel days but we have experienced amazing people, places and creatures along the way.

Traveling from Moshi to Karatu we passed through the amazingly busy city of Arusha. More than half a million people and still only two traffic lights in the entire city.

We settled in at Rhotia Tented Lodge in the beautiful green rolling hills above Karatu that remind me of Ireland. Yes, it takes some clmbing through rough red dirt roads to get up to the camp but Africa always makes you work a bit to get to her best treasures. Most enjoyed a restful night in the luxury tents except for Kathy who admitted to being terrified at every critter making noise on the other side of the canvas all night.

It was an early start this morning to make the 2 1/12hr drive to get down into the Ngorngoro Crater. After passing through the misty clouds along the rim of the crater, the day cleared once we reached the crater floor where we saw all kinds of wonderful beasts and birds.

We have now arrived at the peaceful Ndutu Lodge after a marathon of a day in the Land Cruisers. It is a small miracle that I am able to post this from here since we are in the middle of nowhere. After a good night's rest we will move into the vast serengetti plains tomorrow. Dozens of amazing photos to follow when we get back from this adventure but hopefully the two brothers above give a glimpse of what we experienced down in that incredible crater today!  Everyne is well. Thanks for your prayers!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Worship On Kilimanjaro

We climbed aboard the magic bus and started bouncing and spinning and slipping our way up the wet muddy slopes toward the church.  You are gonna have to see video to appreciate this ride which at times became so ridiculous the whole group was laughing out loud. Molly especially seemed to enjoy the ride!

Our First Group Photo!

After tea with the pastor and the elders the service began.  Even the kids in our group agreed that the two-hour service seemed to go by quickly.  The adult and youth choirs sang gorgeous African songs and the Spirit of God surrounded us all even though we speak different languages and come from different worlds. After many years of preaching at Kusheyeny with Stephen by my side to translate, this time Stephen delivered the sermon and I read the English translation as he preached.

After worship we spilled outside for the "offering auction." This is a wonderful tradition where people bring vegetables, eggs, sugarcane, and even bundles of grass for cattle to be auctioned off to other members of the congregation. The purchase price of each item is then credited as offering for the person who brought it. In this way people with a little money are able to support people who have none and support the church at the same time!

While the auction was still in process, my group began playing games with the children of the congregation and before long there was all kinds of laughing and screaming going on all around us. The video clip below will give you a small glimpse of all the fun being had.

During lunch after the service a trumpet fanfare could be heard approaching the room where we were all gathered.  Our group was delighted to see that a large goat had been roasted in our honor and everyone enjoyed at least a bite or two! That goat was well photographed so I won't bother posting a picture here.

Protea Lodge
We departed from the church and slid down the mountain until we stopped at Protea Lodge to hike down to the river and enjoy the beautiful grounds. Tomorrow morning we will head for the red dirt town of Karatu to  be in position to begin our safari the day after that. This may (or may not) be the last post for a few days as internet access is scarce out there in the bush. I may be able to do a couple short updates from my phone if I have signal.

For now, I will simply report that we have already had amazing, life changing experiences together and we have not yet completed our second day! Everyone is feeling good and I could not be more pleased with the great group of people making up Vision Trip 2014!

Kwa Heri for now.