A school day in the life...

School mornings begin very early at Tumaini Children’s Home in Nyeri, Kenya. The secondary school students (44 of them, ages 14 to 19) must leave for school at 6 a.m. Before that they must clean their room, make their beds, bathe, dress and eat a porridge breakfast. It is especially difficult when there is no water readily available. The primary students (81 of them, some as young as 4) must follow the same procedure for a 7 a..m. departure. There are two matrons at the home responsible for making sure that this process moves smoothly and efficiently. It has been raining for the past three days and some of the school uniforms are not quite dry (understatement). It is 7:20 now and much quieter around the campus. It’s time for cleanup and beginning preparation for the lunches for the primary students.

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Caring for Vulnerable Children in Jesus' Name

The Outreach Foundation's Projects Coordinator Ebralie Mwizerwa and Africa Mission Specialist Frank Dimmock are in Kenya for the first part of their trip visiting vulnerable children's ministries in Africa. On March 5-6 they will meet with the Board of Tumaini Children's Ministry in Nyeri. Ebralie shared the following blog about the first days of their journey: 

We arrived safely in Nairobi on Friday morning around 3:50 a.m. We were delayed in Chicago, missed our connection and were re-routed through Cairo on Egyptian Air – then on to Nairobi. We were so tired when we finally arrived that we decided to rest and travel to Nyeri Friday afternoon.

We were well-received at Tumaini and shared a delicious meal with Rev. Nicholas Miriti, parish pastor; Eunice Kago, Tumaini home manager; Peter Mucheru, session clerk; Virginia Munyiri and Fred Magua, Tumaini board chair.

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Unity and Work

How can we serve our at-risk communities in Christ’s name while bringing people together and promoting better health and opening new economic opportunities? Can our churches be involved in those things in our communities without generating reliance on outside resources that create dependency? Many of us ask ourselves those questions. I believe that what a group from The Outreach Foundation has been experiencing in what is known as the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Mexico may be a source of wisdom.

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Singing gladly with God's people in the Yucatán Peninsula

Journeying through the states of Yucatán, Tabasco and Campeche over the last week has taken my view of Mexico as having a very musical culture to a whole different level. The three congregations that I have worshipped with displayed the combination of joy and reverence that accompanies so much of how Presbyterians respond to God’s grace here.

Missionary Todd Luke shared with me that when the first Presbyterian church was started in the Calakmul region of Campeche pastors were available one Sunday a month at the most. However, in addition to Bibles and the Westminster Catechism, people were given hymnals and guidance on how to use them.

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Deep and lasting relationships in Southern Mexico... and beyond

by Juan Sarmiento

Raised in a Presbyterian home in the Mexican state of Tabasco, Loida became an influential elder in the congregation that we set out to plant in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. The feel of our new church was definitely different from the one she grew up in. We had people from eleven Latin American countries, the largest constituency being children and youth born of immigrant parents. Loida, however, was a great inspiration to us all by generously giving of her time, talents and treasure in service to Christ. Since we last saw each other fifteen years ago she has returned to her paradisiacal home town called “Paraiso” and employs her beautiful voice in the church choir.

Through the years, Mexico has been a blessing to me in many ways. Being the country with the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world, much of the media and literature that I grew up with came from there.

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Lebanon/Syria Day 13: Gifts and Graces

We are home. Two weeks on the road together establishes some pretty amazing bonds. I cannot get out of my head the short but potent confession we make in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in…the communion of saints…” Yep. I do, now more than ever. And I am enormously grateful for a particular (peculiar???) group pf saints who accompanied my colleague, Nuhad Tomeh, and me on this Outreach Foundation journey: Steve and Julie Burgess, Jack Baca, Lisa Culpepper, Marshall Zieman, Jack Haberer, Mark Mueller.  Your humor, compassion, spirituality and generosity was only exceeded by your flexibility as each day morphed into yet-another-new-plan when our dreams to enter Syria and be present with Presbyterian family there slowly evaporated. 

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Lebanon/Syria Day 12: Bursting at the Seams

We began this day driving down to Tyre to visit the Presbyterian church there. As we approached Tyre, we saw many groves of trees laden with ripe oranges and bananas. Then we began to see trucks filled to overflowing with this fresh fruit, and then the fresh fruit and vegetable stands with fresh produce spilling out of crates and baskets.

With these images before our eyes, we arrived at the church in Tyre. It is a small church with a few rooms, the sanctuary and the pastor’s house. Every nook and cranny of the church had been converted to classrooms for Syrian refugee children. Just when we thought there could not be any place left for other activities, we were taken up the stairs of the house to the roof. There was a small room accessed from the roof that had been converted to a classroom for sewing and cosmetology training. In here the Syrian women create wonderful textile objects and other artistic decorative projects. After our tour of the ministry of this small church, we sat on the roof having coffee, tea and sweets, while we listened to some of the women describe their projects and teaching methods.

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Lebanon/Syria Day 11: Seeing the Future and the Past: A Trip to Anjar and Baalbek

Marshall goes back in time…

With our hearts and minds crammed with information after a full week of hearing from Syrian pastors, today we again ventured across the Bekaa Valley, only a few minutes away from the Syrian border. The purpose of today’s trip was to visit another school for refugee children from Syria and also visit the ancient city of Baalbek, one of Lebanon’s premier attractions.

Located in the town of Anjar, this school is the sixth school for refugee children opened by the Synod of Syria-Lebanon. This school is a partnership with the local Baptist Church nearby. The current school is housed on a floor of an old office building, which has been divided up into four classrooms of about twenty-five kids each. With a current enrollment of 214 students, the school runs a morning 9-12 shift and then more students come for the afternoon shift. The school has vans that pick up the children from nearby refugee camps. Even with a space heater, the classrooms are still cold, and the kids all wear their coats during school. There is construction going on there, which will bring a new building for the school this summer. 

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Lebanon/Syria Day 10: The Power of the Spirit

Today was supposed to be the day of worshiping and bringing encouragement to the saints in war-ravaged Aleppo. A day-by-day wait to receive the elusive visas has kept us pursuing our Plan B – which featured four days of conversations at the seminary here in Beirut with the Syrian pastors, given their greater ease with crossing the border into and out of Lebanon. In fact, all of them came our way and the resulting conversations were stunning in the variety of experiences, profound in their depth, overwhelming in their witness to God’s power-amid-harrowing-circumstances, and, intermittently, accented with laughter.

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Lebanon/Syria Day 9: Perfect, Purposeful Ambiguity

On day eleven of our trip to Lebanon and Syria it is increasingly likely that we will not venture into Syria. While our group remains hopeful that we will make a mad dash into Syria, with each passing day our chances diminish. It is not without trying. We have prayed fervently for the granting of a visa. The Synod of Syria and Lebanon has contacted ambassadors, friends and clerics to help us, but nothing has happened thus far. We seem caught in a political chess match based upon current administrative policies that have their origin in the United States. Hence, we are left to reflect upon what God has done and is doing in our midst.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.”

Scholars have pondered why Paul was not permitted to go to Asia. No one really knows. Perhaps the people of Asia were not ready to listen to Paul. Maybe it was too dangerous for him. Obviously God had another plan.

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Lebanon/Syria Day 8: I Believe in the Remnant

Since we are still in Beirut awaiting in the visas to Syria that we trust will come, we have some extra non-programmed moments. Today Steve and I, like others have done, strolled down through the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB). It is a lovely campus and if you go far enough west, you will come to the side that is right on the Mediterranean. We don’t have views like this in Omaha! Today we came across this ancient olive tree. Bearing the scars of a long life, it grew there in the spot it must have been planted in long before Presbyterian missionaries founded this school, and even centuries before that. At first appearance, it seemed lifeless, as there were no spreading branches like the other trees we had seen. But it begged the photo as there were these little sprigs of new growth that said, “Wait! I am not done with life yet. I am still here and green and growing.” I tried to find out information about such old olive trees and here is the result:

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Lebanon/Syria Day 7: A Vision for Tomorrow

I come from the land of too much to the land of limited resources to discover that I am the pauper. For two days I have heard amazing stories of faith from amazing churches in Syria: Yazdieh, Latakia, Fairouzeh, Qamishli, Hasakeh, Malkiyeh and Aleppo. They are stories of needs met and sometimes unmet, stories of courage and vision that have left me awed and overwhelmed. To be sure, I have been uplifted and inspired, but I have also seen the depths of my spiritual poverty. I know this is not a competition, but I find myself wondering how I would deal with the staggering threats and the towering needs.

I come to help and to encourage, but I find that I am the one who needs the help and encouragement. And I have found it in the words and deeds of the churches in Syria. Nowhere have I seen a more vivid realization to Paul’s words: “We are afflicted in every way, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

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