September 21, 2014 by Cat Caya
Gratitude over guilt.
I’ve preached about this one. Wrote about it in one of my first blogs. I don’t believe in guilt. I think it drags you down. I think it leads to bitterness. I think it can be a heavy weight on your shoulders that you carry from place to place. I think it sucks the life out of you. I think it overpowers joy. I think it makes you ugly inside and out. And when I say you, I mean me. Because I wrestle with it, especially lately. Especially after showing up at my friend Susan’s house wondering why she didn’t use the $3 I gave her to bring her grandson with an eye infection to the clinic.
Sometimes I wonder if I should believe what she tells me, why she chose to use the money in a different way. This is the ugly, guilt-ridden side of me driven by a fear of enabling instead of empowering.
But then I look around, and I see for my own eyes how little she has. I see her kids waking up from the mosquito net–less dirt floor. I don’t see beds. I don’t see a pantry full of food. I don’t see a closet full of clothes. I don’t see chai cooking on the stove. I don’t see a TV in the corner or a radio or a refrigerator or a smart phone or a dumb phone. I don’t see cushions on her chair. I don’t see a flush toilet or a pit toilet or running water.
I see a wooden bench and one wooden chair and a dilapidated mud wall.
And then I listen to her as she explains why they didn’t show up in the clinic yesterday.
Susan tells me the story of a young boy, Brian, who showed up at her house – her shanty house – hoping she can take him to the hospital. Susan already carries a lot of burdens trying to care for the other seven children in her home while managing diabetes and other health problems. But these burdens have never stopped her from turning away those who have less than her. She takes in orphans, helps treat kids with jiggers, counsels people who are suicidal, and shares about her faith in Jesus to all who cross her path.
Why did Brian show up at Susan’s? From what I understand, this 10-year-old was digging through a dump in search of food with the rest of the street boys when he got pushed and cut his foot on a glass bottle. When Brian arrived to Susan’s, she didn’t have any food. But she did have the $3 I gave her for the clinic visit. She made the choice to use it for food instead of taking her grandson to the eye clinic.
I have never had to choose between food for a few days or a visit to the doctor.
August 29, 2014 by Cat Caya
Impractical thoughts ran through my mind as I began to prepare for this trip. Thoughts of how this trip was going to change my life and my worldview forever. I did not contemplate that there was going to be fear or the feeling of being useless. There was no expectation of learning how to listen to God’s voice and, in so doing, learning so much about myself. And there was not a single thought on the aspect of loving these children and how this love was going to change my life. No, there was only the excitement of going on my first missions experience. It was as if I was a new student going into preschool, unaware of the challenges or the joys of this experience. I was just excited about the experience itself. Fear, exploration and love have not only changed my life, but helped me better understand the love of Christ.
Fear: My first day of my internship started the day that my team left. I arrived in Kenya in late May with a team from William Jessup University. Over the course of two weeks, we walked through different communities that surround the ELI Kipkaren River Training Center with the goal of evangelizing. During this time, we grew close in our friendships. Because I associated everything wonderful about Kenya with my teammates, it was hard to not miss these friends with whom I had done so much ministry. It was a heart-wrenching experience to come back to my room without my friends. I felt completely alone. To make matters worse, I am an introvert and tend to get quiet in unknown places. As my first week started, I was not only struggling with my own quietness, but also with the language barrier that comes with only knowing how to speak English. Even though I pushed myself out of being an introvert, I still struggled, because there were only a handful of people that understood me. The language barrier crushed me into a state of feeling useless. (more…)
August 15, 2014 by Cat Caya
As we reflect on our time at ELI in Ilula, Kenya this past June, we wonder, how could we have ever given to this beautiful place as much as they gave to us? What will we do now that we have been given the gift of being a part of their world? I feel that God allowed us this tremendous opportunity to come home and connect more with heart, mind and soul with others here as we did there in Kenya.
We were able to use our minds as a water tower was completed with the men and vehicles were repaired. We shared devotions with the women and children, and our Pastor John taught and encouraged a group of pastors from nearby villages.
August 7, 2014 by Micah Albert
In Tanzania a father shows me his new chickens but he’s concerned as he likely will not have access to the much-needed vaccine for his chickens.
July 15, 2014 by Cat Caya
For most Americans (who think of it), Mombasa brings to mind political strife, hotly contested debates between Muslims and Christians, riots by youths, bombings, and tribal clashes that often result in injury and death. Being in Mombasa during two major events – Ramadan (the Muslim holy month of fasting) and Saba Saba (a political action day with a vicious past in Kenya) – we felt we experienced a small amount of the tension that exists in this coastal city.
Ministering in the Frere Town neighborhood of Kenya’s second largest city, we saw poverty, alcoholism, drugs and low paying jobs impacting the students attending the Free Methodist Academy. Most of the 242 students come from single parent homes, with many only able attend the school because of a sponsorship program funded by the church. A subsidized breakfast and lunch program, costing families only 20 Kenyan shillings per child (about 25 cents), is struggle for many to pay.
How can mentoring help in these situations? It is our belief that by touching the hearts and minds of children, change can take place in countries devastated by corruption, poverty, inequality and illness. Coming alongside teachers – those whom society has deemed as the carriers of societal values and knowledge – we challenge them to perform their job differently. Rather than viewing themselves as keepers of knowledge, we seek to turn their hearts and minds – and those of their students – to the ultimate place of wisdom, knowledge and character: Jesus! Using teacher training seminars and mentoring as our vehicle, we hope to touch lives in meaningful ways.
We’d like to say that this is easy, but that wouldn’t be the truth. It is hard to help people make mental shifts, to examine long-held cultural views and compare them to biblical truth. It is challenging to refocus a teacher’s efforts away from test scores to life beyond the test. Working with few resources, teachers struggle to apply innovative creative teaching when even having chalk and pencils in a challenge. Learning to welcome “errors,” “mistakes” and “wrong answers” as information to guide students to deeper thinking is a struggle for educators who are trained to believe that the world provides one right answer to everything.
Mentoring is a means to share, approximate and try new things. It opens the door to many heartbreaking discussions, but it also leads to many that are illuminating. When we are invited into schools, it is an opportunity to look at life in the classroom and seek a pathway that reveals the Creator. It is our goal to help every teacher know Christ and through that, help their students know Him too.
June 16, 2014 by Cat Caya
Helen used to illegally brew alcohol for 16 years in order to gain income to support herself and her family. Last Friday, she gave her testimony for graduation day after a weeklong training for over 40 former brewers at the Kipkaren River Training Center, with local government officials, village chiefs, and ELI Kenya staff in attendance. She expressed her vision of continuing to help people out of brewing and exhorted the group of graduates to do the same.
“I wanted these [people] to be brought, to come out of brewing so that we can do our best in developing our country,” she said through an interpreter. “So I think all of us, we are now becoming light as we go back to our villages.”
June 13, 2014 by Cat Caya
In 2012, I did my first jigger outreach with ELI in the slums of Turbo. The poverty I witnessed in that community broke my heart. I believed there had to be something we could do to help those who were suffering, especially with a condition known as jiggers*. I returned to Kenya in 2013 ready and willing to attack the jigger problem in the slums.
I never imagined how complicated the solution would be until I heard a story about shoes and how at one jigger outreach, a group decided to give out shoes after the treatment – which, by the way, I thought was a great idea.
But I heard the shoe giveaway became a bit chaotic.
People came in masses.
Getting the shoes to people who actually needed them was difficult – if not impossible – and the likelihood that people would turn around and sell the free shoes at a cost to turn a profit was high.
Giving shoes to people who are suffering from jiggers should be a good thing, right?
If you asked me two years ago, I would have said yes without hesitation.
But things have changed. I now see things through a different lens. And honestly, sometimes I want my old lenses back. During my first trip to Kenya, I had glasses. They were rose-colored, as in rose-colored idealist glasses: “I can help people living in slums because they are desperate and I have a lot and I have the light of God, so surely there must be something I can do.”
But then I got Lasik.
And everything changed.
I showed up to Kenya this time without the glasses. Literally and figuratively.
I miss the rose-colored glasses. Without them, poverty feels overwhelmingly complicated and sometimes impossible to address.
We did another jigger outreach and decided not to give out shoes. Based on the story I had heard, I thought that was wise.
Until we met Jared.
He lives on the street. He has some mental health problems. He has jiggers all over his feet and his hands and his elbow and who knows where else on his body.
He hadn’t eaten all day, so we bought him a few bananas and a pair of shoes in the market for less than $5.
I found out that within one week, the shoes were gone.
What happened to his shoes?
Is it unusual to try to help someone, only to find out the next day that what you gave them is gone?
I don’t think so.
Would it have been better to never give Jared shoes or have him walk around for a week with something on his feet? Does the fear of enabling mean you don’t address immediate needs because it wouldn’t be sustainable? Or do you let someone get a taste of walking with shoes, even if it’s just for a week?
I am constantly wrestling with these questions. The more I wrestle, the more I realize it’s not about finding the “right or wrong” answer. It’s about seeking God’s wisdom in each situation and making peace with whatever He asks you to do.
Jared is still on my mind and as far as I know, still on the streets.
* A basic description of jiggers can be found on pages 15-17 of this article from the World Health Organization.
June 6, 2014 by Cat Caya
“These are our children. Do not leave them.”
This was the plea given to Angelina before the parents of four children in her community died. With another 16 grandchildren to take care of, she was struggling.
She tried raising chickens to support her family and the orphans she took in. She purchased vaccines from local shops, but the medicine didn’t work. The chicks were lost, and eventually, she had no more chickens.
When Angelina heard about ELI’s extension training for farmers, she attended the first day to see if it could help her with poultry farming. After that first day, she promptly went out and bought a hen. From there, everything changed. Today, she has over 30 healthy chickens.
The extension training seeks to bring information where it’s most needed to poor farmers, giving them education and requiring practical, hands-on work in the field. The training, which runs for six months per session, takes in between 20-25 students per group and has reached 32 counties across Kenya. The mission is to train people to become “business farmers” – farmers equipped with relevant information on best agricultural practices as well as basic business principles – who are spiritually developed as well.
“We are bringing up the whole person,” as extension training leader Isaac Ruto puts it.
Throughout six months of training and fieldwork, Angelina did not lose a single chicken. From the program, she learned about local herbs that can be added to chicken feed as a natural way of protecting them from illness. She is able to keep her chickens healthy without the risk of trying expensive, store-bought vaccines that have failed in the past.
Through poultry farming and also vegetable farming, Angelina now brings in enough income to help cover school fees for her grandchildren and two of the four orphans (the other two have since gotten married and left). Her small shamba (farm) includes peppers, pumpkin, tomatoes, kale, and onions. What she doesn’t sell, she uses to feed her family, saving about 100 Kenyan Shillings (over $1) a day.
Angelina graduated from the extension training program this spring. Despite starting the program with nothing, she has come a long way. Her farm is thriving, her family is taken care of and her chickens are plenty.
May 14, 2014 by Cat Caya
Turbo is a slum community about 10 miles outside of the ELI Kipkaren River Training Center in Kenya. It has been on the hearts and mind of Empowering Lives for many years. Why?
It is full of problems: alcoholism, jiggers and orphans, just to name a few.
What do you see when you walk through there?
What do you do?
One picture of praying, weeping and acting is with a woman named Susan. She lives in Turbo in a semi-permanent home made of dilapidated mud walls and an iron sheath roof with seven children (four of her own, two grandchildren and one orphan her family took in from the streets). She is an uncontrolled insulin dependent diabetic, and her sugars often average 500 mm/dL. When Susan is healthy, she struggles to cook and sell local food at the market in order to afford food, medicine, rent and school fees for her family.
For months, I just went to her house and prayed.
That was it.
One day I saw Susan, and she was singing God’s praises because miraculously, the headmaster (principal) at the school had waived the school fees for her kids. An answer to our prayers!
A few months later, Susan’s health began deteriorating. She was no longer able to cook and sell food at the market. The school fee issues popped up again. Her six-year-old grandson Stanley was sent home from school because of $6 in school fees. I continued to visit a few times a week. Stanley was always hanging around the house, oftentimes alone.
So I wept.
Because the world is not fair. Because the disparity between the rich and the poor is enraging. Because $6 means almost nothing to me but everything to this little boy.
You might be thinking, pay the $6. It is simple. Celebrate the victory. End of story. Move on to the next problem.
And after being in Kenya for one month in 2012, I would have thought the same thing.
After being here for six months, my eyes have been opened to some new questions. Pay the $6 and then what? What about finding a sustainable means of income for the family? What about empowerment?
But how long can you wait for empowerment while a six-year-old sits at home alone? And does fear of dependence mean you shouldn’t give towards a relief effort because you might effect long term change?
Praying seems fairly easy.
Weeping seems relatively manageable.
It seems confusing, frustrating, challenging and complex.
But confusion, frustration, challenge and complexity are not new to God. And neither is poverty. So we continue to show up in Turbo, seek His will and try to discern His perfect mix of praying, weeping and acting.
May 1, 2014 by dianahom
Why are there so many orphans in Africa?
That is a very good question and one that has many factors to explain why there are so many orphans. I’m not going to dive into all the details, but, I do want to draw the correlation between how empowering former alcohol brewers and rehabilitating alcoholics is helping stop children from being orphaned.
More and more grandparents and relatives are left with the responsibility of caring for their family member’s children. Parents die of sickness and disease and some abandon their children, never to be seen again. It is these orphaned children that ELI welcomes into our Children’s Homes. We recently welcomed in 13 new young girls and boys who have been orphaned. Three of the children in particular have been impacted by the evils of alcohol abuse.
April 29, 2014 by Cathy
A crowd gathered at the Kipkaren Children’s Home gate very early this morning. There was a buzz of anticipation and excitement in the air. Were wageni arriving? It certainly looked like it… all was in readiness to receive visitors.
We heard the purr of a vehicle engine in the distance. It turned down the road leading to the children’s home. And then we saw the surprise. The vehicle was for us! Painted on the front of the vehicle were the words “Empowering Lives International”. Today’s blessing was a NEW VEHICLE FOR THE CHILDREN’S HOME!
April 16, 2014 by LoriEaton
Dwell Team with Form 1 girls
Greeted by a bold chorus of children’s voices, the Dwell short term missionary team shed tears and beamed smiles as we arrived at ELI’s Children’s Home early this month. Kaitlin Murphy, Natalie Rodriguez, Olivia Chin and Stephanie Andrews made up this team from a San Diego, CA based church called Dwell. Since blessing and sending our dear friend Colleen Costigan to serve a yearlong internship with ELI last September, the Dwell team had been eagerly planning and anticipating the chance to join Colleen in Kenya. Although our stay was only one week, we were able to experience firsthand the great Kingdom work that God is doing through Colleen, to meet many of the friends and ministry partners that God has graciously provided for her, and to highlight our own gifts by facilitating a three day program to support the Children’s Home youth transitioning from primary to secondary school– a time of significant change for most Kenyan students. (more…)
April 10, 2014 by Cathy
Graduation ceremonies are always lovely events – a time to celebrate hard work and accomplishment. One recent Sunday afternoon, a graduation ceremony was held for Paul Rono. Paul isn’t your typical fresh faced graduate. In fact, Paul isn’t graduating from school – he is graduating from something much more important. He has spent the last three months learning about himself, his personal issues and the causes of his addictions. You see, Paul is an alcoholic and he graduated from ELI’s Anti-Alcohol program on Sunday.
During the time Paul spent at the Rehabilitation House, he learned to truthfully admit how he handled life’s challenges in the past. He spent hours in reflection, meditating upon the scriptures and praying. He faced the negative choices he’d made and the impact of those choices on himself, his family, friends and co-workers. He came to know God as his Savior, Redeemer and Friend – the One who is capable of carrying the burdens that Paul tried to cover with alcohol in the past.
April 10, 2014 by Cat Caya
Dust hangs in the air as hoes churn the red earth. A group of about 30 women, working side by side, till the dirt in the late afternoon heat. One woman bends over to collect what’s been uncovered: potatoes, small and golden. She deftly tosses them into an open sack, which soon fills up. Another takes a moment to rest while walking through the rugged field, a load of over 100 pounds of potatoes on her back. After catching her breath, she continues on. Eventually, dozens of sacks are filled, and the entire harvest is purchased – the result of countless hours of labor and a reward that was almost unthinkable just months ago.
April 9, 2014 by LoriEaton
Mitch with Baba Brian’s Family
How do you summarize four months? So much happened! How do you capture lessons learned, growth, transformation, hardships, and experiences with people I love? Well, I’m going to try.
I was an intern for the Training Center at Empowering Lives International in Ilula, Kenya.
The task assigned to me was the Bee Hive Project. But besides building hives, I was building relationships. The only way I can describe this internship was a packaged gift from God–all of my interests, passions, dreams, and schooling in one.
Before beginning this adventure, a friend of mine suggested that I write a letter to God. In reflecting on these prayers, during and afterward, I have seen God faithfully fulfilling these requests. In the Biggest and smallest ways, He showed up. How hard it is to truly “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19a). There were three areas that I wanted to see God working in me: to Listen, to Learn, and to Serve. (more…)
March 31, 2014 by LoriEaton
David with the SACDP students
How do you explain something that you haven’t quite comprehended yet? How do you put into words something you can’t describe? How do you reflect on a place you’ve been to that is difficult to think about because you miss it?
A year in Kenya sounded like a long time before I left, but now that I’m back, it sure didn’t feel very long. How often do you say to yourself, “Wow, where did the year go?” when New Year’s comes around? How often are you scrambling at the close of a year to think of some key moments that define the last 12 months that just flew by? Tell me, how easy is it for you? Well, that’s how I feel, and that’s the truth. (more…)
March 28, 2014 by Micah Albert
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
For we are God’s workmanship. created in Christ Jesus to do the good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
This month we are celebrating! It is the faithfulness of God and friends like you that has helped us put God’s love into action for the past nineteen years! It is our nineteen-year anniversary this month and though we have seen thousands come to Christ and out of poverty – we cannot forget that with your help we are changing the world – one life at a time.
Yakobo could not feed his children and the pain he felt in his own stomach was nothing compared to the pain in his heart – knowing that as a father – he was not able to provide the feed his family needed for that day.
Don Rogers and Yakobo – 1993
What happened next changed the course of both of our lives. We worked together with our hands and hearts to make a product – a cement water storage jar – that he might be able to sell for income – but we failed dramatically at the task. That next week in a city far away I met a man during a “chance” encounter who just happened to be training people how to make the jars. Yakobo attended the training and the course of his life change as he began to provide for his families need with this new business income.
Today Yakobo is the director of Empowering Lives Tanzania and has dedicated his life for the glory of God and to actions that will bring others out of the chokehold of poverty and Spiritual darkness. He is one of over 150 national servants who now serve full time with ELI among four countries – doing things we cannot, but empowered by what we can do through our prayers and support. For these almost two decades this has been a team effort and today – as I reflect on the faithfulness of God and His people, I am deeply moved and thankful. The magnitude of what God has done is beyond what I could have ever imagined.
Thank you for your partnership and prayers. We see and feel a special momentum from God in our work at this time and I believe that this year, as we approach our 20 year ministry anniversary, will be one of our most productive years in terms of changed and empowered lives in our ministry history. We have done this together because of your partnership. More lives like Yakobo’s are about to change course and for the faithfulness of our loving God and for your support – we are truly and forever grateful.
Empowering lives together,
March 17, 2014 by LoriEaton
My internship with Empowering Lives International impacted me in more ways than I ever thought imaginable. One thing that God really showed me was the magnitude of His perfect love. Before I left for Kenya I thought that I had been through enough trials to last me a lifetime. Time and time again God never left my side through it all. But when I arrived in Kenya, I was so incredibly shy, nervous, and way out of my comfort zone. As I sat with my Mama and Gogo, cutting vegetables on my first day in the village, I was pondering what had influenced me to jump on a plane by myself and spend three months in a foreign country where I knew not a single soul? Little did I know, God had so much to teach me in those two months. (more…)
March 5, 2014 by LoriEaton
Elizabeth Robison’s Greeting in Kenya
Rain, Seeds, and Obedience – Elizabeth Robison Reflections on Six Months as a Professional Volunteer in Kipkaren, Kenya
On April 6, 2013 I rode for the first time down muddy red dirt roads surrounded by freshly tilled soil, and was warmly welcomed into the Kipkaren Community. I had been looking forward to this day for so long… I had raised support, shared the vision, and opened up my heart. I was incredibly blessed to be sent out by family, friends, and church body, and launched into the mission field in Kenya. I came with my heart open and my hands ready to work. I was ready to get my hands dirty… I was ready to SERVE.
I am a nurse practitioner. I love this role because it allows me to enter into another person’s story, and walk with them through periods of difficulty. It allows me to use my hands to help. It gives opportunity for me to open my heart and care. When God opened the door for me to go to Kenya with ELI following my nurse practitioner training, I was ecstatic. It was easy to anticipate how all of my skills and training in the medical field would be useful in a place where access to healthcare was limited. I would be going where I was wanted and welcomed, but more importantly I would be going where I was needed. (more…)
February 24, 2014 by LoriEaton
Tori and Beatrice
Tori Greaves served as a a children’s home intern in Ilula for two months in 2013
When I first came to Africa five months ago with a study abroad program in Tanzania, I had my life all planned out. Well, not entirely, but I knew exactly what the next two years would hold. I would come back to America, find a paid internship for the summer, and jump back into school with new ideas and experiences that would help me then to figure out the rest of my future. But before I knew it, Africa began to surround me and to seep inside of me. Living in a place where people can hardly plan for tomorrow, let alone the next month or year, is a reminder that it is God who really does, or should control your life and future. It is then that I began to pray some dangerous prayers.
“God, I want you to lead me. Teach me to follow, to surrender.” I still remember sitting out by the river near our campus offering up that prayer. I also remember the curious, but tentative email I sent out to Amy Rogers just to see if maybe, possibly (but probably not) God wanted me to stick around in Africa. Two weeks before I was supposed to board my plane flight to America, His answer was a clear and terrifying, “Yes!” (more…)