About 14 months ago, I was in Kenya with Brian Hanson and our guide to everything new Dustin Hughes. This blog was devoted to telling that story.
Dustin taught us the ways of Kenya, introduced us to some of the most wonderful people we’ve ever met and helped us see how deep into the world the gospel can reach and still needs to go.
Dustin is back in his adopted homeland ministering for a week with his old friends and an evangelist-friend named Cornell, another Ohioan who makes regular trips to Kenya.
I’ve been in touch with Dustin using the WhatsApp app on our phones. We can text when he’s on Wifi. I asked him to update me on how the trip was going. So he typed out a message of highlights earlier today (1 a.m. his time) that I will translate and share with you now.
The trip didn’t start well when Dustin and Cornell missed a connection because of mechanical issues and had to be rerouted through London instead of Amsterdam. Apparently the layover was long enough for them to see some London sites as evidenced by the photo above. Maybe the missed connection wasn’t such a bad break after all.
They eventually arrived in Nairobi at 6 a.m. Saturday and were greeted by the always-smiling Manu. I wasn’t there but I know Manu well enough to know he was smiling. I know I speak for Brian when I say we wish we could have shared the same hug Dustin got. We are all brothers in Christ, but Dustin and Manu have a special brotherly love bond.
It was on to Eldoret to the home of missionary couple Rick and Carol, who are lifelong friends of Dustin and where we stayed a couple days last year. It’s a big house but it was crowded because the Christian reggae band Christafari (20 of them) was also bunking there.
After discussing some legal work Saturday and picnicking with the group, Dustin attended Christafari’s outreach concert attended by 1,500 college students.
On Sunday, Dustin preached at a church, ran errands with his nephew Trenton and Rick and attended another outreach concert under a large tent in Eldoret with 2,500 people. Dustin says many came to Christ at the concert and most filled out response cards for followup discipleship work. He got to speak with a few.
After that it was a birthday part at a Kenyan friend’s home with them and Manu’s family.
Monday’s plan is take a public bus to Nairobi and then another bus to Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. That will be a long and bumpy ride. Just the kind I was always good at getting a nap on.
Dustin, Manu, Cornell, Trenton, Jimmy (another of the great friends we made a year ago) and a team of college-age people will spend two days ministering in this Muslim area along the coast. Can’t wait to hear how that goes.
Dustin and Cornell will start the flight home Thursday evening.
Dustin says he’s seen monkeys, giraffes, cape buffalo, gazelles, zebra and a turtle and promises some pictures.
He also got to meet Boston and Chicago marathons champion Wes Korrir and his Canadian wife at the concert. Korrir is one of the great Kenyan runners. But the best part, Dustin says, is that “they love Jesus.”
Safe and soul-winning journeys, my friend.
In a Grace Baptist elders meeting this past week, Brian shared the story of Losikal being saved that I shared in the “Into the Bush, Part 2” post. They were so moved by the story that they asked Brian to share it in church this past Sunday.
Brian adds some great details to the story. As he said, these are things we only read about, or, in this case, hear about. Please take a few minutes to watch. And pray for this man’s discipleship and leadership in his homeland.
Jet lag this week from an eight-hour time difference was more than I imagined it would be. I’ve been saying for days that I needed to make this post of our final two days in Kenya. Finally, here it is. — Jeff
We started for Eldoret in the dark, but the sun was soon up and we had the same rough terrain to cover on the way back. But with Manu at the wheel, our van was at its ninja best. Brian jumped out, ran down the hill and got these photos of us traversing one of the many roller-coaster hills on our way out of the bush.
We arrived in Eldoret around lunch time. After another great meal prepared by Carol, I worked a little on the blog. But exhaustion from the past three days meant it was time to nap. After we rested, we went up the hill to the mission center for a banquet that Jimmy set up at Dustin’s request for law students and other young adults from the church.
After another great meal and music, Dustin spoke to the 75 or so students who came. There would have been more, but they had just finished exams and several had left town. Dustin enjoyed catching up with several students even if some of the ones he hoped to see weren’t there.
Dustin gave way to Brian who shared the gospel. No one responded publically to the invitation to receive Christ, but many of those in attendance were believers. Our prayer is that Brian’s message of hope planted some seeds or watered some for a future gospel messenger to reap.
Saturday morning came and it was time to pack up and start the 40-plus hour journey to Cedarville. Before we left we stopped for photos with our hosts. Manu, who was our guide in a foreign land, is on the left. In the middle are Rick and Carol Koetz. They are longtime missionaries in Eldoret. We stayed in their home, ate well, slept well and hated to leave.
We made many friends in Kenya. One of the special ones was Jimmy (right). He went to the bush with us and ministers in his church to young adults. He organized the Friday night banquet. We also met Ruben (left) and Elvis (center) on Friday night.
On our way to Nairobi to catch our flight in Nairobi we made made some tourist stops. First stop was at the equator. We crossed after dark on our way to Eldoret. So this time we took photos, and I bought a souvenir at a roadside stand after Dustin helped me dicker for a lower price. You can see from the elevation on the signs why it was cool and windy that day.
When you pass through village areas on this road and are slowed by speed bumps or traffic, people come right up to the vehicles selling produce. You often see them selling small bags of sugar cane bites. You don’t chew and swallow the cane. Instead, you take a small bite, suck out the sweet liquid and spit out the cane. It was tasty, but one small piece like this was enough sugar for me.
Spotting wildlife was fun along this road. We saw lots of zebras. Fortunately, I had the Nikon with the big lens out when we passed this one.
We discussed whether we should stop at a large lake and go boating among the hippos, which are known not to be the friendliest of African animals. We decided on a one-hour ride. Brian took the bow, I sat in the middle and Manu and Dustin sat near the stern.
Before we found the hippos, we got up close to some of the array of water fowl that populate Africa. By this point I was sorry that I had not been brave enough to bring the Nikon into the boat. All we had to shoot with were our iPhones, which severely limited the quality and up-close photos we could get.
Then we found the hippos. We saw three groups of them like the one below. Our guide said there are 800 hippos in the lake. When we would get this close they would show themselves and snort to warn us not to come closer. We obeyed.
Then we headed across the lake for something we didn’t expect.
As we approached Crescent Island we beheld a sight that looks like what you expect Africa to look like. The Acacia trees that are synonymous with Africa lined the shore of the island.
Then we learned that this island is where the movie “Out of Africa” was shot. The closer we got we began to see animals. We saw wildebeasts (didn’t get quite close enough for a good photo with the iPhone), zebras (which you can easily see), impalas and a couple of giraffes far in the distance. The animals were brought here for filming and were left on the island. The lions didn’t get to stay.
We watched the aminals graze for about 10 minutes. But our hour started to run short, so we headed back.
This was our last memorable sight in Africa. From there it was back to the Nairobi airport. He each shared a big man hug with Manu and began our journey through airport security stops, takeoffs and landings.
Our first stop was Amsterdam in The Netherlands. We landed at 5 a.m. local time and had a 5-plus hour layover. So we took a 15-minute train ride into downtown for a walk. It turned out to be colder than expected, so our walk was shorter than anticipated. But it was fun to see an old European city.
Amsterdam is known for its canals. The most common mode of transportation, it seems, is bicycles. They were parked everywhere. We even saw a three-level parking garage full of bikes, not cars.
It was early Sunday morning, so traffic was thin. That made it easy to walk around town. But the coffee shops and pancake houses were closed. We did find a small all-night Italian place open. We each had an Italian dessert. One of best cannoli I’ve ever had.
This is the exterior of the train station. I don’t know what this building was originally, but as a train station it’s awfully impressive.
The Amsterdam train was the smoothest ride of our trip to say the least. As we waited to board for our ride back to the airport we were ready to be home.
From Amsterdam we flew to Detroit. On the three-hour layover I was able to post “Into the Bush, Part 2” to this blog. I was thankful that we had gotten to share the highlight of the trip before landing in the U.S.
After a short flight into Columbus, Dustin’s dad picked us up and we drove home. We talked about the week we had just experienced. We had crossed many things off our bucket lists, but seeing God guide our steps through Africa was the most unforgettable part of the trip.
The way we saw God move in the bush might seem like things to cross off the list. As Brian shared in church the Sunday after we got back, “These are things you read about.” But God allowed us to be the ones to tell the stories this time.
We never want to cross “God going before us” off the bucket list. Because you never know what He will do next time.
There are memorable days, and there are unforgettable days.
Thursday was unforgettable.
I could jump right to the big ways we saw God move, but I won’t. Step by step seems to be the best way to tell this story. Why? Because our loving Lord moved in the little things all day, repeatedly reminded us that his ways are greater than ours, and put us on a collision course to see his grace and mercy change the life of a man and a village.
Hang on. The ride into the bush can be anxious and scary. But the peace that passes all understanding was flowing through our team, keeping us focused on the hope that we would eventually get to share the gospel.
The drive into the Pokot area of the bush was full of potholes, mud holes and dirt roads that bounced us like the most turbulent of flights and seemed to lead to nowhere. When we awakened Thursday in the church yard in Lomut, we discovered a flat tire. Our ninja-like van had succumbed to the rough roads.
No worries. Manu replaced the tire, and Aggrey called in a man with a motorcycle and sent the tire back to Sinor to be repaired. Yes, I said he made a call. There is a cell tower near Lomut. The Kenyans were able to make phone calls all the way to Kamanau. God provides in the most unexpected ways.
We loaded up the van and brought along a new friend. Luca is a church member in Aggrey’s small church plant in Kamanau. When we arrived at the spot that had been impassable the night before, Luca went to work with his machete.
We needed to clear a 50-yard swath wide enough for the van to bypass the deep mud. Luca, a small and wiry man of the bush, swung his blade again and again while others cleared the brush out of the way. Soon we had clear passage to Kamanau. The path we cleared was as long of a straightaway as we saw in the bush. The Lord was indeed making our paths straight.
About 15 minutes later we pulled into Kamanau next to the church that remains under construction. The first sound we heard was a hissing one coming from the spare tire. The valve was leaking. But it wasn’t long before our tire runner returned with the repaired tire. Another quick answer to prayer.
We set up camp, broke out some snacks for lunch and met some church members. There was disappointment in the camp that we had not gotten here the night before to show the “Jesus” film. Because on this day we were supposed to be deeper in the bush showing the film where it had never been shown.
Then God turned everyone’s disappointment to joy. The most prominent elder in the village and surrounding area came by the church, presumably out of curiosity. Losikal’s three sons are members, but he is not. He has a violent past as a militia leader in tribal warfare in the bush. He has served time in prison, fled to Ghana on foot and is now back home.
Tensions and violence in Pokot and the neighboring bush area of Turkana have greatly decreased. This is why we are here and Aggrey is planting churches farther into the bush.
Losikal has been exposed to the church and Christian ways. But when we met him he had not turned his life over to Jesus. So Aggrey saw an opportunity and asked Brian if he would share the gospel with him.
Inside a cement block church under a metal roof with no finished doors and windows, no permanent pews and no pulpit – the humblest of places – Brian sat on a plank for a pew held up by cement blocks facing Losikal. Dustin and I sat on either side of them forming a square. Aggrey stood by the window and translated.
Brian shared a straightforward gospel that included God the creator, original sin, the crucifixion, the resurrection, forgiveness and repentance. Brian asked Losikal lots of questions. Losikal said that he had been changing his ways because he thought it was a good thing to do, not because of a belief in God. He said he had done a lot of bad things that he was sorry about. He said that he was glad the church was there and that his family was involved.
After Brian had presented the gospel, Losikal showed his understanding of God’s sovreignty. He said he could see how God worked everything out for us to be there from America for just this moment. By this point, Dustin and I were praying and failing to hold back tears.
Brian asked Losikal if he would like to pray to receive Jesus as his savior. He said yes and remarked that this short conversation had organized much in his mind. He said all he knew about God before now was that he assumed there was a God because of creation. And now he was hearing about Jesus. Finally, it all made sense.
Brian led Losikal in a repeat-after-me prayer through two translators. Aggrey translated into Pokot, then one of Losikal’s sons, who knows Pokot even better, translated again. They wanted to be sure Losikal got the best understanding possible in his heart language. It was a beautiful moment.
After the amens had been said and while the angels were rejoicing, everyone in the room took turns hugging everyone else. And we took pictures to commemorate this most significant event in Losikal’s life and in the life of the village.
Brian said it well when he expressed that he could go home now. And Aggrey’s countenance said it all. He and others had planted seeds and watered them in Losikal’s life. He smiled at Brian and said, “And you came from America and scored.” We all laughed, knowing that God had, as Losikal said, orchestrated every step that led to this moment.
To sit and watch Losikal be saved was as humbling as it gets. It more than reminded me that everyone is equal at the foot of the cross. I believe that more than ever. No one is a lost cause.
And God was just getting started on the day.
Our next task was to minister to about 100 kids in a mission school in the village. Dustin used us to represent people in his illustration of the woman at the well – I got to be the woman – and presented the gospel. The kids know enough English to understand, but Aggrey gave the invitation in Pokot.
Afterward we had fun in the school yard with the kids. Brian led them in camp songs and Dustin played tag with a little boy. Dustin has good wheels for his age, but he never caught that kid.
The villagers prepared a goat for us and we enjoyed a traditional meal.
The big attraction of the “Jesus” film in the Pokot language brought over 300 people to a large open area next to the church. Brian gave a gospel presentation and invitation afterward, and we saw lots of hands raised for salvation.
We ended the evening well. Our group and some of the local church leaders circled for prayer. I had the privilege of praying for requests of the village. And one of them prayed for us in Pokot. Those are 10 minutes I will never forget.
Please join us as we continue to pray for discipleship of Losikal and the others who professed faith after the film. Aggrey and his church members are sincere in their commitment, but life in the bush can be harsh, so they need much prayer and encouragement.
Also pray for Aggrey to either have his motorcycle repaired or replaced. Right now it’s a three-hour walk from his home to Kamanau .
We rose at 5 a.m. the next day, pulled out at 6 and arrived in Eldoret for lunch. It was the same bumpy ride. But with Thursday’s events still fresh, the ride didn’t seem so bumpy and long.
You’ve heard missionaries talk about how events on the mission field build their faith and trust in Jesus. Those of us who are not missionaries in harsh environments, really can’t appreciate what it is like to live and serve day after day, year after year.
But sometimes we get a glimpse and we see and feel for a few days what they live every day. It drives you to reflection and prayer. And, at least for me, it makes you evaluate your priorities.
Tuesday 3:30 p.m.
Dustin, Brian and Manu pick me up from Multimedia University in Nairobi and start the almost six-hour drive to Eldoret, Manu’s hometown where he serves as a pastor. The trip was pretty smooth, minus the occasional speed bump (Kenya owns the patent on speed bumps), traffic congestion and rain after dark.
We saw many zebras grazing along one portion of the highway. You come to Africa hoping to see sights like that, but you don’t count on it.
I said the trip was pretty smooth, but in a way it was the most dangerous time on the roads. The steady-to-heavy rain on a two-lane road in heavy traffic and a driver working just as hard to stay awake as he was to stay in his lane and pass safely, was a long two hours.
Tuesday 9 p.m.
Manu, who we learned to trust as a driver with his Barry Sanders-like moves through the roundabouts of Nairobi, maneuvers us safely to Eldoret and the Sirikwa Mission Centre just in time for a late and delicious dinner. We meet Dustin’s lifelong friends Rick and Carol Koetz and enjoy a restful night in their home.
We are packed and ready to head to the bush. By we, I mean myself, Dustin, Brian, Manu, Jimmy, Jaycee and Enoch. Those last three are the names of young men who serve in the churches with Manu and the Koetz’s. They are great guys in every sense.
But before that we stop at a grocery store. Guy shopping in the grocery is like a hyena in a farmyard trying to decide between chickens and goats. After filling two carts with food and water, we go to the deli to order lunch. Again, too many guys and too many choices means this takes too much time. But the fish I ate was worth the wait.
We are on the road to the bush by 1:30. Dustin and our Kenyan friends know what’s coming, but Brian and I don’t.
This is a good spot to tell you about the Toyota van that carried us over the unforgiving terrain we encountered on our way into the bush. Toyota doesn’t sell this model in the United States.
Manu’s driving skills are on full display. But it takes more than that to navigate the potholes and washed-out areas of the road, to power through mud and wide puddles and to crawl gently down slopes and up the other side that made me cover my eyes a few times (the guys sitting behind me laughed at me every time). It took the 13-year-old van that could. We dubbed it the ninja van.
Wednesday late afternoon
We arrive in Sigor in the West Pokot area to pick up Pastor Aggrey (Aw-gree). He left Eldoret 15 years ago to lead a church in a village a long ways down a dirt road on the edge of the bush. Not many people in this world would live this way. He’s a lifer in Sigor. He met his wife Jackie here and is raising his young family.
Aggrey loves the Lord, and that is not a cliché. Watching him with people and talking with him, makes it easy to believe that his love is all the time. To tell his full story one day would be a thrill.
Wednesday about 7:30 p.m.
We are on a dirt road that is more like a path. Manu finds his way in the dark like he is wearing night-vision goggles. He said he knew where to go by seeing where the vegetation had been cut back.
We are expected in the village of Kamanau (COM-uh-now) to show the “Jesus” film in their native Pokot tongue. Aggrey has an outreach church in this village. We are about 15 minutes from our destination when we meet an obstacle the ninja van can’t cross. A 100-yard stretch of road is mostly under water. The edges of the road, which we often used to avoid hazards, are too narrow and too muddy.
After close inspection by Manu and Aggrey, the decision is made to turn back about 15 minutes to the village of Lomut (Low-MOOT).
Wednesday about 9 p.m.
We enter a church yard in Lomut known to Aggrey, and they graciously allow us to pitch our tents. The Manu Crew gets busy cooking dinner and making their famous chai. We eat around 11, pray for the next day and collapse in our tents. It was a hot, sticky night, but it wasn’t difficult to sleep.
There was disappointment that we hadn’t made it to Kamanau, but we reminded each other that God was in control and was making a path for us the next day that was even better than our plans.
This is the life of a missionary.
Making friends is one of the many benefits of mission trips. Building your community of fellow believers on the other side of the world is encouraging and plain old fun.
I met many people during my visits to Daystar University and Multimedia University, two of many universities in Nairobi.
At Daystar, which is a non-denominational Christian school, my contact was Clayton Peel. His hospitality and friendly manner made me feel right at home. He prepared a lecture time for me with students from many classes. Some had to rise at 5 a.m. to catch a bus from a satellite campus to the main campus in the middle of the city. I shared the state of print media in the U.S. with them and answered many questions.
Afterward, many came to the front for more questions and to thank me. One student is a fourth-year masters student in communication from Oregon. She once attended Multnomah Bible College in Portland. When I told he my sister and brother-in-law, Cheryl and Chris Reese, used to serve there she remembered their names. Her name is Katie, but I don’t remember her last name. We have those small-world conversations in Cedarville all the time, and this one made me feel not so far away for a minute.
As you might recall from a previous post, the traffic caused me to be late. But I had a great meeting with Clayton, his chair and three other administrative level people, including the academic chief.
At Multimedia, which is a state-run school, my contact was Wilson Ugangu. He too was hospitable and friendly. His dean, Isaac Mutwiri Mutunga, spent much time with us and was wonderful to talk to. After we spoke at length, met with the academic chief (who spent four years at Indiana University earning his Ph.D.), toured their facilities, had lunch and were waiting for a class to start, we talked about the NBA and Mutombo and Olajuwon. That was unexpected and fun.
Wilson had asked me to open his class called Media and Society. So I opened with some discussion of our presidential campaign. They follow it closely here and some the 100 students asked some questions that made me think on my feet. Twenty minutes turned into more than hour, but it was a great time that I wouldn’t trade.
Near the end, my traveling companions walked into the back of the room. They enjoyed getting a taste of what my two days were about.
MMU borders a game park area that is not fenced off. So wild animals often wander onto campus. As I spoke, a warthog was feeding in the yard outside the room, much to the delight of Brian, Dustin and Manu.
Thanks for following our journey. We have more friends to make.
p.s. Was able to write this post one evening in the bush. I will add photos to this post later. After returning from the bush and resting, I am being summoned for a visit to Manu’s home to meet his family. I have much to write in regards to our trip to the bush. We are at the home of Rick and Carol, a missionary couple Dustin considers part of his family. We are staying in their home.
Scenes on our long drive to Eldoret on Tuesday. After it got dark, it rained. But we made it safe thanks to the expert driving skills of Manu. Of course, those are gift from God, so we give the glory to God and thank him for Manu.
Manu has just arrived to pick us up to head into the bush in an area known as West Pokot. So we will be out of touch for a couple days. Pray for us and for those we will meet. We plan to show the “Jesus” film twce in their native language of Pokot. The next day we will be in schools.
After arriving at Rift Valley Academy on Monday, Brian and Dustin got to be part of a food ministry. They joined Brian’s friend Mark Daubenmier on a 1 1/2 hour trip way out in the Rift Valley to a school named Namuncha Primary School in Naivasha. The Kenya Kids Can program feeds lunch daily to over 17,000 students. The program is funded by Christian donors from around the world. Mark helps head the program. He and his wife Sheri teach at RVA. In Brian’s words, Mark and his family are “simply amazing.”
Traveling in a foreign country is an education in many things. I learned much today.
Monday’s first lesson: aggressive driving techniques.
I was due at Daystar University to lecture from 8 to 11 a.m. I was riding shotgun, and it was quickly apparent that at 8 a.m. we would still be crawling through traffic. Or as our driver, guide and new best friend Pastor Manu called it several times, “the jam.”
The jam was bumper to bumper and side mirror to side mirror. You don’t drive in Nairobi at the jam times as much as you dodge and dart, zig and zag and go this way and that way. Dustin tells me Manu is short for Emmanuel. But I think it’s short for maneuver.
Major intersections here are roundabouts. It takes a driver experienced in the ways of Nairobi motorists to get around these things in the first place. But to get around them as quickly as we did today takes Manu. What he did this morning is something none of us could do. And the fact that they drive on the left side of the road here, while confusing, would be the least of our driving worries.
As Manu maneuvered the roundabouts we made several football analogies. Our Nissan van was a fullback, a big lineman and a shifty tailback. We would emerge on the other side of the roundabout like we had sidestepped tacklers into the clear. But that didn’t last for long. Soon another roundabout was in sight and we would slow to a crawl, call another play and break through the defense again.
Manu loves the Lord, and when we found room to drive at a normal speed he would say, “Praise Jesus.” And he meant it. We all did.
We arrived at Daystar about 8:45. We were late, but not as late as we would have been without the Barry Sanders of Nairobi streets behind the wheel.
Monday’s second lesson: American football isn’t everyone’s favorite sport.
The subject came up during our mad dash to Daystar.
“American football is cheating,” Manu said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Uh-oh,” said Dustin from the backseat. “The first disagreement.”
“They throw the ball forward,” Manu said, ignoring Dustin. “You shouldn’t do that.”
Manu, of course, is a rugby fan. And in rugby you don’t pass forward. So we agreed, in brotherly love, to disagree.
Monday’s third lesson: Daystar was a wonderful choice for me to visit.
I was welcomed enthusiastically despite running late. But the faculty who greeted me understood. They are more than familiar with Nairobi traffic.
I had the privilege of addressing faculty, students and several local journalists. I shared with them the state of print media in the United States and it sparked many great questions and discussions. I met several of them at the front of the auditorium afterward.
Following that session, I got a tour of the urban campus. There is a second campus outside of the city that is much more spacious and is residential. I regret that I won’t be able to visit that area.
Then I had lunch with six of seven faculty and administrative representatives. We are all hopeful that partnerships in journalism and other communication studies areas can be established. Daystar is a Christian school that was founded in Zimbabwe but forced to move to Kenya many years ago.
Those were the day’s big lessons. More await tomorrow when I visit Multimedia University.
After dropping me off at Daystar, Manu, Dustin and Brian left for Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for MKs. Brian has some friends from Columbus serving there as teachers. He was looking forward to reuniting with them. And Dustin and Manu were excited to visit RVA for the first time.
When I hear about their experiences at RVA today and Tuesday morning, I will file a full report.
Until then, continue to pray for us. We need it.