Monthly Archives: August 2014

Starfish

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We all see the news stories, the documentaries, the charity appeals, but it’s not until you see for yourself that it all becomes real. When in Kenya, we visited what’s known as the dump site. This was literally a large landfill site. For miles and miles, there was rubbish distributed on the ground with goats, pigs and storks as tall as myself (which I know isn’t giant but we are talking birds here) roaming around , picking away at it all. The stench was atrocious. The sad thing was, this site was what fourteen thousand people called home. Like the goats, pigs and storks, they pick through the rubbish for scraps of food to eat or material they can use to make things to sell. The things they make from what they find is incredible; beaded jewellery, bags, purses. Here, you only had to walk out your front door to be confronted with the news. This really is the poorest part of Kenya, the people aren’t living here, they’re barely surviving.

Before we set off there, we met at another project called ‘The Walk Centre’. It had a similar aim to Hadassah Children’s mission school but with a lot more space and children. What was truly incredible was that a lot of of the children at The Walk Centre are residents of the dump site, suddenly, they have a chance at life, real life. One child was brought to The Walk Centre from the dump site quite a few years ago now, went on to high school and it now studying at university. Now, university places in Kenya aren’t quite the same as here, they are very limited and hard to come by. So just think, somebody, living on a tip with literally nothing to their name has now got the opportunity to attend and learn.

There are lots of different types of people in the world; there are those that want to change the world, those that think there’s no point in trying, those that have good intentions and try just don’t succeed and those that really make a difference. I once heard a story about a boy on a beach. The beach was completely covered in tens of thousands of washed up starfish. The boy picked up a starfish, walked down to the shore and put it in the sea. He then walked back, picked up another starfish and did the same again. He continued to do this until a man came up to him and said “I’m sorry, but there are tens of thousands of starfish washed up on this beach, I just don’t think you’re going to make a difference”. Without saying anything, the boy picked up another starfish, walked down to the shore and put it into the sea. He then simply said “I bet it made a difference to that one”.

Not everyone can change the world, just like The Walk Centre hasn’t changed the world but looking around the dump site, it didn’t seem possible that someone from here could ever make it to university. It’s our job to make a difference in whatever way we can, even if we just change the world for one person, we’ve still changed the world in our own way.

Unlike the home visits, as we walked around the dump, no one really cried. Maybe it was because it was less personal than the home visits as we didn’t know or even really see the residents here. Maybe it was because it was just too harrowing to fully believe that people actually lived here, it didn’t seem real. Or maybe it was because we walked around knowing that even people living here can really make a difference in the world.

As we got to the last day, everyone on our project was busy writing letters and getting presents for their special friends at the school. I couldn’t wait to hand out all my little presents including yo yos and bubbles and bouncy balls and finally give them something they didn’t actually need to live. But, in all honesty, I didn’t really have a special child, each child I’d encountered had affected me with their stories and lives. At least, that’s what I thought. On the last day of the projects, I met an absolutely beautiful girl named Rachel. She was ten years old and seemed to attach herself to me that day and as soon as I met her I took a special liking to her. I know it sounds incredibly cliché but I think it’s because when I saw her, I saw a lot of myself. She never stopped smiling throughout the day, when others were crying, she was laughing. It was almost like she had just been placed in what we would describe as a terrible situation and yet, looking at her face, it was almost impossible to label her as ‘suffering’. Throughout the day, my fondness only grew and it was then that I realised that Rachel was my starfish. The girl that made me have to come back and make a difference, the girl that made the whole trip one hundred percent worthwhile and the girl I am praying for every day. It took me all week to find my starfish, but this was most definitely her.

I could tell you countless stories of children that affected me deeply, but I will just leave you with one. Rachel’s brother, Salem, was a classic lovable but cheeky chappy. As we were handing out little presents, he kept coming back for more, particularly, the colourful bracelets we were giving round. Now, we didn’t have enough for everyone as it was, let alone for people to have more than one and so as he kept coming back without anything, we assumed he was hiding what he had been given in order to get more, like so many of the excited yet so desperate children. However, that’s when someone caught him. He hadn’t been hiding his things, everything he got he was giving to Rachel and his younger sister, only wanting more to give her. I recently heard that the greatest demonstration of love was sacrifice, and this was sacrificial love. Here, even with the little they had, they gave it away and quite frankly, I think that’s incredible. 🙂

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Jambo Kenya!

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After a year and a half of fundraising, we were finally there. We made it to our African adventure, more specifically, Nakuru in Kenya and it had been entirely worth it, quite frankly, the best experience I’ve known. We were working in a children’s project called Hadassah with just over two hundred pupils, primarily teaching. There was no electricity and the classrooms were large wooden poles bound together with corrugated tin roofs and thin wooden boards to separate them. The teachers were not qualified and many were volunteers and as a project school, there was no set curriculum. All of the lessons, regardless of subject, were simply copying from the blackboard repeatedly until they got it right.

We taught all sorts of lessons to all classes (ranging from about three to sixteen years) including Social Studies, or as we would call it, a cross between Geography and P.S.H.E in which I did a road safety lesson, asking the children about the dangers of walking to and from school and apparently in Kenya, dragons are a big danger when walking down the street. Most of my C.R.E (Christian Religious Education) lessons seemed to turn into musical theatre lessons, getting them to act out various Bible stories including the ten lepers and creation (I have to say, I did stop at the crucifixion) and teaching them action songs including ‘Our God is a Great Big God’. However, the weirdest lesson we taught had to be Computers. Bearing in mind, as I said before, they had no electricity and thus no computers, me and my friend we slightly concerned when they asked us to teach a lesson on computers. It turned out that the teacher did have one computer screen, one keyboard and one mouse to use as visual aids, of course none of them plugged in and so none of them functioning for their intended purpose. In the end we just labelled all the parts, explaining what they all do, but it was a bit like “the screen shows images…but not this one” and “when you type, words come up on the screen…just not this time”. I had often complained in my schooling that the things we learnt just weren’t relevant to later life but this was taking that to a whole new level.

It was such a privilege to play with them at break times though. We taught them endless songs, rhymes and clapping games and I’ve never had so much fun with a bottle of bubbles in my life. The children swarmed and screamed each time the bubbles were blown, the excitement levels were next to none and I can’t describe how happy it made me to see such a simple thing trigger such a joyful frenzy. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever sung ‘A Sailor went to Sea’ so many times consecutively but honestly, I would have sat there singing it all day just to keep seeing their faces. Our projects leader said on the way to the project one day “Don’t ever think that they have nothing, they may not have the physical and material things that we have but the children are happy and that’s everything” and this is so true, for me, this really summed up the project.

It wasn’t all about the teaching though, we also did some ‘construction’ work, which primarily just consisted of painting the front gate. We went for the educational value painting the alphabet with appropriate pictures, numbers one to ten and the school motto; “Transformation for a brighter future.” However, after spending the first day watching our teacher write out the motto across the top of the gate, our project director told her the next morning that the letters were the wrong size and so we had to do it again. So, when I was on construction, we painted over the first attempt and soon realised that a mere pencil stood no chance of showing up over the newly mixed grey background and so the only thing we could do was just to gamble it and and mark it out with black paint to check the spacing. Everything was perfectly spaced out, all the letters just fitting across the top of the gate, ready to paint in full. Only, unfortunately, we realised that “Transformtion for a brighter future” just didn’t have the same ring to it as “Transformation”. It seemed it was time to start again, again. Anyway, eventually, we managed to get the whole motto painted on with correct sizing, correct spacing and correct spelling, quite an achievement we thought.

As you can imagine though, we did see some truly upsetting sights. We did also get to help out with the cooking in the school and the kitchen was simply a large cooking pot on an open fire. We helped make the morning porridge (or uji as they call it), which was really more just a dirty tea rather than porridge, and although it was a great experience to be using the large wooden cooking stick on the rustic, outdoor stove, it was truly heartbreaking when it came to serving up. All the younger children came out first and were all very grateful but towards the end, there were twelve children left and no more uji to go round. We asked what could be done about this but with limited resources, you can’t just keep making more food and so we were told they would just have to wait until lunch. Missing your morning snack really doesn’t seem that bad but the feeding programme was introduced because most of the children go to school hungry.

We also did home visits of some of the children at Hadassah while they were at school. We were taken down a dirt track to a small alleyway. It was about a metre wide, walled with low stone stable-like buildings on either side, connected by washing lines, each room a separate house. We went into the first house, it was a room just smaller than the average living room. It was divided in half by a sheet hung from the ceiling with a couple of old wooden chairs on one side where we could just about all stand very close together, spilling into the doorway. On the other side there was a precariously placed double bed and not much else. We were told that in front of the sheet was the living room and behind was the bedroom and kitchen. They said kitchen but the cooking area consisted of one cooking pot at the foot of the bed. There was no electricity and all the washing and toilet facilities were shared outside. This cosy little abode accommodated five people. We were welcomed by the lady that lived there and gave her a bag of food. One of our group asked if she had a job to pay the rent. “Oh yes,” our project director replied. “She’s a hooker”. We knew this is how most of the mothers got their money but somehow, when they’re there in front of you, welcoming you into their home, you just expect them to run a banana stall or something.

All of the houses were the same. However, you could tell that each and every person was making the very most of what they had. There may have been some really quite upsetting times but in all honesty, I wouldn’t have changed one single moment 🙂

Recipes for Religion

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For anyone thinking about starting something new, it’s a good idea to know a little bit of what to do first. So, here are a few recipes for religion that should get any aspiring Christian going…

The AGM:

All churches need an annual general meeting to keep things in check so here are a few things that all good AGMs need.

The Agenda:

Prayer

Minutes from last meeting

We must address the situation of our diminishing congregation (although they’re probably all worshiping somewhere else so I guess that’s okay). We will reassess in our next meeting.

This leads nicely onto our finances – we are still not making enough money and so in light of our diminishing congregation, it is essential that those that are left give more.

We will then discuss how amazing it is that in just seven years our solar panels will be paying for themselves. We must then, however, discuss the possibility of our solar panel bill outliving our congregation and thus the viability of this investment.

Then comes the inevitable tangent and discuss our views on the new Costa Coffee opening up down the road. We must all express our disgust at the outrageous monstrosity on our high street, being sure to refuse any offers of coffee supplying or small group venues as any large brand name littering our street must be a result of corporate bullying. (There will be given time to make placards after the meeting).

We must then reelect all of our stewards.

Prayer

Date of next meeting

The Order of Service:

You will need: a few hearty hymns to make sure your butt doesn’t go numb, a cursory acknowledgment of the children before sending them to their groups, a sermon, prayers and coffee.

Method:

Welcome everyone to the church (particularly those that are new or visiting us for the first time).

We will then have a moments silence (no one is quite sure what this is for, it’s too short to pray but long enough that it becomes an awkward silence).

Introit – one verse of a sedate old hymn (we don’t want to get too excited to quickly).

Children’s address – we must at least address the children in the hope that they will not run around the front of the church.

Another song (if the children are still in at this point, it may occasionally include some kind of clapping).

Sermon – this should be kept relatively short so as to avoid people dropping off.

Prayers –  We will all pray about “what we have done wrong and the times we have not followed You”, for “the problems in our world, our community and finally for ourselves” before all saying together “Lord hear our prayer” (as if He wouldn’t if we didn’t) – these must be kept general enough that they could apply to anyone.

Final hymn – this one must be a real belter, a good old classic that everyone can join in with to leave the congregation feeling uplifted.

Blessing

Church magazine:

What you will need: a collection of this months weekly notice sheets

Method: compile all of this months weekly notice sheets into a booklet and print front cover on coloured paper.

 

So there you have it, a few good recipes to get you going on religion.

But what if it’s not a religion you’re looking for? I’m fairly sure Jesus didn’t come simply to start a religion. You can follow all the rules and be the most religious person around, but then again, so could the Pharisees. I’m afraid there isn’t a recipe for a relationship, that’s just something you’ve got to work out on your own, well, with God’s help of course. 🙂