Africa Devotions, cont.: Not “right/wrong,” just different

These girls from Katanga LOVED the camera!

These girls from Katanga LOVED the camera!

One of the first lessons cross-cultural travelers need to learn is that cultural differences are not usually “right” or “wrong.” They are simply different. Every culture—including our own—has both “good” and “bad” things about it, “beauty” and “ugliness.” As we learn to break through cultural divisions through genuine friendship with people of other cultures, we will begin to more clearly see our own culture’s “beauty” and “ugliness.”

One of the hard parts of Kenyan and Ugandan culture is the number of street children and orphans. Another is the many children who die from preventable causes. These problems seem overwhelming.

But there is also beauty. Often the people who have absolutely nothing (especially by U.S. standards) welcome others into their homes and into their lives in extraordinary ways. They share in ways U.S. citizens find shocking. They embrace a different pace of life and a strong commitment to community, and they place much less value on appearances. In these same countries are people (like Mary and Wilfred) who love orphans and street kids with their whole hearts and do all they can to help them.

As Katie Davis (of Kisses from Katie) lived in Uganda, she began to have a more critical view of American culture, specifically of our materialism. (Read page 23 of K from K). When we (as U.S. citizens) encounter developing-world cultures, some of us feel the same way Katie did; others feel more tempted to defend U.S. culture and find fault with the third world. Both are normal reactions. We need to be gracious with each other as we process the differences, and we need to be honest with God as we wrestle with this. There are no easy answers.

But in the middle of our wrestling, we can hold tight to a beautiful picture God gives us in Revelation of people from every tribe, nation, people, and language gathered in equality around His throne in joyous worship (Rev. 5:9 and 7:9). Someday the titles “haves” and “have-nots” will be obsolete, and we will have complete, perfect unity.

Questions for thought/discussion:

  1. How do you feel about the differences between U.S. culture and other cultures you’ve experienced?
  2. How do we let go of cultural differences and see people from different cultures as simply another expression of God’s incredibly creativity—another facet of His image?
  3. How does the passage in Revelation bring us hope as we continually process these issues?
  4. Pages 219-224 of Kisses from Katie: How does God’s picture of the body of Christ—the family with brothers and sisters—fit into Katie’s insistence that we should treat everyone God brings into our lives like family?

Africa Connections Info

Dave and I have mixed feelings about missions trips.

That’s a weird statement considering we just got back from leading one.

On one hand, you spend a LOT of money to get there that could be used instead either by the organizations you work with or by full-time missionaries. Sometimes missions teams go in with the idea that they’re coming in to save the day (not exactly a Philippians 2 attitude).

But on the other hand, often the money spent to go on the trip is like an initial investment. It opens up the team members’ eyes and hearts–as well as the hearts and eyes of their friends and family members–to needs and Gospel opportunities they had no idea of before so that future support gets funneled in directions it would not have otherwise. Mission team members find that they are “mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by … (the) faith” of the people they meet. (Romans 1:12)

My hope is that those of you who have read my blog have, in a sense, traveled with us and been impacted just as we have. Some readers have already asked me about ways to contribute to some of the ministries we worked with, so what I want to do in this post is provide links to all of the different organizations we worked with while we were in Kenya and Uganda. You can learn more about these organizations and donate to them at the website links provided. I’ve also included the link to the specific blog post I wrote about our experience at each organization.

1. Kibera Girls SoccerAcademy:

This is a FREE secondary school in the heart of the Kibera Slum (the second largest slum in the world) that provides girls with a quality education so they can continue on beyond secondary school to universities and colleges. Great program.

Blog link:

2. Springs of Hope Orphanage run by Kenyan Mary Musyoka:

Venture Corps is a U.S.-based non-profit that advocates for several non-profits run by Kenyan and Ugandan nationals. You can find more info on Springs of Hope on Venture Corps website and donate specifically to it or to the Venture Corps general fund.

Blog link:

3. Mercy Childcare run by Ugandan Wilfred Rugumba:

Mercy is dear, dear, dear to my heart. Our son, Patrick, is from Mercy, and I lived with Wilfred and his wife, Vena, for five weeks during our adoption process. Almost all the ministry we did in Uganda was through Mercy and its founding church, Light the World Church in Kampala, Uganda.

Blog links:

4. UAPO (Ugandan American Partnership Organization) (In Uganda, known as the Akola Project): (this site has information about the UAPO) (this is the UAPO’s shopping site–beautiful jewelry and very soon, some amazing woven bags)

Blog link:




Africa, Day 3: Relationships

Emily and her cousins and aunt.

Emily and her cousins and aunt.

We came on this mission trip with several purposes in mind, all of them good.

Rachel making a great save

Rachel making a great save

But today, on our last full day in Kenya, a new purpose emerged, and I am even more convinced that God LOVES to see His believers grow in their relationships with each other. When we came on this trip, we knew that Assistant Coach Lauren Lindner Anderson had an aunt in Kenya. In fact, Aunt Sandy had already helped Dave with some trip details. We planned on spending some time with Lauren’s aunt and uncle.

I have so many amazing animal pics from today!

I have so many amazing animal pics from today!

Then we discovered that Emily Mascari, one of the players, has an aunt, uncle, and cousins at Rift Valley Academy, an MK school about an hour and a half from Nairobi. Dave and I have many ties to RVA, through my sister and her husband’s family and through numerous friends who have taught there. What we didn’t realize until about two weeks ago was that my nephew Seth would be there for his 2-year alumni reunion. But, free spirit that Seth is, we didn’t know if he would actually be on campus or if he would be out on some kind of adventure with his friends.

This was a mama giraffe very concerned for her new baby. the park rangers were moving it to flat ground so it could stand.

This was a mama giraffe very concerned for her new baby. the park rangers were moving it to flat ground so it could stand.

We drove up to RVA (and made it despite some brake trouble), and had the privilege of seeing Emily and her cousins and aunt reunite. Beautiful!

We asked around about Seth and learned he was still in Mombasa, so we gave up hope of seeing him. We played RVA’s soccer team in a friendly match and went to eat in the cafeteria. Just as I finished my meal, Sharon, my sister’s husband’s brother’s wife (confusing, I know) found me, and we had a wonderful time catching up and sharing. It was a complete surprise! Sharon and her husband are missionaries without a country (too much unrest) who are serving at RVA as dorm parents until their country’s politics stabilize.

And here's the baby!

And here’s the baby!

Then Seth showed up. He’d taken the all-night train back from Mombasa, and when he got on campus several people told him his aunt and uncle were looking for him. He assumed, of course, they meant his Aunt Sharon and Uncle Steve, and was surprised when it turned out to be us. We hugged and chatted for a few minutes, and then I sent him off to find Emily.

The girls climbed on top of the bus after we toured the "island."

The girls climbed on top of the bus after we toured the “island.”

(One funny note. Three years ago, when Seth was still a student at RVA, we did the same thing to him–just showed up at his dorm parent’s house. Both that time and this–I can’t believe it–we failed to get a picture of him or with him!)

Soccer player Emily’s aunt suggested we spend the afternoon at nearby Crescent Island, where Out of Africa (remember the old Robert Redford/Meryl Streep film) was filmed. They took a couple hundred animals to this crescent-shaped peninsula that thrusts out into the Naivasha Lake. Without predators and with plenty of grazing land, the animal population is now at a few thousand, and you simply walk right with them on the island. Crazy beautiful and fun!

DSC_2629We ended the day back at Emily’s aunt and uncle’s house, where they fed us. Seth joined us, and we had even more chances to catch up.

When I think back at how perfectly this day was orchestrated–without our having any hand in it at all (we only knew we could go to RVA two days ago)–I am simply amazed. God loves His children to have good, deep relationship with each other.

p.s. He also protected us so much today. Getting that bus up and down those rutted mountain roads was very difficult.

Thanks for reading,


Meet Mary, Day 2 in Africa

This is a weird pic to include, but the kids at our first game yesterday thought Dave's elbows were quite funny.

This is a weird pic to include, but the kids at our first game yesterday thought Dave’s elbows were quite funny.

Mary Musyoka’s name belongs in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. Dave and I and the other adults on the team had a blast listening to this woman tell us how she came to start the Springs of Hope Children’s Home eight years ago in her hometown of Machakos, Kenya.

After many years of teaching Sunday School and working as a pediatric nurse,  Mary’s call from God to care for babies and children intensified when she had a dream about giving birth to and caring for twins. “But God,” she said in the dream. “My youngest child is 19 now. I’m almost done with active mothering. I can’t take twins.” Finally, after repeated urgings (in her dream), she said she would do it. The dream ended; she woke up; and she very nearly forgot about it.

We toured the Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation School before we played its team. This is one of its classrooms.

We toured the Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation School before we played its team. This is one of its classrooms.

Mary was already known in her community for her work with children. She taught Sunday School and helped the local police find safe places for children who were orphaned, abused, or neglected. Soon after her dream, in August of 2005, she received a phone call from the police about two babies—twins—who needed a place. Mary couldn’t find one, so she decided to take the babies to her own home. Her 19 year old watched her with the babies and said, “Mom, you’re really relaxed about the babies making messes and getting into stuff. It’s like they’re your own twins.”

The dream flooded back to Mary.

A few of our girls with girls from Kirigiti.

A few of our girls with girls from Kirigiti.

Several weeks later she had three more babies, and she began searching for a rental property that would function as a home for them. She rented a building without the money to pay the rent, and God provided.

He has ever since. “I just remind Him of His promises,” says Mary.

For several years, Mary lived at the home, but now five women care for the children, and another five clean, cook, and wash (and wash and wash—just think of all those bibs!). Currently she has 18 children aged 5 and under.

our impromptu bball game yesterday--see what I mean about height!

our impromptu bball game yesterday–see what I mean about height!

Mary has God-sized dreams. She wants Springs of Hope to own its own building, first. Then she wants a kindergarten and homes for older children so they don’t have to be sent to other institutions after they get too old for her baby-and-toddlers’ home. She wants house parents for each group of kids. She wants sponsorship for orphans that will go through the university level.

And there’s more!

The girls (minus one--still inside with a child) in front of Springs of Hope

The girls (minus one–still inside with a child) in front of Springs of Hope

Mary was grateful for the diapers and formula and clothes we brought with us, but she was most excited about the love our girls showered on her children. Every single child there had one-on-one time. The girls fed the eight babies (one was less than a month old), and played nonstop with the toddlers—who also wanted some holding. One of our moms fed the home’s one child with special needs. Dennis contracted meningitis when he was three and is now deaf, dumb, blind, and crippled by cerebral palsy. Shawna (the mom) sat with him for hours, stroking his head and legs. Several of the girls joined her later and prayed over Dennis.

Mary and I

Mary and I

When the children went down for afternoon naps, we visited the site where the permanent home is being constructed. The grounds are partially fenced, and concrete footers are being poured. Then we took Mary out to lunch.

“You were meant to be here for this day,” Mary said when we expressed regret that we were only here for one day. “It is wonderful when they receive individual love. It makes a difference: They sleep better after they have received love like your girls gave them today,” Mary said. “They are calmer, like it filled them up.”

Holes for the concrete foundation for Springs of Hope's permanent home. These were dug by hand!

Holes for the concrete foundation for Springs of Hope’s permanent home. These were dug by hand!


an impromptu gathering with children just outside the gates to Springs of Hope's permanent site. Notice Rachel trying to roll a tire with two sticks. She was inspired by the village boys--who were experts at it!

an impromptu gathering with children just outside the gates to Springs of Hope’s permanent site. Notice Rachel trying to roll a tire with two sticks. She was inspired by the village boys–who were experts at it!

She added, “And it will make a difference in their development.”

Mary serves on Kenya’s adoption committee, and she works hard to find adoptive parents (both Kenyan and non-native) for her children. It’s paying off. Though many of our girls left the orphanage in tears this afternoon, their faces brightened when we told them that three of the children will be in permanent homes in the next two weeks.

I was amazed, absolutely amazed, at the incredible level of care at Springs of Hope. The best example is Dennis. It often takes the staff two hours simply to feed Dennis alone. When they told Shawna how to help him eat, they told her, “You must stroke his head when he eats. This is how we let him know he is loved.” They turn him two hours around the clock so he doesn’t get bedsores.

It was a good, good day.

Thank you, God.

Correction/items for prayer/praise:

  1. At breakfast this morning, I was corrected about the outcome of the basketball game we played yesterday. Evidently we actually did win, by one point. My apologies!
  2. Tomorrow we visit the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in the heart of the Kibera slum. Kibera can be overwhelming with its level of poverty. Please pray that we will se God’s hand at work in Kibera and that we will truly be a testimony of Christ to the girls we will get to know tomorrow.
  3. If you would like more information on Springs of Hope and on how you could donate to its amazing ministry, visit That is the website of Venture Corps, a Stateside ministry that partners with Springs of Hope. Scroll down to the bottom of the front page and click on the “soh” tab there. You can make a donation through the website, earmark it for Springs of Hope, and Mary will get it. (The founders of Venture Corps are good friends of ours.)
  4. I’m really grateful for our health and safety tonight. God is faithful in sickness and through accidents, but I’m very, very grateful that no one has even gotten the slightest case of an upset stomach so far! Wow!
  5. By the way–wasn’t able to upload too many pics. Have some beautiful ones of the girls holding babies, but Mary asked that I not post any that showed children’s faces. The girls are getting some great pictures with their cameras/phones, but I plan to make a cd of all the pics I take for each of the girls.

Thanks for reading,

Countdown to Africa

Dave, Emily, and I leave for Africa in four days! We are very grateful that the three of us are able to go together—what a privilege!

I’ll post updates on the trip right here on my (Jen’s) blog: If I’m able, I’ll upload some pictures as well. Here’s a bit of what we’ll be doing:

WHO’S GOING?: Twelve of Dave’s soccer players will go on the trip, along with one of his assistant coaches (Lauren Lindner Anderson, who was a former player and student years ago), and two of the girls’ moms.

WHERE AND WHAT? We do have a schedule (though it’s pretty flexible, as it needs to be): In Kenya the girls will play several soccer matches, one of them with girls from the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in the heart of the Kibera slum. Our girls will also attend classes with the KGSA students.

We have also connected—through Jody and Aaron Hoekstra—with a woman named Mary who started a babies and toddler home outside Nairobi. I had heard so many wonderful things about Mary from Aaron, and when the opportunity came up for us to visit her and her babies, we jumped at the chance.

In Uganda, of course, we will see Wilfred (the director of Mercy Childcare who helped so, so much with Patrick’s adoption), his beautiful wife, Vena, and their two young children.

In Jinja we will get to see a friend I worked with when we lived in Sterling, Kansas. Sarah now works as a designer and project director in Jinja, Uganda, and will show us the work she does with the African women who make crafts for her company.

A few more games, work with the soccer ministry run by Light the World Church in Kampala, processing/prayer time with the girls each night, a church service at LWC, a visit to a cancer hospital… It’s full, but not so planned that we cannot stop to help someone or spend more time with people or take a detour.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? We covet your prayers for this trip. We know that God uses trips like this in significant ways in teenagers’ lives, and we expect that from this trip as well (He uses it in our lives, too!). Please pray that all of us will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading on this trip and then beyond it when we return to Chicagoland. Pray that we will spread the sweetness of Christ wherever we go on our trip (including airports and guesthouses), and that we will be a true encouragement to the believers we work with. Pray that we will be a great support to these brothers and sisters in their Gospel work.

Thank you!

Dave, Jen, and Emily Underwood