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,


Day 3 in Africa: a gift of a day

All the girls joined together for a dance/singing game.

All the girls joined together for a dance/singing game.

I wish I could recognize every day as pure gift. I am grateful that today I was able to see God’s fingerprints all over its events. We began the day walking into Kibera, a slum 1 1/2 miles square inside Nairobi, like Central Park in NYC (they’re actually about the same size–Kibera and Central Park). It’s filled with somewhere between 400,000 to a million people (I know, big range, but I imagine it’s pretty difficult to take a census in a place like Kibera.

A snapshot of a small portion of Kibera

A snapshot of a small portion of Kibera

It’s hard to describe Kibera. I’ll post some pics of it, but I don’t particularly like just snapping off photos like I’m in a zoo. So I don’t have pictures of the sewage running in a ditch alongside and sometimes across the footpath or of the huge piles of trash that children search through, hoping to find something to sell to provide their families with food.

We had a few scraped knees and elbows, but amazingly no big injuries (either team) playing on KIbera's slanted dirt-and-rocks field.

We had a few scraped knees and elbows, but amazingly no big injuries (either team) playing on KIbera’s slanted dirt-and-rocks field.

Anyway, we walked to the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy. We got a tour (I remembered much from when we were there three years before.) Then our girls went into a class with their students. Oh, the sounds coming from that classroom. Singing (Justin Bieber has evidently captured an international audience), dancing, chatter so loud we could hear it all the way across the courtyard. After the girls ate some lunch, they all (our girls, too) gathered in a circle in the courtyard and did dancing/singing games with each other (like “Little Sally Walker” and several other African equivalents). For some of the shyer girls, I could use some of the pictures I took for blackmail! They had so, so much fun. We walked around Kibera a bit more and then headed off to the soccer field. Fun game; the KGSA team finally won in overtime.

He knows the numbers of hairs on every one of their heads. I keep asking God to remind me of this.

He knows the numbers of hairs on every one of their heads. I keep asking God to remind me of this.

Then the boys U14 team asked to play, so the girls played some more. We had an entire fan group of little girls and boys, and the girls spent their off-the-field breaks playing with them.

Clapping games on the sidelines

Clapping games on the sidelines

On the way home we made a surprise stop. Wanee (I have GOT to learn how to spell his name) introduced us to his “uncle and aunt”- relatives of his mother who cared for him after his mother died. Turns out the “uncle” was on the IOC (International Olympic Committee. He had pictures of himself with Hilary Clinton and–oh, my word–Nelson Mandela! Such a privilege to meet this man and listen to his wife tell us about their life. She just exuded faith and was a great blessing to us.

The team with Wanee's auntie.

The team with Wanee’s auntie.

Then it was back to the guesthouse for a quick shower (boy, were we gritty!) and then to Assistant Coach Lauren’s aunt and uncle’s house (they are missionaries in the Niarobi).

the girls gathered outside of the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy

the girls gathered outside of the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy

They fed us with love, care, and lasagna, and we got to hang out with them and hear stories of their 40 years living and working in Kenya.

The team with Lauren's aunt and uncle.

The team with Lauren’s aunt and uncle.

What an absolute gift of a day!

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