A True Story of Change

46831316_10218646267814546_3516868149955788800_n

I know you’ve seen posts all over social media about this #GivingTuesday thing. It’s overwhelming at times; I get it. However, it’s so important. I don’t usually share the darker sides of what we do in a public forum. However, I wanted to give you just one of the stories of why this is so meaningful to us and show you a real kid whose life was changed powerfully through donations that were given to UnFinished International on a #GivingTuesday.

I’ve left her name out and any details that could narrow her down from pictures we post. But this is the story of a child in our program. A real little girl your giving has pulled out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus.

We have a girl in our program who was identified as a special child when she was three years old. Her nursery teacher recognized she was not able to read and write and found she was a very slow learner. Therefore, the teacher referred her to a special school in their area

However, the child’s parents were illiterate and steeped in poverty. As such, they were unable to transfer her to the special school. Financially, they could not pay the school fees, and they didn’t understand the reasoning in moving her from public school. They decided instead to keep her at home to help them with housework and chores. The little girl’s days went from school work to collecting firewood, digging, getting water from the general spring, and cleaning.

One day she had gone to fetch water from the spring. On her way back home, she was raped by an old man in the neighborhood. She became ashamed and lost hope since no action was taken by the parents. She was not taken to the hospital, nor was the incident reported to the police. The man started threatening her, and she began a life living in fear. She withdrew inside herself and did not speak or associate with other children.

However, one day, God brought you into her life. Through your giving to UnFinished, she was placed into a boarding school for special children, which moved her more permanently from the area, her attacker, and the constant reminders. Her new teachers report she is now a happy and smart girl in school. She is receiving treatment for both her physical disabilities and psychological trauma, and she is doing exceptionally well with her education. She also now communicates well with other students and teacher not like before. She is hardworking and promising and learning to be happy again.

This story is just one of many. For instance, we have two children who were born with HIV on top of disabilities. Because of your giving, they are not only in school; they get regular treatments for their HIV because they now have medical insurance. Your giving has literally saved their lives. What you do on Tuesday actually saves the lives of real kids. There are so many more stories I would love to tell you should you ever want to sit down and hear them.

Thank you for all you have done in the past. I look forward to seeing what God does through you on Tuesday.

May God bless all you do.

Nairobi – The Green City in the Sun

7ll93gsyrx6rf1qw6oaabq_thumb_9e5f-e1530967208992.jpg

Nairobi from atop KICC

I’ve spent a little more than the last three weeks in Kenya. While we spend the majority of our time in the Western side of the country, our time here begins and ends in Nairobi. Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and, like most international cities, is a microcosm of the world. The city is home to nationalities and races from all corners of the earth. Kenya is now on the more developed end of the developing countries spectrum, and Nairobi is leading the nation in that shift.

Our arrival brings us into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Named after the first president of Kenya, the airport has been both the victim of turmoil and the recipient modernization over recent years. The airport has seen renovations related to former president Mwai Kibaki’s Kenya Vision 2030, which dreamed of seeing the airport upgraded to World Class standards. A massive fire in 2013 severely damaged the airport and has shifted some of the upgrades and renovations to accommodate air traffic and passengers.

I’ve read several blogs over the past few weeks from travelers to and from Nairobi. Many of these posts have been negative in nature. People seem to find the worst in their excursions to the city. One blogger even wrote about being robbed within the town. A common thread I seem to notice in these posts involve travelers going it alone. Trekking out into the unknown to adventure and explore. While there is nothing wrong with that, it helps me to understand their frustration with their time here.

My first trip to Paris was much the same. my wife and I decided to go, and we went. We really didn’t have a plan, and we didn’t know anyone there. While I would not trade the adventure for much of anything, it was not quite the time I’ve had elsewhere. What I have learned over my years of international travel is that the trips are as much about the people as they are the places. Our arrivals into Nairobi are received by terrific friends who, honestly, spoil us while we are there. We have several groups of friends and family in Nairobi who go out of their way to make sure our time arriving or leaving is memorable. The few occasions we have arrived and had to fend for ourselves were much less eventful and memorable than those in which we spent time with friends and family. Travel is just as much, if not more, about people than it is places.

This trip our hosts made sure we returned to one of our kid’s favorite places. The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi is one of our favorite places to visit, especially since we have a three-year-old. It was founded as a rehabilitation endeavor to preserve the Rothschild Giraffe, which had dwindled to 120 in number in Western Kenya. Here you can watch Giraffe graze or ascend to an enclosed platform and look the giraffe eye-to-eye, feed them pellets, and pet them. The house of the center’s founders has been transformed into a boutique called the Giraffe Manor where one can pick up very overpriced giraffe, and Kenyan souvenirs, i.e., a Maasai blanket will cost you more than twice as much there as it will in the marketplace. A sucker mzungu is born every day, I suppose.

The Hub Karen touts itself as, “More Than a Mall.” The Hub Karen is shopping/entertainment center catering to shopping, dining, entertainment, office space, and outdoor park. The facility also contains a medical center and hotel with a conference center. Earlier in the day, the grown ups spent time zip-lining in the Ngong Hills. It was an incredible time zipping through the hills with a majestic view of downtown Nairobi. This trip to The Hub Karen was an opportunity to make it up to the three-year-old that he was not allowed to join the zip lining excursion.

The day was filled with toddler bungee jumping, toddler motorcycle riding, and toddler snacks. The Hub is as much a representation of Nairobi’s international flair as any world-class center. A day there will bring a visitor in contact with people from all over Africa, Europe, America, and other reaches of the world.

The evening was again spent the only way Nairobi should be spent, with friends. Dinner was served at Ole Sereni. Ole Sereni is a world-class resort, spa, restaurant, and business and conference center on the edge of Nairobi national park between Nairobi’s international and regional airports. One can sit on the five-star restaurant balcony and watch lions, giraffe, zebra, and other wildlife graze. Whether one is looking over the park from the infinity pool, or while enjoying seafood flown in from the coast, disappointment is not what one finds here.

We spent the evening dining on local fare while discussing “health and human services” in the form of our organization, UnFinished International. Our host for dinner were European trained medical doctors and lawyers from Kenya. The Ole Sereni staff were a cut above the rest and the darkened fourth-floor dining room overlooking the park was the perfect cap to an adventure-filled day in Nairobi.

We return to Nairobi Monday for a final day of adventure before flying out to another of my favorite cities, Dubai. It will be another great time enjoying international travel as one should, dining and laughing with the best of friends.

“Change the World?”

we-gather-in-small-groupsNowadays, we see the term, “Change the World,” often. While most using it probably have good intentions, the frequency of its use has perhaps weakened its practical application on the broader population’s mindset at this point. I believe most people wearing it on their hoodies, t-shirts, or ball caps genuinely want to be a world-changing force in some way, I also think the general public no longer sees the term as meaningful.

Are Christine and I trying to change the world? I suppose we are. Both of us are visionaries, entrepreneurs, Type-A, nose-to-the-grindstone, types of people with a heart for others. We dream of UnFinished reaching all 192 countries of the world. We aspire to change international legislation and make the world a better place for those with special needs and disabilities. I tell Christine all the time I see the day she is standing before the United Nations, delivering a speech on the need for change in the world of disability.

So “Change the World” is indeed a thing for us. However, it’s not the main thing. At least not right now. Right now, we are more, “Change the Life.” We have children in our program who live with special needs, disabilities, orphan status, stigma, HIV, and poverty. All of our kids experience at least one, if not all of those things. Yes, we have a six-year-old child who is being raised by a grandmother because the parent’s left, is special needs, has a disability, lives in poverty, and has HIV. He is six-years-old.

We are blessed to have people around us who care very little if the world is changed. Yes, I said blessed for that. It is a blessing because they are not worried about what the society as a whole thinks, as Christine and I do most of the time. They are concerned about that little boy. They are worried about the two little girls in our program with mental impairments who go home to sexual abuse during school break that we can do nothing for at this time due to legal entanglements. Our business manager, who is required to worry about nothing except money and numbers, cries and prays daily over these kids. Changing their lives is much more important to her than changing the world right now.

I believe you change the world one life at a time. We started out with two kids. As God has seen our dedication, our hearts, and our stewardship of all He brings our way, He has grown us to fourteen enrolled and several on waiting lists. If the right resources were available, those numbers could be in the hundreds just here in Kenya tomorrow. Through working with kids individually, we are also educating their guardians, their school teachers, their extended family. This is how you change the world – one life at a time.

Christine and I also heavily involve our three-year-old in our work. I struggle with trying to figure out how to raise him without letting him develop an entitled mindset as is rampant in my American culture. I need him to grow up around poverty, lack, need, disadvantage, and all the things that are prevalent in the world outside our upper-middle-class bubble. He is another one person that is part of the change the life mentality.

My point in all of this is that “changing the world” is not as complicated as people try to make it. Even Jesus did not work on a large scale. He used twelve people, and they are still changing the world to this day. If each one of us would get out and try to change a life, that is billions of people improving the lives of billions of people. That IS world changing. Get to know your neighbor. Do something nice for them. The world continues to become more divided and decisive each and every day. You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a world changer. Just change the world for someone across the street. Have your friend over for dinner. Say something beautiful to the person checking you out in your local retail store (God knows that would be life-changing for them).

Let’s resolve to change the world together.

Go West, Young Man

IMG_2474.jpg

11 of the 14 kids of UnFinished International

Kakamega is a town in Western Kenya that resides in Kakamega County. Before changes in the national government in 2012, Kakamega was part of the Western Province. Since the shift to a county-based administration, Kakamega has become a part of a network of larger towns within the western counties of Kenya.

We arrived in Kakamega Saturday afternoon after a flight with 540 Airlines from Nairobi to Kisumu. From Kisumu, a drive of about half an hour led us to our final destination. Kenya is currently undergoing a massive infrastructure improvement that has been underway for the past six years making travel over the road much quicker and safer.

Our first order of business was a visit to the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital, known locally as Kakamega General Hospital. One of the children in the UnFinished International program had been admitted a week earlier. Tausi, the child, contracted malaria. Under normal circumstances, the school Tausi attends provides for the children when they contract malaria, which is often. However, Tausi’s case became so bad, she had to be admitted, consigned to oxygen, and placed under a doctor’s care.

In many countries, medical care must be paid for upon receipt. This is the case in Kenya. In fact, it is often worse. In some cases, fees must be paid before receiving care. While we were waiting to secure Tausi’s discharge, a child was screaming in the ward. In this hospital, there is no triage. All patients are lumped together in one room no matter why they are there. Whether a broken bone or a contagious disease, they are all treated in one room together.

As this child screamed, we heard the hospital staff explaining the situation to the parents. The parents were told the child had fallen and hit its head causing an open, bleeding wound and bleeding on the brain. However, the hospital would do nothing until the parents paid the bill. They advised the medical procedure would cost, 100,000 Kenya shillings – approximately $986.

The parents were beside themselves. The news would have been no different if the hospital told them to leave with their child and refused care. Their child was bleeding both on its brain and on the floor, and the hospital would do nothing until payment was made. Payment was not coming.

As we presented our documentation proving the payment made to cover Tausi’s medical expenses, we were told the doctor was out. The staff advised us they would not release her until the doctor signed off and he was gone until later in the day. We left the paperwork with the front desk with the understanding Tausi would be released as soon as the doctor returned.

The situation was explained to Tausi’s mother. She was overjoyed hearing the expense were covered. Even though she lives in poverty, Tausi’s mother had begged and borrowed 1,000 Kenyan shillings in an attempt to pay the bill. Through the dedication of UnFinished International supporters, Tausi was able to return to school.

We left the hospital to venture far out into the village. The grandmother of another one of our children, Anne, had been in the hospital for three weeks due to high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Upon our arrival, we found the grandmother at home with the four children she raises along with Anne. While she was in the hospital, for three weeks, Anne’s oldest sister of nine years old was left to care for her younger siblings and cousins.

Anne’s grandmother told us of her appreciation, gratitude, and joy at Anne’s improvement in the last two years in our programs. She relayed stories of amazement from friends and family at Anne’s growth physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We spent time talking with her and encouraging her to carry on with the lives she provides for herself and her grandchildren. We left her with food supplies and the few shillings we had in our pockets.

We ended our day at Daisy Special School. This is an integrated school founded by missionaries from Finland. They visited Kakamega decades earlier and started the school in honor of their daughter with special needs. Over time, the school became a county school administrated by the government.

UnFinished International has 12 children at Daisy. Our visit was most eventful, spending time with our kids, sharing snack time, and experiencing our girls sing in their group. The majority of our children are orphans. Not only have they spent life being shunned by society, but they also lack the necessary attention and love that comes from being part of a family. Anytime we can take a few minutes from our always packed schedule to love on them is a blessing.

Doha

IMGP0737-Edit-Edit.jpg

Doha from above

Doha. Another of the more intriguing cities in the Middle East. Our typical layover to Kenya lands us in Dubai, but this trip we decided to add a new stamp to our passports. I’ve been somewhat excited about his stop for several months as the adventurer in me loves holding over in new places on our way to do the work we are called to do.

ZPFzHxSnSGWlXR4QYSc97Q_thumb_c379.jpg

My Qatar Visa

Doha is the capital and most populous city in the State of Qatar. Its located on the eastern coast of the country, perched on the Persian Gulf. Its location and oil development make the city an industrial and vacation hotspot. The city is considered one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the world. The city has struggled a bit in the recent past due to sanctions leveled on Qatar by the international community. But that strain seems to be fading quickly. CNBC even recently reported that Qatar plans to buy New York’s Plaza Hotel, Donald Trump’s former hotel, for $600 million.

We arrived in Doha around 5:30PM local time, about 45 minutes late. Qatar Airlines was not a horrible way to travel but paled in comparison to Emirates Air. Once off the plane, it took about an hour to traverse the vast, state of the art airport, make it through customs, and find our transportation to our hotel.

Our hotel was a Best Western Plus located in the heart of Doha’s City Center. The City Center is the hub of Doha entertainment, filled with hotels, malls, cinemas, museums, arenas, and everything anyone would want to do for fun. I have to say, our hotel impressed me. Granted, my expectations were not high, being a Best Western, but this was not your local interstate version by any means.

The staff was about as friendly and courteous as one could hope. Our room was a bit of a mini-apartment, equipped with a living area and a bedroom. After settling in, we trekked out for some much-needed food. Anytime I travel, I want to eat as the locals eat. My favorite thing to do is scope out hole-in-the-wall places, find the one with the longest line, and pull up a seat.

This night, we dined at an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked with a full option of Indian/Arabic fare. From the oil-covered olives to the spiced rice and vegetables, to the baklava, it was a fantastic meal of local tastes and smells. The time was rather late at this point, so the place was a bit empty. Even so, the food was fresh and restocked as we ate. The meal was a pleasant break from Qatar Airlines’ less than superb in-flight offerings.

Doha, like other metropolitan cities in the Middle East such as Dubai, is a mixture of Islamic traditions and Western dalliances. For instance, some women wore burkas, and others wore the latest Western fashions. Walking out of the airport at 6:30PM, we were met with the evening prayers broadcasted over loudspeakers throughout the city. We were woken at 4AM to that same type of transmission. However, there were no less than four nightclubs or bars inside our hotel alone, including an Irish Pub. Conversely, we were also roused at 3AM to intoxicated groups of people trying their best to find the room they rented.

The next morning, early morning thanks to jet-lag, brought a little sight-seeing before heading off to the airport. While Doha was architecturally beautiful in its own way, I am still partial to the futuristic panorama that is Dubai. Doha seemed to be more sand-covered and under construction. Nevertheless, my short sixteen hours in the city was a fantastic time. I rode their streets, met with locals, ate the fare, and saw it all through the eyes of a three-(pert neer four)-year old. I have a world traveling bug and Doha served well in scratching my itch. Now, on to a few days in one of my favorite cities, Nairobi…

 

The Starting Block

fids.jpg__890x594_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscale

I love airports. I know that is a break from the normal thought pattern. There are so many reasons not to love airports. The lines, the TSA, the lines, people, the lines. One could find many reasons to call airports the Mos Eisley of Earth. But once you look past all the horrible things that are processes within the airport, there is something beautiful – life.

Airports are full of people going and coming. Some are heading out on grand adventures to see new places and experience new things. Others are coming into welcoming arms of loved ones and friends. Airports are hubs of life and exploration that I find fascinating and full of hope. I love to walk through the terminal and see the looks of excitement on the faces of those ready to journey to someplace new.

Today my family and I entered the doors of the all too familiar George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). While not as quaint and warm as its smaller counterpart, Hobby Regional (now international(ish)) Airport, it has a character all of its own. The terminals that comprise the airport are cultural destinations in their own right. Houston, being a city of incredibly diverse culture, fills the halls of IAH with people and atmospheres of worldly callings.

Our regular transportation out of Houston is Emirates Airlines. I’ve flown scores of airlines, and none come close to the class and quality of Emirates. However, this trip sends us to a new location, Doha, Qatar, and Qatar Airlines is our conveyance across the pond. While the service offered by Qatar Airlines is nothing to sneeze at, I find myself missing my typical ride out of town. To steal a line from Prince via Sinead O’Connor, nothing compares 2 u, Emirates.

The purpose of our current escapade revolves around our nonprofit organization, UnFinished International. Through the incredible actions of our dedicated supporters, we use the resources they supply to restore hope to children with special needs and disabilities in impoverished areas. This trip leads us to Western Kenya to follow up on operations with our independent organization there, UnFinished International Kenya.

UnFinished International, through UnFinished International Kenya, currently supports fourteen children and their families. Our sustainability programs there provide educational opportunities for our kids, developmental opportunities for their families, awareness programs for communities, instructional classes for educators, and legislative advocacy through local officials and village chiefs.

This year, we have incredible opportunities to attend to and advise. Eight of our kids are scheduled for life-changing surgeries in August. These operations are merely part of new lives our kids and their families never even knew to dream of just a few short years ago. The programs supported by UnFinished partners are literally miracles delivered to indeed the least of these.

Airports. The starting destinations for life-changing adventures. I am grateful to the many people, churches, and organizations that send us to Kenya on this day to love on these kids that were orphans before UnFinished came into their lives. I look forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Much more to come….

 

Unknown Parts

20-anthony-bourdain-grub-diet.w1200.h630The news of Anthony Bourdain’s death came to me as I was driving. My wife’s cellphone notified her of a news alert. She gasped in shock as she read the screen and said, “Anthony Bourdain is dead.” I sat there in silent shock. The news did not yet reveal the circumstances of his death, but I suspected what would come next. Suicide.

I knew that would be the report. I did not personally know Bourdain, but I knew his type. A few years ago, my life fell apart. I lost everything that was anything to me, and I did not know how I was going to make it even minute by minute. I was a mess. I was going through counseling at church, but that was only helping me hold onto my faith, not get through the grueling hours of day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong, I needed that spiritual reinforcement, but it was not enough. A then friend (that’s another story) was a somewhat recovering drug and alcohol addict. He would attend A.A. and N.A. meetings and seemed to get some internal peace through them.

Time went by, and I learned they had these so-called, “open meetings.” These were meetings that were open to the public to attend. Most outsiders that joined these hour-long sessions were students and medical types – nurses, psychiatrists, and the like. One day, he invited me along, and I went.  What I found there changed my life forever.

I discovered people who were just like me. They were broken, lost, confused, and looking for a way to function, day to day, in life and find their way. Much like Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club,” I found myself in these meetings. Not only did I find myself, but I also found my relationship with God and people. My church meetings help me to maintain my belief in God, these meetings help me to develop my relationship with Him through my storm. More than that, I learned that these people, this group of outcasts people belittle and condemn were some of the most loving, accepting and giving people I’ve ever met.

This company of anonymous train wrecks became my lifeline. They taught me how to build my life back by giving it away. I learned from them that getting out of my own life and helping others is the only way to heal my wounds. The work I do now with UnFinished International was developed largely within the walls of that little building on Brown Street. I was not an addict or user. I did not suffer from an “ism,” but I was accepted nonetheless because I was broken in other ways, just like they were.

As my life progressed and I began to heal, God started opening not only doors for me, but the world. I met my now wife, and we commenced years of international travel. This is why Anthony Bourdain was somewhat of a mini-hero to me. The guy came from nothing and became an international traveler and raconteur after my own heart. That is not to say I place my rubber stamp on all his beliefs and ideas. I do not, nor do I your’s. However, you don’t have to believe what I believe or think like I think for me to respect you. Anthony Bourdain experienced people and places with love and a passion for understanding them. He, at least professionally, was a man after my own heart.

When I heard the news I knew was inevitable, I was heartbroken. That Bourdain took his own life harkened back to my days in those walls with men and women I came to care about who had their lives ravaged by drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and all the other things this world throws at you. My heart went out to a man who lived a life I love to live, and, in the end, it was not enough to save him. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter and many friends who loved him dearly.

Once the news hit, social media did not disappoint in its ability to disappoint. What shocked me the most, and I still do not know why I was shocked, were the comments from people who called themselves, Christians. Some of the most horrible remarks about Bourdain’s death came from the posts and comments of fellow Christians. “One less junkie in the world,” “Another liberal blowhard out of the way,” “This guy was a piece of trash,” “Can’t believe people are upset he died,” “He took the coward’s way out.” These are comments from people, in the same posts, that talked about being a Christian.

I feel there are far too many of us out there that don’t take time to understand what people go through. People just don’t get the, “there but the grace of God go I,” mentality. Mental illness is a real disease. More than that it is a tool and an attack from our enemy. People want to throw it out there as a gun control tagline or use it to place others in some kind of caste system. This is not how Jesus would handle the broken. Bourdain was an atheist himself, and that too breaks my heart. We as Christians are too often too content to let others suffer and die in their sickness. When I went through my dark place, plenty of Christians came to my aide, but so did a lot of atheists and agnostics.

I am not a proponent of the current level of celebrity worship in our society – even church celebrity worship. But I admired Anthony Bourdain’s desire to make the world a better place by sitting across the table from another person and discussing differences over a meal. As he put it best himself, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” So many Christian scream about “making America great again,” when they don’t even know their next-door neighbor’s name. It’s time to care about people again. It’s time to stop judging and name calling and living in your bubble. Jesus went into Samaria and ate with tax collectors. Country Club Christianity is failing. Bourdain may have hated religion and been resolved to die without it, but your neighbor might not.

Anthony Bourdain may not have represented many of my personal or religious convictions, but I am sad he is no longer bringing the world into my life. I suppose I will now resolve to stop living vicariously through him and just get out there and do it myself. Perhaps I can save a few people along the way. Perhaps you can too.