But here I am again. Jesus had SO MUCH MORE IN STORE.
I'm writing this in the internet lounge as I sit in London Heathrow airport, by the way! (having a Pret Manger croissant and a breakfast tea!) Only two more flights to go. Well, here's the postscript to my last chronicle.
I had finished my time of ministry or so I thought. I was going to attend the final service, preached by the General Superintendent's wife, Mama Superintendent. This service was followed by communion, served by the national executives. Barb and I came in and took our seats. The message Mama Supt. preached was great. Then communion started. All the national women's execs were serving as well as the district leaders and Barb. After the communion was distributed, they stood across the front. It was a powerful time of worship... During the last song I started crying not just because of God's presence but because I realized it was the last time I would hear them sing, at least until my next trip. I was trying to keep my emotions under control and not lose it. Mama Taifa started praying and it was so powerful. Mama Jane (Nuthu) left her place among the execs and came over to my seat and began interpreting for me. She realized no one was there and quickly ran over. This made me cry worse...it would be the last time. I was just weeping. Then we took communion.
My thought was, "these Kenyans are famous for having you come up and say a few words without you expecting it." In the state I was in I knew I would lose it if they called me up there to say goodbye to the women. So I prayed...please Lord, don't let them do that.
Just then an older woman came shuffling and limping to the front and approached Mama Taifa at the microphone. She said, "Mama Taifa, my legs have been like this for eight years..."she had some crippling problem (not sure exactly what) and one leg shorter than the other. She asked her to please have prayer for her. Mama Taifa called Barb up to the front and then she said, "Pastor Deanna, would you come and lead in prayer for this woman?" I could handle that. Prayer for the sick...yes. A goodbye? No.
I took the microphone and knelt down and touched the womans feet and legs. I prayed and as usual the crowd was like a rushing wind behind me where you could distinguish no words except for a shout of YES! each time I made a specific emphatic point. Such as, if the person praying shouts, "HEAL HER NOW!" the people will shout 'YES!!!". Otherwise they pray all together as loud as they possibly can saying whatever is in their heart or speaking in tongues. You can't even imagine how these people pray. So we believed God for this woman. The way Kenyans pray is electric. I said a final, "In the name of Jesus, amen..." stood up and then another woman with a tremendous need was asking for prayer. We were going to start praying for her but suddenly we heard a thunderous roar behind us. The women were shouting with abandon as the woman with the crippled legs was running around the tent praising God, completely and instantly healed!!! So it was total pandemonium in the place. We prayed for the next woman and then there were so many needs, Mama Taifa asked me to pray a general prayer for all needs in the place or else with this many people in a convention you would be there for weeks. Women ran up and threw papers with their prayer requests that they had scrawled on them, and placed them in Mama Taifa's hands. We laid our hands upon them and I prayed.
What happened next is the most glorious event that has ever happened to me except for salvation or getting married. Mama Taifa said, Mama Stephen (that is Barb Kuert), we want you to come to the platform and bring Pastor Deanna." So I said to myself..."oh no...this is it...I am going to have to tell them goodbye...they are asking for a final greeting of sorts..." My soul just could not bear to speak the words aloud. As we walked to the platform there was a great applause.
The national execs lined up on the platform and Mama Jane (Tembu) brought out a gift. They laid it in my hands. I gave up on trying not to cry. First, Mama Taifa spoke and although she and Mama Jane Tembu's presentation for me was about 10 minutes, this was the paraphrase of what they said: " Pastor Deanna, you will never know what your visit has meant to us...how much you have blessed us. We leaders love you. The women of Kenya love you. We are so thankful to you and we must show our love. We are thankful to your husband, your children and your church for letting you come to Kenya and releasing you to be a gift to us..." Like I said, this is greatly paraphrased. The whole time I am standing up there while they are saying this, I am blubbering uncontrollably and Barb is snapping photos.
When they finished their presentation the crowd gave an ovation and then I began to open the gift. Please realize the significance of this. These women are living in poverty. What they gave is extravagant. They presented me with a beautiful African dress, complete with all of the pieces...the top piece, bottom piece, shawl, head covering, and even a purse to match. It is pink! (They know that's my favorite color because it's what I wore a lot.) When I opened it I was just sobbing. I think they thought I would just accept it and take the gift back to my room but instead I took off my jacket... and they began to go crazy. They couldn't believe I was putting it on, right there. They just clapped and clapped. They were so happy to see me receive their gift in this way.
Mama Jane Tembu took the skirt and put it on over my other skirt. (It fit perfectly!) Then I slipped the top piece over my blouse. Mama Taifa put the shawl over my shoulder and Mama Jane Tembu took the headpiece, folded it and placed it on my head. The shouting was so loud in the place it was unbelievable. Then Mama Jane said, "Pastor Deanna, surely we know with all of the nations represented in your church, you may have some Kenyans or perhaps they will come in the future. Should you go to their home or out for dinner, surely you need a handbag!" And then the pulled that out. (Insert thunderous applause here) Then she said, "and of course we can't forget your husband. He allowed you to come to Kenya and we will be forever grateful." And then they placed a very nice gift for Larry in my hands. (I won't say what it is yet, I haven't presented it to him.)
They wanted me to model the outfit for all in the tent because it's such a large crowd, everyone can't see well so they had me go on the stage and face all the different sections. As Mama Jane led me over to the various sections when I came to them each one would just cheer. When I got to the section where the woman who stands up and throws her arms in the air and gives one of those tribal yells (when I am introduced and come to the platform), I threw my arms up in the air like she did, toward her section. They went crazy. So then I had to go over and do it to the opposite section. And I'm still bawling... They gave out awards for about 40 minutes after this, to various women's groups in the nation and the whole time I was sitting there on the front row in my new outfit, sobbing into my hanky.
Mama Taifa dismissed the service and everyone was to go to dinner. (Africans eat dinner at night, after the services.) As Barb and I were walking from the tent across the field, women were pushing forward and asking us to stop and pray for them as they had AIDS, and were experiencing domestic violence and all sorts of other things. We prayed for as many as we could. Finally Barb said, "We have to go get some dinner...we are exhausted..." One more woman pushed through. She said, "please...please...I have HIV..." So we couldn't refuse her...we stayed and prayed for her, and then Mama Jane Tembu came out of the dining hall the leaders were eating in and said, "Come...you must come and eat..." She could see the weariness and that we needed to get something. So we came with her. The last woman we prayed for was just precious. She was just a little thing and so frail. I took her in my arms and prayed the most faith filled prayer that I could for an extremely exhausted person.
During the evening several other women came and presented me personal gifts. Again, understand the magnitude of this because they are struggling more than you could ever imagine. For them to do this is tremendous sacrifice and shows how much they love you. One district superintendent's wife presented me with a blouse and scarf...a pastor's wife presented me with a necklace she personally made for me (it's pink!) and a woman not in leadership, just among the crowd and one in extreme poverty somehow scraped her money together and gave me a brown leather-like purse. I was blown away. Barb was crying when they gave me these things, she was just so shocked. She said, "I just cannot believe it..." She was surprised as although Kenyans are the most warm and loving people, they cannot afford to do this for people to this degree and the fact that they did with me shows just how they feel. I felt strange to accept it knowing that but the thing is, if you do not accept it, it is a huge hurt to them. In fact it becomes an offense. So, you must joyfully receive their gift.
After supper I went to my room and it was late. I got ready for bed, then laid down and cried myself to sleep. I used the whole box of kleenex I had purchased the day before. When I woke up at 3 am to use the restroom, I still had the wad of tissues tightly clenched in my hands. Then I started crying again thinking to myself, "I love my family and home and I do miss them terribly...and I can't wait to see them. But at the same time, saying goodbye to these people is going to absolutely feel like somebody is cutting my heart out. It hurt so much.
I was wondering how I was going to manage the 'final tea' with the leaders the next morning as we said goodbye, but I did well. In the morning, Barb and I went for tea and I spent my last moments with Mamas Jane T, Jane N, Elizabeth, Gladys and Ruth. Many had to go back the night before as it was an all night bus ride for them. I also spent my last time with the 'big boys' from Mathare Valley. They let me know that a few of them have a music group called Talented Guys, and they have recorded a CD that someone in the USA made possible for them to do. Right on the spot I said, 'I need one!' They had none there but their co-pastor, Mama Jane Nuthu arranged to have a copy dropped off at the Kuerts before I was to go to the airport.
I said goodbye to all of the ladies and the East Africa School of Theology and then Barb and I headed off by ourselves to the Nairobi Game Park. It was great. Barb can navigate anywhere. We saw many giraffe's. They are so graceful. We got up close, right next to them in the land rover. It was almost like a giraffe nursery as there were many babies as well. Barb said to me, "in all the time I've been going to game parks, I've never gotten a photo of a giraffe with it's legs bent, leaning down drinking water." She said she always wanted a photo. Amazingly, a giraffe did just that about an hour later. Barb had opened up the top of the car, and I got up on the seat, went through the roof and snapped a few great photos of it. Now she has them! We had a great time there seeing all kinds of animals and then we headed to Village Market.
We were surprised to find four or five AG Missionaries there and we joined with them at a table and ate. It was fun talking and I got to say goodbye in person to Bonnie Ness which was very important to me and I didn't think we'd get to do it but the Lord arranged it! I just love her...and I'm glad she'll be there the next few years and doesn't go on furlough for a while because when I go back she'll be there.
Barb and I went shopping. We got all kinds of African stuff for me to take back including lots of African coffee and tea. Yum!
We came home so I could shower again and re-pack. Due to 33 hours in route, I wanted to start out with a fresh shower. Bill and I got to talking before I got in the shower and we got carried away with our conversation about the testimonies from the week and I had to sprint to the shower to get done in time. Barb was gracious to finish packing my bags for me and weigh them. Barb is an amazing woman of God if you haven't figured it out by now.
We headed for the airport. I did fine until Barb hugged me for the last time and then I started to break. I let her talk, mostly nodded...we said our "i love you's" and "will talk to you soon's" and then I headed in to check my bags and get my return from British Air for my shoes. She and Bill waited outside the glass windows to make sure they saw me get my bags checked, get my boarding pass, and ensure that BA paid me the money for my shoes. I gave them the final thumbs up and waved bye, and then headed up to my gate for departure.
I went through three security checkpoints, then found Java House outside my final boarding area. Went in for a half a sandwich and one final African tea while actually being on site... I chose a seat at a bar facing the windows where the planes were taking off...ate my chicken salad, drank my tea and cried for 30 minutes. Then got myself together and decided, "I probably need to get my contacts out..." I knew I was going to sleep on the first flight and besides that my eyes were swollen from crying. I went to the W.C. for the last time (water closet is what they call it here...) and headed to my final boarding. There was yet another security checkpoint. It's much stricter in Africa and the UK. And I'm glad for it!
So, here I sit in LHR airport, waiting another few hours for my next flight to Newark, NJ and then I will arrive home in Tampa on Saturday night. Right now it is 2:10 am in Tampa on Saturday. After I get home and get settled for a little bit I will put some of my photos from the trip here on my blog. I can't wait for you to see the beautiful people I have been telling you about.
I told Barb and Bill before I left, what I am looking at in my life right now is a 'new normal'. I have been on missions trips before. They were good, even incredibly inspiring. They showed me a different aspect of the world and I can say I was somewhat changed. But this is altogether different. This is something that has turned upside down my whole perspective of the world, Christianity, the church, relationships and so much more. I don't even know where to start...all I know is that I am no longer the same person and I am wondering how I am going to fit into my world once again.
There is no question that I'm going back, it's not an "if" just a matter of how soon. It's not a matter of am I going back once to visit, it's a matter of how many times I will be able to go repeatedly with the time I have left until Jesus comes back.
I really don't know how all this will translate to my world. Part of me tells me it can't, it won't. The other part of me says, 'it must.' All I know is, life for me will definitely be a 'new normal.' You know, they talk about a 'new normal' when something significant happens in someone's life and it can't go back to the way it was...things are different and their definition of normal becomes new.
Yes, Jesus saved the best for last. God, please help me fit back into my world somehow with my 'new normal.'