Life in the Slum

In less than three weeks, I will be in Kenya with 16 other people. I received an email from Pastor Francis and in it he tries to explain to us the nature of the ministry to which he has been called in Kenya. His story is repeated hundreds and thousands of times by others who are serving God there, day in and day out. Let's read what Pastor Francis has to say:

UpakoFeb1The call to serve God is sometimes in unlikely places. Let me try to give you an understanding of life in this place where I have been serving for 17 years, trying to make the gospel practical. I love this work. I sincerely welcome you to my world, the world of the lost, a people who have no status in society but are considered in the heavenly census.

They wake up in the morning without a plan UpakoFeb2because that is what they understand that it is to be alive. Nothing is  planned but night means going to sleep, sleep in whatever fate brings forth. Some sleep in the corridors, the streets, in garbage sites. Maybe it happens for some to be under a roof, then maybe they sleep on the floor with no blanket or one small blanket for 6 children, boys and girls together. During the day, they have either one meal or nothing at all, so you see them begging or trying to get something from the garbage pile to eat.

The slum where I minister is called Kawangware. When I first visited the area in 1999 to do a church planting survey, I thought I was dreaming and I believed that my choice and direction to work with UpakoFeb3the lost communities were wrong. But God insisted that the people were to be reached, so I had no choice but to do church with them. I went down with my family to live with the lost people so that I could understand them better and lead them out to life. After working there for 4 years, I had given out almost everything in a bid to save them until I got lost myself. We can share this story someday.

Visiting Kenya and sitting with the widows and the orphans sharing in their journey to new life is not a fun but real experience in ministry. When you come, just hear, watch, and feel; then you will understand the gospel from an upside-down perspective.

Your brother,

Pastor Francis

If there is one comment we constantly receive from those who travel to Kenya with me, it is that we did not prepare them for the povertythe sights, sounds, and smells of the life in the slums. The aspect of our visit that is so moving is that those who live in those situations are joyful, thanking God for what they have, and living from day to day. Their goals are our goals: feed their families, educate their children, find work that will provide for their needs. Yet, their opportunities are so limited when compared to ours that we cannot help but be moved and our hearts go out to them.

Whatever I raise between now and my trip on March 2 is what I give to our partners in Kenya. If it is much, then we give much. If it is little, we give little. I am trusting that you will hear what Pastor Francis is saying and them help us to bless our friends when we visit. You can give using PayPal through my website or by sending a tax-deductible check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. I appreciate your willingness to help. Now I need you to follow through on what your heart is moving you to doand give. Thank you and please pray for our friends and partners in Kenya, and our team that will be traveling from March 2 to March 17.


Felix

FelixPic2On March 2, I depart for Kenya accompanied by 16 other people. Of those 16, 9 will be going for the first time, while the other 7 are returning veterans. We will visit orphanages, churches, libraries, schools, and also participate in a leadership conference (we will help in the kitchen, with registration, and anything else our hosts require). I will be speaking at the conference.

I have been asked why I take people to Kenya every year. My answer is simple: When God wants to speak to someone, He often takes them on a trip. When people travel, they pay closer attention to their environment, and thus God is able to speak to them more clearly and through the new scenarios they will encounter as they go. A wonderful example of this is little Felix, whose story I would like to share with you.

A few years ago, we visited a ramshackle nursery school that was a converted livestock pen. We had met Susan, the main teacher, on a previous visit and wanted to go by and say hello. While we were there, we met a young boy named Felix. Felix was almost deaf, and had a dilapidated old hearing aid inserted in one ear. Felix could not attend that school, for when he did, he could not hear what was being said. There was no "special needs" education in that old cow barn.

The Lord "spoke" to several people on our team to help Felix, which they have done faithfully since then. They have not only tended to his hearing needs, but also to his education. Below FelixPic1is the report I got from Pastor Peter this past week, along with some pictures. (I include the picture of Felix and his school to show you the condition of the "schoolyard"; click on it to enlarge and see what I mean.)

Dear Dr. John,

Our boy Felix is doing well and his school fee for the term is paid. Special thanks to Sue and Janet for empowering Felix.

God bless you.

Pastor Peter

God could not have spoken to Janet and then Sue if they had not been on the trip to Kenya. Because they went, God was able to connect them in a special way that has changed the lives of Felix and his family.

Now I am counting on God speaking to you through our experience. When we go in March, we will encounter more needs like the one we confronted when we met Felix. There will be heart-breaking cases of need that we cannot meet in our own resources, no matter how much money we raise. Yet, there are things we can do with the money God supplies, and that's where your help is urgently needed.

Your gift between now and March 2 will help us help the children, widows, and orphans whom God has placed in our path. I promise you that every penny you give will go directly to the needs in Kenya. Not one cent will go toward administration. You can give to Felix and those like him by giving through PayPal on my website or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882.

Help me gather a large fund for this trip that we can apply and invest as God speaks to us along the way. I promise to give you a full report, and I also promise that we will communicate your love, and the love of God, to the people we meet. Thank you and may God speak to you about the role you are to play in this trip.


The Kids Go Swimming

In one month, I will be heading to Kenya with a team of 16 others. We will visit Upako Centre in their new venue while we are there, and I enjoy reading the updates we receive from Pastor Francis showing that the location is working out and giving the children more opportunities to learn and grow. Here is Pastor Francis' update from last week with pictures (If you are a recent subscriber to this blog, you can read more about what I do in Kenya on my site under the category Kenya or Sophia Fund):

Dr. J,

UpakoSwim1We are all well and we thank God for all the good that the children are enjoying and this is because of your continued support. Mary is well and happy at her new school and she asked me to tell you a big thank you. Here are some things that are happening with us here:

  • Teacher Lillian started a swimming class for the children yesterday at a nearby retreat centre .She says that the children needs more exposure so that they will fit in properly when they grow up.
  • The Dr. Stanko Academy is doing a lot of things with the children alongside their normal classes. UpakoSwim2
  • There is a major drought here so the bricks project has stopped because of water but we shall continue once the drought is over.
  • Belver and Lillian are continuing with counseling and distribution of sanitary towels to girls in school.
  • The orphans are more healthy and progressing well.
  • The new environment is promising and the Academy will start developing talents as the children grow.
  • We have very good volunteers who handle the children in different stages every day.

God bless you all as we work for God through caring for the orphan and vulnerable children.

Pastor Francis

I need to collect a "war chest" of money to give to your partners when I go over on March 2. That means I need your help if we are to continue the progress that they are making, made possible by their faith and labor. I am asking that you invest in their work by contributing generously to their cause. You can give through my website using PayPal or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. Thank you for sharing in what Pastor Francis calls "caring for the orphan and vulnerable children."


Christmas for Kenyan Orphans

I know that my friends who work with orphans in Kenya are anxious about Christmas. They are not excited about presents under the tree or the frantic gift shopping that is customary here in the States. They are anxious about their ability to do something, anything for the children for whom they are responsible. When I was growing up in the States, we would get a new pair of shoes, new clothes, and some candy at Easter time. In Kenya, that tradition continues, but it is a Christmas rather than an Easter tradition.

Here is a message and pictures I received from Pastor Francis this past week:

Halo all,

God is gracious and kind thus He has brought us this far. We are nearing the end of the year and C'MasUpako2everyone at least has some budget for Christmas. I am also doing something to make make the orphans here feel some love even if not comfort. We C'masUpako1need clothes and food for them for this season so am asking you do something small towards them and God will surely bless you.Keep us in prayers.

Pastor Francis

What's more, we will have their school fees due right after the first of the year, but for now, we need to focus on Christmas. Can you help an orphan this Christmas season? These children are truly orphans, many with no immediate family, and I truthfully don't know how the pastors do what they do in caring for these children. Your gifts will go in total to their Christmas celebration.

Red Donate ButtonI need you to give now, today, without delay so I can wire the money to our friends in time for Christmas shopping. You can give through my website using PayPal or by sending a tax-deductible check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. Help our children in Kenya have the basics this Christmas season by giving a gift that will provide clothes and shoes that will last long after Christmas is gone. Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you and yours!


Mary's Test Results

In Kenya, the children take a major exam near the end of what we know to be eighth grade that determines MaryGowntheir high school destiny. Their score will decide the schools in which they can enroll. I got this update from Pastor Francis this morning, and thought I would pass it along to you, as well as the pictures he included:

Dr. J,

Mary's National exam is out and we cannot hold back the joy that we have for her. Here we are celebrating her and we thank God in a special way for her.hope at last.

For you, we are saying a big thank you for transforming the life of Mary who will soon be in a position to change lives of other orphans like her. She scored 356 marks out of 500 which is high above average. She will now join high school in January next year. Thank you so much for holding her hand,she now has 4 years to be in high school before she joins University.

She made it because of you.

Blessings, blessings, blessings,


Pastor Francis

MaryBalconyWhat Pastor Francis is saying, in so many words, is that Mary will need help as she MaryBalcony2goes on to high school. Of course, we will stand with her, but we can do so only if you  help us help her. Your regular gifts go toward Mary and the other children we are helping in a like manner. Will you open your heart and give to Mary and her friends today? You can give through my website or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO  Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. You can remember the poor this holiday season by giving to Mary's cause. Please remember that all you give goes directly to the children and causes in Kenya. Thank you, and Merry Christmas from Mary!


News from Kenya

I received an update from Pastor Francis at Upako Centre last week, telling me that they had their Upako4graduation ceremony for the kindergarten students at the John Stanko Academy, which is the name they have chosen for their new school venue. That naming was a total surprise to me, and I am honored but also feel a sense of responsibility to help make the Academy JSUpakoGradall that it can be for the students' sake. We are finalizing our next container any day now, and of course the Academy will get some of the resources we are sending over. Rather than me tell you any more, I will allow Pastor Francis to bring the report, along with some school and graduation pictures (click on them to enlarge):

Dr. J,

I trust all is well. We have come to the end of our school terms 2016, and I am happy with how the children especially are progressing academically. Thank you for presiding over their graduation, which was formalized last Thursday the 10th of November and they are now ready to join the next class come new year.This achievement was made possible by the huge support from you are your lovely team who donate and come to Kenya every year. God bless you in a big way. We are doing what we can to come up with an academy where education, feeding, library and talents are developed.

Upako2Mary who has been enjoying her school through your sponsorship has given other orphans a lot of hope that everything is possible with God. You created the hope, your team built the hope.

I was doing research locally to see where and how we can assemble and sell bicycles here, and we found a place and technical advice on how to do that and we are happy to request you to consider sending bicycles if you can.

God bless you. Attached are photos of some of the children, and the place we went for advise about the bicycles.

Pass our greetings to all,

Pastor Francis

Someone has donated bicycles to be included in the container shipment, and we will give those to Pastor Upako3Upako5Francis to start a bike sales/repair company to help with school expenses. We are not sure how much the container will cost to ship and clear customs, but we have the first $6,000, so we are going to ship and trust the Lord for what we will need when it arrives next year.

As always, I am asking for and counting on your help for all that we do. You can contribute using PayPal via my website or by sending a tax-deductible contribution to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. The pictures are the a inadequate attempt to connect you with the work going on throughout Kenya, for there are many lives that benefit from even the smallest of gifts.


We Changed One Life

In 2010, we met a young orphaned girl at Upako Centre who deeply touched our hearts. While we were MaryGrad3impressed with all the children, little Mary stood out from the crowd. Even though she was the smallest in stature, she led the singing and recitations. She was enthusiastic and charismatic, and everyone who met her would single her out for special recognition. I remember that one time we said to her, "Mary, we love you and think about you often," to which she replied, "Why?" What's more, she really wanted to know and waited for us to tell her.

Over time, we felt sure that we were to help Mary, so we began to pay her school fees so she could get a better education. It was then that we found out she was older than we thought, for her diminished height was due to deprived nutrition as a young child. She is the smallest in her class, but has the biggest heart. Last year, she visited with our team and thanked them for assisting her with her education.

MaryGrad1We are please to announce that Mary graduated from the eighth grade this past week, and has sat for her national exams to determine where she will go to high school. Here is what Pastor Francis, her caregiver, sent some pictures and wrote this last week:

Peace and all that is good be with you. I want to thank you for many things here and we are happy and feel blessed through you in a great way.

Thank you [Dr. John] for your visit to Upako Centre two weeks ago and for presiding over our MaryGrad2pre-graduation with the young ones. I also want to acknowledge receipt of the money you  gave us for the orphans feeding program and we all say thanks to you and to whoever helped in contribution in any way.

I also want to say a special thank you on behalf of Upako Centre and Mary Naserian who graduated yesterday after sitting for her final primary National exam. Mary will be joining high school next year, God willing, for secondary education, which will take another four years. Mary has increased both in health, education, and social life since you sponsored her education in a private school. Thank you so much. She is now back at the orphanage until next year when she will start another term. We pray for her educational support will continue.

Pastor Francis

MaryUpakoThankYouMary is pictured at left with a sign thanking several of the women who have been particularly generous in helping her. Here is a link where you can watch Mary express her thanks while we were there in March. I have often said that we cannot save the whole world, so let's join together to change a little piece of it. Mary is a little but important piece of God's world, and we have focused on impacting her. Our prayer is that she will realize how God has blessed her, and will grow into a woman who will want to repay the kindness God has shown her by making a difference in her world.

I am not asking that you adopt a child or to help us expand the work we are doing in Kenya. I am asking that you support what we are already doing. We don't want to spread our efforts too thin so that we do a little for many. We want to do a lot for a few, and trust God that this is the best strategy. God has empowered us to change one girl's life, and we are happy to do that, but can only do that if you stand with us on a regular basis.

You can invest in these young lives in Kenya by giving to the Sophia Fund. Every dime we receive is invested into the people with whom we work, and we are impacting other young people, just like Mary. You can give using PayPal through my website or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. Even $5 is a tremendous help, but we are trusting the Lord for a large gift in order to make a serious impact in the physical facilities and transportation needs of our partners. Please give today, and give generously as the Lord leads.


Kenya Update

I have been back home from Kenya for a week now, and it has been a busy week as I caught up on my work here. My week was complicated by a computer malfunction that dragged on for most of the week. I am pleased to report that I spent much of Saturday reformatting and then restoring my software and data, and things are pretty much back to normal. I was reminded once again how dependent my life and work are upon my computer. Fortunately, I had a backup only a few days old that I could use to restore things as they were.

I was busy day and night in Kenya, which is indicative of the thirst in Kenya for the purpose message. I P1210368cannot explain why that hunger to know purpose there is so strong; I can only attribute it to the work of God in the hearts of the people. While I was there, I did six one-on-one sessions, profiled a group of new employees at a company for which I consult, had a group employee session at that company, went on a safari in the Samburu region, did a radio show with my friend Tina, spoke before a group of purpose seekers, and visited our ministry partners in Banana, Bomet, Kaberia, and Donnholm. All in all, I estimate I sat in the back seat of an SUV for about 30 hours during my ten-day stay.

While I found our partners to be encouraged in the Lord, I saw that almost all were going through serious personal issues: marriage challenges, sick parents living with them, financial crises, ministry problems, children growing up, and other personal trauma. It was almost overwhelming as I sat and listened to their tales of woe and pain. I was impressed by their faith in the midst of all they were going through, but I hurt with them and could only encourage them and pray.

I had the sense while I was there that I am to spend some additional time in Kenya in 2017 beyond my group trip in March and my annual personal visit in October. I am not sure how that will work out, but I accepted a ministry engagement for April, and I will look to spend additional time there prior to their August elections.

I was able to distribute some much-needed financial relief to all our partners, and they were grateful beyond words. I want to thank you for your prayers and contributions during my time in Kenya. The next project is to ship the container of supplies, books, shoes, bikes, and office equipment to the Kenya before the end of the year. Tomorrow I will start the process by announcing my intent to ship, and the company and our Kenya contacts will initiate the paperwork. This is a faith venture, but I have the funds to at least ship, and we will trust the Lord for the rest we will need when it clears customs.

The needs at the orphanages and schools is as great as ever and I need your help to continue helping to meet those needs. I try to be careful that our partners will never see us as their source, but will always keep their focus on the Lord as their Provider. Yet, I know God has used you and me to meet those needs, and we must be faithful to play the role He has for us.

You can contribute toward their needs using PayPal on my website or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. I have a sense that some reader is considering a large gift toward the ministry, and i can only say the words to that person that Jesus said at the Last Supper: "What ye do, do quickly!" I promise when your gift comes in, whether small or large, that every penny will go toward the work of alleviating the suffering of the poor in Kenya.

Be watching Facebook in the coming weeks as I post more pictures and videos from this last trip. Thank you again for making it possible to be a blessing to those who needed it.


Busy Days Here in Kenya

I arrived in Kenya last Wednesday, and immediately went off to check out a possible safari site for our next group trip next March. It was in an area just north of the equator called Samburu, and it was desert-like conditions. A river flows through the game reserves or no life or vegetation could survive. It was a good time to get away and seek the Lord in part of His amazing creation, and I am back in Nairobi, ready for a busy week. How busy? Well, let me tell you.

Sunday I attended two services at Harvest Centre Fellowship in Kangemi, then came back to the hotel for a meeting to plan another meeting later in the week, for a one-on-one profiling/purpose session, and then a meeting with an author whose book I will publish.

Today (Monday), I will be a guest on Kubamba radio with my friend Tina Nzuki from 7 to 8 AM. Then I will visit our library project in Banana. I will have with me an acquaintance from the States who has started a micro-lending economic development program who asked if he could tag along to learn more about my work in Kenya that may help his work.

The rest of the week, I have a meeting with two companies with which I have done some team-building work, I will visit our friends at Upako Centre in their new venue, have several more one-on-one profiling sessions, have an important meeting with my publisher, visit the children at Each One Touch One, have meetings with several more contacts and ministry partners, and possibly take a trip west to visit one of my dear friends and fellow pastors. I fly out on Saturday night, so God has to help me make the most of every minute while I am here.

I have already discovered an urgent need among one of our partners here, and I will be launching today a special effort to raise $1,000 before I leave my hotel this coming Saturday at 6 PM Kenya time, 11 AM local time where I live. I urge you to give to this work, even if it is $5! I promise you that every penny will remain here with the orphans. You can give through PayPal or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882. Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882.

If you send a check, please let me know so I can keep a running total of what has come in. Remember, this must be completed by this coming Saturday so I can leave the money here and avoid any transfer fees.


A Little Short

My thanks if you responded to my appeal this past week for relief funds to take to Kenya this coming week. I had hoped for $5,000, and I have about $3,000, which is $2,500 more than I had last week at this time. That is fantastic, and I am grateful for your help! As I wrote last week, I am trusting the Lord, believing that what our friends in Kenya need will come in. I never want them to put their trust in me or in us, but rather in Him, who can supply all their needs. The banks in the U.S. are closed on Monday and I depart Tuesday afternoon. God is still able to provide, and I thank Him both for what I have and for what I will have by the time I head out.

My time in Kenya will be full. I have a long list of people to see and meetings to hold. I will start off with a visit to a new safari venue to check it out for our team trip in March 2017. Then I speak at Harvest International ChurchIMG_6603 next Sunday in Kangemi. After that, I meet with many individuals to talk about purpose or publishing, while I also visit with our friends and ministry partners around Nairobi. I will have with me a brother who is starting a micro-finance ministry in Kenya to introduce him to my friends in leadership. I will meet with my publisher to see how many more of my books we can publish and distribute in Kenya. In other words, I will be busy the entire time I am there. To top things off, I will begin teaching an online class to students in the States from Kenya as well.

The picture to the right (click to enlarge) is from last March when I saw Deborah at Each One Touch One orphanage. I first met Deborah in 2009, and she is pictured below dressed in blue. Deborah is my daughter's name, and I was moved by her situation, for Kenya Kenya Group ShotDeborah is truly an orphan with no family. I have supported her since I met her, and now she is attending boarding school. I wish I could report that she is thriving, but she is not. Orphans almost always struggle, especially as they enter into their teen years, and Deborah is no exception. I pray that God will preserve and protect her as she matures and is eventually released into Kenyan society.

If the Lord speaks to you about contributing to the needs in Kenya, there is still time. You can give using PayPal online, or by sending a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. If you are sending a check, just let me know how much it is for so I can front the money and take it with me on Tuesday. If you cannot give, then please pray—for traveling mercies, for my schedule in Kenya, for my publishing goals, and for resources to arrive at the last minute to assist our friends in Kenya. Of course, I will keep you posted from Kenya through Facebook and Twitter. Thank you once again for your help!