Another Day in Kenya – Chapter 19
Rosslyn Academy enveloped us in a safe haven of gentle healing, a tangible experience of God’s Presence and tender care. However, between the adoption hearing and the verdict, in early August, the missionary family returned. Once again, we needed a place to live. Through friends of friends in the US who were planning to adopt a Kenyan child, we learned about a month-to-month-rental apartment complex. After we moved in, we learned the friends of friends would be moving into the flat next door just a couple weeks after our arrival! My mother-in-law returned to the US soon after the verdict was issued; but through this family with four children close in ages to mine, God provided sweet support and friendship for all of us. They brought a movie projector, so we often ate dinner outside our back doors together and then held movie nights. Also, my dear friend Connie Anderson commenced her foster period for the adoption of their daughter, also from Mother Teresa’s. She stayed on the other side of Nairobi, but we were able to meet up for life-giving moments together.
We stepped away from the battle field. Lily was ours. But minor clean-up skirmishes remained. Mwenda guided us through the last steps of the Kenyan process, which we completed in late August. Then we progressed to the final phase with the American Embassy.
Between when my mother-in-law departed and our new friends arrived, I experienced another desperate moment. As a mother of four children, ages 2-8, I was certainly no stranger to the pit-in-my-stomach feeling of holding a sick child. When Jedd was sick with bronchitis and had to be admitted to Gertrude Gardens, I was certainly worried. But tempering my fear, I also knew that even though I was in a foreign country far from home, at the other end of a reasonably short drive awaited a quality children’s hospital. I never feared that anything but recovery would be the outcome.
But this time was different. Not only was my eight-year-old son Jacob burning up with fever, he was vomiting streaks of blood. I placed a frantic call to the only people I knew well enough in Kenya to call upon in an emergency. My voice shook as I choked out our situation to Benson, a Kenyan Physician’s Assistant working in the medical clinic of Mathare Worship Centre. I pleaded with him to tell me what to do. “I’ll be right there,” he said. Minutes later he appeared in our doorway with Pastor and Mama Karau. Relief and gratitude washed over me at the sight of them.
After a hurried greeting, Benson immediately morphed from friend to medical provider, assessing Jacob’s symptoms. Pastor Karau bent his head in prayer. Mama Karau disappeared into the kitchen to make soup. Benson determined to treat Jacob with anti-malarial medication and to continue to monitor his condition. We sat by my son’s bed throughout the afternoon, whispering quietly as shadows lengthened. Still, Jacob vomited any attempt at fluid intake, much less food. All through those long hours, I kept asking my friends if I should simply take Jacob to the hospital so they could go home. They never shared with me what their plans had been for the day, what they gave up to keep watch with me. But they refused to leave my side.
Hours later, as darkness settled outside our window, I asked again if we should take my son to the hospital. This time Benson replied that yes, it was time. I urged them to let me call a driver so they could go. I worried about their journey home late at night through the insecure streets of Nairobi. But again they rejected my appeal. In a flurry, we gathered necessary items. Mama Karau stayed with Lily. We carried Jacob to Pastor Karau’s car with my two younger boys trailing behind.
All through the check-in process, emergency room evaluation, diagnosis of bacterial infection, and anti-biotic injection, Benson and Pastor held our hands. In a foreign country, half-a-world away from loved ones and familiar culture, we were far from alone.
In the middle of the night, the doctor released us with assurance that all would be well. Benson and Pastor Karau helped me load my sleepy children into the car. We drove back to our month-to-month rental apartment. I feared for their drive home through more sinister neighborhoods.
About ten hours after Benson and the Karaus first appeared at my front door, I wearily stepped over the same threshold. I expected to find Mama asleep on my couch. But the living room was empty. I called her name and followed her reply into the bathroom, where, in disbelief, I tried to absorb the sight of her wringing out the last garments from a full load of our laundry in the bathtub.
Tears flooded my eyes as I glanced from her act of sacrificial love, back down the hallway to Pastor Karau and Benson with my children. I saw true friends who embodied mercy, who stayed near to a foreigner through the long vulnerable watches of the afternoon, evening, and night.
Through tears of gratitude, I saw Jesus.
Even if evil planned Jacob’s illness to further torment us, instead, the experience only bound our hearts closer to Pastor and Mama Karaus’. And cemented an even stronger foundation for what was to come.
With our adoption process at last complete, all Kenyan and American requirements fulfilled, I discovered we still could not leave Kenya. It was high tourist season, and there were no seats available for two more weeks. I struggled to stay present in Kenya as my heart leaped towards my husband and other loved ones at home. But knowing every last letter was crossed and dotted, I could also relax and simply take in whatever the Lord had for us.
One day during those last two weeks, we visited Mathare Worship Centre. Mama Karau and I stood talking outside the church, perched on the rim of desperation. Around us, slum life sprawled in all its cacophony of humans packed into a dense space. All the sights, sounds, and smells were so familiar to me by then. But I never got used to it.
Mama told me about a member of Mathare Worship Centre, a mother very ill with HIV. The woman was begging Mama Karau to promise to take care of her twin babies when she died. Mama held up her hands helplessly, “What can I do?”
She told me how her heart broke through the years for all the orphans and vulnerable children she and Pastor encountered in the darkest corners of poverty. She longed to rescue some of them and bring them home to live with her family. Now, with her four children grown, the embers burning in her bones all those years flared into full-fledged fire.
“If only I could gather up about ten of them and raise them as a family.”
It was such an ordinary moment, just two friends talking, two women drawn into a close and trusting relationship through love given and received, sharing our hearts in the most drab, desperate, earth-bound location possible; but suddenly we stood on holy ground. Without any warning at all, God pulled back the curtains of eternity and revealed His heart to us.
I knew our adoption agency, Hope’s Promise, in addition to facilitating adoptions also founded and oversaw homes exactly as Mama described: ten orphans placed into loving families with indigenous house parents.
I felt a tingling sensation on my scalp that always seems to indicate moments of particular importance. I told Mama what I knew about Hope’s Promise’s orphan ministries. “When I go home,” I told her, “I’ll talk to them and see if they would be willing to open homes in Kenya.”
I began to dream with the Karaus, even visiting potential houses where the family could live.
I grabbed hold of the vision like a lifeline. I heard in my memories the echo of those long ago words from my friend, written in 2004, “I feel in my spirit that ‘Emma’ is more than one little person, she is an idea, a mission that God is forming in you and others. I don’t know whether you will ever get to hold her as your own baby, or whether you will hold many Emmas over your lifetime but whatever happens is better than you can ever imagine.”
And I knew one battle was decisively won, but another adventure awaited me. I would leave Kenya, but it was true: Kenya would never leave me.
The Karaus came to say good-bye just before we left for the airport on September 9th, seven-and-a-half months after our arrival. It was a ripping apart of hearts, yet we knew we would remain forever knit together.
We drove to the airport. Through it all, I kept feeling like I wouldn’t really leave. Something would happen, some prayer answered upside down, and we would be turned away and sent back to find another place to live. I suppose it was a sort of PTSD reaction.
We made it through check-in and three security check-points into the waiting area for the flight. There were no restrooms. Of course, one of the kids suddenly needed one. But, I had been chatting with a very nice stranger. He offered to watch our bags so we could go out and return back quickly and easily through the two security check-points into the holding area. It was the first of many ways God tenderly provided for a mom traveling alone with four kids ages 2-8 across the world.
We boarded the plane, and it did take-off, with all of us on-board: myself, my three sons, and my daughter. Overcome with emotion, so much flashed through my mind. All I experienced there: sharing in the sufferings of people who will never leave, finding God the most real when I joined the ranks of the least of these, gaining insight into the joy of the Mother Teresa sisters and the Karaus who found and served Jesus in “His most distressing disguise” (Mother Teresa’s phrase) – all of it was part of me now, going forward with me into whatever my new identity would become. Like a caterpillar, I would emerge from the cocoon, certainly feeling out of place and confused at first. But there was a new sky waiting for me. I would spread my wings and fly.
When the plane landed in Denver, I hit up on one last little barrier. My “twins” Justin and Jedd were so excited to watch all the tv shows and movies they had missed for seven-and-a-half months that they stayed awake through the entire first 8-hour flight, an 8 hour lay-over in London, and up until the last couple hours of the second 8-hour flight. Then they fell asleep. Justin was out, soundly. As the plane emptied, passengers flowing around us like a river, I urged, cajoled, shook, begged Justin to wake up. It was like he had been put under anesthesia. With carry-ons and a two-year-old who couldn’t walk steadily, there was simply no way I could carry him. A flight attendant took pity on us and helped us disembark. We were the very last passengers off the airplane. With four kids stumbling along, we made it through Lily’s immigration process, customs, and baggage claim.
My husband and a large gathering of family and friends waited for us. And waited for us. I had no way to communicate with them. The trickle of arrivals slowed and came to a stop. And still no sign of us.
But then, there we were. And there they were. And joy knew no bounds.
Hope’s Promise quickly agreed to open an orphan care ministry in Kenya. In late 2005, Pastor and Mama Karau were hired as Hope’s Promise Kenya Country Coordinators. I was also hired in the role of Donor Relations and eventually served as Director of Orphan Care through 2012.
Eleven children came home to Sanctuary of Hope #1 beginning in 2006. In 2008, the twins sons of the Mathare Worship Centre mom, whom Mama Karau shared about with me, were the first two kids to come home to SoH #2. As I write this, in 2017, twenty-four children comprise the SoH family. Pastor and Mama Karua parent SoH #1 and their son and daughter-in-law parent SoH #2. Their daughter serves as the Hope’s Promise Kenya Administrator.
Mwenda went on to become one of the top international adoption lawyers in Kenya. Eventually, he was named to the National Adoption Committee, and to this day shapes policy and influences laws concerning adoption. Although adoptions of Kenyan babies by Americans is currently at a standstill, my heart is comforted in knowing that Mwenda is there, fighting for and doing everything he possibly can for the kids so dear to the Lord’s heart.
Our family remains enmeshed in orphan issues to this day. My mom and dad helped us raise money for SoH to open, my Mom currently serves as the Director of Operations for Hope’s Promise, my husband is currently in his eleventh year of serving on the Hope’s Promise board, and my in-laws remain involved in multiple volunteer capacities with Hope’s Promise.
After we returned home, I put my adoptive parent training into practice to help my biological son, Jacob, heal from our interrupted attachment. Today, he serves as an intern with Hope’s Promise and is passionate about orphan and justice issues. In less than two weeks, he, Justin and I will join some of Jacob’s closest friends, my mother-in-law, and other members of a Hope’s Promise team totaling twenty-eight people to serve in Kenya.
We’ve learned healing from early trauma and neglect is a lifelong journey. In many ways, Lily’s adoption process fore-shadowed days ahead when we would lean into God and find Him most present in the darkest places. We can testify to truly miraculous provision for us and for them. Again and again, God proves His love for the orphan. But that is another book.
It’s ironic to write this and remember how desperately I longed to leave Kenya in 2005. Once I arrived home, within a short time, I couldn’t wait to return. And I did, often, as I worked for Hope’s Promise through 2012. In those early trips, I experienced a bit of that PTSD sensation – of feeling like I would never leave, and disbelief when I would board the airplane and head back towards home as planned. But, every day after my last trip in 2012 through 2016, when the Lord at long last, allowed me to return, and up through today – well, I simply long for another day in Kenya.