Three Letters from a Missionary to Kenya

September 28 2007 / ShareHim in Kenya D, Aug. 24 - Sep. 8 '07 #214
by Warren Ashworth

Date Block Report


A week ago today I left San Francisco with 11 students to do evangelism here in Eldoret, Kenya, East Africa, the fastest growing city in Kenya. This is the 6th summer I'm doing this and it is such a blessing for all of us and for the people we preach to as well. Each student has his/her own site. All of them are outdoors in fields or squares. And they preach/teach the Bible 18 times in 14 days. It is intensive, but in 6 summers I've seen every student do the work successfully.

After a 10 hour flight to London and a layover of nearly 8 hours at Heathrow, we flew another 10 hours to Nairobi. It had been raining that morning before we arrived but was sunny the rest of the day. All of our luggage had made it except one suitcase filled with Bible felts, toys, crayons, etc. for the orphans here. We are still hoping they have located it and that one of the pastors in Nairobi can pick it up and send it to us. We traveled by bus for 9 grueling hours to get here from Nairobi (grueling because Kenya's roads and highways are in disastrous condition with potholes in terrible abundance).

Eldoret is located on a plateau at 7,600 ft. elevation while Nairobi is at 5000. It's winter here now and at night especially it gets quite chilly, more so than any of us were prepared for clothes wise. But we're managing okay. Our group is 49 strong with 30 from Romania, 4 from Allentown, PA, and the 12 of us from PUC. We're really bonding now, and I'm glad I brought my ukulele because everyone loves to sing, especially the Romanians.

On our trip to Eldoret by bus, we saw far below us the Great Rift Valley, and alongside the road, zebras, warthogs, elands, Thomson gazelles, and baboons. Those who haven't traveled to the poorer countries before are shocked and sobered by the appalling poverty here. There are the very rich, and a small middle class. Middle class meaning you have a home to live in and enough to eat. But the vast majority live at the ragged edge of starvation on a day to day basis. Yet, virtually all of them are very kind and friendly. Two of the group and I go out walking each morning at 7 and when we greet passersby on their way to work either walking or on their very rickety bicycles, they respond in a very friendly manner. Many are tall and the very blackness of their handsome faces highlights their white teeth and beautiful smiles.

We crossed the equator on the way from Nairobi to Eldoret, but the country’s weather follows that of the southern hemisphere, so it is winter here now and much colder than we had anticipated or brought clothing for, so we all tend to be chilly to cold, especially at the preaching sites in the evenings. The daily challenge of keeping the computers and video projectors, sound systems and electricity all operating, is almost overwhelming, with frequent power outages, and other technical problems. But the crowds, sitting on the ground or chairs brought from their houses, wait with astonishing patience while the problems are dealt with (and sometimes solved, sometimes not).

We are all taking our daily malaria medicine, and so far no one has shown symptoms of malaria (and it's so cold there aren't many mosquitoes). Only one of the Romanian girls has become ill with rather high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. With medication she's starting to mend for which we're all grateful. Tomorrow they are taking us on a one hour bus trip to visit our Kenyan University at Baraton, but will return by about 2 p.m. so all can put their finishing touches on their sermons in time to leave for their sites. Some sites take almost an hour to get to while others are just minutes away. Traffic is very heavy and both cars and trucks belch more vile clouds of exhaust then you could ever have seen anywhere in the US. Everyone takes it in stride and we all breathe it without respite.

With special missionary tickets with British Airways we were able to bring three 50 lb. suitcases instead of 2 each, so we were able to bring several hundred pounds of children's clothing that had been sorted and cleaned, as well as 11 sets of the large, deluxe Bible felts, used by missionaries for many years now to illustrate the Bible stories. There are many 1000's of AIDS orphans in Africa, and Kenya has its share. The children here, as anywhere else in the world, are absolutely precious and truly tug at your hearts because of their condition and great need. We will be working with an orphanage near Eldoret as well as in Nairobi on the last day of our stay in Kenya.
We brought not only clothing but 11 soccer balls which were donated by the Redding church where I attend at home. As is true around the world, soccer is the national sport and children and youth, because of their abject poverty, usually have to play it with nothing but wound up rags for a ball. So it will be absolutely thrilling for the kids to get real soccer balls.

We'll I'd better cut this short because I need to get ready to leave to visit yet another site this evening to monitor and mentor the speakers of my team. We all are profoundly grateful for your prayers as we share Jesus and the great truths of the Bible with these people. Please do continue to pray.

With love to you all,



Hi again,

This has been the wettest winter in memory in Kenya, and my team members and the other speakers as well have preached in the rain night after night while the very young children as well as even the very old, stand patiently in the open fields, listening to the Gospel being preached, the majority without umbrellas because they can't afford them. Two nights ago, for the first time since we arrived here in Eldoret, the sky was clear. But last night again several sites were deluged and the others slogged through viscous mud. Of the 33 Romanians that are with us, three of the women are medical doctors, and one last night returned to the hotel with mud caked on her shoes and up her ankles. She had been forced to walk four kilometers to the site and four kilometers back because the vehicle could enter no farther due to the mud and water. (Her cheery rejoinder? I'm a missionary!) There isn't a complainer in the entire group of 47 but a few are not feeling well. One has lost his voice, one was feeling utterly listless but bounced back in time to go and speak, and one is recovering from vomiting and diarrhea.

Just since we've been here the little daughter of the choir director at one site has died of unknown causes, the brother of one of the pastors has died, and last night 4 were killed in a head on accident between a tractor and a bus not more than a hundred yards from where one of my PUC team members was preaching. Bicycles rarely have any reflectors, and almost never a headlight, and the tractors always carry riders. I am amazed at their ability to navigate at night when there is simply no light. Street lights are almost non- existent. The condition of the roads is appalling. When we came from Nairobi to Eldoret, we traveled a total of 144 miles in 8 1/2 hours of driving. They drive on the left side of the road, but more often in the middle or even the right side to avoid gaping pot holes, often narrowly missing oncoming traffic. Several nights ago the secretary of the conference was bringing me back from visiting the site of one of my speakers and on what appeared to be a good stretch of road he suddenly hit a large pothole that blew out two nearly new tires and bent both rims. Two nights ago, on the way back from a site, the ministerial secretary was driving on nearly bald tires and we had a flat, then 20 kilometers down the road, his spare went flat.

We've had been praying for a family that was attending the meetings and somehow lost track of their 3 children and as of last night (about 3 days later) they haven't been found yet. No police will join any search, only family and relatives. Life seems rather cheap here. Their loss is really frightening because Kenya is a transit country (according to an internet report) for the smuggling of stolen children to be sold for forced labor or sex slavery.

The voltage varies so markedly at the sites that the power supplies in two of the projectors have been fried so those speakers are having to carry on with the Jesus video being shown at the beginning and end of each evening's program. And the sermon/Bible study is given without a single illustration. That is sad because for a people, most of whom are too poor to own a TV set, seeing the Jesus film and beautiful illustrations for the sermons, is a highlight of their day.

One of my students invited me to go with him to the home of one of the church members whose wife was preparing a meal for 6 of the team members. As it turned out we couldn't find 6 who were willing to sacrifice their afternoon of study and preparation to accept a dinner invitation so the student who invited me, plus Sarah, a delightful girl from Romania, and I went with a layman and the pastor of his church to the family home out in the country. You would have to see to believe the condition of the road to his home once we left the highway. And we had a flat because of it. I prayed we wouldn't have one on the way back because he didn't have another spare. The amazing thing is they accept it as inevitable and laugh and joke about it. The three of us were in the back seat of his mini-van being thrown around and jolted up and down fiercely. Anyone with a bad back would have been significantly harmed by the trip. Once there, we were delighted to be ushered into a home far above average located in idyllic surroundings of tropical foliage on four acres of mowed wild grass. The husband, a large warm-hearted man, has worked for the U.N. for ten years as a technical engineer in communications, traveling all over the Middle East and apparently earning a good salary.

They served us a tasty meal of beans and rice and salad, and several kinds of meat. The Romanian girl and I are vegetarians but they seemed not to mind in the least. They are faithful Adventists but as is the case with most Kenyan Adventists, they are fairly heavy meat-eaters. I have been told by the conference secretary that the main reason few are vegetarians, let alone vegans, is that they haven't been taught to cook tasty, attractive vegetarian meals. But on our walks in the mornings we pass a slaughter house that leaves much to be desired in terms of sanitation, and the meat is transported to the "butcheries" (the name they use for meat market) in the back of open pickups. I'll take my veggies and abundant tropical fruits, thanks!

This is my sixth summer taking students to preach the Gospel but never have I encountered conditions as daunting as this. Nonetheless you would be thrilled to hear us all sing together at worships in the morning, and observe the speakers returning from their sites in the evening - muddy and wet and smiling from ear to ear, telling of people who, in spite of the rain, have made their decision to accept Christ as Savior and to prepare for baptism.

Have a great day. And thanks for your prayers.

With love to you all,


PS Haven't had internet at the hotel for two days. Server's down.
The wonderful news - the 3 children were found. They'd gotten lost and headed to an uncle's home. Had been wandering the city for 3 days!!

#3, and final report.

The last several days in Eldoret were very busy but happy ones. The final Sabbath was coming when, in a variety of venues, precious people would be baptized - some in hotel pools, some in rivers and some in damned up creeks. On Thursday and Friday, students were busy preparing their sermons for Friday night, Sabbath morning, and a final one on Saturday night describing heaven and the New Earth. Some were also busy buying the final souvenirs to take to family, friends, and donors. Friday morning we met with all of the pastors and elders who had been coordinating the campaign. We began that meeting with a rousing song service as we had for two weeks with my trusty ukulele and the song sheets we'd made up - allowing us to sing in Romanian, German, and English and Spanish, and a wee bit in Swahili.

Don Folkenberg, our "Date-Block Manager" and a very capable and extremely likable man, led out as we praised God for all the blessings we'd enjoyed and prayed for a cessation of rain which had caused the cancellation of some of the meetings at several sites during the two weeks. There was not supposed to be any rain at this time of the year, but as is the case anywhere in the world, weather patterns vary and most of the evenings our speakers had had to contend with rain, shocking amounts of mud and diminished crowds. Nonetheless, many eager Kenyan folk, from the very young to the very old, would stand motionless in the rain, drenched to the skin, listening to the Word of God being preached. It was a sight to move one to tears.

I had purchased from Betty Lukens in Sta. Rosa, for our PUC team eleven sets of the large deluxe Bible felt sets along with the mounting boards, and now the time had come to ready them to present to each pastor or elder at the individual sites on our final Sabbath morning. Each team member had also selected one of the eleven soccer balls and written on it - "A Gift from the Redding Church and the PUC Evangelistic Team." Both gifts would be presented Sabbath morning. We had also brought a considerable amount of children's and some adult clothing, pads of writing paper, crayons, pencils, and stuffed animals, much of it provided by Andrea Polston in connection with her non-profit organization H.A.P.P.Y. Providentially, that Friday morning, I found out that the oldest SDA church in Eldoret had a church school with 200 students, most of whom are so poor that they can only partially pay their monthly school fees, so early the last Friday afternoon, Andrea (Andi) Polston, her twin sister Ashley, and Erica, their very dear friend, went with me and we had the joy of meeting with all the children and teachers gathered in the church, eagerly awaiting the presentation of the gifts. It was an unforgettable and joy-filled time as the separate items were given. They applauded with utter abandon for each gift but reserved their most enthusiastic oo's and ahh's for the stuffed animals. The four of us went back to the hotel deeply touched by those precious children and the dedication of the struggling teachers. We left the adult clothing for them.

The final Sabbath morning dawned bright and clear, and Folkenberg, Njagi, Ekirapa (the local ministerial secretary, and I went to visit two of the sites located the farthest from Eldoret. As we approached the site of Larry Graack, one of the PUC team members, we were overjoyed to see a crowd of somewhere between 1000 and 1500. People were everywhere in the large open area of dirt, mud, and grass. Larry was making a presentation of the Bible felt set and the soccer ball when we arrived and the joy and gratitude expressed by the people were so touching. They are a gracious, kind, and grateful people in spite of their dire poverty. Some would say - because of their poverty. In any case it was a privilege to share the Good News of salvation and our small gifts with them. From Larry's site we went to the site most distant from the city, a site where two ladies from the small Pennsylvania team had volunteered to share the preaching, though neither had come to Kenya planning to do any more than be support for the other speakers. Josephine Varley and Rilinda have not only proved to be outstanding speakers, but had had the joy of preaching to the largest crowds of any of the 33 sites. It's estimated that there were between 5,000 to 7,000 on the final Sabbath, and when at the end of her sermon, Rilinda shared with tears of joy what she had found in Jesus, having been baptized only a week before coming to Kenya, and gave a call to those who wanted to accept Him too, the surge of people to the front of the crowd was huge, numbering in the hundreds. The service over, the crowds all headed down the nearby slope to the rapidly flowing river below to witness the baptism of 130 newborns in Christ. Four strong men stood in the water behind the pastors who were doing the baptizing, to be certain that neither the pastor nor the baptismal candidate was swept away in the strong current. What a blessing to be a witness to that very special event. We also found Nate Garcia's site where they were baptizing many in a damned up creek. Finally we returned to our hotel and found yet another baptism in progress in the hotel pool. What a Sabbath - never to be forgotten!

I had ordered for our PUC team, 145 copies of The Desire of Ages to give to each of those being baptized from the PUC sites. But the literature evangelist we were working through couldn't get that many in Swahili (they have to come all the way from Tanzania) so we had to accept some copies in English (While English is the official language of the country and all classes are taught in English, Swahili is the spoken language nearly everywhere). Those I had picked up and distributed to my team members Friday. But when the baptisms were tallied by Sabbath evening, we found we were short by 94 copies, so I left 9400 Kenyan shillings (US$145) with the ministerial director, Abiud Ekirapa, so that every single newly baptized candidate could have that wonderful book on the life and ministry of Christ. So of the 814 souls who were baptized into Christ, the PUC students were responsible for 239. The Lord had really empowered them and blessed their preaching!

On Saturday night, nearly all went to their sites for the last time - to preach and to show, in its entirety, the Jesus video, and of course to receive the lovely gifts that were generously given by the people. Don Folkenberg asked me to attend the Illulla site that had been so difficult to get to. A Romanian lady physician had been the speaker there, accompanied by a 21 year old Romanian young man named Tony who has a wonderful smile and irrepressibly cheerful attitude. For most of the nights the two of them, had traveled by car until the mud made it impossible to advance. Then accompanied by about seven faithful church members, they had slogged an additional 8 kilometers to the site and back. Each night they had returned with mud caked even up high on their ankles and their clothing, but radiantly happy. When the lady doctor was asked about it she responded smilingly "Well, I'm a missionary!" What an inspiration. That Saturday night going to Illulla and back I saw roads as bad as I've ever seen, even in the jungles of Ecuador. We traveled in a hired 4-wheel drive vehicle that careened wildly in and on the slick, thick mud. At one point, we appeared mired and stuck with the side of the vehicle against the embankment but the young driver was able to get going again and we made it all the way to the site. Anyone with a tendency to motion sickness would have been very sick indeed.

Because of the incessant rains, the outdoor site had been moved twice (because of flooding) and I found about 70-80 packed tightly into a crudely built, corrugated tin roofed structure for the final meeting. As the doctor described heaven and the translator repeated it in Swahili, the folk both young and old, listened intently, and when it was over, the goodbyes were heartfelt, embracing her and Tony first on one cheek then on the other. With the equipment put away, it was time to leave, but the partings were particularly poignant because the likelihood that we will meet again on this earth is very slim. Nevertheless, we felt a heartening consolation knowing that if faithful we will stand together one day on the sea of glass in the presence of Jesus. What a Blessed Hope!

Many, many both at home and in Kenya prayed faithfully and we know for certain that God heard and answered our prayers. The providences of God were manifest even before we left. When I went to purchase the eleven sets of Bible felts, Mrs. Lukens had given me a 65% discount. When I went to Kinko's to get the books of sermons photocopied, I had been told the two volumes per student speaker would cost $36. For the twelve of us that would be $432 plus tax. But when I went to pick them up, the assistant manager was there and told me she couldn't find the invoice. I quoted her the price I'd been given, but as we talked about what we were going to be doing, she shared that she was from Ireland and was Catholic. Finally she turned to me and said "I can't find the invoice, I'm going to charge you $108, tax included." Astonished, I thanked her very much, then walked out of there shaking my head in wonder at God's kindnesses.

Charinette, our Filipino RN who had been the very first to sign up to preach, had applied for a US passport and even paid the significant additional fee to have it expedited. But the last week before our departure had come and she still hadn't received it. Midweek I called her and found that her faith was still strong that it would come - and on Thursday it arrived at her door. That same Thursday Nate Garcia called me to tell me he was having a rough day and proceeded to explain that his passport hadn't come either. But on Friday he went to San Francisco very early in the morning, to beg for the folk there to issue a passport while he waited. With the Lord's help, by 4 p.m., he had it in hand and called to tell me.

Would the eleven students, given another opportunity, go again? Would I as mentor/sponsor? Were you around us you'd be greatly encouraged to hear every last one of us express both a willingness and a desire to go again to preach the Gospel - anywhere!!

I was going to send this on Sept.10 before leaving Eldoret but the server was down at the hotel, and after that I had no access to internet so belatedly here it is. I just got home yesterday afternoon.

Thankful to be home,

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