Kenya 2009 - Day 2 at Brackenhurst

Saturday was a wonderful day here in Brackenhurst. A beautiful morning greeted us as we woke early to meet the children for breakfast. After breakfast (which was very good), we began our daily program with some songs and discussion. The BCC in-country staff really does a fine job of getting the kids focused and prepared for the VBS lessons of the day. On Saturday, we discussed thankfulness and the fact that God gives us the power to be thankful. And, even though these children may seem to our eyes to have very little to be thankful for, with some discussion we all identified things for which to give thanks. Many of the children in my group were thankful for their school, their pastor, their sponsors (foster family) and their friends. It was a lot of fun to spend time with the kids talking about being thankful and doing some craft projects to express their thankfulness.

Our time after lunch was spent simply playing, visiting and enjoying the Brackenhurst grass. We played tag, soccer (always soccer), swung on the swing sets and teetered on the teeter totters. We also took a trip to the nearby tea fields, always a highlight of the visit to Brackenhurst. Mainly, though, we simply spent time getting to know one another or catching up on things. The afternoons, with the freedom to just spend time with the kids, is by far my favorite time.

After dinner we played some crazy games all together, then headed off to bed. All in all, today was an amazing day, full of blessings and fun with the kids. For the most part, this will be our schedule for the rest of our time at Brackenhurst. In future posts I'll try to not bore you by repeating the same thing over and over, but will look for ways to bring our experience to life by focusing on the stories and little moments that make such trips so memorable.

How about some photos of the kids:




Jambo! From Kenya

Jambo! This means “hello” in Kiswahili, the language of Kenya. As I write this brief update, I am sitting in the guest center at Brackenhurst, a beautiful retreat center located about 45 minutes outside of Nairobi (see photo). In case you're curious and want to fire up your Google Earth program, the nearest town is Limuru, Kenya. Brackenhurst is perched atop rolling hills covered with green tea fields and other crops, a very lush and semi-tropical locale. What a joy to be here!

The children we will host at Brackenhurst come from the BCC (Baptist Children's Center), a Buckner-supported orphanage located in Nairobi. Buckner does a wonderful job locating children for the orphanage, taking care of their many needs, including education, and helping them transition out of the orphanage into foster care or some other stable environment. For more about the work Buckner does in Kenya, go here.

There are 3 primary Buckner employees who serve as in-country staff: Dickson Masindano, Buckner's lead man here in Kenya; Tom Okore, Dickson's able assistant; and Tony Winani, the director/manager of the BCC. All are wonderful, godly men who do a great job serving orphans here in Kenya. There are also many others who work to serve the kids, including the care givers who live with the children, and cooks, gardeners and other staff who work behind the scenes to provide a safe, healthy and emotionally secure environment. It would certainly be a good thing to lift these people up in prayer as they have many challenges to overcome on a daily basis.

Before I run ahead, though, let me provide a brief recap thus far. As for travel, all members of our party arrived safely and without delay. Considering there were several different flight itineraries, each lasting anywhere from 18 to 24 hours of air time, and passing through either London or Amsterdam before landing in Nairobi, the travel couldn't have gone any more smooth. All connections were made without difficulty, and only 1 bag was delayed. Although everyone in the group is definitely tired from the long flights and changing time zones, we're all excited to be here and are looking forward to the next several days.

There are actually two Buckner-led groups here in Kenya: a group from Concord Baptist Church in Dallas, and a group consisting of people from various cities who are traveling independent of any specific group. The Concord group visited an AIDS “baby home” in Nairobi today (Friday) and will head to Kitale - in western Kenay - on Saturday.   The other group, the “Brackenhurst Group,” first did a little shopping at a Nairobi market before heading to Brackenhurst. We are now all seasoned hagglers and everyone walked away from our shopping trip with at least one African treasure. (Note: As I am traveling with the Brackenhurst group, and the two groups have entirely different itineraries, I will only be providing information and updates for the Brackenhurst group.)

After arriving at Brackenhurst and getting moved in to our rooms, everyone enjoyed a brief rest before meeting to talk about our plans in anticipation of the arrival of the kids from the BCC (Baptist Children's Center) in Nairobi. However, the kids beat us to the punch, arriving by bus just as we were to meet. Even better! We therefore were able to spend about 30 minutes mingling with the kids, breaking the ice and starting to learn names. Some of us have been here before and knew many of the kids, while others were meeting them for the first time. No matter, we were all thrilled to have this first get-together with these wonderful children.

To close out the night, dinner was followed by a time of singing and games, including a very funny round of musical chairs. The children had a great time, as did us grown-up types, even though we were all very, very tired. Only after the children left for bed did we realize exactly how tired we really were. But even though we're tired, this day has been such a special time and such a blessing from God.  So, it's an early night tonight as we give thanks to God for our safe travel and arrival, thanks for the time with the kids, and pray in earnest for a good night's rest.

I will continue to provide updates throughout the week while here at Brackenhurst, so check back in.  I'll try to post some photos next time around.  Be sure to pray for our time with these amazing children.  

Some fun facts:

Most Kenyans speak Kiswahili, English, and a tribal “mother tongue.” Many others speak a little French as well.

We saw giraffes next to the highway as we left the Nairobi airport to drive to our hotel.

While bartering for a gift today, I asked the vendor if he could guess the country I came from. His answer, after a brief pause: “Obama.” I told him, “Obama isn't a country. Not yet, anyway.” He appreciated the joke. Kenyans LOVE Barack Obama as one of their own and are, rightfully, very proud. 

The award for the longest travel day goes to Callie Himsl who flew from San Diego to Minnesota, Minnesota to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Nairobi. Whew! Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Ken and Linda Stillwell are a husband-and-wife team on the trip. They are also a Dentist (Ken) and Dental Hygienist (Linda). We will hold a clinic for the kids on overall hygienic practice as well as dental hygiene. This should be a very useful and valuable lesson for the kids as they don't have ready access to such information in their schools. Way to go Ken and Linda!

We celebrated Tina Jay's birthday today Happy Birthday Tina!

The weather is pretty mild at at night, warm during the day.

Brackenhurst is 9 hours ahead of Central Standard Time. As I write this it is 11:00 p.m. in Kenya, 2:00 p.m. back home.


Four Minutes

Believe it or not, I used to be a runner.  It was one of the few things, athletically, at which I was somewhat decent.  Plus, it suited me.  I loved the repetition, the rhythm, the aloneness.  I also loved the challenge. Unfortunately, I wasn't very fast. I could barely run a quarter mile in a minute, pretty slow stuff.  Therefore, the longer distances were a better fit.  Thus, in High School I ran the mile.  Again, I wasn't very fast, and I suffered under horribly disinterested coaches, but I loved the thrill of those four laps around.  There was something very...I don't know, symmetrical about it.

My times flirted around the 5:00 mark, usually slower.  My split times were reflective of my poor coaching and lack of common sense.  For example: 64 seconds, 70 seconds, 78 seconds, 85 seconds.  Each lap just grew slower and slower.  Out with a bang, in with a whimper.

I was fascinated by those who could run much faster.  I once got beat by a runner who finished the race about the time I hit the middle of the backstretch, a full 3/4 lap behind.  As I ran, I watched this lanky dude with amazement, wondering what it would be like to be able to run that fast.  I read books about the great runners, paying close attention to the milers: Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram.  But the two runners I found the most fascinating were Roger Bannister and Jim Ryun.

Roger Bannister was the first person to break 4 minutes in the mile.  Jim Ryun, my all time favorite runner, broke 4 High School!  I consider these two feats to be among the most amazing, fantastic athletic accomplishments of all time.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the photos that captured these moments are among my all-time favorite photos as well.  

I love photos that capture defining moments.  Some are simple strokes of luck, some are anticipated and planned.  The Wright Brothers at the moment of flight, Earth-rise over the moon, a GI kissing a girl on V-Day... quintessential, classic photos.



But, back to Bannister and Ryun.  Just a man (or, in Ryun's case, a boy) running on a track.  Faster than anyone before them.  Here are the photos:

First, Roger Bannister.  First ever to break the 4 minute mile, and now known as Sir Roger Bannister, a British icon.  Bannister was paced during this run, completed in 1954:

I've always wondered what the fellow holding the clipboard is doing.  He looks distressed or distracted; to wit, he just missed observing one of the greatest athletic feats of all time.  Everyone else, except the timer, are watching Roger as he crosses the tape, witnessing history.  Not clipboard man, he looks as if he's swatting a mosquito.

Now for Jim Ryun.  Remember, this race occurred while Ryun was in High School.  As a Junior.  Ryan broke 4 minutes again, along with another couple of runners of his day, but after that, it wasn't until 2001 until another H.S. runner would break 4 minutes (Alan Webb).  So, to this day, only four H.S. runners have broken the 4 minute mark.  Of course, Ryun was the first and the fastest.  Here is the photo, undoubtedly my single favorite photo of athletic accomplishment: 

I love this photo.  From the jubilant official leaping in the air, to the thrill of the moment written plain on the faces of the fans, to Ryun's expression of pure agony and effort.  This is a photo of a person who has reached the very limit of his potential, who has absolutely nothing left. I love the dirt track, the shoes, the uniform. I love everything about this photo.

As a pseudo-miler myself in H.S., I naturally revered Ryun's running.  Besides being so unbelievably fast, Ryun was also a beautiful runner.  I knew I'd never get anywhere close to his time (unless I was allowed to run 3 laps to his 4), but I was inspired by the effort.  I still am to this day.  

For your viewing pleasure, here is a video of Ryun's sub-4 minute mile:


As a footnote, in 1997 a Kenyan runner ran 2 miles in less than 8 minutes. Back-to-back sub-4 minute miles. Sheesh.

Rocket's Red Glare

After work I went on a short but intense Mt. Bike ride.  I fell down twice, but enjoyed the ride.  Had the Womble Trail all to myself, lots of leaves on the ground.  Then I drove to Hot Springs for a quick Walmart run and, of course, Sushi.  I have come to LOVE sushi, especially at Osaka in Hot Springs.

On the way back, during the 45 minute drive, I did a little singing.  Up front, I am a horrible singer. I embarrass myself, even when alone.  Not atonal, but anti-tonal.  I mean, rough.  But who cares, I still sing sometimes.  I usually make up my own songs, stupid ones about signs I see or cars or farms or see.  But I also sing the few songs I know on occasion.  One song I like to sing is the National Anthem.  I really love our National Anthem, and I like to sing it when I'm driving.  (Note: it would take about $35,000 dollars for me to sing it in front of an audience; you'll never hear it.)

I also love to hear our National Anthem sung well.  So, when I arrived home I did some surfing to find the the best version of our National Anthem, my opinion.  One rule: it had to be a live performance.  I didn't want to hear someone who recorded the Anthem, I wanted someone who sang the Anthem.

I ended up with three very different but very chill-worthy versions.  Version 1: Carrie Underwood

A few things in favor of this version: First, it's Carrie Underwood, who by all rights should be my girlfriend. Second, she is from God's country, Oklahoma, never a bad thing. Third, Shawn Alexander is shown. He's a stud, and I have a signed football. Finally, and most impressive to me, it is obviously a true, raw live performance. Not many singers have the guts to sing the Anthem completely live in a big acoustical mess of a stadium. Well done, sweetie! Call me!

Version 2: Marvin Gaye

Are you kidding me? Marvin was amazingly cool, and his Anthem always gives me chills. Who else could have done this? Nobody, that's who. Pure talent, pure genius.

Version 3: Obviously there are other great versions, but one really stands out - Whitney Houston during the 1991 Super Bowl (right after the start of the first Gulf War). I remember watching this in my apartment whilst in graduate school. The war, the first Gulf War, produced very different feelings than the second Gulf War. Patriotism was running high, and it was a very emotional and somewhat scary time. There was a lot of back-story power to this version, and it is widely regarded as the single best Anthem performance:

These three, then, are my favorite versions.


Empire of the Sun

I enjoy reading more than I enjoy watching movies, but I do like movies.  Last night, though, I watched a few minutes of a fairly lousy movie starring Christian Bale.  It also had the actor who played Robert the Bruce in Braveheart, no clue on his name.  And Taye Diggs.  And Sean Bean.

But it was Christian Bale I was interested in, because one of my favorite movies (well, top 30 anyway) stars Christian Bale when he was just a child, his first movie I think.  It's also a Spielberg movie, a John Williams movie and a John Malkovich movie.  Yet, few people that I know have seen it.  It is Empire of the Sun, and it's a pretty good movie, in my opinion.  Here's a synopis from

Based on J. G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, tells the story of a boy, James (Jim) Graham, whose privileged life is upturned by the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, December 8, 1941. Separated from his parents, he is eventually captured, and taken to Soo Chow confinement camp, next to a captured Chinese airfield. Amidst the sickness and food shortages in the camp, Jim attempts to reconstruct his former life, all the while bringing spirit and dignity to those around him.

Jim loves planes and is fascinated by the pilots who fly them. Here's young Christian Bale as the camp is attacked by U.S. fighter planes:

If you've never seen this movie, and you like Spielberg (and all that goes along with his movies), give it a try sometime.