Safari Drama

In my last post, I referred to a lioness and her three cubs that we saw on our first night game drive. The following is the story that unfolded the next morning, featuring this particular lioness and cubs.

It appears that this lioness was trespassing into another territory, which is a real No-No unless you want to be killed. She was most likely taking this risk so she could find food for herself and her cubs.

On our morning drive on Thursday, we encountered this lioness and her cubs, just when they were discovered by the lions that ruled that territory. Suddenly, the cubs looked afraid and began to run away, and the mother followed them. Shortly after they ran away, along came a male lion…walking, but clearly in pursuit.

Wilson, our Guide, explained what was happening. (I might not get the story completely accurate, but it is the gist of what was going on.) To explain it to you, I will compare it to a Safari Soap Opera. The cast of characters:

Lucy Lioness – trespassing female with cubs

Thor Lion – Lion belonging to the territory, Sabina’s mate

Leo Lion – Thor’s brother

Sabina Lioness – Female lion belonging to the territory, Thor’s mate

Lucy and her cubs moved onto Thor, Leo and Sabina’s territory in search of food. She was not welcome there. Thor and Sabina were a couple. In the world of lions, male lions only want their own cubs in their territory, not someone else’s. They kill the cubs of another lion and mate with the lioness to make their own cubs. So in Thor’s mind, the cubs had to go. They were not part of his pride. He wanted to kill the cubs. When we happened upon the scene, the cubs saw (or smelled) Thor coming after them and they ran away. Lucy saw the same thing and ran with her cubs. But Thor was close on their heels.

We tried to move our jeeps to keep up with them and in the meantime, we heard loud roars and growls from multiple lions fighting. We finally found them, and it was clear that the cubs had run and hid, but Lucy remained to face Thor and Sabina. They were all laying down and resting. Lucy was bleeding from the mouth. Thor was also injured, but they all stayed alert while resting.

Suddenly, Thor and Sabina got up to face off with Lucy. They surrounded her – Lucy was fighting for her life. Then, Leo came into the picture. I don’t know if he wanted to fight for Lucy so he could mate with her or what, but he and his brother fought violently for a brief time. Then, they all quit fighting. Thor and Sabina moved away and flopped down on the ground to rest. Leo laid down with Lucy, but she was not exactly welcoming.

Lucy was safe with Leo (I think, and I hope!). As for the cubs…we hope that they hid well.

Life is rough in the wilderness!

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Lucy rests between fights. Her mouth is bloody from fighting.

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Thor and Sabina attack Lucy

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Thor and Leo square off

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Video of the “Cat Fight.” Click on the video and it should right itself and not be sideways.

 

On Safari: Such Beauty! Such Drama!

Saturday, June 24

We are on our way home from Kenya, and as we sit in the Dulles airport waiting to fly home to Cleveland, I thought I would update you on the safari part of our trip.

On Wednesday afternoon, we took a very small plane (emphasis on the word “very”) to the Maasai Mara for our safari adventure. We all could hardly contain our excitement! It was a slightly bumpy ride, but we safely landed on an airstrip in the middle of the semi-desert. Our three guides, Dennis, Wilson and Nbala were waiting for us with two large jeeps. Within about 30 minutes, our first game drive had begun!

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Our guides: L-R Dennis, Wilson, Nbala

We immediately came upon some wildebeests and 3 curious giraffes. We hadn’t been in the jeep for 20 minutes before the driver of my jeep, Wilson, quickly pulled off the road and headed toward a tree. Laying in the shade of the tree was a cheetah!! He was so beautiful…what a delight to see this animal within minutes of our arrival! A gazillion photos later, we got back on the road to the camp.

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We saw the first Cheetah within the first half hour of our game drive

Camp Asilia was absolutely wonderful! Each family was assigned to a tent, which was clean and comfortable and had everything we could possibly need. The food was fantastic.

Each day of our stay, we were awakened by one of the staff with a tray of coffee/tea/hot chocolate and some cookies. The person would stand outside of Jillian’s and my tent with our tray, gently saying, “Helloooo! Carolyn? Hellooo!” Now that is a great way to wake up!! (Note to self, highlight this part of the blog for my husband to read…hint, hint!)

We all met at the jeeps at 6:30 am for a morning game drive. We saw two spectacular sunrises as we headed out for our morning adventures. About half way through the morning drive, we stopped and the guides set up tables and chairs and put out a spread of breakfast food. It was quite reminiscent of “Out of Africa,” sans crystal and china!

After the morning game drives, we had a couple of hours after lunch to rest and then gather again at 4pm for tea. Then it was off to the afternoon/evening game drive. At sunset, Dennis, Wilson and Nbala stopped where we had a good view of the sunset. They set up tables of snacks and served beer, wine, soda to all of us as we watched the sky turn one beautiful color after another.

After dark, we rode back to camp, shining a red spotlight around the jeep so we could spot more animals. They use a red spotlight so the light would not hurt the animals’ eyes. Jillian got to be spotter one night in our jeep, and Mayor Paul got the job another evening. We saw many zebra and wildebeests…and the first evening, we saw a lioness and her 3 cubs crossing the road in front of us.** (Remember this lioness and her cubs…she will be mentioned later in this blog!)

On Thursday afternoon, we visited a Maasai village – what a treat that was! On our way to the village, we drove through 2 dust storms! It was exciting, and really gritty!

We covered up with blankets and loved every minute of it! The villagers were waiting for us and welcomed us graciously. The children are not allowed to use their hands while greeting adults. Instead, they bow their heads to us and we touch them on the top of the head and say, “Sopa” in greeting. The women were dressed in beautiful gowns, scarves and bangles. We went inside one home (it was very, very small and dark – there was a fire burning in the middle of the floor and one solar bulb provided the only light. We learned amazing stories about their culture and how they celebrate weddings, circumcisions and baby naming. Absolutely fascinating! We learned that the role of the women is to build the homes, feed/raise the children, collect firewood, fetch water, cook and do laundry. The men tend the sheep and cattle in the fields all day long. In the village that we visited, the husband had 5 wives. These women performed a traditional song and dance for us, and then included Therese Koomar and me in the dance. It was such fun! I learned from our CFA leader, Jessica, that these people receive $25 per person that visits, so these visits are very important and beneficial to the village. The payment enables them to send their children to school and buy necessary supplies for daily living. (By the way, the school is 5-6 miles away, and the children walk that distance each way!)

All in all, we saw just about every animal we could imagine. Elephants and their babies, Giraffes and their babies, cheetahs (TWO of them!), Wildebeests, Gazelles, Impalas, Hyenas, Lions, Zebras, Warthogs, Hippos, Cape Buffalo, Crocodiles, Baboons, Monkeys, Mongeese, Ostriches and colorful birds and lizards. The only one that eluded us was the Leopard. It was just amazing to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. I have shared a number of photos for you to enjoy below.

One quick side story before I sign off. On Wednesday while we were out looking for animals, we came upon a lion and lioness just hanging out. We got a good view of them both, and they walked right by our jeeps – practically close enough to reach out and touch them.

One another gazillion photos were taken, our jeep pulled away to see what we could find next. Unbeknownst to us, the other jeep carrying Mayor Paul and the Koomar family, Morgan Smith and Lanise Shortell got a flat tire right at that site! Dennis and Nbala had to change the tire, and told everyone to get out of the jeep. All were quite unnerved…they knew that two lions were in the immediate vicinity and they were not interested in becoming dinner for the lions!

 

In my next blog, I will share one set of photos that tell the story of two lionesses, two lions and three cubs…a safari soap opera that unfolded before our eyes!

Enjoy!

Day Three: Voices from the Village

 

Tuesday took us into the of Kangemi and Kamirithu to visit with clients of CFA in their homes. These people happily opened their homes to us so we could sit down and visit. We heard their personal stories about how HIV/AIDS have affected their lives. Their stories were tragic and yet, they were hopeful. We were able to see first-hand how CFA has helped them turn their lives around…in some cases, bring them back from the brink of death. (Each of these stories contain prayer requests made by the individuals. Feel free to include any or all of them in your prayers.)

Our group split up into two groups, and each group visited of 5 families. At the final home, we helped make a traditional Kenyan meal and shared it together with the client and his/her family. In this blog, I will share only a couple of stories of the people we visited.

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Meet Ann, who lives in the community of Kangemi. She is 41 years old, and has been married for 25 years.

Ann and her husband have 5 children:
Rose is 20 years old and has special needs. She can hear but cannot talk. She has convulsions and has weakness on one side of her body.
Cynthia is 13 years old and just finished her 8th grade exams. For her, school is over because her family is unable to afford the fees for further schooling.
Michelle is 8 years old and does not go to school because of the cost of the fees. The cost of the fees for secondary education is the equivalent of $2.50 USD per month.
Maxwell is 3 years old.
Nelvin is 3 months old.
Thankfully, none of the children have the virus.

This family of 5 lives in a home that is approximately 10’ x 12’. All of the furniture of the house consists of one bed behind a curtain, one stool and one chair. They are a family of faith – all of the walls of the home are covered with pictures of Jesus.

Seventeen years ago, Ann discovered that she was HIV positive. She told the group that she felt lonely and afraid because of the stigma that is associated with the virus. She lived isolated from the community for many years. When she finally shared her status with some friends, and they told her that they had heard about about the CFA program, and encouraged her to enroll.

Ann enrolled in the program in November 2016, and is about to graduate in July 2017. Over the past 9 months within the program, she has learned to overcome the stigma and is not ashamed or embarrassed to have our group visit her. She spoke openly about her situation and what she has learned in the program.

Ann’s favorite aspect about the CFA program is that she learned that there is a balance between hearing God’s word and learning new skills to enable her to “earn her daily bread.” She learned how to make colorful beads out of magazine paper, and to make liquid detergent. Both skills will enable her to make products to sell at market to earn enough money for food for her family.

When asked about her prayer requests, she had several:
She wants to start a business, but her challenge is that she doesn’t have enough money to get it started.
Her husband is a “casual worker. “ He does not have a steady job and wants to find something more stable.
She wants to get help for Rose, but nothing is available to her that she can afford.
She asked for prayers for continued health for her and her family.

Ann believes that prayer will open doors for her family. God is working in her life, and she has come a long way from hopelessness to hope for a better life and future!

 

Meet Elizabeth, also from the Kengami community. She is 29 years old and works as a casual laborer. She and her husband have 3 children – Frederick (4 yrs), Elliott (14 months), and an older daughter who does not live with them.

Elizabeth’s husband works as a security guard. He was infected with HIV for 2 years before Elizabeth found out about his status. He didn’t tell her about his condition…she found out about it when she discovered his medicine in their home.

She became very physically sick from the virus, and entered the CFA program in November 2016. Her pastor, David, and the CFA staff have worked with Elizabeth over the past 8 months, and her health has improved significantly.

Elizabeth has disclosed her status to her family and they have been very supportive, for which she is grateful. Her mother is her “accountability partner” – she makes sure her daughter is taking her medications every day.

Throughout her time within the program, Elizabeth has been working through her challenges of stress and anger. She has a very difficult time controlling her anger toward her husband. In fact, she used to sleep with a knife under her pillow. When her husband was sleeping soundly, she thought about killing him. When the group asked her how she handles that impulse when it rises again, she said that she turns to Pastor David, who talks and prays with her. “Pastor David is like my father,” said Elizabeth. “He is the only reason I haven’t killed my husband.”

She will graduate from the program in July.

Elizabeth gave the visiting group a list of prayer requests:
Prayers for a better relationship with her husband.
Prayers for help dealing with her anger toward her husband.
Prayers for her father, who recently died, and for her brother Ken, who is at school.
Prayers for health for Elliott.
Prayers for help as she wants to start a business selling yogurt.

 

Meet Mercy, who also lives in the Kangemi community.
Mercy was the first client that my group visited yesterday. She was delighted to see us and welcomed us into her home. As each one of the 8 of us crossed the threshold, we were silently shocked; I could see it in the faces of the others that their surprise reflected my own. The size of her home was approximately 6 feet by 9 feet and contained two couches facing each other and a small half table in the middle. We squeezed together, sitting almost on top of one another, so that we could all fit.

Mercy was not ashamed of her status, and was willing to talk openly about her experience. Her husband passed away from AIDS many years ago, so she was left to take care of her three children on her own. At the time, she operated a grocery stand at the local market, which helped provide income for Mercy and her children. All was good until about 8 years ago when Mercy began to develop rashes on her arms. People noticed the rashes and began to talk…her customers stopped buying from her because they were afraid she had HIV/AIDS. Mercy was then forced to close her grocery business and find work elsewhere.

As time went on, the rashes did not go away and soon spread to cover her face. She went to the hospital to find out how to treat her rashes and in the process, discovered that she was HIV positive. When her in-laws found out about her status, they told her that they wanted nothing to do with her or her children, and they were thereby shunned. (Her children, now 24, 18 and 17 do not have the virus.) Mercy’s parents, however, have been very supportive of her, and for that she is grateful. She held her head high and was determined to survive.

In November, 2016, Mercy entered the CFA program, and her life has changed significantly. She will graduate from the 9 month program in July. Over the duration of the program, she learned how to make beads out of magazine paper, and then decided to make baskets and purses using the beads she created. (Her work is beautiful…I bought one of her purses!) She even opened up a grocery stand within her neighborhood, and is once again selling goods to customers!

We asked her what she appreciates most about the program. Her answer was similar to most of the clients that we have met on this trip: the connection to others in her community that are like her. CFA encourages clients to continue contact with the social group that is created during the 9 months. This gives them the ability to share experiences and develop strong relationships with others who have the virus.

When asked if she had any prayer requests, Mercy mentioned the following:
Prayers for her parents because they have been so supportive of her throughout all of her hardship and growth.
Prayers that her financial status will improve enough to afford school fees so her children can stay in school.

Mercy is a beautiful soul who has many more years to live and love. She touched the hearts of all of us who met her on Tuesday. Lori Overholt, who is traveling with us from Virginia Beach, was with our group that visited Mercy. When we shared our thoughts about the visit later in the evening, Lori shared a scripture that she felt reflects Mercy and her story. I couldn’t agree with her more:

Psalms 34:5 – “Those who look to Him are radiant.
Their faces are never covered with shame.

These three women are only a few examples of the stories we heard that day. They illustrate their journeys from sickness to health, anger to acceptance, and most of all, hopelessness to HOPE.

God’s gift to me from this experience:
I witnessed the power that faith played in the lives of these people to bring them from hopelessness into hope and new beginnings.

 

Day Two: Off to Church We Go!

Sunday, June 18

Yesterday was Sunday, and all good people go to church…right? Well, count us in on being good yesterday, because boy, did we ever go to church…for four hours!! :0

Yes, you read correctly…the church service lasted for four hours. This is a typical church service for Kenya. It was a special day at the church – not just because WE were attending, but it was Sunday School Sunday. The kids performed skits and songs for the congregation throughout the morning/afternoon, and did a marvelous job.

Before the service really got started, the kids were sitting quietly…until I pulled out my camera to take photos. Within 60 seconds, the kids went crazy, trying to get their picture taken and laughing when they saw the photo on my camera. It got a bit out of control, sort of like when you throw a bread crust to one seagull and then suddenly, there is a swarm of birds flying around you! When it got too out of hand, a church mom took control and got them all back into their seats. I sheepishly put my camera away and behaved myself as well!

There were two sermons – one of which was delivered by our own travel companion, Morgan Smith! Morgan is the Youth Pastor at Bay Presbyterian Church. He delivered a wonderful sermon and had a translator standing next to him to translate his sermon to the congregation. Morgan’s sermon was based on scripture from Philippians, about the reconciliation of the broken relationship between God and the world.

There was LOUD singing and dancing and high energy rejoicing throughout the service. It was something that I have never experienced before, and will not likely see anything like that in America!

The REALLY fun part, though, came after lunch, when our group provided a Vacation Bible School for the children. After sitting and behaving for so long, they were so excited to play that they could barely eat their lunches. We had indoor activities: making paper chains and coloring; and outdoor activities: Over and Under balloon races, a game of Impala, Impala, Lion (African version of Duck, Duck, Goose), and parachute games. The kids had a blast – the church and yard 0were full of squeals of laughter. As our closing activity, we blew up a large Globe ball (it took 4 people to pump the darn thing up the night before!) We had the kids find Kenya on the ball and then we pointed to Ohio and Virginia to show them how far apart we live. Then, we held up the ball and sang, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” We sang two verses before they all joined in singing in Swahili and finishing in English. It was fantastic! We closed in prayer and as the kids left the church, we showered them with bubbles.

It was a great memory for us, and hopefully for the kids as well. Several of the kids ran alongside of our bus as we drove out of the neighborhood, waving and yelling their good-byes.

From there, we drove for about an hour to visit the place where Care For AIDS was born, and had dinner with the three founders of the organization. They shared their INCREDIBLE story with us about how the organization came to be. I will share that story with you in another blog – is it such a good story that it deserves it’s own space.

We arrived back at the house quite late, and we were all thoroughly exhausted, as noted in my last blog! I went to bed thinking about all of the activity of the day, and as I fell asleep, I could still see the smiles of those beautiful children!

Today’s Gift to me from God:
He surrounded me with beautiful, happy and loving children. It was pure joy for my soul!
One fun memory: I was standing in the church doorway, trying to stay cool during the second sermon, and I had my arms around a little boy. He played with my hands and fingers, then turned my wrist over and ran his finger up my arm. He looked up at me, smiled and said, “Mzungu!” Mzungu means “white people.” It was so sweet!

Blessings!

Stay Tuned…

We just got back from a full day of church, Vacation Bible School and dinner with the founders of Care For AIDS. It is late and we have a super early morning tomorrow. I have so much to share, but we are all heading to bed. I will write tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Day One: A Gathering of Preachers

 

Saturday, June 17

Today, we were up early for breakfast and devotions. The weather was perfect – not too warm, not too cool.

Our first daylight glimpse of Nairobi whizzed by as we drove to the Methodist Guest House & Conference Centre, where we met with pastors from different churches in the area that have partnered with Care for AIDS. The purpose of this gathering was to hear first-hand about the problems they face with the AIDS crisis in their communities, and how the CFA program has helped them transform the lives of those in the congregations that are sick and at risk of dying.

Many of you reading this have not heard of Care for AIDS, so I will briefly describe the program. (For more details, you can go to http://www.careforaids.org)

CFA partners with churches in Kenya to offer a program of transformation for those in their communities who are HIV positive or have AIDS. Sadly, there are many churches who won’t accept the CFA program because of the stigma of the disease. These church leaders will not open their doors to the “sinners” who have this affliction.

Forty-five churches, however, have opened their doors and hearts to the HIV/AIDS communities within their larger communities by offering the CFA program to those in need. These churches are located in Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, and Dar Es Saleem.

The 9-month program takes class sizes of 70-80 clients through a transformational process, which consists of 5 different areas:
Spirtitual Transformation – Clients are led through Descipleship to help them understand who God is and who they are.
Economic Transformation – Clients are taught a trade, whether it is making jewelry, soap, etc. This involves 18 different seminars to teach them a trade so that they can become economically savvy and independent.
Social Transformation – Clients are separated into small groups with others who have the same condition, whereas previously, they have been isolated in their communities. Post graduation, they are encouraged to continue meeting with their group for social support.
Emotional Transformation – Clients learn to understand the disease and their beliefs about themselves.
Physical transformation – Clients learn the importance of taking their medication regularly. Often, food is provided to clients and their families so that they can have proper nutrition.

After completing this 9 month program, the clients have a graduation celebration at which they receive a certificate of completion and a Bible. Many of the graduates go on to achieve success in starting a business and overcoming poverty. They are often asked back to provide Empowerment Training new clients that are going through the program. They teach the new clients based on their own experiences.

OK, so that is an explanation of what Care For AIDS does in a rather large nutshell!

The mission of CFA is summed up in two words: Orphan Prevention. (Parents who die cannot raise their children!) This organization takes a proactive approach to the HIV/AIDS crisis, instead of a reactive approach. As a result of their work and dedication to taking care of the parents who are sick, these parents are given approximately 25 more years to their lives. This impacts multiple generations!

At today’s seminar, pastors of many CFA partner churches shared their stories about the challenges of trying to help so many people with little to no resources. They have an unending job caring for their congregations. It is not uncommon for them to arrive at their office to find 20 people standing in line at the doorstep, desperate for help. Some are there to seek help for a loved one who is bedridden and unable to go to the hospital. Some are unable to afford to go to the hospital. Many/most have little to no food for their themselves and their families. They turn to their church for help. The pastors do what they can, but without proper resources, they end up attending too many funerals and finding care for too many orphans.

When I say that “pastors do what they can,” it is a huge understatement. These pastors love their people – so much so that many of them adopt or foster parent as many of the orphans as their household can handle. I sat next to a wonderful gentleman at the seminar named Silas Babu (pictured above, first photo of the 3rd row.) He told me that there are 300 orphans in his community. He and his wife had children of their own, but they lovingly adopted two orphans, who are now well educated, successful adults. This is just ONE example of this type of story.

What we heard today was how much of a blessing CFA has been to each of them, and what a tremendous impact it has had on their congregations. The pastors help their community overall, but the HIV/AIDScommunity is a “community inside a community.” CFA enables the church to reach that group and truly help them.

During our session, one memher of our CFA group provided a brief training session for the pastors on how to interact with people who are grieving. They see a great deal of grief in their community when families have lost a loved one to AIDS – or any other situation. Lanise Shortell, RN and Grief Counselor for the Atlanta Children’s Hospice (pictured above, 1st photo of second row) provided Do’s, Dont’s and tips on how to effectively help individuals and families with their grieving process. The pastors found this information very helpful. Again, CFA does not simply go into a church, run the program and leave. They are on hand to teach, advise and help for the long run.

However, while the program has been very successful for many, many people, CFA’s and the churches’ jobs are not done. Providing information to the entire community, not just the HIV/AIDS community is critical. One of the pastors, a delightful woman, named Reginah Naya, (pictured above, last photo of the third row) represented the Christ Covenant Church in Ziwani, which is in the Majengo slum. She stood and revealed something that was shocking to all of us:

In her community, HIV/AIDS is so prevalent – it is a way of life. That’s not the shocker…the shocker is that the teenagers in her community have a collective mindset that “If you are NOT HIV positive, you are not cool!!” Those who are not HIV positive are ostracized by social groups! If I could insert an emoji here, it would be one with a shocked face falling out of it’s chair.

I will leave you with that piece of information for you to get your head around – after you get your jaw off the ground! This is the desperate reality of the HIV/AIDS crisis in this part of the world.

The gift I received from God today:
I was given the honor of sitting in a room full of heroes – those who have saved so many lives (pastors and the CFA staff) and who will be saving so many more in the future.

Ok, I received 2 gifts, actually, because Jillian and I were able to share lunch with Pastor Reginah, sharing stories about the differences in our cultures. It was truly fascinating!

Tomorrow we will attend a church service, provide Vacation Bible School to the kids at the church, and then have dinner with the founders of CFA. It will be a long day!

Blessings!

 

Our adventure begins!

Our trip is off to a great start! Jillian and I are traveling the the Koomar family (r-l Paul, Therese, Katie and Jennie) and the Youth Director for Bay Presbyterian Church, Morgan Smith. Our flight from Cleveland to Dulles airport was quick and painless, except for a 2 year old who screamed the whole flight!

Our flight to Frankfurt aboard a 747 was a first for Jillian – she has never seen a plane that large. It was a 7 hour flight, but the time seemed to go by quickly.  At least it went quickly for me…before leaving for the trip, my mother, Sara Wilder, insisted that I watch “Out of Africa.” I heeded her advice and watched the movie during our flight to Germany.  As always, Mother Knows Best!  What a beautiful movie – it heightened my excitement to visit the safari during the last part of our trip. Although, I doubt that we will be dining off of china and crystal at our safari!

We are all tired from the long second leg of the trip. We have a 6 hour layover here in Frankfurt before hopping on the next plane to Nairobi for an 8 hour flight. How are we spending the time during this layover, you ask? Well, ask Paul…as you can see, he has the right idea! Actually, I kind of like Therese’s idea better! 🙂

We are thankful for all of your prayers as we make our way to Kenya. God treated us to a beautiful sunset and sunrise during our flight. I know that an abundance of gifts are yet to come as we shower our Kenyan friends with the love of Christ!