Friday, June 27, 2008
This morning, I played basketball at the church I attend in Pennsylvania. It has become a staple of my routine and a great stress reliever. I use it as a 2 hr opportunity to run, jump and take great joy in the breath God gives me to enjoy.
This morning, I was especially stressed... a lot of unknown changes are on the horizon for Zimbabwe with the election Friday.
After finishing, I was SOOO thankful I chose to do a quick lap around the 1st floor of our church to find out who was around and say hello.
I came across 3 kids and a proud mom, who was eager to tell me how her 3 kids & their dad were doing something incredible this summer. I beamed at them as I heard that once a week, the dad gives free soccer lessons to other kids in the neighborhood. This family decided that every kid should be asked to contribute $1 every week, which will go to Forgotten Voices.
Through this locally developed, locally run community project in Pennsylvania, the kids in the neighborhood of Mechanicsburg, PA benefit AND help kids on the other side of the world get an opportunity to go to school, learn how to farm, etc through church run orphan care projects in southern Africa.
This is just one encouraging story of how God is working in amazing ways through the hearts of 3 kids and a dad in Central Pennsylvania.
They had heard of the need for kids in Africa and decided that the 3 of them and their dad could help change the world.
Stories like this also make me want to run, jump, and enjoy EVERY breath that the Lord gives me today! How about you? :)
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I'm emotionally exhausted. I have spent the week in prayer, on the phone, and emailing trying to make sense of what is happening in my 2nd home...Zimbabwe. It is a land I have now traveled to 7 times as you all have worked with me to grow Forgotten Voices. Today (Friday), people will be forced to go to the polls to vote for Robert Mugabe, even though he is the only candidate. His opposition pulled out because his party called a free & fair election "impossible."
I don't know what will happen over the next 24 hours in a land that has brought me the greatest of joys and the darkest of days. It is a land that has taught me how to live, love, and experience all of the marrow in life. It has showed me God.
One thing I have come to realize over this week is that it doesn't matter what governments do to intervene or what happens with this unfair election. People in Zim have such little faith in politicians right now and I can see why.
Without question, people are turning to their local churches for help. They are turning to their pastors, who know their pain and their promise. They are turning to local leaders that know their individual families' rich histories and pride in what Zimbabwe was and will be again, by God's grace and provisioin.
As I've cried this week and prayed to God for what could be in Zimbabwe, I have been humbled by the realization that God is taking great joy in some small miracles going on around the country already...some in partnership with Forgotten Voices.
In 2007 and in early 2008, despite the severe economic conditions, you helped locally developed, church run orphan care projects send 2,400 kids to school. Future moms, dads, teachers, doctors, farmers, accountants, engineers, judges, pastors...and politicians. You have helped keep hope alive, when all around these kids darkness seems to reign...and win.
Today, as you consider what will happen to Zimbabwe, I invite you to also praise God for what has been done through God's grace to Forgotten Voices and for what Zim will be again. I invite you to join us and tell your friends to get involved, as well.
Today, Zim will be all over news medias around the world. It will consume casual conversations this weekend among people that may not know where it is at all on a map. But they are human and will see the pain, the tears, and the glimmer of hope that is found in the eye of every Zimbo.
Today, right now, I invite you to give to Forgotten Voices. Not out of guilt, but to help us be an answer to prayers being shouted out by my dear friends in some of the most remote church prayer meetings and in the crammed, nameless streets in Zim's high-density areas.
People all over the country are calling out to God for a miracle. I cannot and will not promise that Forgotten Voices will be the solution to all of Zim's woes, but I pledge my whole self to the belief that we can be, should be, must be part of Zimbabwe's future. Whether it is becomes easier or gets much harder, Forgotten Voices will stand with the local people of ZImbabwe and say: I WILL BE A VOICE FOR THE FORGOTTEN, THE OPPRESSED, THE DOWN-TRODDEN, AND I WILL SAY YES WHEN GOVERNMENTS AND OTHERS CHOOSE TO SAY NO.
Today, I invite you to join me in this great adventure of trusting God, when all the odds say nothing good can come out of this.
Specifically, Forgotten Voices has active arrangements with churches in Zimbabwe that hope to send nearly 3,000 AIDS orphans to school in the 2nd half of 2008. We are in active dialogue with leaders representing nearly 140 local church run orphan care efforts and their needs for care are growing daily. We also are actively looking at emergency food support, as soon as we are able to get food in, as well as seeking opportunities to provide sustainable farming for a longer term solution to food needs.
To do all of this, we need you. Pray about it, but then act. If not by giving, please consider passing this along to your friends that are saying, "what can we do to help Zimbabwe?"
Thanks for living, learning & loving with me.
~Ryan Keith, President, Forgotten Voices
Monday, June 23, 2008
You are part of this story, as you have helped turn the dreams of local people in Africa into reality.
Today, as we continue praying for Zimbabwe, Zambia, and the leaders that serve there caring for AIDS orphans in their communities, remember that pat yourself on the back. You are helping be the change and equipping local leaders with the resources they need to make a difference.
THANK YOU FOR BEING PART OF FORGOTTEN VOICES!
I praise God every time I think of everyone that has helped me keep the promises I made.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
In reasons ranging from violence threats against average people to beatings for MDC activists, MDC will not participate. Read more about the reasons here.
This is not the end though and hope still lingers. The UN will discuss in an emergency session Monday and the SADC is expected to meet this week to discuss next steps, if any, that can be taken. Read more here.
I'm not holding my breath waiting for the other African leaders to intervene, especially the head of South Africa, who has been acting as the mediator for SADC (although MDC doesn't consider him trustworthy - an important trait for a successful mediator).
So - we pray for a miracle. Wow. I really don't know what to say. Pray with me, as people fear for their lives and ache for a new tomorrow. I'm not a politician, but I see it in the eyes of Zimbabweans and the sounds of their voices...they just want a chance to vote free & fair.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
As the leader of Forgotten Voices, I learned a TON of new things that will help us do what we do better. I also was challenged and humbled by the things that are going poorly, as well as the things that are going well here.
Highlights for me:
1) Traveling with Katie - she hears me ramble all the time about Africa and its been nice to have her along to see the work first hand - her social work skills have helped me see some things through a different lens. Plus, as she does in every aspect of my life, Katie brings life where most would see death. Katie brings an energy, passion, and joy to everything she does. Seeing what we've seen is hard sometimes and Katie approached every new day as an opportunity to love.
2) Getting Remmy started in Zambia; Remmy Hamapande has just joined our Forgotten Voices team, serving as our Project Director in Zambia. He's going to be an AWESOME addition and it was a joy to get him rolling. His coming on board will allow us to build our pipeline of new projects in Zambia created by local churches, as well as help us share more stories with you through Remmy's future blog posts and photos from the field.
3) Seeing the work of local churches doing AIDS orphan care in their local communities, most without any help from "the outside." I look forward to sharing more stories with you.
4) Meeting incredible people, both connected to Forgotten Voices and quite a few that weren't at all - just doing their best to make our world a better place to live, work, raise a family, and play. From Rene & Edith in Pietermaritzburg to Pastor Joe & Jabu in Port Shepstone to Dan, a pastor I met on the plane to Ndola to the guy that helped me rent a car in Joburg... I love meeting people and seeing how each person is experiencing life.
5) Coming to South Africa - we were supposed to go to Zimbabwe from 6-19 June, but instead had to divert our trip to South Africa because of violence where we were headed in Zim. This change 5 days before we left proved to be a gift from God. While we are sad to not be in Zim (see below), it was an awesome experience to see how God is moving through churches of all shapes, sizes, and color of skin. We wrote about those experiences throughout the blog posts and will surely write more when we get back.
6) Went with Katie to the Apartheid Museum yesterday - perhaps one of the most incredible, gut wrenching museums I have ever been through. It was highly educational and answered a lot of questions we both had about the past and present state of race/ethnic relations here. This experience at the museum will be tremendously helpful as I make decisions about how to engage with the local people from various walks of life here in South Africa, as well as helping me shed light on ethnic tensions around southern Africa that impact our work now.
1) Seeing that we are definitely losing the war against AIDS. We have a lot of work to do, but I do see ways forward where we should be digging deeper. I'm taking this afternoon and the flight home to begin writing up an action plan for how we need to change some of our responses as a Christian church (globally), nationally (USA), and individually. I'll share that on my blog in the next few days.
2) The death of the child on the N2 after the child was struck by a vehicle while trying to get a lift. Without question, seeing a child killed changed our trip. While we didn't see the accident happen, we saw right after and it was/is traumatic.
3) Not getting to Zimbabwe on this trip becuase of the pre-election violence. Zim is my 2nd home, without question. Traveling in Zulu country in South Africa was helpful to my longings to be in Zim, as Ndebele and the Zulu are related. My limited ndebele abilities came into play sometimes, as it helped me relate to people we met in the rural areas, as well as people working in the cities...but it wasn't the same. I REALLY miss Zimbabwe and hope to get back there soon.
4) The long flight home. It's 18 hrs back from Johannesburg to DC, with a stop for fuel in Dakaar, Senegal. We don't get off the plane. On the plus side, I DO get to meet lots of strangers and hear their relationships to and perceptions of Africa.... I especially like talking with high school students traveling back from missions trips so I can encourage them to not lose their emotions they will have coming back...the people they've met, etc.
There are surely lots of things I want to write about and share with you. However, they'll have to wait for another day. I need time to process some of these things and some questions that need answers still linger.
But in conclusion, I do want to say THANK YOU for reading, supporting Forgotten Voices, and praying for Katie & I as we have traveled. Please continue to do all three for the next couple days as we head home and recover. For you first time readers, I blog year round, sharing my travel stories from the states too, as well as news from the ground in Africa.
Please also consider giving to Forgotten Voices. I know you read that a lot, but seriously...consider it. After this trip, I deeply believe God has placed new burdens on my heart that fit within the mission of Forgotten Voices. I'll be sharing those stories with you about how we will respond after I take a couple more days to think about how this should play out.
But in the mean time, please consider giving. You can give at www.ForgottenVoices.org. Whether a one-time gift or a monthly pledge, THANKS!
I often realize that I travel for you and others reading this. It is a great honor to come and see how we can join with local people in Africa to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of AIDS orphans in their communities. Thanks for joining us on this journey.
Ryan & Katie
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Katie and I returned last night from an incredible 2 days at the national game park. We saw lots of animals, including a billion birds of all shapes & colors, 8 elephant, 7 rhinos, a hyena, lots of impala, wilderbeast, tons of zebra, 10 or so giraffe (one that let us watch him 10 yards away for about 20 min), buffalo galore, nyalas, baboons, and monkeys. Katie will surely add to this list and share some of our adventure (and pictures) in a later post. But in short, Katie got to see her 1st elephant in the wild and I couldn't be happier about that!
I also wanted to quickly write and thank you for praying. I left on our little "holiday" feeling quite ill, but have returned MUCH better, despite my lack of sleep because of early morning game drives - hoping to catch animals before they go into hiding for the day. Thanks for all of you that were praying for my recovery. THANK YOU!
In other sadder news.... it is very different driving on these roads here. People stand on the side of the road often, trying to enthusiastically wave down rides. The scariest part is when we see kids playing on the side of their interstate highways hoping for a ride (picture children playing on I-95). South Africa is now considered the most dangerous place to drive in the world, when looking at fatalities and chances of being in a fatal accident. On our drive up the N2, we passed one of these scenes, with the child just having passed away after being struck by a vehicle. We saw the immediately after.
While we don't know this child, or their family, or the driver - it was traumatic. Katie and I discussed at length whether to share this news. In the end, we decided that we committed to blogging about our trip and it has certainly changed the tone of our travels these past few days, as Katie and I both have wrestled with how things like that can happen in our world.
Death is such a big part of life here. Tragically so. While death is always difficult, regardless of where you are in the world, it engulfs southern Africa. Tents fill the landscape everywhere you look here. They go up Thursday for a Saturday or Sunday funeral, then move on to the next house in the town in preparation for the next service. On our drive from the game park, we passed a VERY tiny town and saw 8 tents for funerals. Life is different here because death is a big part of life.
For example, we were out visiting a traditional Zulu community in a rural part of Port Shepstone last week with a pastor and his wife. A few of the leaders of the orphan care project were trying to plan an event to raise AIDS awareness in the community. As they tried to find a date, they were struggling about which day of the week to hold the event; during the week, those that work & have influence on their families couldn't be there because they'd have to miss work (and their income for the day) to come. Cannot do Saturdays or Sundays because the funerals are then.
I've heard this dilemma on all my trips to this part of the world. I distinctly remember talking to one woman in Zim that said, "On Saturdays & Sundays, that's when all the funerals are, so people can't come to events; not because they don't want to, but it's life...we must go to these funerals."
The conversation in that Zulu community we visited last week ended with a decision to think about it. I'm still thinking about what's best and have reached no conclusions. I imagine the leaders are the same.
Our thoughts linger to Zimbabwe, as well, as our time here wraps up. Death is now very much part of life. In 1990, the life expectancy in Zimbabwe was 61 years old. It is now, just 18 years later, only 34 - the lowest in the world. I am only 5.5 years away from meeting the life expectancy age if I lived in Zimbabwe. Over 90% of the people are literate and they are known all over Africa as having one of the best education systems in the world. How can this be true and the following be true: 500 people will die TODAY in Zim because of AIDS related illnesses. The HIV infection rate among pregnant women now stands at just under 35%.
Why am I rambling on about this? Because it consumes life here and I cannot adequately share the way that changes your experience. I cannot possibly communicate the life engulfing way that death hangs over everything, nor can I explain the way that the local people's hope triumphs over every aspect of life here because of this faith they have that tomorrow will be better than today - even when the odds & data say the complete opposite.
Right before I left, I was blessed by a conversation I had with a friend of mine. He was just so encouraging to me at a time of great stress. When I asked him, "why me?", he responded, "You've been praying for an encouragement - someone to come alongside you and help give truth to the faith that you have in God & others, so I want to be part of that for you."
When I think of our friends here, these local leaders trying to empower AIDS orphans in their communities, I cannot help but feel like my friend. Why can't we be the ones that breath hope and truth into their faith? Our friends here are crying out to God and praying that He will see their pain. That God will see the impact death is having on their community. That God will breath hope and life into the darkness, making tomorrow better than today.
I invite you to be part of this hope giving experience through Forgotten Voices. Our whole mission is centered around demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping LOCAL churches to meet the physical & spiritual needs of AIDS orphans in their communities. They are praying for miracles, for people & God to see their suffering. They have faith that miracles will come. You can be that miracle, as God has richly blessed you & me.
To give, visit http://www.ForgottenVoices.org.
I'm so thankful for each of you and for your continued prayers as we travel. Thanks for believing in me and in Forgotten Voices. We are learning a lot and look forward to sharing these lessons with you in the days ahead, as we learn and serve together.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The Zimbabwean government has issued a full stop on NGOs operating in Zimbabwe, banning all activities in the country. It is our understanding from talking with various members of leadership in the country (government and church), we are excluded from this ban. Forgotten Voices provides its support through the local church network, thereby not serving as a traditional NGO that are included in this ban. For example, rather than having a Forgotten Voices office, with Forgotten Voices directly paying school fees for kids, we provide money to local churches, who use their volunteer network to pay school fees for kids.
With that said, the situation is becoming increasingly more dangerous. Projects may take longer to start, as well as proceed, and money to our projects may take longer to process.
But our model does enable us to work (sometimes slowly) in one of the most dangerous, unstable environments in all of Africa. Everywhere I go, people cannot believe we are continuing our commitments to Zimbabwe. It isn't easy, involves a lot of faith, and consistent giving from people like you as we adapt hourly to the changing conditions in the country.
I will not lie to you. The efforts being undertaken by our church partners, as well as our leadership team (me, our Board, and volunteer leadership team) are extremely difficult at times. At times, unconventional approaches are needed, but we are working to make sure accountability and transparency, as well as ethical practices are used. These unconventional approaches include having to sell fuel to schools in exchange for school fees, or importing items and bartering for food for church orphan care programs. Acquiring money through the bank system or even in the parallel market is highly complex and difficult at times. Food is running out in the country and pressures are mounting daily on the average person that our projects serve. I see everyday that we are losing this battle and I resign myself to the realities that we are not succeeding at meeting the challenges before us...and at times, we can only pray that God will see, know, and respond with justice & mercy.
We are working very hard to stretch every dollar donated to us, but risk is involved. Since the government isn't providing much care currently and they have now banned NGOs from operating in the country, our local church led approach is needed more than ever. If it is was easy, everyone would be doing it. That's why we are serving in some of the most forgotten places on earth.
Please continue to pray for wisdom and safety for our church partners in Africa, for me as I try to connect dollars with needs, and please pray for donors in the states - pray that people are stirred to action. I also pray for courage for people like you, reading this now, as you consider sharing the stories of pastors in Zimbabwe and Zambia who are leading orphan care projects in their communities.
As the situation unfolds in Zimbabwe, we will keep you posted. Please also pray for the leaders in government, political candidates, the people of Zimbabwe as they prepare for a run-off election on June 27, and neighboring countries, who will/should become more involved in helping pave the way for a new Zimbabwe.
At the end of the day, there are a great many things I could say and would like to say about the politics going on in Zimbabwe. However, I lead a non-profit organization that is seeking to empower local leaders in southern Africa with the resources they need to meet the physical & spiritual needs of AIDS orphans in their communities. Forgotten Voices is in the loving children like Jesus Christ would business. We are not in politics. I'll leave those matters for others to sort out and I'll pray for all involved. Doing otherwise would put our organization, our partners, and myself in jeopardy.
I am in Africa until 20 June, but will be happy to answer any additional questions on this after I get back. Please feel free to call me at 717.506.0633.
Pray with us and we will pray for you.
All the best,
President, Forgotten Voices
To give or learn more about Forgotten Voices, visit us online at www.ForgottenVoices.org.
It will be an 380k drive up the eastern coast of South Africa, which I hear is beautiful, along the Indian Ocean. This is quite nice, as our $100 USD for the week car rental is proving to be a bargain.
You can find more information about Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Hilltop Camp by going to their website here.
Please be praying for us as Katie and I take some time to begin unwinding from the sometimes traumatic things we have seen, as well as plan for how to respond to the incredible people we have met. God has clearly laid burdens on my heart this trip and given me a vision for how to respond to all that I've seen this trip. But our 2 days at Hilltop will provide us a more tranquil place to pray, consider, and plan these things before we step back into the craziness that is American life.
Finally - please continue to pray for my health. Holding hands of dying people and interacting with sick children is a great joy to me. But I'm also sick because of it. Please be praying for me as I continue to recover and avoid getting sicker.
We are off to enjoy God's creation! We'll try to check back Monday night with you all when we get back.
-Ryan & Katie
We are excited to see how we may partner with these incredible organizations, churches, and individuals that we have met throughout this trip. Please be praying as we process all that we have seen and heard and make sense of the next steps.
Friday, June 13, 2008
After learning more about ECAP's efforts, which include teaching a Church and AIDS class at the seminary, as well as funding local AIDS care efforts, we hopped in the car and drove to the outskirts of town. Here was a small community, called
As Msomi shared her story, we learned that in some ways, the surrounding community has been very supportive of this creche's work (by the way, it is called the
In the afternoon we visited another church providing care for the community, which is called
Thursday, June 12, 2008
In recap: we left our place margate for good at 815 this morning. Got a ride into "work" at project positive ray from an American couple working in SA on AIDS related issues through an org called Two Tunics. It was sad to say goodbye this morning to our friends, especially the
2 year old, who we became quite fond of. As we were closing the door goodbye this morning, we could hear her saying in her adorable zim/british accebt: "pip, pip, todalo ryan & katie."
We spent the day looking at unique AIDS programming being done in "informal" settlments, factories, and schools. Then met a capacity building expert consulting NGOS to discuss how funding has impacted some of the groups we may look to help. The day was a fascinating day
of contrasts that we look forward to writing more about.
Then, we caught a bus to durban from a gas station, then met some guys for our rental car (an odd experience that still has plenty of stories in it and issues to be sorted tomorrow), then drove 2 hrs in the dark through a small mountain rane - left handed stick up hill, at night on
the left side of the road in the smallest car I've ever driven... It was super fun.
We arrived at about 7 hrs into Pietermaritzburg. Staying with some friends of mine from Zim now living here. They have 4 kids, all of whom are incredible! Soooo excited about that.
We'll be here for 5 of the next 7 days, looking at more church run orphan care work and meeting with another seminary called ESSA. Tomorrow (wednesday), we are looking at ESSA's ECAP program, which helps pastors learn about orphan care models they can use for their own church.
A lot to do in our final 10 days here in Africa. Please continue to pray for Zim and pray also for me... Still feeling sick and really need to get better. Being around dying people is not good for their weak immune systems or mine.
Thanks all. Pray on. Love you lots. Pip, pip. Todaloo. "See you in the morning." (my 2 year old friend here says that every night).
-Ryan & Katie
Monday, June 9, 2008
tomorrow - katie and i wrap up our time in Port Shepston with mtgs until about 2pm, then drive up the coast to Durban via bus, then rental car on to Pietermaritzburg. A lot of details need to be sorted out in the AM regarding bus, rental car, directions, etc. Please be praying for safe travels.
we think we may have found a GREAT place for us to end our time in south africa and rest for 2 days at the end of our trip before heading back to joburg for 2 days - then home. will share details with you - please be praying for this to be sorted out in the next 2 days.
finally - continue praying for Ryan. he's battling the beginnings of getting sick. sleeping plenty, but the evenings are very cold by the ocean. also - pray for our friend that we are staying with. he's also caught a bug.
thanks for praying. we are praying for you, as God is stirring hearts already in what we are seeing. praying that you would know and understand God's love today.
Ryan & Katie
Find out how you can use your voice at www.ForgottenVoices.org
The folks we are staying with here have a nearly 3 year old little girl. Every morning, she wakes up to "sun beams". That's how she knows she is able to get out of bed. Before the sun beams pierce through her window, she has to stay in bed. When the sun comes, she rejoices and announces to all that will listen that the sun beams have come and the morning can begin.
Today, as we visited an organization called Project Positive Ray and also visited organizations part of the Ugu AIDS Alliance, I kept thinking of my little friend and her sun beams. As we met people from all walks of life addressing the AIDS crises in their own way, it was if they were celebrating the start of new days for the people they cared for...celebrating hope in their own way.
These little sun beams of light - people trying to make their mark on the dark sky of AIDS that is consuming the rich way of life in Africa - are inspiring. The efforts sputter along in some ways, while others are beaming proudly, clearly leading the way proudly. Some are shining softly, blurred by the clouds that make their jobs difficult - all the obstacles that are preventing their light from shining freely.
Today - as I met these brave light sharers, I kept thinking how much we will need each of you. Not so much as nice things to do when you feel like helping, or serving in a way that makes us happy - but serving boldly - sacrificing richly - and helping make these sun carriers pierce through the dark skies.
For example - today, I met a man that needs about $1,000 USD/year for his church to care for about 39 preschool kids year round. For food, teacher training, etc. Kids that aren't getting food at home and can be found sitting in the dirt. Abusive caretakers or busy mothers who are trying to make ends meet make caring for a preschooler difficult. Time for educational stimulation and resources to fill a hungry, developing mouth - the future of South Africa - rest in the hands of a pastor named Joseph & his wife Jabu. People who, in the midst of all the darkness around them, are choosing to do what they can to bring hope and light - piercing the clouds and choosing to say YES when the odds seem to say no.
In the coming months, I hope to share in depth more of these sun beam bearers. In the mean time, I need you to seriously consider giving to Forgotten Voices if you haven't recently or at all. We, you and me, are finding worthy projects every day that need a champion - need some nudging - some encouragement - some sun beams to contribute to the seemingly dark situation that is on the verge of consuming the dimming future of orphans & vulnerable children here in southern Africa.
The stories I will have for you are hopeful, optimistic and bright - full of possibilities. But they are also stories that will involve sweat, tears, and hard work. The more I see, the more I learn that AIDS is winning and we need to all dig deeper - Katie & I included. I'm preparing for a war of sharing light with the darkness and I REALLY REALLY REALLY need you all to think, prayerfully consider, and prepare to join Forgotten Voices in empowering orphans with local churches in southern Africa.
To be blunt, we are losing this war of darkness versus light. But, in the eyes of the nearly 3 years old little girl that we are staying with, as well as in the eyes of the 39 little ones I saw today in Pastor Joseph's creche (daycare), I see that the sun beams of life have not quit - hope does not plan to call it a day just yet. It is only just beginning.
Wishing you all sun beams of light, love, and hope today in all your own endeavors,
Ryan & Katie
Note from Ryan Keith, Forgotten Voices
717.506.0633 (office) | 717.918.4767 (fax)
Skype: BulawayoBandit | RKeith@ForgottenVoices.org
Empowering Orphans: Local People, Local Projects.
Find out how you can use your voice at www.ForgottenVoices.org
Saturday, June 7, 2008
We are down here spending a few days with one of our business partners from Bulawayo - dear friends of mine, as well. They are on holiday, getting away from the stresses of Zim for a couple weeks and graciously welcomed us to come to their time share. They picked us up in Johannesburg on their way down.
Today - Katie, our host, and I went to meet with a farmer from this area that is also working in orphan care and helping with prison fellowship - teachign Farming God's Way (one of the programs we help fund). He's trying to get some things started to help orphans and prisoners in Zim - so our time together was quite good. Please be praying for his ministry. For obvious reasons - don't want to give too many details. Working in Zim is tough enough already. The family story is incredible .... a real blessing.
We had some incredible meat at this guy's house - we cooked a braai, which is like a BBQ. They have 11 kids, 6 grown adults and then 5 youngsters that they adopted. It was quite the feast and people kept showing up. An amazing story. Incredible really. We were so thankful to have time with him and share in what God is doing in our respective ministries. The time over meat allowed us to talk about lots of ways to help each other and Zimbabwe. Time well spent.
This morning, Katie and I woke up to the news that whales were going by our flat. So we rushed out. 5 groups of them, probably 10+ in total. It was incredible! They come through this time of year, trying to swim to slightly warmer weather up the eastern coast of Africa. Following the whales, we enjoyed about 10 dolphins swimming by. Serving the Lord is incredible work and we are thankful to see nature while working here - how faithful and gracious is our God????
Pray for the day tomorrow (Sunday). We are going to church in Margate and then I'll spend some of the day with Katie at the beach. We are taking Sunday off and spending it with our friends here. In the evening, I plan to do a bit of writing.
Pray also for our next week - plans are coming together nicely. But a lot to still work out to firm up the next 7 days. Please be praying continually for divine connections. ALready, I feel it was wise to not go to Zim and god has been connecting us to incredible people that I never would've met in Zim - but will help Forgotten Voices grow deeper & wider.
Finally - pray for me. I'm coming down with a sore throat - generally a precursor for getting very sick when I travel. Please pray that I slow down for a day and get some good rest in...taking meds, vitamins and eating well (as i wrote above).
Katie is amazing! I love her more every day. Today, we celebrated an incredible 301 days of marriage. She is such a blessing to my life and I love her more and more - SOOOO Thankful for her. And I'm thankful for you.
Pray on and thanks for reading,
Ryan & Katie
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I decided today that I would shed my backpack. I've noticed something again that typically hits me around day 4. Americans (including me) love their backpacks. We carry them with us when we travel so a map, food, water, camera, money, etc are always within reach...security. The backpacks provide a buffer between the realities we see and the life we know back home. They also cause problems. Caring for them. Watchign them closely when we set them down. Pulling them close when we pass through a crowd. And they are just heavy with all the stuff. So Katie had her camera in her purse, so I chose to shed my backpack. Glad I did. It was one of those "experience Africa" days that I love. I may have missed it worrying about my pack.
After tracking each other down at 9:20, Remmy, Katie and I set off. First to put air in the tires of Remmy's 1990ish Toyota Camry, as the front left was not looking too good. The roads would be bumpy, I was told, and I was thankful not to be driving. Remmy did, instead. I've driven many a road in Zimbabwe that was "bumpy" but few have compared to the roads we saw today...extreme divots from the rains... all mud in the rainy season, molded to seemingly undriveable conditions as the mud has dried. But we managed...sorta.
Following a brief time at the Jubilee Center, where we met with Martin, the National Micah Challenge Director and an impromptu visit with Lawrence, the Executive Director of Jubilee (a friend to many that I know in the states)... we set off again for the Mapalo District and the Homebased Care Volunteer Training Session.
About 10 minutes from our destination, the front left tire blew out - puntured by a spike thrown into the dusty road. We pulled over to the right side of the road along this dirt road, just under the shade of a tree. The air was flying out of our tire loudly, giving off a hissing noise and spraying dirt everywhere - everything is dusty here.
The funny thing about traveling in Africa is you never know when you will have an incident like this, but you'll surely always have one on every trip. This dusty road seemed like the perfect place. Spare tire? check. "Wrench"? Check. Jack? Nope. Had loaned it to Martin, leader of the Micah Challenge, who we met with earlier in the day at Jubilee.
One of the most significant changes to the development of southern Africa has been the addition of cell towers, with coverage available pretty much anywhere now in Zambia. So - a quick call to the driver for Jubilee Center, who was at the training center we were going to, and we had a jack and a changed tire... after finding a bottle cap, old wire, and other assorted objects to make the wrench fit the tire bolts. Americans are known internationally for their ingenuity, but we have nothing on the "make a plan" Zambians.
We were off again. Homemade kites made out of garbage bags and sticks could be seen everywhere on the powerlines, permanently part of the mystic of Mapalo. Some kids still ventured to set these kites to air, gaining some wind and enjoying the 70 degree day with flight.
As we approached Mapalo's high density area, the stark contrasts between the city life and this one were evident all around us. Zambia's middle class has grown, making 3 distinct groups of people. Mapalo was full of "lower class", but also entrepreneurs on the cusp of emerging into the next tier. Stands of all varieties lined the busy, canyon-esque, dirt road that pierced through Mapalo...clearly the main drag. We saw only 3 cars in the final 10 min drive. Walking and biking were the preferred ways, with fuel costs up to about $7/gallon.
When we arrived at Mapalo Community Center and Church for the training, we were late (clearly). A swarm of children surrounded our car, a rare sight only enhanced by the car's white passengers. I was told that the local people were used to white people, who often came to do research on Mapalo's high density conditions.
Mapalo means "blessing" or "blessed". It received a name change a few years ago when a group of churches pressured a local MP (member of Parliment) to start improving the conditions of the community, after decades of only caring when elections came around. The pastors helped form a group called Ndola Development Trust, which now helps build up the community and is supposed to start improving infrastructures like roads (they haven't gotten that far, apparently).
Mapalo's old name meant "brutal people dwell there." The area used to be a hideaway for murderers and criminals from Ndola's streets, who would flee to Mapalo to blend in to the high density abyss. Looking around, it is easy to see why the old name fit - not so much because I felt unsafe, but more that I kept seeing people appear out of seemingly nowhere - houses built into trees, living places built out of abandoned train cars from a century ago.
Things have improved here, in large part because of the churches and agencies like the Jubilee Center. The Homebased Care Volunteers were meeting for the day, one of 6 each year. About 20 were in attendance, out of 280 that Jubilee trains year round. From all denominations.
Katie noted that she has been reading for some time about homebased care, orphans & vulnerable children (OVCs) and child headed households (CHH). Technical jargon in the international development field I belong to. She especially enjoyed seeing social work in action, where the policies hit the ground.
Two interesting observations from our time with this group of volunteers, as we snuck in the far back row to listen: 1) the volunteers enthusiastically brought it to the attention of the trainer from Jubilee Center that there was an obvious bias against non-English speakers in the program. Less passionate people were being plucked from the pool of volunteers to work for the program for pay, simply because they could read & write in English... a popular job requirement with western agencies like Forgotten Voices in Zambia. The volunteers felt that their voices were not being heard or cared for and in a way, used by the voices of English speakers... sadly, I've heard this before. A tricky dilemma. 2) there was a fascinating discussion on how to list 20+ year old heads of household that weren't married. For the purposes of Western agencies, anyone under 18 leading a household is considered a Child Headed Household (CHH), an important distinction in terms of how many services the family could receive. But in the local culture, a person is a child or youth until they get married - so age isn't the defining characteristic like it is in the West. The workers were concerned that adhering the standards of the donor agency may change the local beliefs that define adulthood - marriage. Fascinating tension that they will continue to work through.
We slipped out to avoid further distractions that our white faces had already briefly caused the seminar. Kids shouted gleefully at us, "white man" rained from all around us as we returned down the dirt road toward Ndola.
After a brief lunch at the Chicken King, where we were entertained by some local musicians playing on the street that had just struck "an unfair" record deal, our leftovers were snatched up by a street kid living on Broadway - one of the main streets, apparently full of street kids that had not connected with one of the many agencies trying to "empower kids" in the community. No matter how many agencies, it doesn't seem that the score will ever say we are winning this war - a reality that I am coming to with every day we are here. The boy that took our lunch had to run, as 2 other men swarmed around him quickly - hoping to overpower him and take the food.
This was all before 2pm. For "lazy people" as at least a few Americans have called them to me, resiliency is a characteristic that define virtually all the people I've met in Africa - anything else would not lead to survival.
We dropped the tire at a local gas station near TCCA that promised to fix it, despite the large hole. In America, there is no way we would've kept that tire. As Katie rested, I walked back to our apartment where we were staying to get my computer to begin writing some of this down and to prepare for a mtg w/ a local ministry leader at 2:30pm. I saw the man at the tire place already rigging a solution to our tire. He smiled and affirmed my faith that he would indeed plug that tire. His livelihood depended on it in a way I will never understand.
Off to play some volleyball and tennis, before an evening meeting with a guy that has been struggling to drive 7 hrs up to meet with me before we depart Thursday - so far he has been traveling for 3 days and his car has stopped working twice. Resiliency indeed.
Bye for now.
Continue praying for Ndola, Mapalo, TCCA, those studying here, and for us as we see so much, learn about life, and just love the best we can... allowing God to sort out the score and help us have faith that God will in fact redeem all of this.
Ryan & Katie
As we have had the opportunity to now meet with several church and community leaders, as well as being a part of the meeting with Remmy, I have been amazed at all of the details that need to be discussed and worked out. How are the projects chosen? How is the money distributed? How exactly are the local orphan care plans developed and implemented? These projects are so dependent on the faithfulness of so many people: the church leaders, the congregation members and volunteers in Africa, Remmy (the Forgotten Voices' new Project Director for Zambia), Ryan, the Forgotten Voices volunteer team, and the donors. Without each of these specific people carrying out their role consistently, none of these projects would be successful in serving the orphans of their communitites. Despite the hurdles and challenges we have seen and anticipate here as we get started in Zambia, God has been faithful thus far, and we carry forward in prayer with the faith that God's good work will continue.
Speaking of faithfulness, we had the opportunity last night to join Phyllis Engle for dinner at her home. Phyllis has been a missionary in Zambia and Zimbabwe for the better half of 38 years! No, that is not a typo. She was called to Zimbabwe at a young age, and has served many years in the areas of librarian, teaching and tutoring. We were inspired to hear her stories of her desires to stay in Zimbabwe in the 70's when she was forced to leave during the fight for independence. She shared of her adventures travelling all over the world (quite literally - several African, Middle Eastern, and European countries) for two months when she and three other women had to leave Zim. Phyllis was actually the Sunday School leader and Good News Club leader for some of the pastors we are now looking to partner with in Africa! She has certainly played a pivotal role in the lives of these men and women that have led them to serve in the church.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
When I spend time in Africa, I truly believe I have the coolest job in the world.
This morning, we met with Pastor Christian (great name for a Christian pastor). :) Katie wrote of his church yesterday, New Life Christian Church Center. He told us his story of God's faithfulness and how he came to study at TCCA.
When Christian was 16 years old, he became a Christian, in part through an organization called Scripture Union in Ndola, Zambia. Then, for Grades 11-12, he went to Hill Crest Technical School in the Southern Province, where he led his school's Scripture Union Club.
Upon completing his studies in Grade 12, he returned to Ndola and his home church. There, the Pastor called Christian into the Pastorate, sensing that the Holy Spirit wanted Christian to become a pastor and help lead the church. While some in the church felt he was too young, the senior pastor insisted that Christian serve and use his gift of pastoring.
From the beginning of this experience, Christian felt a call to minister to widows & orphans. With everything going on, he decided to just pray and seek God's guidance...awaiting silently while he served the church in lots of different ways.
Shortly after, the Pastor was making some general announcements on a Sunday morning and without Christian's knowledge or warning, announced that Christian would begin a movement that would be called Mercy Ministries...looking after widows, orphans, and doing hospital & home visits to the sick in the church & community.
Throughout this time as serving as Junior Pastor, Christian needed an income to support himself. Since the church couldn't afford to pay him, he took a job at an accounting firm in Ndola during the day and pastored in the night & on weekends. Every day, before work began at 7:30am and during every lunch, his co-workers would tease "the Pastor", who was always reading his Bible.
In 2001, the senior Pastor at the church retired and Christian was named the new Head Pastor. Still, the church was unable to pay Christian with these new responsibilities, as all the funds were going toward the construction of a church building and Christian was able to continue working for the accounting firm. They were flexible with Christian, but his heart longed to be full-time in ministry.
In 2003, he married his wonderful wife, Pamela, who would take over the leadership of Mercy Ministries, which helped Christian gain a better work/family balance.
Then - a miracle. In late 2005, Christian's boss at the accounting firm approached him and told him that "it is clear the Lord you serve has called you to be a preacher and serve our community as a pastor. Our firm would like to pay for you to receive a formal education in ministry and support your family."
You can imagine the great joy for Christian & Pamela. This would be tremendously helpful, especially with the new birth of their first son, Emmanuel. We join Christian & Pamela as they priase God for this generousity!
Today - Christian is a 3rd year student, completing his formal training at the Theological College of Central Africa in Ndola, Zambia. He and his wife live on TCCA's campus, along with other students & their families. Through the support of the accounting firm and some donors to TCCA, Christian is able to be a full-time student and also work full-time as the Head Pastor. They now have 2 sons, one that is 4 years old and 6 months.
As Katie wrote yesterday, the church Christian leads is working hard to do what Jesus has called us to do... to love orphans, widows, and those that care for them...and to lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him, and He will make our paths straight.
Through our conversations with Christian's church leadership and future work with Remmy Hamapande (Forgotten Voices' new Program Director for Zambia), Forgotten Voices will partner with Christian's church to support & enhance their Mercy Ministries program. Together, we'll walk by faith and look for ways to help widows, orphans, and those that care for them.
By sending orphans back to school and developing a microfinance program using tailoring and carpentry so Christian's church can eventually send the kids to school themselves, Forgotten Voices is empowering orphans with a local church in Africa.
To donate to Forgotten Voices to support our work and the work of Pastors like Christian, visit us online at http://www.ForgottenVoices.org.
Thanks for using your voice to help the dreams of Pastors like Christian come true! Together, we can join Christian & Pamela as they serve our God in caring for orphans and widows in their communities.
What an amazing thing it is that WE can be part of redeeming this world, as Christ called us to join those that meet these needs in some of the most forgotten places on earth. Thanks for praying, supporting, and dreaming with Christian, Pamela, Remmy & the entire Forgotten Voices team.
Ryan & Katie
From Ndola, Zambia
Monday, June 2, 2008
Yesterday morning we attended church at Chifubu Brethren in Christ Church in one of the high-density areas of Ndola. The church meets at a school, where several other churches also meet in separate classrooms. As we were worshiping and praying, we could also hear several groups around us also singing and praying. I commented to Kathy Steubing (long-time missionaries in Zambia, and our gracious hosts for the week) that I sometimes had a difficult time focusing on the lesson, as I was distracted by some of the other groups' singing. She laughed and said, "Yeah, but isn't that just a glimpse of what God must hear? And somehow he sorts through it all!"
One of the main reasons for our time in Zambia is for Ryan to spend time with a man named Remmy Hamapande, who just began his role as Program Director, Zambia for Forgotten Voices. Remmy will oversee the development of new Local Orphan Care Plans that churches create to help orphans in their communities. This will allow Forgotten Voices to help more pastors, communities, and children. Yesterday, Remmy took us out to visit a church, New Life Christian Church, where we had the opportunity to learn about some of the work they are already doing to help orphans, and some projects they hope to start. This church was incredibly warm and welcoming. We were met at the car by several women of the church and the pastor. While we thought that we were just going to talk with the pastor, we knew right away when he had a microphone with him, that we were about to meet the congregation as well! For the next hour, different members of the congregation shared about the projects which they were overseeing. One project is tailoring shop, where widows would be trained in sewing, and then use these skills to support their families. The church had acquired some sewing machines, but all but one of the seven need servicing before they can be used.
We were greatly encouraged by this church. It was clear that church members were invested in the community, and truly cared about the children and families of their community. Remmy will continue to dialog with Pastor Christian to see how Forgotten Voices might partner with this church to support them in their goals for future projects.
A great connection that we both hope to learn from when we get back - we found about a billion ways we can help each other on the short 2 hr flight up.
Upon arriving, we got a tour of TCCA (Katie's 1st time, my 2nd), met some incredible students that have sacrificed greatly to be in school, and rested. It is hard to hear the stories of sacrifice going on in Zambia and how hard people are working to serve the church and their communities. Hard and inspiring.
At Forgotten Voices, we are committed to helping local churches care for orphans and we often find these local churches in Africa through the seminaries that train pastors. For me, meeting pastors like some of the ones we've met so far at TCCA are the driving reasons why I am so committed to our mission.... they have given up literally everything (in some cases) to come and study to better their communities and share the word of God.... as they strive to help orphans, our job at Forgotten Voices is to share the stories of these local pastors, these forgotten voices, in some of the most forgotten places on earth.
We've rested a lot and eaten a lot. I had a bug (shocking) and have now almost recovered - not slowing down, but resting more at night. I had it before the trip, but it is passing. Katie is an incredible traveler - warm to everyone that meets her and she meets. She is helping me remember to enjoy the roses along the way and has been a great joy to travel with. :)
Next post Katie will share the story of our serviceS yesterday (Sunday) for church. Good times!
Pray specifically for my sickness (almost gone), our meetings as we work to prepare for the next year of operations in Zambia.