Monday, February 23, 2009

Caring for Body & Soul - Part 2 of 4

Caring for Body & Soul (continued from here)

The day I started talking about death, dying and what it looks like, we had an incredible break through, As I said, the Kenyans told me that they don't talk about such things. As we began to unwrap this, a couple of the deaconesses who had lost a loved one to death, opened up about their losses and then began to cry (actually sob) and you know what that does to me. Well, we spent about 30 minutes hugging and crying and then the bonds of diakonia began to flow. It was an amazing experience. It was at that point that we became one with them--and the whole feeling of the conference changed. It was the recognition that we are all broken in one way or another. We embody Christ in who we are as we live out this baptismal life in our care towards one another. I know my sisters in Kenya will always be my sisters in Christ. There is a bond that grief and loss and love and healing bring. There is joy that comes in the midst of tears and it was an honor to experience this.

I also spent time talking about HIV/AIDS-I was surprised to discover that only about one quarter of the deaconesses had gone through any formal education/training on HIV/AIDS. Dr. Just commented that when I started talking about this disease and its modes of transmission, that I went "straight into nurse mode and didn't bat an eye" even though the topic can be uncomfortable. We also spent time talking about grief, loss and bereavement.

We ended the week with the Divine Service. This service began with a service of healing, where Dr. Just and Rev. David Chuchu "anointed" us with oil, making the sign of the cross on our foreheads in remembrance of our baptism. We celebrated the Lord's Supper together-only the common cup is used in Kenya. We communed with our brothers and sisters in Christ-many of whom were HIV positive.

There was no discomfort for me in doing this-over the years I have read many studies dismissing the misplaced fears of contracting some disease from the common cup. As the Divine Service ends and people are dismissed they gather outside and each person goes down the greeting line to shake hands, hug, sing and in the end a large circle is formed where the community of believers are gathered. It is a sight of joy to behold.

One more thing I wanted to mention. The Helping Hands group at Holy Cross lovingly made zippered cloths bags for each deaconess. We filled them with the supplies brought in by the Sunday school children, and some other medical and essential items for the deaconesses to take on their visits. They were so very thrilled to have these bags--and to know that their sisters in California made them especially for them.

Also, donations from the Sunday school offering, other members and member from the sewing group at Trinity Lutheran Church in Redding, Ca. totaled $1,500. With this money we were able to help deaconesses buy medicine, pay tuition fees for several school children, help with a Pastor's dowry for his new bride, and start an income generating project for widows in Kisii. All of this was greatly appreciated by the people in Kenya. Holy Cross is certainly seen as a kind and generous congregation. Our willingness to extend a helping hand is a lifeline to many Kenyans

(to be continued)

If you have questions, please contact Pam Boehle-Silva ( She would be more than happy answer questions and speak to your group in Northern California.

And, thanks again to all of you who have given so generously of your time, talent and money.

Lutheran Deaconess Work in Kenya - Caring for Body & Soul - Part 1 of 4

As I continue to catch up with Friends of Mercy, I came across a couple of reports from Parish Nurse/Dcns Student, Pamela Boehle-Silva. Friends of Mercy provided a $15,000 to continue the Deaconess education program in Kenya and to start the work in South Africa.

Pamela and Dr. Arthur Just taught about 50+ Kenyan deaconesses on palliative and hospice care. They spent a week teaching and then a week doing home visits. Here is a moving report from Pamela.

Caring for Body & Soul in Africa
by Parish Nurse Pamela Boehle-Silva

I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa and Kenya in June 08. While it seemed like a "once- in-lifetime" trip when I traveled to Sudan and Kenya in 2006, it was a dream come true to be able to return to a place that has found its way into my heart. Through the generous funding from Friends of Mercy, Dr. Arthur Just and I were able travel to Pretoria, South Africa and to various parts of Kenya with the primary purpose of teaching palliative care (comfort care) to those caring for the chronically and terminally ill. What follows here are some of my thoughts on this trip. Hopefully, by reading them, you will get a glimpse of life in Africa.

But before I go on, I must thank you, the members of Holy Cross, who support me in this mission trips. I thank you for your prayers, your donations to the various projects and people in Kenya and your outstretched arms and open hearts to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

South Africa - Pretoria

South Africa was an interesting place and I am still trying to figure it out. There are basically 3 different types of people: The Afrikaans, the Germans and the Africans. The Afrikaans were originally white colonists of Dutch descent. The Germans, for whatever reason have immigrated to South Africa and many call South Africa their home, but they socialize and live among other Germans. The Africans are the indigenous black people from Africa. Apartheid may be said to be over, but the segregation of black and white, rich and poor is still very evident there. The government, for the most part has a blind eye to the poverty/HIV/AIDS and all the problems of those in need. The churches provide much of the care, and thank the Lord for that because otherwise nothing would be getting done. The poor in Pretoria are hidden--if they are out of sight, then they are out of mind--except for the crime. Car-Jackings, burglaries and robberies are a reality in South Africa. In Pretoria, the capital of S. Africa, most everyone has bars on their windows, gates to their yards and burglar alarms. Prostitution is obvious--right on the corner by the church. And most service-type jobs are done by blacks.

Our hosts, mostly Germans and Afrikaans were very gracious and we were well cared for. Dr. Just taught the Gospel of Luke at the Lutheran Seminary in Pretoria. This seminary is for African men-all black-from all over Africa. I taught the basics of palliative care, grief and how a parish nurse/deaconess serves the Church.

Deaconesses in Kenya

After a week in Pretoria, we traveled to Nairobi, Kenya. We were met at the airport by Lorna Meeker (deaconess married to Pastor Dennis Meeker). As Lorna said when we got off the plane, "Welcome home." And it was like "coming home" in a strange sort of way. The smells, the sights, the red dirt, the beautiful people...even the poverty, as it is real and earthy. It was a great reunion. We then went to Springs of Life church in Kibera--the slums of Nairobi. This was one of the churches that was looted and partially burned during the unrest in January 08 (post-election). It is a tragedy to see the charred medical clinic, the roofs off of many buildings because of the fires.

However, the sanctuary is still functional. Many of you have seen the photos on Pastor Sell's blog of the church. The charred cross remains on the wall behind the altar. The wall still holds the black and white marks of fire. The plan is to leave it as is--as a reminder that Christ is victorious--He is risen and no matter what darkness overtakes us, Christ is our stronghold. It gives great comfort to those who see it. We worshipped in this church on Sunday, June 14 and then flew to Kisumu on Monday, June 15 for the conference with all the Kenyans deaconesses. From our visit in 2006, it became very obvious that the deaconesses needed some guidance and support as they cared for so many people dying of HIV/AIDS. The focus of this conference was palliative care.

The conference was amazing. We started with about 35 deaconesses, 2 pastors and one bishop and by the end of the week we had 40 deaconesses, 3 pastors and the bishop stayed for the entire week. The bishop is of the Lake Diocese and a very gracious man. It took a couple of days to "break the ice"--Kenyans do not talk about death, dying, or even grief, even though they are surrounded by all of this suffering and death. We wove the theology of the cross--how we are connected to Christ through his suffering, death and resurrection--through our baptism, the Word and the Lord's Supper, into all we taught. We used the book Dr. Just edited, Visitation, to give the deaconesses resources to use when having a devotion and prayer with the people they serve.. (We had a very generous donation to cover the cost of these beautiful books and the deaconesses were so very proud to have something so elegant. It is leather bound and feels and looks great). It went very well. We also talked about the Apostles' and had a laminated copy of the faith, along with a simple service of healing, commendation of the dying, signs and symptoms of dying, the last hours and what to do--all these were laminated and made to fit inside the book, so they could carry these with them on their visits.

To be continued... Part 2 here

If you have questions, please contact Pam Boehle-Silva ( She would be more than happy answer questions and speak to your group in Northern California.

And, thanks again to all of you who have given so generously of your time, talent and money.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Atheist Perspective on African Missions - Lutherans Making a Difference!

This article from is a fascinating read. One of our themes is "Lutherans Making a Difference." An Atheist comments on the difference he sees when missionaries are involved with the villages and the people of Africa.

Here is a clip from the article.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Read the entire article, you won't be disappointed.

If you haven't had a chance to read through my blog, you might want to look through it. You will see just a slice of the work that people like Pastor & Deaconess Meeker are doing. They are Lutherans Making a Difference.

Thanks to Dr. Rast, Academic Dean, Concordia Theological Seminary for bringing this to my attention through facebook.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tucson Lutherans Making a Difference in Kenya

(Oops. I thought I saved this as a draft, but published the title before I wrote the post. Sorry.)

This past weekend I served the saints at The Church of the Risen Savior, Green Valley, AZ (outside of Tucson). This was a weekend filled with activities that focused on the work of mercy through "Human Care". Thanks to Pastor Stieve and Deaconess Jeri Morrison, who extended the invitation to Friends of Mercy to talk about how we share Christ's mercy through our work.

As a veteran of the cross, Pastor Stieve (picture) graciously stepped in at the last second to preach on Saturday since my flight was canceled and I didn't get in until later Saturday evening. On Sunday I preached in two of their services and presented at their bible study. On Monday, I spoke at their annual Human Care banquet, which thanks the many volunteers of Risen Savior.

What a wonderful congregation of saints who care about fellow saints and those in their community. It was enjoyable to participate in a "snow bird" congregation again, bringing to mind my blessed years in St. George, Utah, where the church often tripled because of the saints traveling to dryer-warmer weather for the winter. -- However, it was cloudy, cool, and rained most of the weekend. Still, it was great to experience the beautiful aroma of the desert after the rain. There's nothing like it.

Thanks also to Rev. Ted and Mary Predoehl, who opened their home to me and with whom I shared many laughs and conversations. Rev. Predoehl is a retired Air Force military chaplain.

If you're interested, you can hear my sermon at their website, here.

Thanks members of the Lutheran Church of the Risen Savior.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Airport Wait - Mercy Thoughts in Kenya

U.S. Airways Flight Cancelled - Engine Failure - Tucson Will Still be There

On the ground in St. Louis is better than in the MO river. We were on the plane, waiting for take off and then heard the noise. Oh oh, I thought to myself. About an hour later, the moved back to the terminal and off the plane we came. Next flight, 6 hours later. At least they caught it before we were in the air. Such is life.

Random Thoughts on Mercy in Kenya

So, as I sit and wait, I have some time to think about the work of mercy in Kenya and what we do at Friends of Mercy.

  • It looks like we will have 2 trips this summer, one in July and the other in October.
  • Starvation is the next major hit for Kenya due to fuel costs and presidential riots.
  • Orphans, Orphans, Orphans - it never ends
  • We are working on placing our "Adopt an Orphan" program on line with pictures, bios, and updates of the children whom you have supported in Kenya.
  • Friends of Mercy desperately needs some help with grant writing.
  • Friends of Mercy is helping the Meekers get their own web site for Compassionate Social Care, which is their NGO (nonprofit) in Kenya
So, there you have some random thoughts while I wait for my flight to Tucson. Unfortunately, I will miss the first service tonight at 5pm. Yet, I'll still be there for Sunday services and the Monday banquet.

Friday, February 06, 2009

$10,000 Friends of Mercy Grant to Support the Meeker's Service: Kenyan Lutherans Say, "Thanks"

Pastor and Dcns. Meeker say "Thanks!"

In an e-mail exchange with Pastor Meeker, he and Dcns. Lorna expressed their gratitude to the many Lutherans in the States who have shared their blessings with Friends of Mercy to support their service in Kenya. A key component of your gifts is the education of orphans. The Meekers explained that it was time to pay "school fees" so that the many children they support could get back into school. Another aspect of their work is to help sick widows and their children move into acceptable and safe housing. Sadly, in too many circumstances, the wife, now widow, has several children and has AIDS. They need the help with the children, medicine, food, and housing. Recently, the Meekers needed to move a family into another neighborhood for the safety of the children.

$10,000 Grant to Help Widows & Orphans and Springs of Life Lutheran Church, Kibera

In January, Friends of Mercy, thanks to Lutherans who are making a difference, sent another check for $10,000 to Compassionate Social Care, the NGO (non governmental organization), that receives funds to support the work of the Meekers. $2,000 went to support orphans through our Adopt an Orphan program; 4,000 went to support widows with orphans; 4000 went to support the ministry of Pastor and Dcns. Meeker.

It is helpful to remember that the Meekers receive no salary for their work in Kenya. They rely on faithful Lutherans in the U.S. to live and serve in Kenya.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What would you do for a few gallons of gas?

Desperation in Poverty

The desperation of people living in poverty is hardly understood by many of us in the U.S. As I speak around the country, often several questions come up centered around "Why would someone do that?" That could be anything from stealing, to prostitution, to engaging in sex while HIV infected, to pushing children to an outer hut and ignoring them because they are HIV positive, etc.

Sin is Still Sin

Please, don't confuse what I am about to say with excusing sin. That is what is great about being Lutheran, we can call something what it really is, namely sin. Christ died for all sin. I th
ink we just do a better job of hiding our sins behind good intentions or everyone does it or it's normal. One of my pastoral mentors, Rev. David Fischer, always told us "young" guys when we entered the Utah circuit, not to judge people as if you wouldn't fall into the same sin if no one was looking. Don't ever think you are any better. That advice was wise insight into the nature of sin and human beings.

Well, the story to which I link below is about how poverty stricken people will do some unthinkable things for free fuel. The video is hard to watch as they count the burned bodies. It is easy to think it absurd that someone would approach a burning fuel truck to take free fuel. But it is just a glimpse in to what people will do to protect their families.

111 Die in Fuel Truck Explosion

It is truly a sad thing to see people that desperate. However, this is why God calls us to love and serve our neighbor. When I was in Kenya last October, I remember how fuel sky-rocketed, as it did all over the world. Here in the states, we adjusted our budgets and rolled with it. However, in Kenya, there wasn't enough budget to be able to adjust. When the average salary is about $1/day, fuel rising by 30% is a monumental hit to the budget.

The Gospel is Still the Gospel
Our sins were completely taken away from us in Christ. His life, death, and resurrection took the place of our lives, deaths, and
resurrections. He did it so that He might give it to us. The gospel brings mercy, forgiveness, and hope to all of us. This is the mercy God gave to us in our baptisms, and now, we share His mercy with others in our lives and around the world.

This is why your gifts make such a difference in the work of Friends of Mercy. Your gifts help the ELCK and Pr. and Dcns. Meeker feed, clothe, educate and many times even help move children out a bad situation. They just paid school fees about 30 children. Your mercy brings mercy to them.

Your love for your neighbor made the difference. Thanks.