Monday, February 23, 2009

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.