The Journey Home

After a great day with the Pendo Amani youth organization, we got to sleep in a bit this morning. We took some extra time to get everything packed, and then we had a time of worship at 9 AM. Matt, Tori, and Eric A. led us in great songs reminding us of God’s control over this trip and the call to share His love with those at home too. We then ate a wonderful brunch at 10 AM comprising of eggs, chapati, sausage, goat, and PIZZA. The staff at Hartfield Gardens has been amazing in waking up early to prepare all our food each day. We got one more chance to say goodbye to Zippy and Daniel at this time. I have constantly been in awe of their ministry and philanthropy in Kenya, and I know many of us feel as though we have a second pair of grandparents in them now.

After this, we made our way to the Nairobi airport. We boarded our flight a bit late and had to push through some rainy weather, but we made the 5-hour journey from Nairobi to Dubai. I am currently writing this from Dubai as we wait to board our long 16-hour flight back to Dallas. We have been enjoying eating fried food (McDonald’s and Shake Shack) for the first time in 2 weeks at the airport. We are all very tired, but I know I cannot wait to get off the plane and see my family.

Leaving Kenya was bittersweet. It was such an amazing trip! The people we encountered live drastically different lives than we do, but we found so much joy in singing and dancing together as a community. The phrase “unity in difference” has stuck with me throughout these last 2 weeks. God holds every continent in His hands, and He is present in all of our lives. Although it is important to recognize each individual’s unique identity and struggles, we also believe that we are united together in the Body of Christ, and everyone has a place. Trips like these help us get a broader perspective on God’s creation and how much love He has for all of His children. Personally, I know that I am taking away sense of calling to explore this idea more.


A School of Music

Our morning began much like others this week, with an early breakfast and preparation of packed sandwich lunches.  Today, however, we headed for a destination not previously visited by a Baylor team: Pendo Amani.  Pendo Amani (translated “Love and Peace”) is a weekend music program for several dozen children in a community near Nairobi, run Mike Wichira’s band of drummers and dancers who performed for us last night.  This was to be a day full of teaching and service.

Up to this point, we had encountered very little “western” or “classical” music, but today we worked with students of violin, flute, guitar, trumpet, voice, and more.  The Pendo Amani music program owned a number of instruments for the students to use, on which the leaders provided both private and group instruction.  Our task today was to work with as many students as possible on each of their instruments.  The education we have each received in the Baylor School of Music served us well as we divided into teams to teach our own instrument or voice part.  While many students were beginners, others showed impressive skill on their instrument and were able to read music and learn new pieces.  Some team members helped entertain younger children with fun songs and games.  Others worked on instrument repair, fixing and servicing Pendo Amani’s equipment and donating instruments, spare parts and method books.

We concluded the day at Pendo Amani with a group celebration concert.  Gathered in the courtyard, we listened to various presentations, including the students’ violin and cello rendition of “Blessed Assurance.”  To wish us well on our journey, the leaders invited us into a traditional dance and chant.  Although we wished we had more time, our day at Pendo Amani was fruitful.  A first for Baylor Music and Missions in Kenya, the large-scale teaching operation was not without confusion or difficulty, but we were able to connect with numerous students and lay groundwork for potential future visits.  As musicians, we must learn to teach others our craft, and our visit to Pendo Amani was a wonderful opportunity for us to grow as musicians and teachers.

To conclude and celebrate our time in Kenya, we enjoyed a quiet family gathering at the home of our hosts, Zippy and Daniel Sindiyo.  We were joined by many members of their family and several of the safari guides from our visit to the Masaai Mara.  The Sindiyo family treated us to a traditional Kenyan meal of chapati, simosas, watermelon, and more in the front yard of their beautiful residence.  Although an introspective evening, it was not without many introductions, gifts (we each received a Masaai blanket), and most importantly, music.  Zippy and Daniel shared their gratitude for our work and told us of exciting things in future of Kenya, particularly the village of Komolion that we visited last week.  As we boarded the buses there were many goodbyes, some tearful.

Our lodgings at Hartfield Gardens are now a buzz of activity as we prepare to board our plane tomorrow.  We must carefully pack paintings and other souvenirs, donate extra items and local currency, and double-check our to-do lists for the return home.  Although we are excited to be reunited with friends and family (and perhaps enjoy an enchilada), we are sad to leave Kenya and the friends we have made here.  For now, we close our suitcases and get one more night’s rest here in Kenya before a long day of travel tomorrow…


Celebration of Education

We kicked off our beautiful Friday morning with a two-hour bus ride to Kajado. Our first stop took us to Priscilla’s school. This school was founded specifically for girls seeking to escape female genital mutilation (FGM) and arranged child marriages. As we arrived, the students were singing “Injili,” one of the songs our team has sung throughout Kenya during our trip, to welcome us. It was beautiful. We performed a concert for them and handed out school supplies to each student, each one smiling as they walked away with their hands and hearts full. The team had tea and mndazi (a Kenyan pastry) with the teachers, and we loaded up the busses once again.

            A short drive later, we arrived at the AIC (African Inland Church) Disabled school. We took a tour of the facilities with a man named Moses; he took us through the rooms where they put together wheel chairs and prosthetics for students who need them. He also explained how they help educate and rehabilitate each child that comes into their care. He obvious passion and concern for them was truly inspiring. As we finished the tour, the kids gathered outside with their teachers and a few of the parents for our concert. While singing, I was overcome by the immense joy that flowed from each of their faces; it reminded me that music has so much more power than we tend to give it credit for. Their unbridled joy encourages me to keep going, to keep chasing after God, to keep making music, if only to make a single person feel the way each of those little kids did today. After the music finished, we blew bubbles and played with them for a short while. It was honestly the most fun I’ve had all trip. So much joy, y’all!

Time catching up on us, we walked down the street to the final stop of the day, the AIC Girls School. The matrons prepared an amazing lunch for the team before we met up with the students outside for out third performance of the day. We sang songs for them both in English and Swahili before presenting the school with a plaque from the Center for Christian Music Studies at Baylor. A group of AIC students then came up and performed music for us, to share the gift of music back with us. They were a super talented group of young women. The group of performers is actually the official AIC girls music group that competes on a national level; we wish them the best luck as they compete at national contest this upcoming Tuesday! After they performed, we handed out school supplies to all 720 girls. Shout-out to the amazing student leaders on our team that kept that process super organized!

            We loaded the busses once again to drive back to Karen once we said our goodbyes. I wish I could give you a story or funny anecdote from the drive, but I slept the entire time and have zero regrets. I ended up thanking Tori-in-the-past for sleeping on the way home, because we immediately joined a drum circle led by Mike Wachira upon returning to our accommodations. The drum circle wasn’t us sitting around watching them perform or simply doing some interactive rhythmic exercises. Nope, it was more like “Jazzercise: Kenya Edition.” We were jumping and singing and dancing and trying not to have an asthma attack in the corner as these beautiful people led us in song and dance centered around the djembe. I’m pretty sure most of us did more cardio in the few hours we spent with them than most of us do in an entire year. It was ridiculously fun! 10/10, would dance again, even though it was way out of my comfort zone.

That seems to be a theme on this trip though. Many of the things we’ve done while in Kenya, whether waking up at an ungodly hour, eating food that we can’t pronounce, singing in a choir when we’re in school to play in an orchestra, building a relationship with a stranger in a village when you’re the mascot for team introvert, or dancing like a fool in front of a group when the good Lord blessed you with two left feet and no rhythm… all of these things are so far from comfort in so many different ways. Yet I have seen God display His glory through every single one of them. Twelve days ago, I couldn’t tell you why I was boarding a plane to go to Africa. All I knew was God said go, so I went. But now as we edge closer to the end of this journey, I see Jesus in my discomfort. God meets me in my places of greatest vulnerability, and frankly, greatest weakness, and shows up in a mighty way. Yep, I looked like a complete idiot dancing tonight, but I can’t remember the last time I laughed like that. I am far from a morning person, but the sunrises I’ve seen in this breathtaking country have left me in awe once again of my amazing creator. I cherish every second we’ve spent here in Kenya, and I’m grateful to God for the uncomfortable.


What Do We Have To Offer?

After a good night’s rest at the Hartfield Gardens, we ate a full breakfast including samosas and sausages and various hot beverages. We loaded the buses and headed to our first shopping experience of the day: Amani Ya Juu. Amani Ya Juu is a non-profit organization that employs primarily refugee women – they provide them with fabric skills and techniques to empower themselves. As a result, these women learn how to make items such as placemats, various apparel, accessories, bedding, and even paper bound journals.

When we arrived at Amani Ya Juu, we were greeted with a big smile by one of the head workers, Maggie. Maggie informed us that Amani Ya Juu allows women to, “touch and spread (empowerment) because they don’t want to keep it for themselves.” As our team followed Maggie and ascended three flights of stairs to the fabric workroom, we were greeted by the sound of beautiful voices. There were about 30 women in the workshop who greeted our team through swaying, clapping, and singing a song that resounded celebration and hope. There wasn’t a single person on the team who couldn’t help but smile and clap along to their joyous melodies.

Amani Ya Juu translates to “Peace from Above.” That phrase resonated into every aspect from its facilities to its people. We learned about where some ladies were from and their names: Beatrice (Kenya), Betty (Kenya), Janet (Rwanda), Alice (Kenya), and so many more. What brings all these women together is the strength within their differences.

Amani Ya Juu impressed me with the impact that their imagery and words can have on their community. At the back of the fabric workroom there was a mural that was captioned, “pamoja tunabadilishwa.” This translates to “together we are transformed.” It included four colors that each corresponded to different meanings: red (blood of jesus), yellow (materials), blue (socialize) and green (environment). The blood of Jesus is evident in the each of the women at Amani Ya Juu. Their faith is the top priority before all other things. It is through the blood of Jesus that they put their heart and soul into the materials use so that we can partake in their community. In engaging with their community, we are cultivating an environment that not only is sustainable but is also impactful to rest of the world.

Throughout the remainder of the Amani Ya Juu tour and shopping, our team was so moved by all the women who make the organization what it is today.  Each product takes so much more time than you would think. Most of the items our team purchased from the store took anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to create. Each item is created by one woman, whom then tags the item with both her name and country she comes from. Our time at Amani Ya Juu was filled with music making and sharing to both the women from the shop and visitors from all over the world. It’s amazing what a song can do to bring people together. The women encouraged us to continue singing our songs up until it was time for us to leave for Kazuri Beads.

Kazuri Beads was our last, but not least, shopping experience for our mission team. When we arrived there, we were given time to shop before heading on the tour of their facilities. One production room lead to another as we saw the raw materials to the final product: beautifully handcrafted glass-finished beads. Like Amani Ya Juu, we shared our music to the women of Kazuri Beads. The women danced and sang along to our songs like, “Injili,” “Baraka Za Mungu” and “Hakuna Mungu.” Almost every stop along the tour we sang and shared music with the women at Kazuri Beads.

Throughout most of today I wondered what we could possibly give these women in exchange to their tangible items they’ve spent innumerable hours creating. The answer is what happened at the end of the Kazuri Beads tour. Our team was finishing up singing, “Baraka Za Mungu” on the last stop of the tour. The ladies in the room next door happened to hear us and we could hear an uproar of cheering and praising. Before we knew it we ended up next door singing more songs with the women in the next room. In no time, our whole team ended up dancing and experiencing music that the women chose to share with us. I may never know how to sow a quilt or create a beautiful work of handcrafted clay jewelry. However, I know that God works in mysterious ways and today he was revealed in the music we shared with women we met at Amani Ya Juu and Kazuri Beads. Today I learned that it is not about what you can give but what you can take away. I took away a glimpse of the everlasting joy and peace that prayerfully one day all of us will experience together in heaven with our heavenly father.


Return to Nairobi

Today we finished up our days on safari in the Maasai Mara and headed back to Hartfield Gardens in Karen. The day began with a lot of excitement as we embarked on our final game drive.

Throughout our safari, I was struck by how quickly the tables can turn when it comes to nature. We started out without too much excitement or too much going on, but toward the end of the drive we came upon some giraffes who were being watched by several other safari vans. Little did we know that the main spectacle was actually a group of about 8 lions that were moving about the area. First, we saw a few juvenile male lions playfully interacting and then we spotted more and more lions patrolling the area. Once the giraffes started running away, we realized that the lions were on the hunt.

Not long before our van had arrived in this area, we had had a scary moment with a very steep trench on one of our turns. It wasn’t until we were surrounded by a pride of hungry lions that we realized that we had a flat tire! We were shocked as our driver exited the vehicle to investigate the situation in spite of the many animals around. The other drivers nearby also came to help out in changing the tire.

One thing we had been taught on the safari was that when we are in the vans, the animals don’t see us as humans but rather as a part of the vans. Because of this we are only in danger if we exit the vehicle, at which point the animals see us as intruders and will attack. We watched in the vans as our drivers fearlessly walked around the vans in the midst of the pride of hunting lions. Many of us grew worried as we saw that the lions had lined up and were clearly looking in our direction while several of them had even begun to walk down the path toward us. One van shouted to their driver, alerting him of what was happening. The drivers collectively laughed and finished fixing the van. Finally, all the drivers returned to their vans and we zoomed off. While we were not able to see the lions carry out the hunt, we were glad that we didn’t become the hunted…

After this eventful final game drive, we headed back on a lengthy bus ride to Nairobi. While this wasn’t the most eventful experience, it did give us a lot of time to further deepen our relationships within our teams as well as to reflect on what we experienced during our safari. Later in the evening we shared more time as a community, dinner, and our nightly reflection time. One member of our team, Austin Rabon, talked about what he had learned about fear from our drivers today. He spoke about how often we live in fear: fear of the future, of if we will get a job, of how things will turn out, etc. but that “if the drivers can change a tire in the middle of a pride of lions, I think we are going to be okay.”

As we wrapped up our safari and are nearing the end of our time in Kenya, I am filled with gratitude about the experience we have had here. We have developed deep friendships and a community within our team. We have experienced a multitude of facets of Kenyan culture. We have grown in patience, in teamwork, in flexibility, and most importantly in empathy for people of all walks of life. In our safari, we were able to see God’s creation in all its grandness and all its detail. We saw how animals, like humans, live in diverse community and connection with each other and with God, the creator and sustainer of life.

I am thankful for today and for the new things it revealed to us about ourselves, creation, and God and I look forward to the ways we will continue growing toward God together in our final days in Kenya.


Our Day on the Savannah

We awoke at 5:45am for a very early morning game drive. On this game drive we saw a beautiful sunrise as we drove through the Maasai Mara and quite a few animals including: a large pack of hyena, eight or nine elephants, gazelles, zebras, topi, and a cheetah near the end of the drive. The cheetah was sitting perfectly still for a few minutes while it was stalking a heard of gazelles about a hundred yards away in the brush. Then the cheetah started moving slowly towards the herd and started running full speed into the brush where we lost sight of it and we do not know if it successfully caught a gazelle. After that eventful drive we returned to Fig Tree Camp for a delicious breakfast. The menu had Spanish potatoes, French toast, pancakes, sausage, and omelets. We were very thankful for the wonderful meal after our early drive and we were excited for the next part of our day.

            Shortly after breakfast we went to visit a Maasai village that is on the edge of the Maasai Mara. We met the village chief and a few young men, whom would be our guides to the village and answer all our questions. We then walked roughly one kilometer to the village. Our guides were about twenty years old and they spoke English well, which I learned that they had studied at a university in Kenya to learn about more cultures and languages. Along the way we learned how the Maasai use different trees and plants, such as a tree that they use to clean their teeth. When we arrived at village the men and women came out and sang a song to welcome us. The song included a call and response and the men sang in low grunts that is special to the Maasai people. We then entered the village and the women sang two songs to us: one of welcoming to their village and the other was well-wishing for us and wishing for the women in our group to “bear many children”. The Maasai believe that having many children is a sign of wealth that will benefit the village in the future.

            The shape of the village was a circle with all of the homes on the edges and space for the livestock in the middle of the village. The Maasai livestock mostly includes cattle, goats, and chickens. After the welcoming song from the women the men sang another song and then showed us how high they could jump. Jumping is very important for the men in the Maasai tribe because it is a sign of peak physical fitness. The man who jumps the highest is respected and may choose his girlfriend(s) and/or wives (this community practices polygamy) and he pays a discounted bridal price. Then we were shown how they make fire in the village using dry elephant dung as kindling and using a stick made from a sandpaper tree and a block of red cedar to catch the dung on fire using friction. Next, we were given a tour of a home in the village. The home was rectangular and made of wood and dry cow dung. It was very spacious compared to the homes in Komolion, with a main room for cooking and bed, a guestroom, a room for the children and a space for small animals during the night. After touring the home, we looked at their market that is connected to the village and they had some interesting souvenirs.

We finished by singing Injli and Baraka za Mungu for the Maasai people. Once we started singing in Swahili the people were surprised, which caused them to smile and join in dancing and singing with us. We then walked back to Fig Tree to enjoy some downtime. It was a blessing to join in with these people in song and dance and praise the Lord in a different language and with a different culture.

We later left for another game drive and although very tired at this point, we really enjoyed seeing some giraffes within arm’s reach of the safari vans and another pride of lions. We have been incredibly thankful to see such a beautiful part of God’s creation that is this wonderful game park.


Entering the Masai Mara

This morning we woke up early for one more wonderful breakfast at the Tocco’s compound. We are so grateful to them for opening their home to us. At 6:30 AM we started the journey to the Maasai Mara. We packed ourselves into small vans in order to go on the rocky journey there. It was a long ride, but we were constantly amazed by the beautiful Kenyan scenery. We drove by mountains as well as green grass and trees that we would never see in Texas.

            When we got to the gate leading us into the Maasai Mara, we were overwhelmed with women determined to sell us things through the windows of our vans.  The journey was a challenge, but after a while the long, hard ride began became worth it when we began to see the animals: giraffes, zebras, elephants, gazelles, buffalo, and even more. There were so many of them, each uniquely magnificent. Upon arrival at the lodge, we were hospitably greeted by a staff ready to feed us a late lunch, as we were very hungry. We were then shown to our rooms, which are more like tents that sit alongside a water bank. My favorite part is looking out at the hippos visible from our tents. We believe that they will be our alarm clocks tomorrow morning.

            God has definitely made Himself known through the hospitality of the people we have met on this trip. In addition to this, however, God has made His power known through creation, being ever present in nature. Throughout the busyness of everyday life as students, we often neglect opportunities to go outside and see the beauty of nature. Each plant and animal here has its own place and unique way of being. I am reminded of Psalm 8, when the author ponders why God would care so much for humankind when He has created such marvelous things. I also think of Romans 1:20, where Paul states that God’s power is shown so clearly in creation that we are without excuse not to believe in Him. It is biblical that we can experience God through observing what He has made. Personally, I have been pondering how this applies to my own ministry. Since God is the Creator and we are made in His Image, we are also blessed with the ability to be creative. As musicians, we believe that creating great music communally is a way of glorifying God with this ability. Going abroad, we can see how music breaks down barriers and brings people together in worship. We look forward to making more music and observing the wonders of creation more tomorrow!