Friday, April 30, 2010


I don’t want to talk badly about any one city, but over the years, I have decided that it will be a personal goal of mine to never fly through Detroit again. I can’t remember a time when I have flown into or out of that city when there hasn’t been a problem of some sort.
On this particular day, in July of 2006, Kari, Val and I arrived into the airport on time and without incident. We checked the flight monitors and found the gate for our connecting flight to Amsterdam. We assumed we would run into the rest of the team without having to track them down.
Sure enough, as we were getting closer to our gate, someone shouted something at us. They had recognized the tags on our carry-on luggage which we had gotten at one of our team meetings in anticipation of the trip.
The Reese family - dad Jon, mom Cathy, daughter Sara and son Carson – had arrived earlier from Indiana. They had already met up with Amanda, a teen-ager who had flown in from Pennsylvania. We had met Michelle, from Iowa, and Geoff and his son Brandon, from Madison, at team meetings and recognized them as soon as we saw them.
Since no one else seemed to know what had happened to Brie and someone else had her phone number, I was elected to call her. Her mother answered the phone and told me that Brie was at work. Hmm? I thought, but didn’t say anything to her mom, as I took down her work number.
Brie was available to talk when I called her at work. Somehow she had mixed up her dates and didn’t think we were leaving until two days later. I told her she should check her information, but that if she had thought she was going to fly with us, she had missed the plane. I said that I was sure Dave would come up with some way for her to get to Africa and that he would call her soon.
That meant that now the only ones missing from the team were our team leaders, Jen and Dave Bell and their son Nate. Dave called Jon on his cell phone to say that their flight out of Ohio had been delayed. It was estimated they would arrive in Detroit at 5:45 pm and our plane was supposed to leave for overseas at 5:35 pm. It would take a time warp to get them to us on time. That, or an act of God.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

First Flight

I love to fly. Not so crazy about airports, but put me on the plane and I am content. The whole idea of getting into this huge apparatus, lifting off of the planet, and arriving somewhere thousands of miles away in just a few hours always amazes me.
I wish I could say that I easily strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to me, but usually the obligatory “where are you going, where are you from” is as far as I get. Typically, after those initial niceties, I get comfortable and try to sleep.
As I settled into my seat on the plane in Appleton, bound for Detroit, I looked across the aisle to where Val and Kari were fast in conversation; my daughter would be ok for now. A young woman with a baby took the seat next to me. I can’t remember anymore what her story was, but she was relieved to get the last minute spot on the plane. I could only assume that it was Brie’s seat she was in.
The baby was adorable, maybe eight months old, with round cheeks and thick curly hair. She laughed the entire flight, not bothered much by the ear-popping of takeoff and landing. All I could do was wonder if she was a precursor of things to come in Africa.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

At the Airport

Dave Bell, with Life Missions, had done his best to book coordinating flights for all of our team members. We were all flying in from different parts of the country, converging on Detroit, Michigan. From there, the plan was to fly together to Amsterdam, then on to Nairobi.
Two other teen-age girls, Kari and Brie, were scheduled to fly out of Appleton with Val and me.
We got to the airport at the prescribed two hours prior to departure. Something was messed up in the computer and it took the gal working the counter a while to figure it out, but finally we were able to check in.
The airport in Appleton is not very big, by most airport standards. It has eight gates and five have skyways that take you right to the plane without going outside. That is twice as big as Central Wisconsin Airport, south of Wausau. The airport in Rhinelander, well, do you even call it a gate when everyone walks out the same one door, across the tarmac and into their plane, which is probably going to seat less than 20 passengers?
The time came to say goodbye to my husband Himey. He was always such a support to me, always believing in me, always backing me in my crazy plans and ideas. We hugged and I teared up. Val, well, she was still weeping from the breakup with her boyfriend. We went through security and to our gate.
One of the girls who was going to be flying with us finally arrived. Kari was an absolute doll. She was from Sheboygan, had just graduated from high school that spring and was going to be starting college in La Crosse in the fall. She had beautiful red hair and a big, lovable smile.
I told Kari about Val’s breakup, and she understood. She had been dumped by a boyfriend recently too and assured me that she would be there for Val.
Time came to board the plane. Brie, the other girl who was supposed to fly with us, hadn’t shown up. I didn’t know if there had been a last minute change in planes, but as we settled into the plane, there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

“Finally, the day has arrived”

Saturday, July 29, 2006. The day we were due to leave for Africa from the Appleton airport.

Val’s boyfriend came home from Germany the evening before. She insisted we pick him up at the bus and that he spend the night at our house instead of with the friend he was living with. He was unusually quiet during the car ride home. Later that night, after Himey and I were in bed, the boy broke up with Val. He had gotten back together with his previous girlfriend while they were in Germany together with the rest of their German class.

Val didn’t sleep the entire night, just laid in her bed and cried.

Not quite the start to the trip that we were hoping for. I don’t remember if Val did anything that morning except to continue to cry in her bed. I wanted to just go in and shake her, say to her, “get over it. This trip is going to be so much bigger than any of us and you cannot let breaking up with your boyfriend ruin it.” Instead I almost ignored her, until it was time to pile in the car.

Her now ex-boyfriend was still at the house when we left; his friend was going to pick him up shortly. I gave the boy a hug before we left. Even though Val’s heart was completely broken and laying in pieces inside her chest, I couldn’t blame him. Things happen. I could get all philosophical, but I won’t right now. Let’s just leave at “things happen”.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Last Shopping Trip

I suppose it is possible that you have stumbled on my blog, or this is just your first time here, so I should let you know that I am sharing the story of the mission trip my daughter Val and I took to Kenya, Africa, in 2006. In this blog we are getting close to our departure date. You'll want to check it daily now, because we will be in Africa within a few days. And you'll probably also want to go back to April 1, as that's when I started the whole memoir.
“The Last Shopping Trip”
The Monday before we were set to leave on our mission trip to Kenya, Val and I both had the day off of work, so we went to Wausau for some last minute shopping. Our team guidelines asked that females wear skirts, below the knees, when they are out doing volunteer work. I was able to pick up some skirts on the sales rack at Wal-mart, but Val naturally thought she needed something more fashionable than that.
Val usually had good luck shopping at Gordman’s, and that day was no different. The sales clerk asked if we were doing school shopping, so we had to tell her all about our trip. She wished us luck and took our money.
We got out to the parking lot and my heart dropped. The car had a flat tire. I knew there was a gas station just a few blocks away, so I took a chance and headed that way with the flat. Just around the corner, though, like mirage rising in the desert, a Tires Plus appeared.
The man at the counter said they were pretty busy but they would get to my car as soon as they could. He asked me to sign the usual agreement, letting them work on my vehicle and informing me that their standard charge for fixing a flat was $18.95. Well, the last time I had a flat tire fixed it had cost eight bucks and the service station had come to my work and changed the tire right there in the parking lot. I didn't have much choice, though.
Val and I patiently waited. She occupied her time by watching the cute young mechanic working on someone else’s car. I was entertained by a guy trying to fix the pop machine. After what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a good 45 minutes, the counter guy called me up. He showed me some frightening piece of non-descript metal and said that was what he pulled out of my tire.
I was slightly impressed and asked for the bill.
“No charge,” he replied.
“Are you sure?”
“Yea, sorry it took so long, so it’s on us.”
Did that mean anything? Probably not. It was just nice to run into both a pleasant clerk at Gordman’s when things were going well and then a helpful mechanic when things weren't going so smoothly.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Getting Close

At that last meeting with the Bells, Jen told us that the last few weeks before departing a lot of things could go wrong. For past participants, it was as if Satan was working on them to get them to second guess themselves and the mission trip entirely. Why is it that it is easier to talk about the good things God does in your life, than to talk about the bad things that Satan is trying to do?

My cousin, my sister-in-law and my father-in-law were all having medical problems. I was starting to question my decision to take this trip half-way across the world. What if something happened to one of my loved ones while I was gone? I had spent so little time with Nick the past two years, since he had graduated from high school, how fair was it that I was taking off with Val and leaving him home. How fair was it that my husband had hardly done any traveling?

The previous September Val had started going out with a boy she met in drama. He was nice enough; smart, not bad looking, but he had some serious family problems. Unfortunately, those problems followed him into Val’s life and into our home. As the time got closer for us to leave, Val even questioned whether or not she should go, not wanting to leave him behind. Their relationship was starting to waver and instead of just ending it, Val thought she could save it if she just didn’t go to Africa. It didn’t matter to her that he was going to Germany with a group from school for three weeks, coming home the day before we were to depart.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

“One Last Lifest”

I promise this is the last time I bring up the five day Christian music festival, Lifest. At some point in the planning process, it was suggested to us that we volunteer at the Life Missions booth at Lifest, which was going to be just three weeks before leaving on our missions trip. It would be a great chance to bond more with others going on the trip as well as raise more money for the program. The bonus would be free admittance to the event.

It was only Val and me that year. We didn’t even bother with the camper, just got a single camping site and pitched our tent on it. I thought it would be just as stressful with the two of us, but we were still able to go our separate ways enough of the time. We volunteered together in the Schwan’s trailer selling ice cream novelties, but had other volunteer positions apart.

Val spent a lot of her time at the Life Missions booth. They were selling items that had been picked up on previous trips. (Note the picture of the pile of bracelets from Kenya.) Not only had Life Missions been to Kenya in the past, but they had also been to India and Mexico. Nate, Jen and Dave’s son, was also at the booth most of the time, so it was good for Val to get to know him better, as he was going with to Kenya also.

One night, they needed two volunteers to work music sales following an acoustic group that I had never heard of. They loaded me and another woman, a total stranger, onto a golf cart and whisked us off to the other end of the grounds. It was such a fun experience, getting to know this woman as well as hearing this band.

On Saturday morning, Val and I headed over to Appleton for our last team meeting before the trip. We mostly went through all the supplies, as well as getting us an extra bag which needed to be returned to the woman we would be working with in Africa. We packed up kids’ t-shirts, soccer balls; I can’t remember all what else. I just remember that the basement of the Life Promotions office was a mess of donated materials.

Monday, April 19, 2010

“A Sense of Community”

The initial estimate for the trip was $2700 a piece. Dave Bell worked hard to find reasonable flights to Kenya to stick within that budget. Unfortunately, airfare came in close to an additional thousand dollars per person. The total for both Val and I came to $7520, which Life Promotions needed by June 29, 2006, a month before we left.

I feel so blessed that I know so many kind and caring people who were able to make contributions of any size. All of the physicians I work with gave generous donations. Most surprising of all was that my employer, Ministry Health Care, matched donations from other Ministry employees up to $1000. It all added up.

In addition to the wonderful monetary gifts, individuals and businesses in Tomahawk came forward with much needed supplies for us to deliver to the needy in Kenya. I hate to list names here, because there are so many and I hate to forget anyone, but the contributions ranged from children’s vitamins, band-aids, other medical supplies to school supplies and seeds. The seeds, which of course you are not supposed to carry into the country, are a story all their own which I will cover when I get to that part of the trip.

As the donations and supplies continued to come in, the pressure started building. Not that we wouldn’t have the money we needed when the time came, but that I would let all these people down. And more importantly, that I would let down the people in Kenya.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

“Why am I always losing stuff?”

In preparation for the trip to Kenya, Jen and Dave Bell, the team leaders, held several meetings for the team, at the Life Promotions office in Appleton. This gave us a chance to meet some of the other people we would be traveling with as well as learning more of what we would be doing, learning about the culture of the people we would be working with and gathering supplies to take with.

At our first meeting, we watched a video from Kenya showing how the people in the slums live as well as the Maasai warriors. When you see any tourist information from Kenya if there is a picture of a tall thin native, a red blanket draped over his shoulder, leaning casually on a slender walking stick you’ve seen a Maasai. They are also well-known for their ability to jump straight up in the air. It is fascinating that such a culture still exists, little changed in 2000 years.

What the tourist brochures won’t show you is what life is like in the slums. The capitol city of Nairobi has two main slums, Kibera and Muthari. If you have Google Earth on your computer, type in Kibera Slum, Kenya. It is a large area filled in with a hodge-podge of tin roofs, instead of roads there are narrow passages throughout and hardly any trees or visible vegetation. It is nothing like any American slums I know of.

Also, at our first meeting, Jen handed out small notebooks, journals to record our thoughts, reflections and experiences. She asked us to write, as our first entry, what we thought and felt after watching the video.

I can’t tell you what I wrote, because I seem to have once again misplaced my little grey journal that traveled with me all those miles four years ago. As the first of thousands of people who will eventually read my story when I publish my book, this is one of those things that won’t make it to print. So, you better hang unto this blog. It could be worth something when I become famous.

Unfortunately, it also means I don’t know when I will blog again until I find that little grey notebook.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

“Another Letter Crisis”

After we were accepted by Life Missions, they e-mailed us a bunch of information, including how to send out letters asking for donations. The initial estimate they gave us was that the trip to Africa would cost approximately $2700 a piece. It is so weird asking people for money, but that did turn out to be the most lucrative way to raise the money.

We made our list of 140 people we were willing to send donation letters to and, within a week, e-mailed their names and addresses to Life Promotions. They would turn abound and address the envelopes, stamp them and mail them to us along with sponsor letters. All we had to do was put our personal note on the letter, stuff it in the envelope, and mail it.

A week or so later, Life Promotions sent us a message that they still had not received our list. I promptly sent it again. I was excited to get the letters out; December 31st was approaching and some people might want to make a donation before the end of the year for income tax purposes. Finally a package arrived.

I ripped it open and started paging through the pile of envelopes, not recognizing a single name. There were also only a few of their sponsor letters included. I called Life Promotions. Well, they couldn’t tell me right away what had happened, just asked me to mail the envelopes back to them with the correct names and addresses. I did that immediately, but by then it was December 30, so I told them just to send the letters and return envelopes. We would start addressing our own envelopes so that they would be ready to go..

We had missed the end of the year deadline, but as it so happened, the price of postage was going up on January 8 that year. Now, any of you who know me, know that I get a little wound up when things don’t go smoothly. Everyone else in my household was thinking, postage is only going up by two cents. I was thinking that adds up to two and a half dollars for all the letters we are sending out and it just isn’t going to look good to these sponsors for us to be wasting that kind of money.

I know, I get a little crazy at times.

Anyway, on Saturday January 7, the package arrived with lots of envelopes and lots of letters and for some reason – two cent stamps (which I still have some of to this day). I had a house full of helpers; my friend from Minnesota and her husband, my son and his friend, Val and her boyfriend. So I had them all stuffing and licking envelopes while Val and I were adding our personal notes and addressing the rest of the envelopes.

I sent my husband to town to mail the first batch and buy more 37 cent stamps. Remember this was before the United States Post Office came up with the Liberty stamp idea. In 2005, you got what you bought in USPS stamps. So Himey came home with a couple of books of stamps, and they were 39 cent stamps.

I completely freaked out. My poor husband puts up with more crap from me than you can imagine.

“It was the only kinds of stamps they were selling,” he tried to explain.

God kind of grabbed me and didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. I calmed down. That two cents per letter didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had family and friends supporting me and Val and caring about me even if I went crazy at times.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

“Aunt Hi” We found out on December 5 that we were going to Kenya the following August, but we didn’t tell anyone right away except of course my husband. The next day, work wasn’t too busy and everyone was finished by five for a change. It was quiet and I thought I would spend a few minutes cleaning my cupboards before I left for the day.

My phone rang, which since it was afterhours, probably meant it was a personal call.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Chris”, my mom was out of breath, emotional. “It’s Aunt Helen. “

“What is it?” I prompted her.

“I called for the ambulance, but I think she’s already gone.”

“I’ll be right there.” I threw my stuff back in the cupboard, grabbed my purse and headed out the door.

Aunt Helen’s apartment was five minutes away. I could’ve been home already and 15 minutes away, or on my way home and unreachable entirely when Mom had called. But there I was, nearby, when the call came.

My mom’s older sister, Aunt Helen had always been like a second mother to me, another grandma to my children. When he was little Nick couldn’t pronounce the name Helen, so he called her “Aunt Hi”. She had been there for me when I was going through my divorce and had been indispensable to both my mom and me when my dad’s Alzheimer’s got too much for us. Her life had not been easy though, in addition to her husband she had buried two sons.

The morning of December 5 she had been talking about changing her health insurance plan. She had lunch with her son. Later that day she was taking pictures off of her walls, getting ready for some painting that was going to be done. She sat down in her recliner and went to sleep. And never woke up.

She had a son who had lived in Alaska and she had traveled there several times. He and his wife had also taken her on trips to Hawaii and Europe. She was an inspiration to me; if she could travel all these places when she was in her 60s and 70s, I could certainly go to Africa in my 40s.

For years, my mom and Aunt Helen had been involved with the Ladies Aid at church. One of their undertakings was making quilts for World Relief. The end of September, they would lay all the colorful quilts across the church pews for the congregation to enjoy, before packing them in boxes for their long journey to third world countries.

At Aunt Helen’s funeral, Pastor talked of her purpose in life, raising her family, cooking at the school, and caring for her husband when he became ill. And in later years, making the quilts had been her mission. Wow, again God hit me upside the head.

I had been regretting the fact that I hadn’t gotten a chance to tell her about our trip. But now from her new home in heaven, not only did she know about the trip, she would get to go with us.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Letters of Recommendation"

One of those difficult things that we all have to do at some point in our lives is to ask people that we know to write a letter to an individual or an organization telling them that we are wonderful. I know I hate it when people ask me to do that. You want to say something original, yet be truthful and endearing without being sappy.

Being as this was a mission’s trip we were going on, instead of picking people that only knew our work ethic; we tried to pick people who also knew us from church or other religious venues. I chose one of the doctors I work with who had also been on a mission’s trip and one of the women who I had worked with while teaching Sunday School. Val picked a woman from my church who was the head of our youth group and the woman who led the youth group at the church she attended.

I want to just interject that I have belonged to a fairly conservative Lutheran church my entire life. Sometimes I wish it were more contemporary, but so many of the members have become like family that I can’t imagine going anywhere else. Val, on the other hand, like a lot of young people, wants a church that rocks.

She had been attending the youth group of a non-denominational church in town for a few years before we started planning for Africa. She went to church services on Sunday mornings sometimes, but never missed the Wednesday evening get-togethers. It was naturally an easy pick for her to ask the youth leader to write her a letter of recommendation.

Jen Bell, from Life Promotions, got both of my letters, along with one of Val’s letters, in a timely fashion. Val’s second letter, however, seemed to be missing in action. She checked with the woman who had written it and she said she had mailed it. A few days later, Jen e-mailed Val that the sealed envelope had arrived empty, no letter inside.

We decided to go to plan B, and I asked a different woman from my church to write Val a recommendation. They had worked together at Vacation Bible School and she had taught Val in Sunday School years before. It was a Friday morning, December 2, to be exact, and this woman took the time out of her busy day to type the letter up right away. I picked it up at her house and mailed it right away.

The following Monday, Jen called to say that she had received the last letter, our paperwork was finally all in order and we were accepted as members of the team. We were so excited.

But, like always, something weird happened, later that week I thanked the woman again who had written the last minute letter for Val. She said that the letter had come back to her, undeliverable, Stamped “address unknown”, the envelope had the same address that was on the rest of the letters.

So whose letter did Jen get? We never did find out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

“You’re never too old”

I have heard people say that God speaks to their hearts or lays something on their hearts. I don’t know. I may just be dense, but the only time God seems to be directly sending me a message, He has to smack me upside the head for me to get it. How many more signs did He have to send me that He wanted me to go to Africa?

Val kept bugging me. She had her heart and mind set on going and for some reason she thought it was imperative for me to go too. God must have figured out that if I wasn’t going to listen to Him, I would at least listen to my own daughter.

She went to Power of One that November and introduced herself to Jen Bell and learned some more about the trip. She came home with that information and her last plea that I should go with her.

I called Dave Bell, Jen’s husband, the next day with my list of questions. Yes, we would get our $250 deposit back if we backed out. Yes, a lot of parents went with their teenagers and it always proved to be a rewarding experience. Yes, the application deadline wasn’t until April 15, but they already only had a couple openings left for the July trip. He also remembered that Jen had met Val over the weekend and Jen thought Val would be a great addition to the team.

We got our applications in the mail two days later. In addition to the applications, Life Promotions requested two letters of recommendation. Which, of course, is a story all of its own.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

“Home for now”

We arrived home Sunday evening from Lifest 2005. The girls were all picked up by their parents; the borrowed ten-passenger van was picked up also. I cleaned my sister’s camper the next day and she came and picked it up.

Somewhere along the line, with all the unpacking and cleaning, Val pulled out a pamphlet.

“I got this at a booth that was selling baked potatoes,” she said. “They are taking a mission trip to Africa next summer and I think I want to go.”

I told her to just hang on for a second. I grabbed my backpack and pulled out the same brochure.

“See,” she said. “It’s meant to be.”

She had been on a mission trip to Mexico earlier that summer with her church’s youth group. She had traveled with a lot of the same kids we had taken to Lifest. It had been a good experience for her, but staying in a hotel on the beach wasn’t exactly the idea of going on a mission trip that I had. They worked with a lot of disadvantaged kids, though, helping out a local church and a local soup kitchen.

I knew that when she came home she wanted to some day take another such trip. We talked a while about the trip to Kenya. She went on line and researched it some more. I have to admit, I probably looked into it as much as she did, reading everything I could find on the internet about past mission trips that Life Promotions had been on.

She beat me to it though, when she e-mailed Jen Bell, the woman in charge of the upcoming trip to Kenya. Before I knew it, Val had her application filled out and was just waiting for my signature.

“Mom, I think you really should come with too.”

I don’t remember how she got it in her head that this is something that I even remotely wanted to do. Deep down, I guess I have always wanted to travel to a third-world country as a volunteer. But as I already told the guy in the baked potato booth, I was too old.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

“The Hand of God”

The last major event every year at Lifest is Sunday morning worship. Bob Lenz, the founder of Life Promotions which puts on Lifest, gives a stirring message. There is usually another speaker or two, and always lots of music. Music to sing to. Sure, they are all Christian songs, but not necessarily the ones our parents and grandparents sang to in church.

Along with the rest of my generation, I was raised on rock and roll. The ballads of Bread, America and Don McLean. Tear jerkers like Seasons in the Sun and the Blind Man in the Bleachers. Saturday nights, when the weather was right, way up in northern Wisconsin, my sister and I could pick up WLS out of Chicago on our AM radio. Even though we usually listened to WIFC, we thought that by hearing music coming out of Chicago, we were somehow on the cutting edge. And we sang to everything we could. It might be 20 years ago that I heard some of those songs, but I still remember all the lyrics.

On Sunday mornings, though, when I couldn’t listen to the radio because I had to go to church, I would sing along with Dad. On a lot of the old hymns, he would sing harmony, which would drive Mom nuts. She would give him dirty looks and he would just give her his half smile and shrug.

Unlike my dad, I never could sing worth a darn. But somewhere along the line, I decided that if I just sang loud, well, then the people around me would just have to sing louder to drown me out.

And that’s how it was at Lifest. I would sing along to most of the songs as if I was Whitney Houston, my voice cracking on the high notes and being off key the rest of the time. And even better was that it didn’t matter if I knew the words or not, because they had them up on the JumboTron.

On this particular Sunday, in the already warm morning sun, I was alone in the crowd, singing quietly for a change. But unlike the many strangers around me, their arms raised in praise over their heads, their faces turned skyward, I was looking down. My head shaking slightly from side to side, my eyes closed, I felt so inadequate. God has given me so much in my life, and what had I ever given back? What had I ever done in my life to make me worthy of so much as a passing gesture from the Almighty?

Then, suddenly, there were fingers under my chin, a warm strong hand turning my head heavenward. A voice saying plainly, “Look at me, let me see your beautiful face, my precious child.”

A chill ran down my spine (and still goes down my spine just thinking about this). I opened my eyes, looking all around and then finally upward. I couldn’t see anyone there, but that didn’t mean that no one was there.

I’ve only told a few people about this incident. You may think I am crazy. But I know that the hand of God reached down and touched me that day. His voice spoke to me, reminding me how much He loves me.

I don’t have to do anything to pay God back for all he has given me. There is no way I could ever even come close. But if I could go to a third world country and help those stricken by poverty, God would smile on me again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

“The Seminar”

One of my favorite things about Lifest has always been the speakers they have. Twice a day, on Friday and Saturday, they shut everything down and have six or eight different speakers set up all over the grounds, giving hour long seminars on all kinds of subjects. Most of the talks were geared towards youth, topics such as abstinence, self-esteem, making healthy choices. There were always a few speakers though who appealed to an older crowd, discussing keeping the love in your marriage or ministering to others. Jay Bakker spoke one year about what it was like being the child of mega-televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and how he survived the insanity of their downfall.

The speaker I remember the most – well – I can’t remember his name. I can recall however his entire talk. He spoke about how God has a plan for all of us. We may not see it at the time, but the most benign event that occurred years ago, turns out to be the catharsis that leads to something bigger, which leads to something even bigger. One tiny incident that you were barely even aware happened, you find out years later changed the life of a total stranger.

Or you look back at that day when you sent your son to a Christian concert and can clearly see how that is going to cause you to go to Africa.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Taking too many pictures”

This story may not seem to further my story about my trip to Africa, but it means something so I have to share it.

Does everyone remember the sitcom “Growing Pains” from the late 1980’s. I hardly ever even watched the show, but who can forget Mike Seaver, played by the teen-age heart throb Kirk Cameron. I was never into that kind of stuff, and by then I was well into my twenties and married. Kirk Cameron was too young for me anyway, closer in age to my nieces, Paula and Leann.

Kirk Cameron had become a Christian back then, even if it wasn’t well known until years later. In 2008, he made the low-budget movie “Fireproof”, but years before that he came to Lifest to speak.

He was listed as one of the headliners, sharing his message on the Main stage one afternoon. Earlier that day, he had agreed to a more impromptu, intimate talk just outside of his trailer. Of course, I went to it, me and only other women in their 30’s and early 40’s.

He talked about his faith and how he had come to be where he was in his life. I didn’t listen too much; I just stood there with my mouth hanging open, not believing how incredibly gorgeous he was. I was maybe 25 feet away, clutching my old 35 mm camera with its telephoto lens. I tried to pay attention to what he was saying, but if I looked at him too much, I just got weak in the knees. So, I just snapped a bunch of pictures instead.

Now, anybody who knows me should realize that I am not usually like that. No matter how rich or how good-looking or how famous someone is, we are all just the same. Nobody is better than anybody else. But for that one hour that one weekend afternoon, somebody was way better looking than anybody else I had ever seen.

Later that afternoon, I went to listen to Kirk Cameron on the Main stage. I got comfortable in my seat and fell asleep. I woke up not feeling too guilty, because I had heard him speak earlier – not that I remembered much of what he said – and I had taken all those pictures.

This was before digital cameras were the rage. My old 35 mm SLR had been a faithful friend for over 20 years. I didn’t need any fancy new fangled gadget to get the best photographs around.

The next week, I took my rolls of film in to be developed. When I got the pictures back, there were great shots of the different bands and speakers and our campsite. Not a single picture of Kirk Cameron. A whole section of the negatives in the middle of the roll was blank.

I don’t know. You can say that it was just a weird thing that happened, or that I was so flustered by being that close to this good-looking star that I forgot how to work my own camera. I just can’t help thinking that there was more to it than that. I think it was God’s way of knocking me upside the head, saying you have got to get your priorities straight and realize what really matters here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ok, no time to write tonight. So you just get a few pictures from Kenya when we were there in 2006. It means you have to keep following my blog so you can hear the stories behind these pictures.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

“The Baked Potato”

Lifest runs from the Wednesday after the Fourth of July through that Sunday. With over 20,000 people attending at some point during the five days, there needs to be a lot of food available. Even when we were camping out, there is only so much food you can bring with in your cooler, and you just have to purchase a few meals at some of the vendors.

As you can perhaps imagine, there are a lot of vendors. They serve everything from dippin’ dots to Krispy Kremes to pizza to ribs. If you get tired of typical fast food, just look around long enough and you will find any other kind of meal you have a taste for.

One day, as I was wandering around the grounds, looking for something different to eat, I stumbled on a booth selling baked potatoes. I instantly thought, “That sounds good. Something almost healthy and not too filling.”

I wasn’t paying too much attention as I ordered a potato with broccoli and cheese on it and paid for it. And then I stood there for what seemed like a long time, but since there were young kids manning the booth, I figured I could be patient with them. If I hadn’t already given them my money, I might have even walked away.

Finally, after what was probably only five minutes, an older man came up from behind the counter and asked if he could help me. I told him that I had already ordered. He talked to some kid behind him and reported back to me that no one had put in my order, but that it was in now and would be up in just a minute.

“While you’re waiting, why don’t you take a brochure,” he offered me a pamphlet.

It was for Life Missions and told about different groups that Life Promotions had put together to do missions work in India, South America and Africa. The baked potato booth was a fundraiser for future trips. I glanced at the information, said it was cool, and that I always wanted to do something like that, but that now I was too old.

The man, who was in his 60’s, laughed, “I’ve been on one of these trips. You’re never too old.”

My potato came out just then. I thanked the man, and he insisted that I take the brochure with me. I tucked it in my backpack, not thinking too much about it at the time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

“Finally -2005”

In 2005, well, it got a little bit out of control. Val had talked eight or nine of her friends into going with us to Lifest. I borrowed not only my sister’s larger popup camper but also someone’s full-size van. One of the girls’s brought her parent’s huge tent. Another woman was supposed to join us and act as a responsible adult, but she kind of just showed up to sleep in the camper and didn’t check up on the girls at all that I knew of.

The girls all did fine and there were no incidences, just me being crabby and stressed out because ours was the messiest campsite and I never saw anyone. In past years, we all spent some quality time together talking about our day and the bands we had seen or the speakers we had listened to, sharing something inspirational. We were family, if only for a couple days, so I felt that we should act like one. Instead, I spent my days mostly alone in the shade of a small tree near the family stage and crawled quietly into the camper after the last band was done playing at night.

Or that was how it felt. In retrospect, I spent time with lots of other people. Deb and Lisa, from past years, were there; they just had opted out of the camping and were staying in a hotel instead. The speakers were as awesome as ever and the bands were great, especially since I could see the performers I chose to, instead of the heavy metal band the girls dragged me to. I ran into the girls occasionally and it wasn’t like they were avoiding me at all.

But then all these other things happened that year. Little episodes that started adding up, pointing to another continent. I have to tell you, that of all the things that have ever happened in my life, I never felt God talking directly to me as much as He did that weekend.

I don’t think I am overly religious, but I know what I believe – that Jesus Christ is my savior and is by my side every day. And just because I don’t actually see him, doesn’t mean he isn’t there. That’s what faith is – believing what you don’t see.

But that weekend in July in 2005, it all changed. And it started with a baked potato.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

“Water, water everywhere but none to take a shower in”

My yearly trek to the Christian event, Lifest, grew each year. From just the four of us the first year, we grew in 2003 to five girls, me and a woman I work with and go to church with, along with adding her tent to our camper and my in-law’s Blazer. In 2004, there were, I think, the same number of kids and one more adult.

Both of those years, rains forced the event organizers to change around camping spots due to flooding in places. That wasn’t the only water problem.

Can you imagine a fairgrounds filled with over 10,000 people camping out for four days all trying to shower at some point throughout the day? Depending on the year and what facilities were open at any given time, an average of eight showers was available for each sex. Especially challenging when a lot of these participants were teenage girls, who don’t let sleeping in a tent and then jumping up and down in a mosh pit prevent them from their daily preening.

The first year we went, I got up around 7:30 the first morning and thought I would get in a quick shower, figuring that most of the girls on the grounds were still sleeping. Wrong, I waited in line for an hour and a half. I kept thinking that I should go back to the camp and come back later, but didn't know whether or not the line ever went away. By the next afternoon, I discovered that three o’clock in the afternoon or during one of the head line bands in the evening was the optimal time to shower. Unless you were exceptionally unlucky and the showers were closed for cleaning when you got there.

Of course, most years, it was hot and dusty during the day and warm and sticky at night, so it was kind of a toss up as to whether or not a shower was even ever worth it.

I will not even take you to the porta-potties.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

“Communication the Old-fashioned Way”

In 2002, the first time we went to Lifest, cell-phones were just starting to gain popularity. We had a “bag phone” for trips, the clumsy phone in a bag that had to be plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter. And that was pretty much just for emergencies. In general, you communicated from your house phone or, when out and about, possibly walkie-talkies.

I am sure that it was Nick’s great idea that we had to take walkie-talkies to Lifest. Somehow or other, he already knew that that was the preferred means of communications at a large festival. Perhaps, I had signed a consent somewhere along the line and he had been to a large festival already.

As it turns out, the two-way radios were really more for meeting new people than for staying in touch with your own people. We would agree on the channel we would find each other on, but when we went to call the other person, some total stranger was talking instead. Val was only 12 at the time, and Jacquelyn her friend was 13. I cannot believe that I turned them loose on a 40-acre plot of land filled with 10,000 strangers with a walkie-talkie which had the sole purpose of allowing them to meet some of those total strangers.

Like I already said, it felt so safe. I know I shouldn’t be so naïve; just because this is advertised as a Christian event and all the performers at one point or another share their faith, there is no guarantee that freaks and murderers wouldn’t pay the cost of admittance to have easy pickings of young girls. Nothing remotely bad happened, so as long as my mom doesn’t know about this, everything is cool.

Anyway, so the girls kept coming back to camp or to wherever we had agreed to meet at, to tell me about someone else they were talking to over the two-way radio. The funniest conversation, though, occurred right at our camper.

Val was telling someone on the walkie-talkie where we were camped at – Field of Dreams. The guy on the other end said, “So are we. Where are you from the big tree?"

Val answered, “Just a little ways away from it.”

“What kind of camper do you have?”

“An old popup camper, it is tan and our truck is red.”

“Then I think I see you.”

“No way,” Val answered. “Where are you?”

“Turn to your right.”

Val promptly turned to her left. She has never had any sense of direction and maybe it begins with not knowing her right from her left.

“Turn to your other right.”

Val and Jacquelyn turned to their other right and there were a group of kids about 30 feet away. I don’t even think they went and met them; they just sat down and giggled.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An Odd Start

My journey to Kenya began in November of 2001. Nick would have been 15 at the time and a sophomore in high school. He came home one day and asked if he could go somewhere with someone and I said sure, without really knowing where he was going or with who.

All of us parents have done it and all of you kids know we have. It’s not that we don’t care about what you are doing; we just can’t fit that information into our heads along with the other 25,000 pieces of information that we are required to carry around just to survive. And if you as a kid have a pretty good reputation around the house, no history of getting into trouble, when you bring home any kind of consent, we as parents are just going to sign it.

So it was that some Saturday morning in mid November, 2001, Nick jumped into somebody’s car and went to the Power of One concert in Green Bay. He had a good time and brought home a t-shirt, which I believe finally got turned into a rag just this past weekend.

Some months later, a flyer came in the mail for Nick. It was for Lifest, a Christian music festival sponsored by the same organization that puts on the Power of One concerts. Nick seemed to know all about it and really wanted to go. I looked into it a little bit and it sounded like it could turn out to be a nice weekend getaway.

We bought our tickets and a campsite. July 11, 2002, Nick and I packed up my husband’s old red extended cab Mazda pickup, our ancient popup camper, Val and her friend Jacquelyn and headed to Sunnyview Fairgrounds in Oshkosh.

Oh, my goodness, who would have ever thought that we would have such a good time. It was four days of over 100 musicians, comedians and speakers on six different stages. Sure they were all Christian acts, but who would really even know that rap and heavy metal could be Christian. We didn’t see too much of Nick; he had other friends that were there that he hung out with. Val and Jacquelyn were goofy 12-year-olds, but it was such a family friendly atmosphere that I totally felt ok with them being on their own.

I was hooked and ended up dragging Val and a various number of friends to Lifest for the next four years. And in 2005 that trip to Oshkosh would lead to a trip to Africa.