Meet Florence

This morning's post comes to us from Patrick Mbugwa- the Spiritual Counselor at Kiganjo Center in Nairobi. The current class at Kiganjo will be graduating from the program in just a few weeks. 

Florence Kathini (35), came to the center with her mother. When she joined the programme she wanted to bring the mother to me to disclose her HIV status to the mother. The mother was caught up, however, and didn’t make it. So she has been waiting for her to travel about 300km all this time. And it happened on Saturday 22nd August. 

At just five months into the programme a lot has changed. The Florence, once very weak, is robust in health. She was jobless then but is now moving on well with life earning few coins now as a house help. We enrolled her one week after being tested positive – by the way, it’s the lady that tested her who referred her to us. She did not understand what life would mean to her; she had been very battered by life. Tears kept streaming down her cheeks as she tried to cope with her situation. Now she is hopeful; she smiles big, she speaks about future and her children’s education. She has even recommitted her life to Christ.

Courageously she disclosed her status to her mother who is 70 years old. Today she brought her to the center to introduce her to me and tell her about our programme.  Readily we received her but the attitude of the mother toward her daughter encouraged us the most. It underscored the importance of psychosocial and family support that every client needs.

Although the mother is also involved with HIV patients and orphans in her village in Kitui, the support, encouragement and advice she showed revived Florence’s heart. When she is hopeful I am even more hopeful for her children; Jacqueline Kathemba (16), Faith Mawea (8), Joshua Mwenzi (3) and Laurie (new born).

I Was Impacted

November 19, 2015 

This morning's post comes from guest author Jodee Hunger, a recent Impact Trip participant. 

“When you get home, what will you tell your friends about this Impact Trip in 30 seconds or less?”

That was the question our new best friend, host, guide, and CARE for AIDS (CFA) African Operations Director, Ryan, asked on the last evening in Kenya’s Mara Naiboisho Conservancy. Under the stars and circled around a bonfire, our traveling group of eight Americans pondered our response and reflected on our time together.

Meanwhile, a Masai guard stood nearby with a tall spear watching for wild animals in our midst. All eighteen eyes locked on the dancing campfire flames. The short answer was, “It was amazing, thanks for asking!”

But really, how would I convey all that I have treasured up in my heart? How would I share about the people I met, what I saw, how I felt about what we experienced? Like the day we visited Jane—a precious woman in her 40s, bedridden and abandoned by her family who live just feet away.

To them, Jane is invisible because of her HIV/AIDS status. She lives in a space less than half the size of a shipping container. There is no electricity. The open door provides the only light. Further, there is no formal system of sanitation or clean water.

To reach her quarters, we walked for several minutes along a dusty slope. Her home is off the better-traveled paths and far from community, but our CFA guides, Mbugua, Bosco, and Kate, knew the way. Our mouths became chalky with dust. We passed a schoolyard where children ran to the barbed-wire fence to see the “muzungus” (white people). Yelling “muzungu, muzungu,” they waved with excitement and stood at the fence staring until we were out of sight.

When we reached Jane’s rusting, corrugated iron home, we waited while she made herself presentable. We noticed how Jane’s door had been used like a message board to greet visitors, proclaim her faith and do a little accounting, too. Barely visible, scratched on the thin sheet metal wall adjacent to her front door, were the words “As for me and my house…” The rest had faded, but we knew the ending, “…we will worship the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15). 

Minutes later we were face-to-face. Jane sat on her pallet and greeted us with a smile so big, it illuminated the dimness inside. Jane’s eyes were bright despite her frail and failing frame. They twinkled with delight and gratitude for our visit. Her countenance was radiant. I felt like a visiting dignitary. She couldn't stop smiling, and neither could we. We were the only visitors Jane would receive until the next CFA staff-member visits her, bringing a weekly parcel of food, counseling and care. Where does Jane’s hope come from? We knew already. From The One she worships, JESUS. It was written on the outside wall of her home, and treasured in the hidden places of her heart. 

So what do I say to the friends and family who ask about our trip? I remember this—the conversation with our senior pastor before the trip. He said to my husband and me, “CARE for AIDS is THE BEST ministry model I’ve EVER seen, hands down!”

At the time, we nodded politely. Truth be told, I figured it was one of many wonderful ministry models in a long line of many wonderful ministry models. But, “THE BEST?” A little over a week after being home, I could think of little else but the trip. I went to bed thinking about it and I woke in early, pre-dawn hours thinking about it. And now, more than four weeks since, images of CARE for AIDS staff, clients, Kenyan children, people, places and experiences interrupt my thoughts.

During this time, I finally framed up an answer to Ryan’s campfire question. When people ask about our trip, my best response goes something like this:

Going on this trip was never even on my radar…but that’s a story for another day. I am amazed at what God does and this was no exception. I hope that in going some sort of difference was made. Some things we think we know, but we don’t really until we SEE. It’s a head and heart thing and the synchrony that happens with personal experience.

Now what? Some ask. I don’t know. That part is still untold. I can tell you this; I am excited to see what unfolds. This trip, this experience, was powerful. It was challenging. It was moving. Above all, it was meaningful. Sure, I can tell you about it. I can show you photos, over 3,000 of them. But more than anything, I need you to know, CARE for AIDS, fueled, powered and centered on Christ, is literally and figuratively caring and aiding with an “A-team” and an “A-game” on the ground in Kenya. I could tell you my story, but I’d like to hear yours. Maybe you should consider going.

A Plan Interrupted

This past weekend, I was supposed to run a half marathon. I had signed up almost 9 months ago for a race in Orlando, had trained (semi) faithfully, carefully set out all my gear for the race and mentally prepared myself for the long 13.1 mile trek around the Walt Disney World property, through theme parks and finally to the finish line and after party. 

I‘ve run quite a few races in the past few years, but I was especially excited about this one. It would be my first night time half marathon and I was looking forward to possibly setting a personal record for my half marathon time, not to mention there was the Disney Wine and Dine Festival waiting for me at the finish line. But as we stood in line to check our gear bags at the start line, something happened. Lightning. Thunder. Rain. Obviously this was not in the plan, and as the race organizers herded the 20,000 runners into a nearby building to let the storm pass and announced the race would be shortened six miles, we were all frustrated with the interruption in our plans.

As annoyed as I was in the moment, being a few days removed from the situation provides me with a little perspective. As I sit in my comfortable house this morning, I'm thinking about the families we serve in Kenya. No one understands the frustration of an interrupted plan better than our clients at CARE for AIDS. When an individual finds out they have HIV/AIDS, all the plans they have for the future suddenly get thrown out the window. Plans for children’s futures are replaced by fears of leaving children orphaned. Plans for a better job are replaced with worry that an employer will find out their status and they’ll be fired. Plans for a long, healthy life are replaced with the fear of death. 

As frustrating and outright scary as AIDS is, plans for the future don’t have to be abandoned. CARE for AIDS helps our clients navigate and thrive in the face of very real uncertainty that HIV/AIDS brings to their lives. Through our partnerships with the local church, we get to help restore not only the individual, but the entire family’s physical, emotional and spiritual hope for the future. We get to help our clients put their plans back into place.

After the storm cleared, my half marathon was eventually started. Despite the interruption, we had a great run, and I actually set a PR for my 10k time. The night, and my expensive entry fee, was redeemed. It was not the win that I had in mind before the storm, but a win none the less. I can’t help but think that a lot of our clients have a parallel experience. A plan interrupted, but through the grace of God, redemption and a different, and often more wonderful victory in the end.

Stay Focused

November 12, 2015

A few months ago, I started a series talking about the culture we are trying to create and preserve within CARE for AIDS. We identified six behaviors that could easily be recognized and celebrated within our organization. I have taken a short hiatus from the blog in the last couple months, but I want to pick up discussing another key behavior – stay focused.

One of my earliest convictions in ministry was that CARE for AIDS would not go the way of so many well-meaning organizations that came before who lost their way. In his book Mission Drift my friend, Peter Greer, says this, “Leaders often first ask what, then move to how, and finally transition to why. The ordering really matters. Everything flows from why. Not only does it motivate others to join you, it also guides what you do – and often more important – what you don’t do.”

The needs and opportunities today are so numerous that if you first ask, “What can we do?” you may find yourself doing a lot of activity but not creating much impact. If you start with “why,” your “what” will be intentional and focused. Bill Hybels calls it your “white-hot WHY” that creates purpose and passion in an organization. At CARE for AIDS our white-hot why is twofold: 1) Sharing the Gospel with those living with HIV/AIDS and 2) Preventing children from being orphaned by HIV/AIDS. This white-hot why not only informs our work in Kenya but also here in the U.S. There are many more opportunities to promote CARE for AIDS here in the U.S. than we could ever pursue, so we try to choose the activities that help us go further faster towards our why.

So, what can you do stay focused? Each year, our team creates the following three things as we do our annual planning:

1.     Picture of the future –the vision that produces passion in us

2.     Priorities – areas of specific concern or importance that need to be addressed to achieve that desired future

3.     Plan – strategies and tactics to move towards that preferred future

Along the way, we are continuously asking ourselves questions that allow us to assess if we are staying focused and adjust as needed:

- Why are we doing this?

- What are we trying to accomplish?

- What does success look like?

At CARE for AIDS, there are so many things that we could do but that doesn’t mean we should. In a world with so much suffering and need, it is so hard to stay focused on what we have been called to do, but we continue to trust that God will call others to do what we cannot. We know that if we try to do everything, we won’t do anything well.

“Focus” happens to be my top strength on the Strength Finder assessment, so I often take for granted that this may not come as naturally for other leaders. But, as with most strengths, they can be either be leveraged for good or manifest in a negative way. In my case, focus and awareness must live in balance. John Maxwell said, “Leaders see everything but focus on the important things.” We must not become so fixated on one idea that we fail to see what is going on around us.

“A failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.” – Daniel Goleman

Do you have a clear picture of the future, personally and professionally, that brings clarity and focus to your life?


Leadership Is (Part 3)

This is the third and final blog in a series about attributes of good leadership. You can read up on the first two descriptions of leadership (indigenous and inclusive) here and here

The last two descriptions live in tension with one another- I believe that good leadership is both inventive and intentional. Lets start with intentional. There is the theory called the Flywheel Theory that applies perfectly to this principle - imagine pushing a large flywheel through one rotation. Creating the first bit of momentum takes an immense amount of effort, and it takes a certain number of rotations to reach the point of inertia where the flywheel will spin itself. In leadership terms, it takes a long push in the same direction to create a functioning work culture that will eventually run itself. At first, this is extremely difficult, but as time goes on, once you establish a solid purpose and culture, the flywheel spins itself. 

I had an internship in college where I worked under a great leader who unfortunately lacked the understanding of long-term intentionality. Every quarter our organizational priorities seemed to shift- there was no hard work being done to steer the flywheel in the same direction to create inertia. It only took me a few months as an intern to see how damaging this lack of intentionality was on the team. As goals shifted and strategies changed, the staff eventually became disengaged and embittered because of the lack of consistency. 

Under the umbrella of a long term intentionality, though, leaders have to be inventive and willing to hold specifics loosely. I wrote a post about this principle earlier this year based on a great podcast episode by Andy Stanley.  If you are willing to walk the tension between long term intentionality and inventiveness, I think there is an incredible sweet spot where a team will thrive.