The school building also shares rooms where some of Elizabeth's family members live and help with the school. It has about 18 small “classrooms” (and apartment bedrooms) joined on three levels by interior cement steps. Bro. Isaac and Sis. Elizabeth raised their family in a comfortable African home and shamba high in the Kilungu Hills (she walks 1 ½ hours to the Ilima Branch every week, where she serves faithfully as relief society president – their youngest son just finished his high school and is preparing for a mission); and they started this school on the far outskirts of Nairobi (2 ½-hours-ride by matatu from their mountain village). Bro. Isaac attends his church branch in Nairobi where he lives because of his work.
Sister Elizabeth and her family do an amazing job of helping these children. School is out for the Christmas holiday but when we visited there were sewing machines set up in one classroom and some of the teachers were busily cutting out and sewing school uniforms. They bought a huge bolt of material with money from the students who were able to pay tuition and were sewing the uniforms to save money and help those who couldn't afford them. They feed the children each day with beans and maize they grow in their mountain shamba, and with help from some donors in Finland and America. For many of the children this is all they will eat in a day. As we saw the untiring dedication of this dear family, our hearts filled with loving gratitude that we are unable to express in words. “Count Your Many Blessings” came to our minds. It's hard for us to even imagine the poverty. We forgot to take our camera but Elizabeth's son took pictures and we will send them later.
Kilili and Mitini – Tuesday we visited Kilili to help prepare for the music and English Christmas program on Sunday. Students weren't quite as prepared as we hoped be but “The show must go on!” Sister Blake also tried on her African dress being made on a treadle sewing machine next door to the church. It fit just right but needed to be pressed and finishing touches added. Elder Blake told her go back to the church and forget about it for now. (Maybe it will appear under the tree for Christmas – who knows?) She'll have to start wearing it soon. Time in Africa is running out!
After class in Mitini on Wednesday a visit was made to the home of a recent convert, Edward. He was a school teacher and faithfully attends the new member class taught by Elder Blake along with up to 8 other convert village elders (ages 45-58). He has wanted his wife and family to join him at church but his wife had been hesitant. The last time he had invited Blakes to visit she had said “no.” This Wednesday he said she had agreed, so after class we started the drive down the hill to their home. We drove as far as possible and then hiked the rest of the way. Elder Blake fixed a walking stick for Sister Blake and then Edward helped make one for him. (These old senior missionaries are starting to forget their pride and realize they could use a little help walking up and down hills. Walking sticks are a big help!)
Some of the children walked up the hill to greet and welcome us. We could also tell someone had done a lot of work on the trail to make it easier walking. Edward's wife was very warm and friendly and had prepared a nice meal of beans and rice which she shared after which we showed “Finding Faith in Christ” on our little battery-powered DVD player. There was a strong supernal spirit there as the whole family watched quietly. He was so happy that his wife felt the Spirit; and she invited us to come again soon and show the Finding Faith in Christ DVD to her brothers and sisters and their families. She said, “Come again and we will eat together and you can talk to them about this 'good word of God.'” We hadn't been expecting such a warm welcome. What a special day. They all walked us up the long hill and carried a nice bag of avocados for us to take home. It's such a nice family. We'll also send the young Elders over to visit.
Primary Conference in the Rain! - Saturday morning we left Nairobi early to pick up the primary leaders and teachers in Mitini and take them down the hill to a 4-branch primary conference in Kyambeke. It was raining as we left home and continued as we traveled. The conference had been planned for a month, and the sisters were looking forward to being together to learn about next year's program, especially the new music. When we arrived in Mitini President Kaseve called to tell us he was walking up to the church and that the road was too bad for us to drive. He said, “You must be very careful; but his statement of faith was: I know you will make it.” We were concerned for safety but we also knew sisters were walking long distances to attend and we couldn't disappoint them by not being there. Elder Blake put on his gum boots and we started down the hill. Pres. Kaseve was right, the road was muddy impassible; but with prayer and Elder Blake's good driving we made it through with just a few problems, one being a primary sister who got car sick and “lost her cookies” two times on the way.
We were so glad we persevered as the sisters all showed up – all 24 from the four branches (except one we knew about early who was helping a sick grandmother). The sisters from the farthest away branch, Kilili, had taken motor bike taxis in the rain and mud to get there. Others had walked 1 ½ hours in the mud. What dedication! Their sacrifice made the conference even better. We enjoyed learning new music, planning together, and practicing activities in the new Sharing Time Outline for next year. And, you guessed it, we served peanut butter jelly sandwiches and banana bread. What a wonderful group of sisters. We just felt bad that we didn't get a picture of this first ever Kilungu Hills Primary Conference for all branches.
Kilili Music and English Program – Sunday finally arrived for the Christmas program in Kilili (after the 3-hour meetings block). The keyboard students each played two numbers, the conducting class students (in groups of three) lead the congregation in singing Christmas carols. The English students (mostly older grandmothers) gave a short choral recitation (“At Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior”), and ended the program by singing the first verse of “Silent Night” in English before the congregation joined in the last two verses. They stole the show and were so proud of themselves. It wasn't perfect but seemed to be enjoyed by the whole branch. What a fun experience! We started the three-hour trip home tired but happy and feeling blessed for heaven's help when we needed it. We know the Lord watches out for all his children (including missionaries) as we are in need and ask for his help, and then “move our feet” in faith.
Have a good and safe week preparing for Christmas!