In the last few weeks we celebrated Thanksgiving, traveled to Masa Mara for safari with Hannah’s parents, visited the homes of several new Kenyan friends, decorated for Christmas and continued work in and around the hospital.
By Drew Benac
I met Maureen the day before her surgery. She had a large pre-cancerous growth in a very personal location. It had become difficult for her to sit or sleep due to the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. She had sought medical care from various doctors but nobody was willing to take on her case. The Tenwek team found Maureen at a community outreach clinic where they prayed with her and offered to help care for her if she could make it to the hospital.
After several months of saving, Maureen eventually made the 5 hour trip to Tenwek with enough money to cover the initial costs for her hospital admission. Our surgical team saw her and made plans to remove the entire growth the following day. The large defect left behind would require moving a flap of skin from her thigh to allow for proper healing. This meant that the risk of wound breakdown or complications following surgery were high but complete removal was the only chance at curing her condition and preventing cancer from spreading in the future.
The surgery went well with an aesthetically pleasing end result but unfortunately half of Maureen’s wound broke down after the first week. The location of her flap, the sanitary conditions in the ward and her HIV+ status all created unique challenges for proper healing. The best way forward seemed to be twice daily dressing changes to allow the surgical site to heal from the inside out.
For the next two weeks, Maureen’s bandage was painfully changed morning and night, these times fraught with frequent tears and great anxiety for Maureen. It was during this time of praying with Maureen before each dressing change that a bond was formed and we began to hear more of her story.
Hannah heard about the case and asked if she could go pray with Maureen. The two became fast friends. Hannah gave her a Bible as well as a children’s Bible for her ten year old son that had been donated and they they began to study the Bible together. Maureen was certainly no stranger to suffering. An orphan at the age of 12, a long struggle with infertility, a diagnosis with HIV then eventual abandonment by her husband had all given Maureen good reason to run from the Lord but her faith continues to grow. She has been mentored by her God-fearing grandmother and now desires to teach her own son about the Lord and His ways.
Yesterday, Maureen walked out of the hospital after a one month stay. Before she left we were able to tell her that the cost of her hospital bill had been covered (in part by generous donations from you) and that the results from her surgery showed she was cancer free! She wept in her bed on the ward and we were able to pray and thank God for His provision and grace. This was truly an example of Jesus healing a women both inside and out. Maureen left Tenwek physically healed and spiritually encouraged. Before she left she came over to our house for chai and met our kids. What a sweet moment for us to have her in our home and pray with her before she went home. It was exciting for Hannah and I to team up in caring for a patient and we are thankful for the opportunity to partner with you and the entire team at Tenwek.
This case was a great reminder for us of what God has done in redeeming his children. He has completely paid the spiritual debts we couldn’t afford and removed our sin completely. We too have been set free from the cancer of our flesh and covered with the beauty of his righteousness.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Highlights from the last few weeks: Haircuts, Halloween in Africa, a trip to the countryside to visit a Kenyan farm, Drew’s parents coming to visit, continued work at the hospital and rainy season. Thanks for praying!
By Drew Benac ** revision from a recent post
Since the beginning of time, God’s people have always been broken. They repeatedly disown him, often neglect His commands and instead seek to walk in their own. Throughout history, they have known great struggle yet continue to experience God’s mercy and His blessing. Ezekiel tells the story:
“Thus says the Lord God, it is not for your sake that I am about to act but for the sake of my holy name…. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules….Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 36:22, 27-28, 36)
The same can be said of God’s people today, the global church. The end game for Israel then and for the Christian today is not our happiness but the holiness and Lordship of God’s name. His renown is more important than our reputation, His accomplishments overshadow our accolades and His plans superceed our precious ambition. This tension between my flesh and the fame of our Father has been on full display during our time in Kenya and I have found Pslam 51 particularly convicting.
“Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your way, and sinners will return to you.” (Psalm 51:10-13)
I hope that our time in Kenya so far has been characterized by “teaching transgressors” God’s ways while watching “sinners returning” to Him and in many ways I think it has. But I’ve been reminded more than ever lately that I came here both to teach and be taught, to see others return to Him but also to repent myself, to be blessed but be reminded in new ways of my own brokenness.
In coming, I see now all the ways I needed a cleansed heart, a less wayward spirit and a newfound understanding of the joy that comes from being saved by Christ. The order of this passage in Psalms is no mistake. Sharing the great news of God’s saving grace, what missions is thought to be all about, is most effectively done once a few prerequisites have been firmly established.
God knew my heart in coming here, how often it is divided and distracted by my personal desires rather than His best for my life. My spirit is shaky most days and far from steadfast. God’s presence is frequently an afterthought rather than my first thought. My attitude is one of self-pity instead of set on selfless service and my obedience is usually nonexistent or begrudging at best. The work God is doing has been slow and painful, yet good. “Creating” a new heart, “renewing” a broken sprit and “restoring” joy where discontentment once ruled is a God-sized undertaking and one that is taking some time.
“C.S. Lewis’ writing on God’s faithfulness in trials has meant a great deal to me lately in light of my struggles. Here are a few of his words from the book, The Problem with Pain.
“To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because he already loves us He must labor to make us lovable.”(pages 40-41)
I am thankful more than ever that He is working to make me more lovable and more like Him. I am deeply honored that he would go through the trouble of bringing me to Africa, a country of blessing and brokenness itself, so He could mold my character, create in me a clean heart, and not leave my in the imperfect place I inhabited just a few months ago.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow more like Him and humbled by God’s limitless love. It is my prayer that during this time of growth and great learning that He would continue to save and sanctity those around me despite my shortcomings. “Then they will know that [you] are the LORD.” May it be so!
It’s hard to believe that we have been here 2 months! We cannot thank each of you for the prayers, support and for tuning in on the blog from time to time to see and hear all that is going on.
We feel so honored to be here in Kenya and have faced both great joys and challenges in our time here so far. Our family often plays a game at dinner called “hi’s and low’s” where each person at the table shares both a highlight and low point from their day. With that introduction, here are some of the hi’s and low’s of our time at Tenwek so far:
1. The Boys are Thriving: Our boys love it here. They spend a good part of each day barefoot on the grassy field next to our house where playmates and good times are always to be found.
2. Tenwek Day School: Hannah taught Bible two days each week to a class of 60 Kenyan third grade students. They are on school break now and classes will resume in January.
3. Cancer Surgery: Drew has been able to do 8 major cancer cases so far and counting. We are thankful for the way God has protected each of his patients through their big operations.
4. Resident Education/Discipleship: Our family has really enjoyed having the residents oover to our house. The medial trainees here are hard working, kind and sincere people. Many of them have a strong and vibrant faith. It has been an honor to teach and work beside each of them.
1. The Mosquiteos: Bugs are for real here! We are taking medication to protect against malaria but have still been forced to adopt a 10-15 minute ritual of killing the 10-20 mosquiteos in our house every night before bed.
2. Learning to be Missionaries: We have met some of the coolest people living at Tenwek but have also experience the day-to-day challenges of communal living. There are many policies to learn and few things you actually have control over here. This has been an adjustment for us.
3. Travel Ban: Drew’s parents had to delay their trip by a month due to civil unrest related to the recent Kenya national election. If all goes well they will arrive this week! We are so looking forward to having visitors and are thankful for God’s protecting in keeping us safe.
All in all we have seen God’s faithfulness in amazing ways. Please continue to pray for our last two months here. To allow for adequate transition time will be arriving back in the states Dec. 28th instead of early January as originally planned. We are thankful to be here and so thankful for all of you!
Before this experience of living in Kenya, I had my assumptions about life on the mission field…probably all the wives homeschool, make their own bread, beautifully quote scripture to their children throughout the day, and feel completely fulfilled in their work of caring for the poor. I never would have admitted my presumptions out loud, but lets be honest, we all tend to idealize lives we don’t know much about.
In all seriousness though, I have now seen that these families that have moved across the world for the foreseeable future are truly heroic. The day-to-day struggles are difficult and here’s a reality check… more often than not, it doesn’t necessarily feel very fulfilling. What has surprised me the most is that the physical inconveniences of living in a developing country you adjust to rather quickly. While it is annoying to have to walk up the hill to fill up your jugs of drinking water; it simply becomes a way of life. However, the far more difficult battles rages on the emotional and spiritual side of things. The isolation and discouragement that comes with living across the world from all that is familiar is very real. A good friend who is a missionary in Peru recently told me that the mission field is a strange paradox- you are never actually physically alone but have never felt lonelier. So far I have found this to be true. Getting a taste of life as a missionary overall has revealed to me just how lazy I have been to pray for, encourage and reach out to those I have known in the past who have sold all they own to answer this call. God has recently opened my eyes to the fact that He has given me a unique opportunity to get a first hand look into what life is really like for missionaries and this insight is not to be wasted.
My challenge to us as the church (speaking first and foremost to myself) is to more intentionally support those that have said yes to the challenge of being strangers in a foreign land for the sake of the gospel. Could we, as the body, be more proactive to pray, write letters, send care packages, emails, and/or schedule Facetime calls with those overseas? With all the technology we have available it is definitely much easier to communicate than it used to be. Can we consider this a blessing and use all our avenues of communication for God’s glory by adopting a family to correspond regularly with? Let me just tell you that getting something as simple as a card in the mail feels like Christmas morning here… especially for kids. It is a little taste of home and brings such comfort to the soul.
So where to start? Here’s a few rough ideas (many of which were contributed by the women who live right next to me here at Tenwek):
- Decide who you want to be a part of your mission to adopt a family (kept within your own family, with your small group, with a group of friends etc.)
- Contact your missions pastor or missions board at church. Ask what missionaries your church supports and if you can get contact information for one of them. You may already know a family personally who is on the mission field…even better! Start with them. Shoot that family an email and let them know that you’d like to be pen pals of sorts with them. Ask them questions such as: what the best way to communicate with them is, information about their family, prayer requests and what their current needs are.
- Once connected with a family, involve your kids in this process- this is the perfect opportunity to talk with your kids about the world and what people all over are doing for the kingdom. Pull out a map, google pictures of the place your adopted family is living, and post a picture of this family on your fridge (many families have prayer cards they can send you with a picture) as reminder to regularly pray for them. Find out what people group they are ministering to and pray specifically as a family for them. Have your kids draw pictures, pick out stickers, and write notes to send in letters.
Here’s a couple of good books to help introduce your kids to the concept of missions:
– The Whole World Needs Jesus
– Mommy, What is a Missionary?
- Consider sending a care package a couple times a year to supplement your letters and emails. There are so many things we take for granted in the States that just aren’t easy to come by depending on where your family is located (ie: in Kenya childrens medications, scotch tape, birthday napkins, finger paints, specific spices for cooking and on and on I could go). Find out from your contact family what their needs are, take a family trip to Target and then to the post office to send it (another great lesson for your kids!). Another option is to find out if/when your church taking a trip to see this family and send a package with them to hand deliver.
- Consider having your home be a place where missionary familes could come stay while they are at home on furlough if needed. Think about what an amazing opportunity for your family to hear firsthand about life in another country as your kids play and you share meals together. Be mindful that missionaries also may have other needs while they are back in the U.S. since they have sold all they own. Consider loaning out a car for their use and even inviting them to play dates in the community if they are there for an extended period of time.
- Be a voice within your church for missions to be a topic of conversation. Invite your “adopted family” to speak at your church if they are in your city. Talk with your children’s pastor about teaching a Sunday School unit on missions to kids. These topics are important and not always discussed within the church.
- Have your family “live like a missionary” for a day – cook everything from scratch (maybe even ask a missionary family what some of their favorite recipes are so you can try them for yourself), wash all your dishes by hand, pretend there’s a power outage all afternoon and you can’t use the internet.
- Watch and see how this opens your own eyes and the eyes of your kids to the world. It is truly amazing! One of the sweetest moments since we’ve been in Kenya is that both Lane and Cooper have started saying “Thank you God for the world” in their prayers. That’s all the evidence this mama needs to keep reaching beyond American boarders to give my kids a bigger taste of our big God.
A few days ago I sat outside watching our kids play with another mama who lives right above me. She shared a sweet story of how a small group from their home church decided to “adopt their family” last Christmas. They contacted them, found out their needs, pooled their money together and sent several care packages to their family. She expressed what a blessing and lifeline that was to them as they had been in Kenya for about a year and were running out of many vital things they had brought with them (such as children’s medications). My prayer is that stories like this one would be all the more common amongst missionaries everywhere.
A conversation I have had often with friends with young children at home is “how do I serve when my kids are little?” I hope this can give you a way that is easy, inexpensive, and an awesome learning opportunity for your kids. These small acts communicate to those overseas that they are not alone and will do more to encourage them than you can imagine. Lets keep working to be mission-minded families.
p.s. Please contact me if you have questions or need help getting connected with a family. Also if you choose to do this, will you let me know? It would encourage me so much to know this message is being spread.
We recently had the chance to go on safari as a family. This was an incredible experience; the wildlife and scenery were amazing! Lots of cool pictures too. In the last several weeks we celebrated both of the boy’s birthdays and our 9 year anniversary. Work at the hospital continues to go well with lots of complicated cases and several surgeries for patients with GYN cancers.
Meet Mercy. At the age of 23, a large cervical tumor and incessant bleeding had forced this young women out of a job, forbade her from any relationship and left her in a state of constant fear. Her life, once filled with great hope and promise is now characterized by shame, torment, humiliation and despair. Tumors like this don’t come about overnight, but rather they are the result of sexually transmitted viruses acquired 10-12 year prior. That’s a math problem that nobody wants to solve and I’m sure you can imagine what this must have meant for Mercy’s upbringing and and adolescent years in her remote Kenyan village.
Mercy came to Tenwek because her low blood counts and severe bleeding had made it difficult for her to walk. The diagnosis of cervical cancer could be made from the door by odor alone but nonetheless we took a tissue biopsy and waited the 10 long days for the results to come in. Every day on rounds Mercy was the same. She starred at the floor, never made eye contact, spoke in a whisper or not at all, and sat lifelessly in her bed on the ward The biopsy returned as expected – AGGRESSIVE CERVICAL CANCER. We informed Mercy of the results, and that because of the size of the tumor, her best treatment option was radiation therapy at a facility 4 hours away.
Days turned to weeks and Mercy never left the hospital. Her family was unable to pay the $1000 outstanding balance on her hospital bill in order to be released. Mercy lacked any form of government insurance to assist with the payment of her past or upcoming treatments or even any documentation to support her Kenyan citizenship. It was quickly becoming clear that Mercy would not be receiving her radiation treatments and would assuredly die from her disease.
So we prayed with Mercy, asked God for guidance and decided to change the plan. Surgery for Mercy would certainly be difficult and dangerous given the size of the tumor but it gave us the best chance to extend Mercy’s life. With $400 that you donated we were able to pay for Mercy’s surgery and hospital recovery. Her operation went remarkably well and the tumor was resected!
In the days that followed her surgery I was able to talk to Mercy more on the ward. She was different and something had changed. She smiled each time that I saw her and her strength was returning day by day. Three days after surgery Mercy informed my resident and I that she had recently become a Christian through the ministry of the hospital chaplains and she asked us to find her a Swahili Bible. Incredible! She went on to say that she had given up on life before coming to Tenwek and had now found new life in Christ.
Today Mercy has a bible that sits beside her bed. She looks into your eye when she talks; she looks straight ahead when she walks and doesn’t look down. She often visits other women on the ward and can usually be found laughing and smiling in the halls (see picture above). Mercy still needs more treatment but it’s unlikely that she will get it. There is a good chance that years from now she will still die from her disease. Three-quarters of her hospital bill has been paid by charitable donations from you and the social work department at Tenwek. Her family is doing fundraising in their hometown to raise the $350 that remains. Once Mercy is discharged we will work to get her a national insurance card to assist with the remaining treatments but the cost will likely still be prohibitive; all of this a harsh reminder of the brokenness of our social and health care systems both here and at home.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead.” -Ephesians 2:4-5
Our current TENWEK team
Praise be to God that he sent his son into the broken, lame and lifeless world that we live in; and He changed it forever. Death is not the end for Mercy or for those that call on the name of the Lord…it is merely the beginning. And until that time comes I hope you can find great joy in knowing that God has restored hope, dignity and an abundant life worth living to at least one 23 year-old Kenyan girl. Thanks for being part of everything we are doing.
Here are some photos from our recent trip into Nairobi to restock on supplies. We saw lots of local wildlife along the way. Hannah has been teaching preschool here at the hospital and also teaching Bible in the local Kenyan elementary school. Our family has started volunteering at a local orphanage on Saturdays. We also found scooters for the the boys at a missionary garage sale and they have been riding them everywhere!
I thought I might give a little insight into what our days looks like here now that we’ve been her a little over a month. The boys and I are starting to get in a rhythm- On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have started teaching a 3 year old preschool class for the missionary children. There are five 3 years olds (including Cooper who will be 3 in a few weeks). This is the 3rd week I’ve been teaching them and they are starting to get the hang of our schedule and gelling together as friends. We do calendar time, letter of the week, color of the week, snack, craft and singing. They are a sweet group and I can tell Cooper really loves having “his own class” and is so proud of all he is learning. During this time, Lane goes with Krista (wife of a family practice doctor here) with 3 other 4&5 year olds and they do a kindergarten social studies curriculum and have playtime. I also do kindergarten reading and math with Lane and another little girl Charley on Wednesday afternoons. On other days we play outside, hike down to the waterfall, do crafts inside (I really never used pinterest until I moved here!) and of course…our life saver legos! We are getting to know all the long term missionary families here more everyday and are looking for opportunities to encourage them in any way possible- it is not easy to move your family overseas and homeschool your children full time!
Recently an opportunity fell in my lap to teach Bible 2 days a week in a Kenyan school right up the road from the hospital. This has been a highlight for me as it gets me off hospital campus for a bit as well as introduces me to local life in the surrounding areas. I’m currently in a classroom with 60 (yes 60!) 3rd graders crammed onto benches who only have a pen and some tattered books. Such limited resources and so many children is definitely stretching my creativity as a teacher but they are sweet and respectful and always very excited about anything we do that day. I am following the schools curriculum but have complete liberty to teach it how I want. My favorite part of everyday is when I read them whatever Bible story we are learning from The Jesus Storybook Bible and we discuss how every story points back to Jesus (if you don’t have this Bible for your kids please stop reading this now and go order it! It’s the best!) It just so happened that today’s lesson was the story of the cross- what a privilege to be able to share the truth with them that Jesus loves them enough to die for them and true life is found in Him. Please continue to pray I can communicate these stories clearly and give these children a better understanding of the gospel each time I go.
Drew is getting more acclimated to the hospital. He has 2 days a week where he operates and the others he is in clinic. He has Kenyan medical residents with him that he is teaching as he goes and has really enjoyed that aspect of the work here. He comes home for lunch most days and does call from home so that is really nice change from residency. There are definitely days where he feels overwhelmed (see previous posts) by all that he is seeing and the shear amount of loss that happens here but I’m so proud of him and how he is stepping up to the occasion and turning to the Lord in each moment of weakness. The care at Tenwek is much more compassionate and dignifying to women than most government hospitals as they see many woman who have come in mistreated or ignored when seeking medical care elsewhere. Definitely continue to pray for him as he’s tackling some pretty tough surgical cases.
Finally, we are asking prayer for the presidential election being held in Kenya on October 26th. Kenya already had an election on August 8th but the supreme court decided to nullify the results due to corruption in the voting process. Kenya does have a history of rioting and violence during elections so we will be under a travel ban for most of October. – this complicates things as this is right when Drew’s parents were supposed to come. This also makes it more difficult to get food/supplies etc as Nairobi is the main place we get all of that and we won’t be allowed to go. You can specifically be praying this election would pass peacefully as there is a high likelihood people will not be happy no matter what happens since the first election was nullified. We are learning a lot of adjusting to the ways of 3rd world countries and how there’s really nothing you can do except pray!