Jim’s Take on African Road Rules

So many of you have asked me what a mission trip to Africa is like. I wanted to share with you Jim Shelburne’s blog of his recent trip there with me.  Jim is one of our great supporters at CRF and such a great encouragement to me. And he is also a good writer. He preaches at the Washington Avenue Christian Church. The experiences of his journey will inspire you . Maybe he will motivate you to go with us next time.



On this fifth day in Africa we did not drive many total miles, but the ones we drove were on absolutely the worst roads I’ve ever traversed. The mountain roads in this region are dirt, Continue reading

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Eruli I School in Bungoma, Kenya with Jim

So many of you have asked me what a mission trip to Africa is like. I wanted to share with you Jim Shelburne’s blog of his recent trip there with me.  Jim is one of our great supporters at CRF and such a great encouragement to me. And he is also a good writer. He preaches at the Washington Avenue Christian Church. The experiences of his journey will inspire you . Maybe he will motivate you to go with us next time.



Tuesday begins early at the Bungoma Tourist Hotel, where we wake up wondering if during the night we’ve contracted Malaria, then decide not to think about it.  Travis and I vote on whether or not to risk the “shower of horrors” (see my earlier blog “Heartbreak Hotel”) and decide that it’s early in the week and we can skip the shower today.  Later, no one in the van complains, which means either that everyone else skipped the shower also, or we just don’t smell that bad, yet. The week is still young. A mercifully-short-but-tooth-loosening-drive down rural roads to the Eruli I School finds us rolling by the fenced and gated compound of said school in less than an hour. The instant we are seen, it is as if the schoolyard explodes in a frenzy of gleeful shouting and waving, hundreds of children reacting to the mere sight of our minivan matutu and LandCruiser Continue reading

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Emmanuel’s Funeral

My dear friend Emmanuel died. Here is what I shared at his funeral. I know many of you have prayed for him and support Emmanuel’s Kids (thousands of Aids, famine and war orphans in Kenya).  I was asked recently to tell more about him so maybe this will help you know him better.

Memorial from Milton Jones for Emmanuel Namunyu.

I want to thank you for letting me share in this memorial time. I am grateful for my great friend and brother, Francis Bii, for telling my thoughts and speaking for me. I know he will communicate well and represent my thoughts as well as that of CRF.

My love and comfort is extended to all of you here. I wanted to send you my condolences.  Christian Relief Fund, CRF, and I send our greatest sympathies to Alice and all of the family, the children of Eruli and Milton Simotweet, to all the church members, and to the friends who gather in this time of reflection and memory. We are so thankful for the way Emmanuel was an exemplary leader for CRF in helping to serve the lost and the least.

Emmanuel was a great husband, father, educator, pastor, and so much more.

He was named appropriately. He was even born on Christmas Day.  When Emmanuel was in our presence, we were reminded that God was with us.

I’ve never met a better man than Emmanuel. He was my friend. One day he told me that we were just alike. I have never had a better compliment. I love him. I will miss him immensely.

My friend Jared Odhiambo told me that we are supposed to look at this world through the lens of James 1:27 where God tells us that true religion is about helping orphans and widows. Emmanuel did this better than anyone I know. Anytime we had to make a decision together, he would remind me– “It’s all about the children.”

He saw the world differently. There was a gleam in his eyes that was absolutely unique. It seemed that he was seeing things that other people were missing. His look was otherworldly. It was as if he were seeing into a realm of God that the rest of us hadn’t seen yet. And now he sees the Master face to face. What before was a preview for Emmanuel is now the ultimate reality. Emmanuel is with Emmanuel. He is saved.

Let me tell you how I met Emmanuel.

I was sitting in a CRF clinic that had just opened at the Ring Road Orphan’s Day School in Kisumu, Kenya. We had been working for about four years trying to build this little clinic that would help mainly with AIDS victims but also treat malaria, tuberculosis, bilharzia, cholera, and other diseases. I was told that a man had made a very long journey to meet with me because he heard that I helped children.

I invited him in to talk to several of us about his plight. He told us that he was a former schoolteacher and had started a little school that he called Eruli School. He was from a place near Bungoma. He told the story of how he was personally trying to take care of 126 children who were AIDS orphans. He had a small pension from teaching school and a little farm. But with the famine, his crops were just not enough to feed the children. As a result, the children were starving. He did not know what to do with them. So he continued teaching them about Jesus and praying. When he heard that I was in Africa, he took the journey to talk to me. It was hard to believe the incredible story of “Emmanuel’s Kids.” So I checked with Jared Odhiambo who had been there to confirm if his tale was true. It checked out. It was true.

With much remorse, I told him that Christian Relief Fund was not expanding and starting new works. Because of the great recession in the United States, we had lost sponsorships and money. As a result, we were trying to get new sponsorships for old works and children rather than for new kids. So basically, I told him “no”.

Then he thanked me. Even though I didn’t help him, he thanked me. And he asked if he could pray for us. He said that it must really be hard for us in the United States. So he prayed fervently that the Lord would bless us and help us through all the hard times we were going through in the U.S. Our bad times were nothing in comparison to his—but it didn’t matter to Emmanuel. He was gracious—and thankful.

Then we offered to buy him a bus ticket home. He said that he didn’t want to take money from us if we were in a recession. I insisted.

Then I remembered his name—Emmanuel–that means “God with us.” I was looking into the eyes of Jesus. It was totally what Jesus talked about in Matthew 25—as you do to the least of these, you do to me.

That’s when I realized that when you help Emmanuel Namunyu, you are helping Jesus.

I have never seen anyone on this earth more like Jesus. I have never met anyone who cares for children more than Emmanuel. When I last preached at Eruli, I said that Emmanuel is the hero of Africa. And he is my hero too.

CRF has changed. We help “Emmanuel’s Kids.” His ministry has expanded to touch thousands of orphans at Eruli, the new high school, and Milton Simotweet by Mt. Elgon. His work may have been slow in starting but now it is among the biggest of the Christian Relief Fund works around the world.

His ministry will continue long after his death. He told me that his desire was to give the leadership of his ministry to his son, Wesley. Wesley will continue to walk in Emmanuel’s footsteps. Wesley’s leadership is also my desire. And CRF will continue to work with Wesley as we have with Emmanuel. Certainly Wesley will need help from all of us here whether it is the family, co-workers, or children. But I believe in Wesley and know that we will see Emmanuel’s ministry continue in the same direction.

Most of all, Emmanuel taught me how to give thanks. When I didn’t help him, Emmanuel gave thanks. When I ultimately helped him with his many children at Eruli, he gave thanks. When I came to visit for the first time, he had all the children say “Thank you” to me over and over again. It must have lasted for 10 minutes. It was a foretaste of heaven. When I last heard him speak at church, he came to the stage and said to me, “Thank you. Thank you a hundred times. Thank you a million times. Thank you a trillion times.”

Paul tells us what God’s will is. God wants us to give thanks in all circumstances—good and bad. 1 Thessalonians 5:18–Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Emmanuel discovered God’s will. He was thankful no matter what was happening around him in life. I think that is the greatest lesson that he wants us to learn. And I am extremely thankful for Emmanuel.

I wanted to do something to remember Emmanuel daily. Over the years, I have ended my letters with a particular “closing” before I sign my name. I am going to change it now. I will end my thousands of letters from now on with “Thanks a trillion times!” in honor of Emmanuel. In my future I want to remember to be thankful, and I want to remember Emmanuel.

In your future, I hope you will remember the lesson of Emmanuel—be thankful in all circumstances. And I hope you will remember Emmanuel. He is the hero of Africa. He is my hero. He will be missed. He will be remembered.

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Kisumu with Jim

So many of you have asked me what a mission trip to Africa is like. I wanted to share with you Jim Shelburne’s blog of his recent trip there with me.  Jim is one of our great supporters at CRF and such a great encouragement to me. And he is also a good writer. He preaches at the Washington Avenue Christian Church. The experiences of his journey will inspire you . Maybe he will motivate you to go with us next time.



After a busy and enjoyable Sunday at the Ringroad Church of Christ, our group headed out that evening crammed into a couple of hired matatus, one more time braving the Kisumu traffic in search of sustenance for our hungry horde of travelers. If you’re wondering what exactly a matatu is, then you’ve never been to Kenya.  In short, it’s a minivan designed for Continue reading

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A New Holiday Is Going Down the Drain!

Today is a holiday. Did you forget it? Maybe you didn’t even know, but it is worthy of note. And if you really understand it, it’s worthy of celebration. This is the first year that this holiday has been officially recognized by the UN.

What is it? Today is World Toilet Day. I nearly forgot about it until my friends at the Water Center at the University of Oklahoma reminded me about it and helped me remember why it is so important.

If you know me, you know that I’m always looking for ways to help children in poverty. Did you know that a child dies every minute for lack of a toilet? Bill Gates has seen the importance of this so much that he is offering a huge sum of money for anyone who can come up with a better toilet.

Millions of people around the world don’t have adequate sanitation. Therefore they get all kinds of diseases. Thousands of young children die every day from the germs spread through human waste that causes diarrheal disease. Women and girls around the world lose their dignity and suffer abuse and attacks simply because they don’t have a private toilet. Shouldn’t everyone have access to a toilet? But one in three people in this world don’t.

It’s also a matter of economics when it comes to sanitation. For every dollar spent on sanitation there is a four dollar return. A good toilet can bring better health. There are fewer sick days for workers. More children can attend school regularly.

So as you go today, be thankful. And when you are there, try to think of a way to help others get this same blessing.

Happy Toilet Day!!!

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Going to Africa With My Good Friend, Jim Shelburne

So many of you have asked me what a mission trip to Africa is like. I wanted to share with you Jim Shelburne’s blog of his recent trip there with me.  Jim is one of our great supporters at CRF and such a great encouragement to me. And he is also a good writer. He preaches at the Washington Avenue Christian Church. The experiences of his journey will inspire you . Maybe he will motivate you to go with us next time.



I woke up today somewhere that I’ve never been before–in Africa, just below the Equator. After two days of almost non-stop flying across the world, we had made it by Saturday evening to Kisumu and the comfortable surroundings of St. Anna’s Guest House. I was assigned the “Hobbit Room”, a diminutive suite all by itself with a doorway about 5 1/2 feet in height, sized perfectly to seriously dent my 5 foot 11 inch head, until I quickly learned to duck. It’s been a strange night, sleeping in this tiny room for the first real time in about 30 hours. After the also fairly surreal experience of eating Indian food in Africa with our travel group, I headed back to the room, ducked (this time!) under the door, and studied my sermon for a bit before I finally crawled under my mosquito net and instantly succumbed to the sleep of exhaustion. In what seemed a few moments, the alarm was buzzing on my phone, and our first Sunday morning in Africa was in motion. Continue reading

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Barnabas–Maestro of Water

He is the maestro. He directs everything that is happening around the rig. He is a big man. He is in charge. You just have to love this guy.

Barnabas is in charge of drilling for Hope Water that is the division of CRF that drills for water in the drought in the Horn of Africa. When I met Barnabas, he said—“I am a driller. That’s who I am. That’s what I do.”

Barnabas and his crew live in the desert in Turkana. They work in an area where it has not rained in six years. It’s a tough place. They sleep on the ground. The heat is unbearable. They shoot animals with bows and arrows for food. Why would they live under such circumstances? All for water.

“Water is life!” Barnabas said. Thousands and thousands are dying all around this place. And if Barnabas finds water—they live. I asked him why he left being a driller for the biggest company in Kenya to go to the desert. He told me it is because we are Christians. Bringing living water was just as important to him as bringing the water that comes out of the ground.

It took us about 9 months to get a rig to Turkana. We had to jump through so many hoops with the Kenyan government to get it in that our patience was tremendously tried. But it was worth it when water flowed for the first time.

I got to be there and see with my own eyes the water from the first borehole. Barnabas made it a production. He stood on a high platform on the rig by himself. He had all kinds of knobs and levers to pull to get things in order. He called all the cameras around him. He took a dramatic pose. And with one more pull of a lever, water was streaming up from the ground. As the water was drenching over his head, Barnabas dramatically jumped from the platform to the ground. He gave us a thumbs-up and a smile. Then he gave me a giant hose where I could shoot the water from the ground into the air. Pretty soon he was gathered with a group of the natives singing and dancing as they celebrated the life coming from the ground.

“He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs.” Psalms 107:35

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A Perfect Day

I was standing on the edge of the only river in Turkana. It is too dirty and polluted for drinking. But it is just right for baptisms.

As I looked down the river, I could see colorful little dots coming at me. I knew who they were. It reminded me of the baptism scene in “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” But this group of people were not dressed in white. They were dressed in the most colorful robes and gowns you have ever seen. The women wore bright colored beads all up their necks. The men had wrapped themselves with bright blankets and were carrying canes. You could hear them coming because the drums were beating with each step. High-pitched Africa trills accompanied the oncoming crowd.

We had just met outside for church under a tree. (If you know my story about the children under the tree, this was the church we started there a little over a year ago). I remember the chief who gave me land at this place asked me— “Do you think all of my people should become Christians?” Well, about a year later, hundreds of them were coming to church. And after my sermon, we invited them to come to the river.

Exactly 30 people were baptized in that river. Markson, our CRF evangelist in Turkana, had the privilege of baptizing them. Turkana is so hot (literally a desert) that I thought about jumping in with everyone else. I have never experienced drums, dancing, yelling, singing, and rejoicing like they do at a baptism in Turkana. All of this started a little over a year ago when we drilled a well in this place. We drilled a well which led to a farm which led to a goat ranch which led to a town which led to a CRF school which led to a church which led to 30 baptisms today.

What a story!

Jim Shelburne, who preaches at Washington Avenue Christian Church in Amarillo, said—“It was a perfect day!” Jim was correct.

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My Favorite Beauty Pageant

Katherine looked beautiful.

She was wearing a full-length gown. It was bright red, and she even had a hat to go with it. She was wearing a sash to make her look like Miss America—or should I say Miss Kenya. They had built a little runway for her to walk down (kind of like a beauty pageant). Actually, they brushed the dirt a little bit, but it was effective.

Katherine was the last one. Other boys and girls from our school in Eldoret preceded her down the runway. But she had the privilege of being the finale. And at the end of her walk, Katherine came up to me and escorted me. She gave me a present—a piece of wood with Romans 8:28 written on it. We stood in front of the entire crowd at the assembly. We had our picture made, and then she asked me to dance. It was a big deal.

I thought about what this meant to Katherine, especially when it comes to self-esteem. A few years ago, she had been living in the slums with dirty clothes, very little food, and no possibility of an education. Now she was a glamour queen walking down the aisle with someone she admired. Her clothes were beautiful. She was well fed. And she was excelling in her education. She felt like she was worth a million dollars.

When the event concluded, Katherine came up to me and thanked me over and over again for walking with her. She told me how thankful she was for her opportunities. Then she asked me if I knew Randy and Lisa Darnell. I told them that I knew them, and they lived in the same town I was from. She told me to send them greetings and to tell them how much she loved them. Then she started crying. She just could not stop crying when she thought of them. They were her sponsors. She said she could not have had any of these good things without them. She could not stop crying. I wish more sponsors knew how they not only provide food, education, and housing—but they also give self-esteem to the children who need it the most.

Indeed, Katherine was beautiful. It was more than the clothes. Her beauty went down to the heart. She chose the verse wisely that she gave to me. It was the story of her life. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”

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Suzy Peacock

Suzy Peacock is our new high school near Eldoret. It is named after a lover of education, children, flowers, and art. Suzy died of cancer, and this school was started in her memory. I think it is the legacy she would have wanted.

I’ve never seen children more excited about learning. Madame Maurine, their principal, reminds them every single day about the wonderful opportunity that they have simply because someone whom they have never met, their sponsor, gives money so they can eat and get educated. And they listen. They are grateful.

Being in an assembly at Suzy Peacock is like being on Let’s Make a Deal. No matter what happens the crowd goes wild with laughter, claps, and joy. To put it simply they have found hope.

One ponders how a bunch of orphans can be so happy. One ponders how a bunch of poor children devastated by AIDS in their area can be so smart. Suzy Peacock is only five months old, and its students are already scoring among the highest grades in Kenya. Their motto is “Limitless Desire.” That’s a lot like hope, isn’t it?

Proverbs 13:12 states– “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”

These children had “unrelenting disappointment” for all of their lives. Disappointments for them came from poverty, disease, grief, and a lack of education.

Then all of a sudden, they got a good break. A school was built. Someone sponsored them through CRF. And they are going to take advantage of the sudden good break. They are going to make sure that their lives turn around.

I have never more vividly seen the results of a sudden good break. I don’t think I have ever seen how sponsoring a kid totally turns a life around. I hope you can give a child a break. Thanks for those of you who have.

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