Monday, February 25, 2013

Three lunch bags sit stiffly on the counter, their mouths yawning wide like baby birds. I fill them, feeling a bit like the mama bird, though I wonder if mama birds analyze their mundane tasks as much as we human mamas do. 

One kid asks for peanut butter and jelly, and I dig around in the fridge for seedless raspberry jam, her favorite kind. Does the mama bird dig for the best worms the way I do condiments?!

Purpose is more important than need. 

So says Flora, far far away in Kenya. Not just a friend, really. She's more like my sister.

One time, not that long ago, she was a preteen girl in Mathare, who happened to be asked on camera what she wanted to be when she grew up.

"I'd like to be president of the World Bank," was her answer.

My parents, recognizing a fellow optimist when they saw one, took her for her word. They pay for her tuition each term, and pray for her like they pray for their other daughters. Her picture sits framed on their bedside table, right there alongside rosie-cheeked grandbabies. None of Dad and Mom's biological children mind sharing love that multiplies exponentially as it's given, perhaps because we know Flora's need is their purpose. Most of her facebook posts are in Swahili but this one - her personal motto - speaks to me.

Purpose is more important than need.  

I slather peanut butter on bread and consider this. When her needs have been so great, how can she stretch herself to find purpose beyond survival? Self-preservation isn't such a selfish goal, is it? What do I know of self-preservation anyway? Have I ever had to choose between a need and a purpose as she probably has? Is it any wonder she is inspiring to everyone around her, having been refined by these sorts of choices?

But what do you do if the only need you have is for purpose?If these have never been in true conflict?

The mandarin oranges peel in my hands and I pry the pieces into bites, tuck them in to their bed of Ziploc. The sweet smell of orange lifts upward with my prayer, like incense. "Might our kids find purpose, more than need, to move them." In a bit of courage, I pray the same for myself.

I'm interrupted as a little one pleads for hot soup for lunch and I fill a Thermos. Pack a plastic spoon.

These three children of ours - their view of the world is sweet, innocent, picturesque.

I don't feel guilty about this. But I am grateful - oh, so grateful! - as I send them off to school, their heavy backpacks lurching side to side with lunches, clean water, and books rustling.
This is a first for me, and them - this morning, school-day rush to find purpose more than need, and to stretch upwards and outwards at an "official" school. The shnookums are in great hands being shaped in wonderful, creative ways.

Here they are after the carpool drops them off.

Real Gil and I are still shaking our heads in wonder as we see the growth our kids are exhibiting in this new learning environment.

What parent would not want this for their kids?

Parents here want the same thing for their children.

Mathare Slum, Nairobi, Kenya.

If you are one of the 600, 000 people to live within this 3-mile square slum (considered one of the oldest and worst slums in Africa), you are no less inclined to want good for your child, just less hopeful of actually acquiring.

My mother's heart can't help but be torn when I consider the odds of kids here in Mathare gaining an education, lumbering to school with full bellies and backpacks.

That's the exciting part though... because kids are beating the odds. Gaining an education. Perhaps more deserving than any other students in the world, the Kenyan students who receive scholarships through Bridge have overcome seemingly insurmountable circumstances and are excelling, planning, dreaming, and leading. Not just academically, either. We are in awe as these students reach out to others around them, seeking tribal reconciliation, spiritual growth, and opportunities to serve.

Here are our current students. Doesn't this picture just shout the truth - we're beating odds!

Andrew and Stephanie Onguka's incredibly consuming task of interviewing our newest year of students - all who are worthy of scholarships! - is almost complete.

The applicants are many, the scholarships ready. How do you choose? Though I see this picture of applicants and feel a bit desperate for each of them, thankfully, Andrew and Stephanie know their purpose and do it well. 

I can't wait to meet the roster of chosen students. Already, I am praying for them...and for those who are not accepted too. Can I trust that God takes care of them too?

Today, Mom and I talked on the phone. Well, I talked and she tried not to cry as she saw the picture of this year's scholarship applicants. She reminded me of the story of the starfish on the beach. We might be overwhelmed by the big picture, but we can make a difference for this one, and this one, and this one...

Mom and I - not in the Valley. And not cooking!
So, we are thankful for our own very small purpose here in the Valley.

The shop has officially closed for the season, but there is a check in the amount of  $14,152 written in wobbly, excited cursive from Hallelujah Toffee. That's 100% of our profits. Accompanied with it goes all the enthusiasm, energy, and wobbly purpose of Mom and I, and our amazing team of volunteers.

Over thirty volunteers helped with the actual production of 1,100 pounds of Hallelujah Toffee this year.  Sales teams, set-up crews, babysitting daddies, logistical support folks, and lots of enthusiastic shoppers made our season the best yet. (I promise to do better with pictures next year! Sorry to those of you who didn't get your picture taken!)

We even had enough to hand some out to our local marines during their Christmas party.

Marine Christmas Party with our "elves" and a wagon of Hallelujah Toffee

As you can see, it may not be certified education, but we are doing our best to include the younger ones in these endeavors.  

So many reasons to rejoice, I think, as I wipe down the counter's crumbs, put away the lunch fixings, throw away orange peels.

Though there are definitely moments when I feel like nothing more than the mama bird (Do baby birds ever stop to say thank you!??), the gift of gratitude - and purpose - is one that can be received whether I am packing lunches, toffee, or suitcases for Kenya.

I pray the same is true for you today. 

Resting Here,