Blood:Water Mission

The Friday Five: Reasons to Give a Dam

Our organization has launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign on behalf of an actually quite serious cause. We are in the process of trying to raise $75,000 needed to build an earthen dam for a community in Marsabit, Kenya.  So here are five reasons to give a dam (an earthen one):

1. Because Justin Beaver says so.

2. Because last year, northern Kenya experienced its worst drought in six decades. This dam will protect the communities from future droughts.

3. Because a gift as small as $25 can make a significant difference for our friends in Marsabit.

4. Because this dam will also allow for small scale irrigation farming for over 3,000 people.

5. Because isn't this video just irresistible?

[vimeo 47469878 w=500 h=281]

If you would like to walk with us in this journey, click here for more information.

The Friday Five: Surprising Practices of the Luo Tribe

I have spent several years visiting various tribes and cultures across Africa. The one people group that James and I are most familiar with are the Luo tribe of western Kenya.

Here are five surprising practices of the Luo.

1. Luo names describe the circumstance of your birth. Were you born in the morning? You will be named Onyango (for a boy) and Anyango (for a girl). Born at night = Otieno/Atieno. Born when it was raining = Okoth/Akoth. Born in a prostrate position facing down = Ouma/Auma. Born with the umbilical cord around your neck = Owino/Awino. And it keeps going - born in a time of abundance, born as a twin, born in famine, born while it was cloudy...

2. Polygamy is a common practice. A predominantly Christian tribe, the Luo have continued to follow the practices of the Old Testament of keeping multiple wives. Co-wives share in the household and child rearing responsibilities of the home. Polygamy is not practiced by everyone - many more progressive Luos have denounced it and have committed to a monogamous marriage.

3. There is a specific role of a twin in a funeral. It turns out that if your identical twin dies, you are not permitted to attend his or her the funeral. It brings too much pain to everyone who is reminded of your twin by your common appearance. 

4. Punctuality is not practiced, except for times of honoring the dead. The Luo, and most of African culture, do not carry a concept of time like Americans do. In fact, the saying is The Americans have all of the watches, but the Africans have all the time. Which is why I am shocked to see community members arrive promptly on time (if not early) in circumstances of funerals and events of remembering those who have passed. I asked my Luo friend, Robert, about it and he said that people believe that the spirits of the dead are as powerful, if not more powerful than God. So they make sure they come on time.

5. Once a young couple is married, the in-laws must never stay the night in the couple's home. Taking seriously the Biblical role of a child leaving their parents and the man and wife cleaving to one another, this Luo practice protects the complications of parent and adult child relationships. Robert told a story about how he was getting so tired of finding alternate places for his parents to stay when they visited, that he finally just pulled out a mattress in their main room and told them to stay there. Robert walked out at 2am and his dad was just sitting on the mattress refusing to sleep. Robert's parents stayed for five days, so eventually his father gave in, but it was not for lack of trying!

When Love Walked In

Love comes in various forms, and I am convinced that it comes mostly through the people around us. Many of you have been following the story of my friend, Kabale, who has been thriving as an HIV positive community leader in the desert of Marsabit, Kenya. She was recently diagnosed with throat cancer, and requires a $4000 surgery to remove the tumor, a cost that is unobtainable for those living in extreme poverty.  Even with significant generosity from Kabale’s friends and family, any offering would still pale in comparison to the amount of money required for such an operation.

On Sunday July 15th, Kabale hosted her community gathering to raise support for her surgery. As expected, those who are closest to her came to offer what they could. Most of the 100 guests were members of HIV/AIDS support groups who had been impacted by Kabale’s leadership and courage to be the first person to come out publicly about her HIV status.

One by one, women wrapped in brilliant fabrics and men in sandals and traditional caps came with their offerings – some with 300 shillings ($3.75), others with 500 shillings ($6.25) and a few with 1000 shillings ($12.75) – all as demonstrations of sacrificial and joyful love for their sister and leader. It was a magnificent picture of the way community ought to live. And with that demonstration of generosity still came the reality of limitation of resource and geography.

As they sat in fellowship with one another on that Sunday afternoon - knowing that the money they had pooled together was not enough - a surprise parade entered in. First, a group of teachers who had worked with Kabale in a local school. Then, the leaders of her church. And then national staff of our partner, Food for the Hungry. And then the clinicians of the Tumaini clinic where Kabale serves as community advocate. And finally, a group of government officials came in.

This broad array of community had battled all odds and collectively raised 280,000 shillings ($3,500) for Kabale. And there in her home was proof that love had walked in. I spoke with our friend Zachary, who was there that Sunday, and asked him if this is a normal occurrence for someone who is in need of significant medical support or if it was unprecedented.

“No,” he said, “this does not happen for everyone.”

So, why did it happen for Kabale? “Kabale is our hero,” he said. “She is the one who has given the people here hope for life. The school, church, government and hospital all know that their services have been successful because of her leadership. We all need her.” Blood:Water Mission (and many of you) have made an offering to ensure the rest of the expenses are covered, because she is our hero, too.

Today is the day of Kabale’s surgery. She is deep on my heart, and on the heart of so many others. May God be with her through the operation, and may she feel the prayers and love from all of us.

When the World Breaks Your Heart

Sometimes just walking through the world will break your heart. Through the cold fog of the morning in Marsabit, Kenya, I went to greet Kabale (pronounced ka-bah-lay), our courageous leader and volunteer at the Tumaini Clinic. Several years ago amidst the cultural stigma and fear surrounding HIV/AIDS, Kabale was the first person to tell her community that she was HIV positive. She normally carries a strength that I envy, a powerful presence that commands your attention and an unconscious smile of a few missing teeth that makes you involuntarily smile back. And yet today, it all seemed to be missing. Kabale held an uncharacteristic stoicism, a heaviness that buried her smile and tempered her charisma.


Her first words to me this morning were, "I am found with cancerous growth in my throat." Cancer is a bad diagnosis for anyone. But for someone who is HIV positive, it is tragic. It's a double whammy of shitty luck.

Kabale has developed a large growth in her neck and she can no longer swallow or speak without severe physical pain. Her viral load used to be at a healthy level due to taking ARVs, but it is plummeting as her immune system struggles to keep up. Kabale needs immediate surgery to have the growth removed, and our clinic cannot perform such operations. She must go to Nairobi (a 20+ hour drive away on dangerous roads) and come up with the 300,000 Kenyan shillings (about $4,000 US) needed for the removal.

"I will be strong with the courage I have," she whispered to me. "What I want most is prayers. With prayer, God comes close to people."

Kabale stopped me from asking more, and changed the subject. "The HIV positive people here are getting the prayers you are sending and we are happily receiving the care through the funds to the clinic. We have 22 support groups now, and even the HIV positive men are joining. We will continue to grow."

Oh, Kabale. What a beautiful and faithful woman.

I found out that this Sunday, Kabale is hosting a harambe, a community fundraiser with her family and friends. They will cook food, and people will come with donations to Kabale. Most of her neighbors are living on less than $2 a day, so this is an unprecedented amount of money for a community such as this. My heart sinks at the enormity of it all. She may very well get the surgery, and find that there is more cancer in her body or that her immune system cannot sustain it.

Kabale has provided life for so many people here, and yet she struggles to save her own. The world so often seems unfair, and it can break your heart. This morning, pledges were already made on behalf of the staff of the Tumaini Clinic, Blood:Water Mission and the HIV/AIDS support group. I am reminded of the call to reciprocate love as often as we are given it.

The Magic of Development

Today I visited the desert of Marsabit, Kenya. The last time I was here was early 2011 when water was already a challenge, and the drought of 2010 simply flaunted its severity. The rain tanks sat empty. The earthen dam was dry, and the animals lay dead upon its crumbled surface. The expected rainy season passed over northeast Kenya without a drop to share. The following rainy season simply did the same.


I remember flying away from Marsabit in a small missionary plane, dumbfounded by the cruelty of the earth and by the limitation of man. As we left, we had encouraged everyone to continue the work, but it honestly felt futile. Why would you build a rain tank when you have lived a year under cloudless skies? Why would you teach your neighbors how to properly care for water when there is simply no water to care for? Why risk the fool by believing in a good God when the earth continues to stand dry? I looked out the window into the desert and wondered if the tears of the dying were the only drops of water that would come. I prayed, but with disbelief.

Today, I flew back in that same missionary plane and saw a land different than when I had been here 18 months before. And what I have seen in the process of such hardship is the enduring belief in the ability to hope and to take responsibility for one's situation regardless of circumstance. Day in and day out, the people of Marsabit continued on with utter resilience to survive. They faithfully built the tanks and repaired the dams as dust devils swept across their land. They developed health and hygiene clubs, dug pit latrines and carried on with a commitment to improving their lives regardless of the circumstances that they could not control. Many people in the US would consider an empty rain tank a failure, but the actions of these communities prove greater success than most places I have seen. Poverty gets the worst of humanity when it tells people that they are without any hope or dignity or ability.

The rains had finally come last October. Like manna from heaven, the rain filled the tanks and the dams. And because the people of Marsabit had worked through the drought to construct the catchment systems, they were able to collect every drop. We visited schools with rain tanks, and the children sang songs about the importance of clean water and hand washing. They were thankful to God that the drought had subsided, and they proclaimed how they were stronger together by enduring through it.


Progress comes in ebbs and flows, and it shows itself in stops and starts. We wish for change to come quickly, but more often than not, it comes slowly and gradually. It is a lost cause to judge success by rain or drought. The magic of development is in the spirit and belief of communities who work diligently together through times of both scarcity and plenty. I am so inspired by our friends in Marsabit.