Category Archives: Helping Others

Stanley’s Dream

 

Miracles of Living Hope

Marilyn Uhl will be the first to tell you that establishing and running Living Hope High School in Bungoma, Kenya couldn’t happen without God.  She will also tell you that the longer she’s in Africa, the stronger her faith grows.  Marilyn has seen God work things out in strange and powerful ways when even she didn’t believe He would.  “I don’t know why we don’t have total faith because He never lets us down.” she reminds us.  “He might not answer us the way we want or when we want, but He always has our good in mind.”  The Living Hope journey continues with true stories of the miraculous ways God is working in the lives of Marilyn and her students.

“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) Pixabay

Stanley’s Dream

It’s unlikely that you or I could navigate the narrow, winding paths that lead through the bush-covered interior outside Bungoma to find the small, isolated house where Stanley’s story begins.  He was the first born of four children to proud parents who encouraged them in all they did. The family worked hard on their small farm to survive and while they were rich in love, there was very little money.

Stanley enjoyed school and excelled in his high school courses but as the time drew near for his final exam, he faced a cold, hard truth.  As much as his parents desired to help him, they just didn’t have the funds; so Stanley did the only thing he knew to do: he prayed.  He prayed fervently.  He prayed continually.  He prayed right up into the evening before the registration money was due and still he had no answer.  As the family sat down that night for supper something unusual happened.  They were startled by a knock at their door.  Much to Stanley’s surprise, and an answer to his prayer, there stood one of his teachers. This teacher recognized the potential in Stanley and told him that he would pay his school registration fees enabling him to finish high school and take his exam.  Stanley immediately began praising God and thanking his teacher.  Songs of rejoicing filled the tiny home.

As often happens in life, rejoicing turned to sorrow as Stanley experienced a crushing blow.  His father unexpectedly passed away.  Seeing an opportunity, Stanley’s uncle swooped in and offered to help the family by taking Stanley to live with him.  Stanley’s life would never be the same.  Outside the uncle’s kitchen was an old side shed that at times had been used to house cows and chickens.  It was small, dark, had a stench, and now was Stanley’s room.  He soon learned that he was expected to be his uncle’s house boy receiving no pay in return.  He worked all day: cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and caring for his small cousins.  The only food Stanley got each day were the few sips or nibbles he was able to sneak as he prepared the family’s meals.  Stanley was now a slave but he never stopped praying for the dream he held deep in his heart to somehow come true.

Days turned into weeks and weeks became years when one day while Stanley was doing chores he noticed a woman moving into the duplex next door to his uncle’s.  He soon learned that Marilyn was a teacher and administrator at her own school: Living Hope. They quickly became friends and he shared with Marilyn that he’d been with his uncle for six years and in that time he’d prayed every single day for God to provide a way for his dream to be realized.  Having never shared the words aloud with anyone before, they felt strange crossing his tongue as he confided in Marilyn that his dream was to be a teacher too. He revealed  that somehow he’d always known he was supposed to be a teacher even though he could see absolutely no way for it to happen.

Other than praying, Stanley had no idea what it would take to make his dream of teaching a reality; so Marilyn sent him on his bike to the small teaching college in town.  The trip home seemed to take much longer than the trip to the school as he now carried the heavy burden of knowing he’d never experience the joy of being a teacher.  Up until now, he had no idea what college would cost and it was just too expensive, especially for someone who had nothing!

But “nothing” didn’t describe what Stanley had because He. Had. God.  AND God had a plan! We’re promised God hears our prayers so when Stanley needed a miracle a teacher arrived on his doorstep. When Marilyn needed a place to live, she miraculously found an answer in the duplex next door to Stanley.  Now, Stanley needed a way to make his dream of being a teacher more than a dream and he was about to find his miraculous answer in Marilyn!

When Marilyn saw the look of defeat on Stanley’s face her heart was moved. It didn’t take her long to offer to pay his tuition for the first semester and buy all the supplies he’d need; but she told him that after that God would have to handle the rest. And handle it He did!

Stanley flourished at college but at the end of the semester, as expected, he was out of money and at the time so was Marilyn.  Prayers were lifted once again, and Marilyn’s sister stepped in when she realized how troubled Marilyn was about Stanley’s situation and her inability to continue to help him.  She provided for Stanley so that he could finish his two year program and receive his Associates Degree.  It was a bittersweet achievement as Stanley found himself in the exact spot he’d been in time and time again…holding on to the dream of being a teacher, having no money, and praying fervently for God to make a way.  Meanwhile, Marilyn was home in West Virginia traveling from church to church speaking about Living Hope High School.  While at Faith United Methodist Church, she felt compelled to tell Stanley’s story.  As church dismissed, coming up from the back of the church, a couple approached Marilyn.  They’d been so moved by Stanley’s story that they pledged to support him through his final two years of college.

Knowing his teacher, Marilyn, her sister, and the family from Faith Church were answers to his constant prayers, Stanley never took their gifts to him for granted.  He worked diligently to make his dream come true and graduated with his teaching certification!

Some would say that Marilyn’s moving next door to Stanley’s uncle was a coincidence.  Marilyn, Stanley, and now you, know differently.  God works out His plans for us in miraculous, unexpected ways.  They may not happen just as we imagine or on our time table, but He works them out for our best.  You see, Stanley’s story doesn’t end here….He is now the Head Administrator and Marilyn’s most trusted employee at Living Hope High School! God sent Marilyn to Stanley and she will tell you that Stanley is a Godsend to her. Neither could do what they do without the other. Now, I’d say that’s a dream come true!

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28 (NLT)

copyright Living Hope High School, Bungoma, Kenya

For more information on Living Hope High School, go to www.livinghopehighschool.org or call Helen Markwell at 304-567-2254.

God Will Provide

 

Agape Science Lab nearing completion.

Agape Science Lab nearing completion.

This is the fifth in a series of miraculous true stories about Living Hope High School in Bungoma, Kenya.  Stories that share the divine inspiration and dedication to helping students of poverty, who once had no hope, reach their full potential.

“And God will generously provide all you need.  Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLT)

Marilyn and her students settled into a daily routine at the “cave school”. A breakfast of milk tea and a boiled egg or porridge began their morning.  Classes were held throughout the day with a short break for lunch. In the evening traditional meals of thick grits and greens cooked in a spicy sauce, beans and rice, or corn and beans were prepared for dinner. Each meal was cooked outside as there was no room for an inside kitchen.  Outside, there was no space for the children to safely play a game of soccer or even run off some extra teenage energy. It was obvious they already needed more space. Marilyn had also recently discovered that for a school to be recognized by the Kenyan government it had to have grades 9-12 with at least twenty students per grade. She knew without a doubt that this was her calling and so the prayers to find a larger, permanent place for her school began.

God answered Marilyn’s prayers in 2013 when she chose an eight acre property that included a long hut similar to their “mud cave” and a small mud house.  Neither were much to look at but that didn’t stop Marilyn from seeing the beauty and potential there. It would take a huge amount of work and they would need vision and help…..lots of help, and constant prayer!

It took time to jump through the governmental hoops AND most of the money Marilyn had left in her savings to purchase the land; but it now belonged to them! Reaching out to the surrounding villages, Marilyn was able to find the twenty freshman she also needed.  What started as a seed of an idea, had been planted and nurtured,  and now Living Hope had become an official Kenyan High School. In the years leading up to this moment God had provided everything she’d needed just as He’d told her that fateful day back in her kitchen and she was already seeing His continued provision as she took this next step in her journey.

It was a challenge in the beginning. There wasn’t enough building space in either place so the 45 students traveled between their rented mud classroom and the dormitories on the new property.  The journey was a precarious one as they hiked the mile and a half each way and like tightrope walkers, had to balance on a single log that lay across the rushing river that separated the two locations. That wasn’t all.  Acutely aware of her dwindling funds and determined her kids would not “go to bed hungry”, Marilyn decided  she needed to reach out to her sisters for help. Through their commitment and dedicated work God began providing sponsors for the students, salaries for staff, and donations for needed furniture and supplies. Hope was alive and well!

Living Hope High School has thrived since the days of the first rudimentary buildings.  The school still receives no funding except through the generosity of sponsorships and donations  The property today is close to ten acres, has five classroom buildings, an assembly hall, a computer lab, kitchen, eight dormitory cottages, and a science lab is under construction. Each building is constructed of bricks, hand- made by the students.  A deep well was dug to provide running water and electricity has been connected to the computer lab, kitchen, and office.  The students tend a 2 acre garden, take care of milk cows and chickens, and play on their own soccer field.  This past year the students at Living Hope High School earned the highest test scores out of the 291 schools in their district! The 13 teachers and all the students work very hard and take nothing for granted. It isn’t always easy; the budget, sharing textbooks, the ongoing battle against Malaria and Typhoid,  the unpredictable weather, and  the political climate all pose challenges for Marilyn and the school;  but without hesitation, she will tell you of the miraculous God who through the generosity of others, provides just what is needed to help one teacher, who answered His call,  share an abundance of “Living Hope” with others.

copyright Living Hope High School, Bungoma, Kenya

 

As we continue Marilyn’s story you’ll hear more God designed, miraculous events that have happened to her, the students,  and the school since its beginning. For more information on Living Hope High School go to www.livinghopehighschool.org or call Marilyn’s sister, Helen Markwell at 304-567-2254.

The Call: A Living Hope Story

 

 

<a href="https://pixabay.com/users/OpenClipartVectors/">OpenClipartVectors</a> / Pixabay

“A dirt floor, no desks, two boxes of chalk, and four books”

This is the second in a series of miraculous true stories about Living Hope High School in Bungoma, Kenya.  Stories that share the divine inspiration and dedication to helping students of poverty, who once had no hope, reach their full potential.

“And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Matthew 4:19-20

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me” John 10:27

Still in awe of hearing God’s voice fill her tiny kitchen, the words echoed over and over as if they were a recording stuck on repeat;  “They went to bed hungry”, “Go”, and “I will provide”. Marilyn still wasn’t sure what they meant. At the close of the school year, thinking Uganda was where God would “provide” and wanted her to “go”, Marilyn pursued a return trip.  Much to her surprise, God had other plans!  At that very time Uganda was in the midst of intense violence. Rotary International wasn’t about to put Marilyn into the middle of it. They did however, offer to send her to a more peaceful area; Bungoma, Kenya. Without hesitation, off she went once again, seeds in tow, to plant gardens and tend souls.

Once in Kenya, Marilyn and other volunteers worked together to create community gardens where once there were only hard plots of ground.  As the small sprouts grew from the now fertile soil a longing grew in Marilyn.  Her teacher’s heart was restless. As Rehema Orphanage was nearby, she went in search of fertile minds.  It didn’t take Marilyn long to know that things weren’t right at the orphanage.  The small shelters housing the children leaked, they lacked basic supplies, and she was angered to find that the wood she’d just purchased was gone but hadn’t been used to provide heat for the children. The conditions weighed on Marilyn until she realized that just as God had told her months before…these children WERE “going to bed hungry”. She knew this was where God was calling her.

As the summer wore on Marilyn learned that there were twenty-five eighth graders who had lived at Rehema their entire lives and were about to be put out on the streets, alone, with no skills to help them survive. She agonized, lying awake at night trying to come up with a plan. She couldn’t stand by and watch as these children were discarded; and everything she knew about the life of Jesus convinced her that she had to do something.

Finding an old shed on the orphanage property, Marilyn approached the Director with an idea.  She’d prayed he would agree and reluctantly he allowed the students to stay.  She quickly began cleaning out the dark, dirty lean-to. It would no longer house unwanted items but instead become a high school classroom for students who were now unwanted themselves. Marilyn had no doubt she had the skills to teach these students, after all it was what she’d been doing year after year. So with a mud floor, no desks, two boxes of chalk, and four books; school was called into session. But, too soon the time came to return home and Marilyn reluctantly hired another teacher to fill her place.

Flying home felt wrong; like swimming against the current.  Questions swirled in Marilyn’s head. She knew without a doubt that Rehema was where she was meant to be but she had responsibilities: a job, a house, a truck, and a beloved dog.  She couldn’t leave those things behind. Or could she? The turmoil quieted and a peace enveloped Marilyn.  She knew that the kind of call she’d received from God was a call that demands a response.  Mary and Joseph recognized it. The disciples recognized it.  Marilyn recognized it too.  She would answer the call and follow Him. Where He would lead her?  She had no idea.

Copyright Living Hope High School, Bungoma, Kenya

Plumbing 101

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-think about such things.'  Philippians 4:8-9

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-think about such things.’
Philippians 4:8-9

It’s been cold, no frigid here lately! There’s been snow, wind, and ice! Our furnace has run overtime and the house still isn’t warm. It’s been so cold that we’ve had to leave the water in our faucets moving so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. The song of drip, drip, drip filled the house and it also got me thinking. My husband likes to tell me; “you’ve got to watch that thinking”, even so I do a lot of it these days. Anyway, in the midst of churning thoughts in my little mind, I wondered how we can keep our own pipes from freezing?

In today’s world it’s easy for me and I would guess for you too, to let our hearts become hardened, frozen if you will. We help others only to find it was a scam. We need help but no one comes to our rescue. We do our best yet our efforts go unnoticed. People we respect disappoint us. We disappoint others. Senseless violence and hatred fill the news and maybe our lives. Little by little our defenses go up, our enthusiasm diminishes, the flow of love and compassion slows as our heart slowly solidifies.

The Bible warns us about having a hard heart. Having a hardened heart clogs up our ears so we don’t really listen and shuts up our eyes so we don’t clearly see . Our lives lose joy and we move through our days on autopilot. Our feelings become frosty and backed up. No longer do we function as we were designed to. It is a bleak, bitter place to be.

So, back to my question. How do we keep our own pipes and hearts from becoming frozen? Believe it or not, I think the answer is the same for us as it has been for the plumbing in my kitchen sink. First, we must keep moving in the right direction. Even when everyone and everything around us tells us to stop, we must continue to drip, drip, drip:
Do right
Resist quitting
Invest in others
Pray, Praise, and find your Passion.

In addition to keeping the water dripping, I also opened the cupboards so that warm air from the furnace could surround the pipes. We too, must be open to the warmth around us. Whether it’s generated by the love of our family, caring friends, the beauty of nature to name a few, we must not close ourselves off from the glowing possibilities around us.

Finally, in my attempt to keep the water running, I closed all the blinds to put a barrier between the rooms and the threatening temperature outside. Pulling a blind is easy compared to turning a blind eye to the grim side of life, but I find when I’m focused on the cold, harsh happenings around me I tend to develop a frosty attitude, freezing me in my tracks and making it pretty much impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile. I was blessed today to hear an excellent sermon on this very thing. (I love when God does that!) The message of the sermon was to seek out the positive. Look for the good in people and situations even when they are small and hard to find. The message also included the importance of acknowledging our blessings and expressing our gratitude for each one. And maybe most importantly, sharing our positive attitude with others. The lesson isn’t an easy one. It’s something I’ll have to work at everyday but I truly believe it’s the secret to keeping our hearts on fire and being able to radiate that warmth into a chilly world that desperately needs it. And who knows? Maybe our spark will ignite a flame in those around us and before we know it, we’ll feel the hope of Spring and our plumbing problems will be solved!

Simple, Silly Things

The Big Muskie Bucket

The Big Muskie Bucket

Not too long ago, my husband and I took a road trip in Ohio. One of the things we wanted to do was to find out what “The Big Muskie Bucket” was. We had passed the sign for it many times but didn’t have any idea where to find it. It took us a while, but when we did, it was well worth the drive. We learned that it is the largest mobile mining dragline bucket ever made and large it is! I am 5’7” but standing inside Ole Muskie made me feel tiny! Lately, watching the news, reading Face Book posts, and interacting with the world around me has also begun to make me feel small.

I’m pretty sure you’re going to think that I’m off my rocker (remember I’ve told you before that I am crazy) but there’s no better place that proves my point than on the road. I know that I’m old fashioned but when I learned to drive waaaaay back in the 70’s our instructor instilled in us a responsibility to use good manners on the road. Signaling and waiting to see the other person’s headlights in your mirror before pulling in front of them, moving over to allow others to merge, and waiting to pull into traffic until there is room enough as to not cause another driver to have to slow down are just a few examples I still believe in. Simple, silly things? Maybe, but these simple things can make the difference between a pleasant trip and high blood pressure.

The road however, isn’t the only place where we need good manners. Somewhere along our way, we as a society have become so focused on ourselves and our agendas that saying a “please”, “thank you”, or “excuse me” is all but extinct. Add on top of that the need we all have to be heard, often at the expense of listening to anyone else’s point of view. This equation creates many unpleasant interactions. I’ve witnessed several situations where the parties were saying the same thing in different ways and neither was willing to stop arguing long enough to realize they were more alike than different. It’s happening more and more every day. I also can’t figure out when it became acceptable to leave our grocery carts in parking places, throw diapers and fast food trash out our car windows, or treat service workers disrespectfully. Simple, silly things?

I’ve always tried to live my life putting others first. In whatever situation I find myself in, I aspire to treat others the way I want to be treated. I liked to think it made a difference, but recently I‘ve begun to doubt myself. How can one person make the world a better place? What makes me think that I can effect a positive impact on those around me? The happenings in the world tell me over and over that I’m a small fish in a big pond…… a simple, silly person. So, feeling dismayed, my heart has been heavy, I‘ve questioned my ability to make a difference, and I’ve felt like giving up. Thankfully that’s when God stepped in. One morning recently, when I was feeling especially discouraged the scripture for my daily devotional was “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven,” Matthew 5:16. Then soon after that I read a quote that said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can do that”, Martin Luther King. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidence. Jesus and Martin Luther King were both men doing the right thing in the midst of a world that tried to make them feel small. Both spent their lives leading humanity on a new and better path. Both went to their deaths fearlessly and selflessly standing up for what is right. Now, let me be very clear. I am certainly not anywhere close to being a Martin Luther King or Jesus! Their words however reach across history to remind and teach me that doing right is always the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter how it makes ME feel and I don’t have to worry about the results. I just have to simply be faithful in the journey one small step at a time. Now that doesn’t seem silly at all.

Nutty Generosity

I enjoyed my quiet time on the front porch this morning.  It was “peacefully noisy”.  The melodious chatter of the birds filled the air.  A cool breeze rustled through the leaves.  The goats next door loudly conversed with each other and a rooster somewhere in the distance crowed his good morning to the world.

While I sat in my rocking chair contemplating life, a squirrel crept through the yard and stopped to partake of birdseed and nuts that had spilled from my feeders above.  He watched me as intently as I watched him.  Believe it or not, squirrel watching brought back sudden memories from my childhood.  Funny, how memories are.  They can come on at anytime, out of the blue, and they bring with them intense feelings.  This particular memory is of my childhood neighbor, Dale.  He always carried peanuts in his pockets to feed the squirrels while he worked in his yard.  “His squirrels” became so accustomed to this that they actually would climb up on Dale as he slept on a lounge chair in his backyard and take the peanuts out of his pockets themselves.

Dale’s generosity didn’t just extend to squirrels.  From the moment my mom, sisters and I moved in next door, he did whatever he could to make us feel welcomed!  This is where the intense feelings come in….We moved in 1971 after my dad left our family.  We were all grieving and brokenhearted.  As I look back now, I realize it didn’t take Dale long to know that we were in desperate need of someone to care for and look out for us.  He took it upon himself to do just that.  We never knew what to expect….big signs on our doors, poems and stories adorned with pictures cut out of magazines, or a snowman holding a welcome home sign built out of the first snow on our back steps.  He was quick with a smile and a joke.  He and his wife, Lois quickly became more than our neighbors, they became family.

Generosity……something that is harder and harder to find in the world today and yet needed more than ever.  I regret now that I never expressed to Dale what his kindness meant to me.   I don’t think he ever knew how important he was to us and how much his freely given love did to begin to mend our hearts.  It is 42 years later and his actions are still an inspiration.  I would like to believe that my attempts at putting others first and looking for little ways to reach out are a direct result of having been so generously treated.

Dale’s actions were unselfish, creative, and yes, sometimes a little nutty, but just like the squirrels that grew to trust him enough to feed them, three young girls and their mom grew to trust him too.  You see it wasn’t just Dale’s pockets that were filled to overflowing it was also his heart.  Today’s rush of memories are an important reminder and a challenge to me to more freely give of myself and my time.  What about you?  Is there someone in your life you need to thank for being generous or is there someone who needs to be touched by the power of YOUR generosity?  Don’t wait until it’s too late, because speaking as one who knows,  there’s no doubt that we would all be much better off if we were  just a little nuttier like Dale.

 

"Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Hebrews 13:16

“Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

Hands

imageOur month with the Poetry Box was quickly coming to an end and I needed one more actvity for the last Friday.  My co-teacher Leslie handed me that idea and it was a fun one!  We created Watercolor Poems.  The students chose a color and brainstormed ideas about what that color looked, smelled, sounded, tasted, and felt like.  They then put their ideas together and created a poem.  Once in the cafeteria on brightly clothed tables the poets/artists went to work.  They wrote their poem on watercolor paper, drew pictures around the outside of the paper to illustrate their poem, and finally painted their pictures in their chosen color.  The room was filled with quiet chatter and the sound of brushes being swirled in cups of water.  It was beautiful!  My favorite part of these Friday get-togethers has been hearing the words, “Miss Cindy, come read my poem!”  Music to this teacher’s ears and joy for my soul!

I love how the picture above turned out.  When I sat down to go through my photos I realized I had taken several of just the children’s hands.  They resonated with me and once I put them together I knew it was the way it was supposed to be.  These are pictures of hands gently creating beauty, hands unsure at first, gaining more confidence, and hands helping and guiding other hands.  A moment captured in time with my camera that expresses what our lives should express.   When we reach out and give encouragement, support, comfort, and love with a touch of our hand, we are giving a priceless gift to those who receive it.  I’ve found though, that it is a gift that returns to the giver as well.  Using our hands to create a beautiful connection with someone, to reassure another who lacks confidence, or to gently guide a person who is feeling lost and alone toward the bright color of friendship, is when we are truly doing God’s work.  Bill Withers said it best in his song, “Lean on Me”. He sang, “You just call on me brother, when you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on.”  Whether in the school cafeteria, our workplace, out in the community, or inside our home we have the ability to reach out and touch someone in a way no one else can.  When we do lend a hand, we create a moment where pain, sorrow, and problems are made lighter.    Is there someone who needs to lean on you today? Just reach out your hand, “tell them you understand and help them carry on,”  because lending a hand adds color where there is dark, melody where there is quiet, and verse to this poem called life.