Monthly Archives: May 2012

Swahili for Journey

Several people have asked me recently how the Mara family wound up moving to Kenya to serve in missions.  This is a re-post of an essay from March which describes our journey (Swahili: safari).

“Where you live should not determine whether you live,

or whether you die.”

(Bono, National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C. 2006)

Imagine being in a terrible car wreck. You and your family members have broken bones and life-threatening injuries, but there are no ambulances, hospitals, nurses, or doctors available to help.

Unfortunately, this unimaginable suffering is a daily reality in the East African country of Kenya.

Fewer than 40 fully trained orthopedic surgeons struggle to serve a population of over 40 million people!  While some facilities exist for those who can afford them, the majority of those living in poverty have little or no access to surgical care.  Many severe injuries simply go untreated, leading to unnecessary suffering, disability, and even death.

What is desperately needed is teachers to raise up a generation of highly trained, Kenyan, orthopedic surgeons.  One teacher alone can exponentially expand the number of doctors serving the population of Kenya, dramatically reducing unnecessary suffering.

Standing at the Crossroads

Since first meeting in Tanzania, we have hoped and prayed that God would bring us back to Africa as a family.  Despite the busyness of raising two small children and the joy of being surrounded by wonderful friends, God’s call to serve in Africa has persisted and grown stronger over the last ten years.

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

In December 2010, we reached this crossroads.  God made it abundantly clear that we were to “throw off everything that hinders,” (Hebrews 12:1) and make ourselves available to return to work in Africa.  This call was accompanied by great excitement and joy, but also tinged with sadness and fear, as we acknowledged the hard choices we would have to make.  But we fully trust our lives to God and we go with open hearts and ready hands.

A favorite excerpt from the writing of Frederick Buechner has challenged us:

“To Isaiah the voice said ‘Go,’ and for each of us there are many voices… but the question is, which one will we obey with our lives.  I believe that it is possible to say at least this…we should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed.”

Responding to the Need

Through World Harvest Mission, the Maras will be moving to Kenya in the summer of 2012 for a five-year assignment.  Mike will be teaching orthopedic surgery at Kijabe Hospital, a Christian mission hospital founded in 1915. The hospital is located in a small village one hour west of the capital city, Nairobi. With 9,000 outpatient visits and over 700 surgeries performed every month, Kijabe Hospital has become a vital referral center for East Africa.  However, the volume of patients has completely outstripped the capacity of the current orthopedic surgeons, creating the urgent need for an additional full time surgeon and educator.

This amazing opportunity will see Mike join the faculty of the first orthopedic surgery training program in Kenya.  This will leverage his training in orthopedic surgery, his extensive experience in the developing world, and his passion for teaching. His role will involve expanding the capacity for orthopedic care in Kenya, while discipling and educating future Christian leaders in the medical community.

Ann’s consuming interest in Africa began as a teenager.  After completing her advanced teaching degree at Trinity College in Dublin, she took her first teaching job in the southern African country of Lesotho.  Her passion for work in Africa was confirmed and ignited, and she returned to Ireland to complete her Masters in International Development.  She then moved to Musoma, Tanzania, where she was director of an adult leadership training program. She has most recently worked in project management with World Relief and The Justice Conference in Bend, and hopes to continue to serve in a similar capacity in Kenya.

Michael and Jane have both been raised with the idea of one day moving to Africa, and are excitedly looking forward to the move and their new school. As a family, we believe strongly that Kijabe is “where we most need to go and where we are most needed.” 

“Where you live should not determine whether you live…”

We cannot embark on this exciting mission alone, and will rely on a group of dedicated advocates who will support us both spiritually and financially. One of the requirements of our new ministry is that we are supported solely through donations pledged by our partners, recognizing that collaboration is the essence of mission.  Just as a surgeon is of little use without the support of his or her surgical team, so we rely solely on individuals who will make this mission possible. We believe that all of God’s children deserve the love, compassion, and dignity of medical care in their moment of need.  We invite you to join us in making this possible by considering a monthly contribution to this mission.

For our part, we promise to embrace wholeheartedly our new ministry, and to be good stewards of your investment. Please know that we recognize you as a vital part of this mission, and look forward to sharing with you through regular communiqués our challenges, successes, heartaches and triumphs.  You will be contributing directly to the care of sick and injured people, as well as the education and discipling of future leaders in Kenya. Thank you for considering a partnership with us.

Mike, Ann, Michael and Jane

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The Journey to Pain

Today was a big day:  the whole family went in for their shots.  As a group, we were perfectly calm and composed.  Ann was explaining to Michael, “This is an important day in our journey to Africa.”  Michael responded, “Yeah, the journey to pain!!”  The kids very much took things in stride, a little nervous, a few tears, when we surprised them at school with the announcement that today was vaccination day.  We’d told them a month or two ago that we’d need some shots before leaving for Kenya, and then let them forget about it until today.  No point in having them full of dread for any more hours or days than necessary.  We all did pretty well until the actual shots arrived in the room:  All Ten Of Them!!!  Neatly arranged in little cups, with our names menacingly written on the sides of the cups.

We had a little family conference, and Jane decided we should go from youngest to oldest, as she was a little nervous and wanted to get it out of the way.  Suffice it to say, her screams of agony were clearly heard in the waiting room.  She got herself into a giggling fit halfway through the second shot, however, when she realized they didn’t hurt!  On to the little soldier Michael, who took three stabs, including yellow fever, without a blink.

The young ones out of the way, surely the adults in the room wouldn’t be a problem.   They say a picture is worth a thousand words:

Ann’s stoic approach really helped calm the kids, and me.  I’m sure the reason my shirt was drenched was the unreasonably hot (67 F) temperature in the doctors office.

Anyway, that hurdle is cleared.  We’re all nursing sore arms tonight, but we won’t have any more shots for a few years.  Everything else seems like smooth sailing:  the house will close in a week, Ann has been sorting through the intricacies of shipping our belongings between three continents, and our support raising continues to be blessed by the most exciting, engaged, and prayerful group of people we could ever dream of.  We’re hoping for a late July departure….

ps  On review, Jane’s opinion on the whole experience:  “It hurts like a banshee!”

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Kijabe Update

While things are moving along rapidly here at home, I’d like to update our friends and family on the  local situation in Kijabe.  Since Kijabe lies very close to the equator, temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the year, but rainfall varies dramatically.  Two rainy seasons,  one in April/May, and one in November/December, bracket some very dry times.  The rainy season has started with a vengeance at Kijabe, after a long dry season.  The rainy seasons are vital to local farmers, as well as to the springs which provide fresh water  to Kijabe village, mission station, and hospital.  During this last dry season, water levels were critically low, leading to water shortages in the hospital.  The rains are greeted, of course, with celebration and gratitude.

Unfortunately, widespread illegal logging has decimated the Kijabe forest.  Local officials, conservation groups, and Kijabe Hospital staff and administration have tried to alert forest officials of the risk of mud or rockslides from this deforestation.  With the onset of the rains, a serious mudslide occurred this week, knocking out 40% of the water supply to the area, including Kijabe Hospital.  Missionary engineers had already been working on a more dependable and sustainable water supply for the area, but this has created an emergency situation.

Another unwelcome accompaniment to the rains is the appearance of a beetle called the Nairobi Eye or Nairobi Fly.  This little guy looks like an ant, but is really a beetle.  The red and black stripes look menacing, and they should.  While the Nairobi fly won’t bite or sting, it’s body fluids are 15 times more venomous than cobra venom!  The problem arises if one lands on you.  If you flick him off, enough body fluids are released to lead to an open blistering wound, similar to a burn.  Villagers and even patients in the hospital have already suffered from this menace.  The best bet is to stay away from them, and if one lands on you, gently blow it off without touching it.


So things could be better at Kijabe at the moment.  Combine this with anxiety and uncertainty over the upcoming presidential elections, and you can understand why the residents there could use your prayers.  The rains are desperately needed for the farmers and for fresh water supply.  The bugs will pass, and hopefully the engineers can reestablish a stable and safe supply of drinking water for the area very quickly.

On the home front, things are progressing very rapidly towards our departure in late July.  Our house sale is due to close on May 25th.  I’ve finished work at Desert Orthopedics.  We’re pretty sure we have buyers for our two vans.  We’re registered for a three week cross cultural training course in Colorado beginning July 30th, after which we’ll depart for Kenya via the World Harvest Mission offices outside of Philadelphia.  God has blessed us with an amazingly generous, engaged, caring support team, and we are now 75% of the way to being fully funded for the five year assignment!  We are humbled and grateful for the enthusiastic support of our pastor Ken Wytsma, the community of Antioch Church, and the many friends and family who are joining us to make this work in Kenya a reality.  We’re really excited to keep in touch with all of you over the years, keeping you up to date on the difference your support is making every day for the people of Kenya.  As a small token of our appreciation, we’re looking forward to having all of our supporters over for a barbecue in mid-July.  Watch this space for the exact time and place!


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How to Donate to Our Mission Online

Thanks for being interested in our mission to Kijabe Kenya.  A number of people have asked for specific instructions on how to donate, so this is a very practical post on the mechanics of supporting our work in Kenya.  

I think the easiest way to donate is online.  Here’s how:

1) Scroll to the very top of this page.  Click on the rectangle that says “Click Here To Learn How to Support the Mara’s Mission”

2) This will take you to the World Harvest Mission page dedicated to our mission.

3) In the box, enter how much you would like to donate, and make sure you use the menu right below that to indicate whether this is  a one time donation, monthly, or annual donation.

4) After you click “Add to Donation Cart”, you’ll be taken to a registration page to checkout.  

5) Your options are to donate by credit card, or by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT).  EFT is the most simple and secure way to donate.  Setting up EFT allows World Harvest Mission to transfer your donation directly from your checking account to our mission account at WHM.

To do this you’ll need to look at one of your checks, to get the routing number and your account number.


The routing number is the nine digit number to the left, and your account number is the next set of digits, after the colon.

Follow along the rest of the registration page, and you’re done!  

We are committed to making these the hardest working dollars you’ve ever donated.  The need in Kenya is great, and we’re excited to get started.

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Our Work in Kijabe

Video produced by Elizabeth Fischer of SRO Productions

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