Saturday at The Market

Market Mission Trippers-001

Market Mission Trippers-001

By Fred Hegele, Board of Directors
Imara Intenational

So, what Saturday morning in Nanyuki, Kenya does not begin at The Market?

Carol Erickson is the supreme market host. The mission team didn’t need to shop for the Imara family, because the moms now do the food shopping each Saturday with the matrons. They are able to negotiate much better prices without the visible presence of “American” money and gives Carol and Sandy some freedom on Saturdays.

The Market is fascinating. Thousands of sellers and buyers carry out this important food distribution function of life. The displays of agricultural produce on the ground or on makeshift racks are simply beautiful. This year the extra rains are providing bountiful beauty and ample supplies.

I have not witnessed the pre-dawn arrival of the tons and tons of tomatoes, peppers, onions, bananas, greens, potatoes, and more on motorcycles, donkey carts, hand carts, and heads, shoulders, arms of sellers, but maybe some Saturday I will rise early and indulge.

These people work hard. Most of the sellers are women and they know how to negotiate. While there are stores in town where price tags are evident, commerce here is largely person-to-person establishment of price through negotiation. I find it fascinating to observe Carol and Sandy exhibit their skills in spite of the supreme disadvantage of their American aura of means.

Back at the Imara House, we are warmly greeted by all. The kids take a bit of time to warm to the vaguely familiar visitors from prior years, but by the end of the day we are again all one happy family. It is a beautiful gift from God that we have this distant, but intimate, loving relationship with each other. This is the reason we are called to return here again.

We enjoyed a bit of Christmas after the moms officially welcomed us with song and dance.
It seems that British friend Kim, who returned to London with the military last spring, sent bags of gifts for each and every mom and child. Sent several weeks ago, the gifts somehow got hung up in Customs and just arrived this week. So the good Lord provided this Mission Team with the unique Nanyuki Christmas experience in late January. Remarkably, the kids, one-by-one watched and waited for their turn to open their treasure.

We met Gibson, our new Day Guard and gardener and all the new puppies that Oscar our promiscuous guard dog has provided. In the days to come, we will try to introduce more of the new staff that cares daily for the Imara family.

We had dinner back at Cape Chestnut on the porch with Carol and Sandy and enjoyed getting reacquainted and reconnected as we prepare for the days ahead. Please keep the staff and team in your thoughts and prayers as we work together on the present and future needs for God’s precious gifts here.

Dressed to serve

Photo by Kevin Walsh,

Photo by Kevin Walsh,

By Fred Hegele, Board of Directors
Imara International

It is Friday night and we are in Nanyuki. Today was another day of travel and transition. We had breakfast at the Amani Gardens Inn bed and breakfast (formerly the Mennonite House) where we stayed last night. We went to the bank, and exchanged our US Dollars for an amazing conversion rate of 101+ Kenya Shillings to the dollar. So, just to put the bulge in my pocket into some perspective, $1000 USD converts to over 100,000 Kenya Shillings, and a 1000 KS bill is the largest. It surely causes one to think differently, for example, when the transportation from Nairobi to Nanyuki, roughly a four-hour drive, costs 6000 Kenya Shillings, or about $60.00 USD.

Carol and Sandy met us in Nairobi last night after their meetings with Kenyan accountants regarding our new Imara International-Kenya company accounting systems. We are ready to file the new Imara Village building plans for government certification, which will allow groundbreaking on the new Main Building, the largest building in the Village, to start this spring. We need to give Carol and Sandy great credit for navigating this circuitous process, where customs, regulations, culture and timing are quite different from our American reality.

We had dinner at Sophy Grattan’s Cape Chestnut Restaurant, which is a great British/Kenyan experience. The Chinese Buffet was “over-the-top” excellent. One of the big take-aways for me is to witness the extreme network for Carol and Sandy here in this community. People know (and love) these two Imara emissaries. From my point of view, these fiends of Imara know and care about what is going on at Imara House here in Nanyuki, and I believe the good Lord is continuing to send good people our way. The great credit goes to these two fine women who are the face, the voice, the heartbeat and the daily soul of this mission here on the edge of Mount Kenya and the Rift River Valley. It is a beautiful thing — thank you, God!

Our daily devotion on this trip is based upon the study Dressed to Serve, developed and published by Reverend Dr. Frank Nelson in Stillwater, Minnesota. While we have packed our clothes and lugged our luggage, we are also dressing ourselves with the wardrobe of servant’s clothing that God wants us to wear in the days ahead. Today we studied Colossians 12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

While we focused on gentleness today and the other spiritual fruits in the days to come, we also throw in some love. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we seek to represent all of you in doing God’s work in this very special place.

Leaving for rainy Nanyuki

plane taxi

By Fred Hegele, Board of Directors
Imara International

Kristine Michael, Sharon, and I are on board our flight for Amsterdam. We are talking nine pieces of checked luggage, each weighing between 30 and 49 pounds, filled with supplies for the Imara House, ranging from hoodies, flip flops, towels, washcloths, yellow cake mix (Betty Crocker of course), lots of brown sugar, and cosmetics, to manicure chair complete with wheels.

In her phone call this morning, Carol said they harvested about 5000 pounds of potatoes on our new property. Carol says we were lucky to get them out of the ground and into a storage shed, where they will await a better market price in a month or so. Carol says that many people are losing their crop of potatoes to rot due to the El Niño rainy season in the Rift Valley.

In a season that is normally hot and dry, Carol says that it just keeps raining. She gave Sandy high praise for driving the Imara SUV pulling a trailer through incredibly powerful rains and mud, mud, mud, mud. It’s a good thing I brought my gum boots this year!

New book tells the story of Imara International

Safe in a Tree

Safe in a Tree

By Leonard Freeman

Safe in a Tree, Imara and Me, started out, as many stories do, with an image. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories came out of an image he’d had in his head for years, of a lamppost in a snowy wood. Similarly, my wife Lindsay and I had been discussing doing some sort of book for Imara for quite some time, when I came back to an image Carol Erickson had shared that stuck with me: of a young woman up in a tree protecting herself and her baby from hyenas after she had fled her village. I started to back that up to the image of a young woman, now safe in a tree, sitting there with her child in her arms, on a lower, safe-height branch, at Imara House.

Sitting in our living room with Lindsay, I began talking the story out in children’s book rhyme, much like a Dr. Suess book. As I did so, and we went back and forth, I could hear the story unfold, and a sense of the images to go with it, in my head.

We realized that a children’s version of the story might well give us a way to tell the story without getting too corporate, and at the same time in a way that children could get a feel for the good work that God is doing with Imara. And of course, as any preacher knows: if the children can get it, adults will too.

I went back then to an opening image of this young girl, who would tell us her story looking out at us from up in a tree with her baby. Initially we would see her up close and not be able to tell at what height or danger she was in. Eventually in the story, we would see her up in that other tree of her journey with hyenas around her. In the end, we would pull back to the full shot of her (from that first opening image), where she and her child were now clearly very happily and safely there in the Imara Village.

Talking it through, I took the journey with her. From the village she had to flee, to her trust in God to get her through, to that hyenas tree, to town, to being found by Carol, and then on to Imara where good things happened for her and her child, to the final Up in A Tree panel. I felt some freedom, because it was based on a true story, but I didn’t have to be slavishly tied to total detail.

Working with an artist is an important part of any children’s book. My good friend and colleague Paul Shaffer, with whom Lindsay and I had worked on some previous books and theatrical productions (Paul is an excellent set designer) agreed to help. I asked if he’d be willing to do this pro bono, and he said absolutely.

The writer of a children’s book typically either does the images himself, or thinks through what images he wants. I envisioned the book as each piece of text on one page, and the matching picture on the opposite facing page. I then wrote out what images I had in mind — what I basically wanted in each shot, the emotional feel of it, possibly the constraints or background — and then sent them along with the text pieces to Paul.

Paul then created draft images on his computer and sent them to me. We then went back and forth to get the right feel. For instance, we wanted to show the girl having to leave the village, but not too much of the nastiness of the villagers. We decided to tone down how close and vicious the hyenas were, and how the girl would look (old enough, but still a child herself). Along the way, Paul also contacted people who’d been to Imara and Kenya to get the images as accurate as possible without breaking up the story line.

We sat down together and put the pieces up online into a book text. One of our constraints was that the publisher needed a minimum of twenty-four pages to produce a book, so words, pictures, and other material had to fit those technical aspects.

In the end it all worked. We saw proofs, ordered copies, and were delighted to have them there as our gift to Imara. God bless us every one, especially the young mothers and children of Kenya.

Poet, priest and writer, Leonard Freeman is the former head of communications for Trinity Church Wall Street and Washington National Cathedral. He is the author of Safe in a Tree, Imara and Me, available on The author is donating the proceeds from every copy sold to Imara International.

A look back at 2015 from the Imara House

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas - tree

By Sandy Skorczewski, Assistant Director, USA
Imara International

It’s amazing that 2015 is coming to a close. The time goes by quickly and changes happen all around us, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is exciting for me to step back and reflect on all that has been happening and share some parts of that with you.

The young mothers continue to mature and grow more as each day passes. They are doing very well in school, and their desire to succeed is visible every day. They are excited to be in school and taking the new step of going offsite to attend a basic computer class. They know this will give them an edge in the work world in Kenya. Their job skills improve with the help of missionary and local volunteers. Businesses in Nanyuki have opened their doors to allow hands-on training for them. Seeing the young mothers grow and glow is something hard to put into words. It simply excites me to be a part of and see these lives being changed.

The young children continue to grow up way too fast. It is fun to see them mature and change. The oldest is now at three-and-a-half years, and the youngest is just one month on December 15. We have five toddlers in preschool each day. The amount of information those little sponges soak up is amazing. The teacher says with great enthusiasm, that they are well ahead of the norm, based on their ages. The one-year-olds are learning to walk and one is nearly running – keeping all of us on our toes. The two youngest, born since October, are mostly hanging out with their mommies.

Imara International as a whole has also grown and changed over the year. We have a good team with their hearts focused on the vision of Imara. I believe that Carol Erickson, Executive Director and all of the adult staff are the daily parental role models for the young mothers and children of Imara. As we continue to grow as an organization, we not only help raise our teen moms at the rescue house, we also focus on ways to help our staff grow. We are working for the whole Imara family.  I am thrilled daily that I can be a part of this process!

The Imara Village build is taking off! We have 20 acres of land that is being developed into a village for 50 moms and their babies. Over the last nine months the gate was constructed and placed; the first structure (an outdoor toilet) is in place; a shallow well was dug; and crops of beans, maize and potatoes planted. The water from the well is being used for the crops when the rains aren’t enough. One of our challenges is having staff chase the monkeys away from the crops. Yes, I said monkeys, not deer or raccoons or any other rodents. It has been fun to watch the process of growth! Most exciting is to know we are in the next stages of expanding the village with the additional structures, as we have the blueprints ready to submit for approvals. Imara Village is on its way forward!

On behalf of all of us at the Imara House, thank you for your support, Merry Christmas, and a happy new year in 2016!