Thursday, March 9, 2017

Kenya '17

A plaque in the Nairobi airport exclaims "welcome home," alluding to the theory of East African common human origin. At least initially, this reads as an touristy appeal to European romancers. The proceeding days, however, materialized a feeling that a journey to Kenya is really a journey into something subconsciously home.


The feeling starts interpersonally by meeting locals. Kenyans seem genuinely comfortable sharing the natural beauty of their land with foreigners. I like to think this attitude is less about money than generosity but I'm sure it doesn't hurt that tourism was 9.8% of their GDP in 2016. The scenery's beauty, despite being entirely tinted by a sepia-tone layer of dust, hits the center of your imagination. It begs to be explored, nurtured, and enjoyed.

Our sleep deprived daze through Nairobi consisted of a visit to a giraffe reserve and baby elephant orphanage. Both places were massively over-crowded with humans which did not at all detract from the splendor of seeing these animals properly cared for and appreciated. Our early-afternoon car ride to Naivasha (host's home) exposed us to dust, vehicle exhaust, roadside garbage, beggars, decrepit infrastructure, and world class Rift Valley vistas. Guess which made the biggest impression.



Our host's home, Eagles Wings (Isaiah 40:31), is more striking than I had imagined from their pictures and more expansive than I can sufficiently describe here. Not only is the structure a feat of primitive engineering but their view simultaneously allows rare wildlife, part of lake Naivasha, mountains, and a full Kenyan forest. Arriving for the last rays of sunset, we found it hard to unpack the cars until the show was over.


Lying down to sleep under the stars that night on a soft bed, under clean warm blankets, showered, and full of a home-cooked meal was itself worth the prior 40 hours of travel.  The blessings continued in the morning after coffee, breakfast, and a bumpy motorcycle ride to St. Andrews school in nearby Kasarani. Giggly high school students stood at attention for their monthly assembly which happened to coincide with our arrival. We were each allowed a moment to give a sentence about who we were and what we brought for them, usually followed by hushed whispers from our energetic audience.


Though sad we couldn't stay, Peter, Greg and I set off for Africa Theological Seminary, Kitale. 5 hours, hundreds of miles, thousands of feet in elevation, and one equator crossing later we arrived at our two-week home. It’s a typical campus, not unlike the layout of a summer camp in the US. That likening blanketed me with comfort as we settled into our arrangement; for me to learn and assist, for Pastor Peter Smith to teach and guide. I wanted to fully engage my African spiritual contemporaries immediately. Often I set out on these travels with the intention of teaching but come home having learned much more.


The course I took with 1 Ugandan and 7 Kenyan classmates was about methods of Pastoral care. Although most concepts translated well into East African Christian tradition, there were some new considerations for the unfamiliar teacher. These included arrangements for the marriage dowry, different power dynamics in church leadership, and new meanings for engaging worship.

Our most "authentic" (meaning, most insulated from western influence) taste of Kenyan culture was made necessary by an inspection of an NACCC sponsored church group in a rural Pokot village. Aside from the challenge of driving a road that would otherwise be difficult to climb on foot, we captured an overwhelmingly positive glance of rural life. Over a period of a few years their ministry has grown from 6 churches to 39 under "Bishop" Rafael, a Turkana by lineage. Amazingly these Pokot people have elected him despite their traditional aversion to the waring Turkana tribe. This is yet another subtle sign that God is working reconciliation and peace into these communities.



Although we could not materially bless these congregations with supplies for structures they desperately need in order to worship in the shade, I could read on their faces the contentment they felt knowing we care enough to find them there. We were able to provide a meal for the area's leaders that night to encourage them in their ministry. As with any mission, it does not feel adequate, but we assured them in our words and deeds they are not alone.


After a night of sleeping on a windy porch underneath an ocean of stars we began our journey back to ATS detoured by a morning worship service. Sunday worship was characterized by smiles, jumping, singing, dancing, preaching, encouraging, and testifying. Revered Peter Smith was able to give a message on Jesus' daily guidance with translation by Lapalli. The service continued 2 hours past our arrival, apparently 5 short of their usual routine. The singing concluded with a large circle of farewells outside the worship hall.


I am entirely encouraged by Pokot people who God has blessed in a dimension foreign to us. I am blessed to have met them and sojourned briefly in their lives.

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Being a skeptic, I wondered if there was some other reason people were coming to these services. "Do they make lunch normally?," I asked Lapalli on our ride back. "No," he said, "these people eat once a day, two times maximum." Humbled, I had a lot to reflect upon for the rest of our ride along the narrow escarpment.

The rest of our time at ATS was spent in fellowship with students and staff. I continued to learn about what Kenyan ministry entails including a deeper understanding of their church leadership structures. I heard over and over about the reluctance of leaders to step down from their positions; a problem we tend not to have in American church bodies.


Our trip concluded with a game reserve safari. I don't recommend skipping the safari like I was considering. In a way, this facet of tourism illustrates the priorities of Kenyans. They understand conservation is not only a part of their livelihood but part of their responsibility to the land of the origin of our species. We had the privilege of observing giraffes, zebras, elephants, warthogs, antelopes, and LIONS in their natural habitats. I don't expect I'll see anything like it for quite some time.





Of course I can't quite touch upon how impactful this mission was in a blog post; at least not without the expense of boring you.  So if there are any questions please don't hesitate to reach out. And of course if you feel called to serve on a trip like this, let it be known!

Returning from a developing country is no easy thing. Despite the promise of clean clothes, soft beds, and “normal” food, there sits a reminder on the front of my cranium that these promises are a huge material privilege not afforded by my counterparts. Even more bitter, though, is the simple pain of leaving new friends. I always say a sincere farewell and give best assurances of continued contact; this time was no different. Kenya has blemished my soul in a beautiful way. More noteworthy than the deep absence of wealth of my new friends in this country, was the deep appetite for God. I’ve come to realize this peculiarity is no coincidence.