29 September 2006


I’ve walked past this fellow numerous times in the past several months. He apparently lives here at the side of Uhuru Highway, a very busy road just outside of downtown Nairobi. Occasionally when I pass by, he’s not around, but his belongings - these two bags - are almost always here.

There are thousands of “street boys” in Nairobi - all throughout Kenya actually - but by far, most of them are younger than this guy appears to be. Sometimes, as I pass by, I notice him absorbed in reading a salvaged local newspaper. Several times I’ve observed him doing a Sudoku puzzle from a torn page of a paper.

Recently I approached him. He so intently worked on what appeared to be a homemade puzzle, that he was oblivious to my presence until I knelt down and greeted him. He looked up at me rather suspiciously. I told him that I also enjoyed such puzzles and asked if I could take his picture. Reacting somewhat apprehensive and reluctant, he did agree to my request. When I told him I’d give him 20-bob, he replied in excellent English, “No. The picture is free.”

Upon my offering him 20-bob a second time, he politely repeated the same reply. However, as I tore out the puzzle page from my paper, and gave that to him, he was noticeably happy.

This fellow greatly intrigues me. He obviously has a sharp mind. Why does he live on the street? And why here on such a noisy, busy road? Why would he refuse my offer of money? Surely he’s hungry. How does he survive; what does he eat? Do passers-by give him food? Where does he go when it rains?

And finally… how did he get started doing the Sudoku puzzles?

Rwandese Cultural Day - Dancers

Recently Travis and I joined Jean Claude for the 3rd annual Rwandese Cultural Day, held at the Chiromo campus of the University of Nairobi. The event was primarily for the benefit and enjoyment of Rwandese refugees, several thousand of which live in Kenya. There were a few outsiders, though, like the two of us.

The day consisted of entertainment, speeches, and food. Jean Claude, a Burundian, was able to translate much of it for the two of us. He told us that the two languages are similar. He also explained much of the significance of various aspects of the dances, etc.

Both he and David, a young man from Rwanda that also attends our church, told us that it’s actually quite amazing to see both Hutu and Tutsi in the same location. They were very pleased that such progress had been made since the genocide twelve years ago.

Rwandese Acrobats

Various Nairobi Scenes

These hand-carts are a common sight throughout much of Kenya. They typically haul fresh produce from the Farmers' Wholesale Market, lumber (called "timber" here), or household furniture when people move. This one is loaded with potatoes. A couple of guys - dripping with sweat - carried them into a cafe, obviously to be used for "chips" (french fries). Somehow these carts intermingle with all the regular vehicle traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. It's all rather amazing to me!.

The City Hoppa bus is one I frequently ride when I'm going home from downtown Nairobi.

The bottom picture is Parliament.

25 September 2006

Dagoretti Market

These are just a couple of interesting shots that are common sights in Kenya. Many, many things are constructed outside. It's called the "jua kali" (fierce sun) sector. Notice the small shield the welder is using for his eyes. The "duka" (small store) with all the jerry cans hanging from it is also a fairly common sight.

19 September 2006

West Pokot - A Land That Time Forgot

Recently a friend of mine was somewhat miffed. During the 11-day Middle East crisis, I reminded him that I don’t share his passion for current world events. In a heated email discussion, he proclaimed, “You are breathing, most certainly. You are alive and living on this planet. You cannot escape the fact that a ‘war’ is going on in the Middle East. Yet you strictly avoid any invitation to discuss world politics. This is peculiar behavior indeed.”

Well, call me “peculiar” then. I did not wring my hands over that bit of news from the Middle East. Nor did I follow CNN’s or BBC’s ongoing minute-by-minute reports.

I guess my passion – and the focus of my energy – is to concentrate on fulfilling God’s purpose for my life. My aim is to “be about My Father’s business”. I subscribe to the wisdom of God’s Word:

Blessed be the name of God. He knows all and does all. He guides history. (Daniel 2)

When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over…
Staying with it – that’s what God requires. (Matthew 24)

While that crisis was going on thousands of miles away, I ventured into a part of Kenya – West Pokot – where time seems to have stood still. For several days, I couldn’t get the images out of my mind.

Much of what I saw seemed like a remnant from a bygone era. Their lives are primitive, by most any standard. There is no electricity, no newspapers, and no phone coverage whatsoever. Radio reception, at best, is sporadic and scratchy.

Instead of avidly following BBC, here daily life is consumed with a basic struggle to survive. The people barely eke out a living in a barren and unforgiving land. 80% of Kenya is arid or semi-arid land (in the northern 2/3 of the country). The climate is harsh; indeed, their very lives are harsh.

While there, I got a most interesting glimpse into a people group called Suk – or more commonly – the Pokot. In some portions of West Pokot, illiteracy is incredibly as high as 97%. Very few are educated through 8th grade, especially the “girl child”. Even fewer make it through high school. Many only speak Pokot; they don’t know Swahili or English.

The plains they call home are not arable; they are dry and infertile. The rocky, sandy soil is dotted with scraggly shrubs, acacia trees, numerous varieties of cacti, and sisal plants. For all intents and purposes, there is no grass. Towering red termite hills frequent the landscape – some as tall as 12 feet.

Virtually no crops can survive, as the area receives very little precipitation throughout the year. Basically, the only water comes from the nearby hills and mountains when they get rain. This runoff produces overflowing seasonal rivers, severe erosion, and at times – raging floods. However, during most of the year, these riverbeds are bone dry. The dry, thirsty soil can only sustain the grazing of livestock.

It’s estimated that less than 200,000 speak Pokot. Both Hills and Plains Pokot straddle the border with Kenya and Uganda. 25% are “corn people” (cultivators) and 75% are “cow people” (nomadic pastoralists). Those living on the plains herd cows and goats.

Wealth is measured by how much livestock you own (by both the corn and cow people). They use livestock for bartering (exchange for goods) and for paying dowry (bride price). The animals are also used for milk, butter, and cheese – but are rarely slaughtered for consumption.

Much of northern Kenya is known as “bandit country”. Livestock rustling is a way of life – just as it has been for centuries. Many people die as a result of these fierce clashes. In fact, little regard is held for the lives of others. Instead, pastoralists receive praise for killing. A warrior who makes it home unscathed – and with lots of stolen animals – is a role model in the community. When a Pokot is killed in such a skirmish, it is said that he is "mourned with only one eye". In other words, his death was honorable. An ongoing fight between the Pokot and the Samburu communities has been raging for months, with raids and counter raids. As always, the issue in the drought-ravaged area is pastureland and watering points.

The Pokot have lobbied the Kenyan government to build a cement plant near Ortum, an area rich in limestone. This would produce many jobs. Right now, the prevailing attitude among the men is, “our only job is to steal cattle”.

During the first few months of 2006, a malaria outbreak in West Pokot claimed the lives of at least 72 people. It’s likely that many more died at home. Recently there was also a measles outbreak, with over 20 people – both children and adults – admitted to hospitals.

My guide for this trip was Geoffrey Masinde (an uncle to my young friend, Collins). After attending his church on Sunday, he told me, “It’s amazing how God works. I’m a Luhya and can hardly speak any Pokot. But God has me pastoring in West Pokot district!”

Monday morning we headed out on our adventure. While waiting at Makutano for our matatu to fill – it took almost an hour – a Swahili CD played over and over. Our conductor joined in unabashedly, singing songs such as “Nothing But the Blood” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. Finally, all the seats filled up.

As we headed northeast past Ortum, Geoffrey pointed out the limestone pit. We descended down the Kamadira slope – the steepest and longest in Western Kenya – leaving behind the lush, green vegetation of the higher elevation. Continuing our descent through Marich Pass, the temperature got noticeably hotter. Most passengers shed their jackets. At a police roadblock an officer sought refuge under the shade of a tree. He held a Dasani bottle of water.
Our conductor, who knew Geoffrey, pointed out the nearby South Turkana National Reserve. He told us that lions sometimes roam the area. In fact, I saw many men carrying a bow and “kotit” (“arrows" in the Pokot language).

The pavement ended. As dust started coming in the matatu window, the conductor said something to me in Swahili. I thought he told me to close the window (the Swahili words for “open” and “close” sound similar to me). But, incredibly he wanted me to open it even more. I complied, even though it didn’t seem to make any sense. I’ve learned the truth of the adage, “never underestimate the wisdom of local knowledge”.

As we drove along, I gazed curiously out the window. Herds of a small breed of “aran” (goats) were absolutely everywhere. It was fun to watch them scamper around with their tiny legs. There were a few interestingly constructed shelters and houses, made of numerous sticks standing vertically next to each other in rows.

I observed that many of the males (both young and old) wore only a blanket wrapped around their loins. Many of them wore large hoops or long chains dangling from their cut earlobes.
Some were dressed in more “Western” style clothing, albeit rather clumsily. Most all of them wore rubber sandals made from recycled tires (like the Masaai wear). Practically all the males walked with a “lokit” (walking stick) and a “kaydeke” (hand-carved wooden stool/headrest). They would typically prop the lokit near an armpit and lean into it while crossing one leg over the other at the ankle. They maintained this apparently comfortable pose while absentmindedly watching their goats. If they got tired, they could sit on the kaydeke, or even lay down using it to prop up their head.

We passed by many women; invariably they were bent over and carried large, heavy bundles of firewood on their backs. Across all of Africa, women are like pack animals – carrying firewood and water long distances every single day. Many of the Pokot women wore only a loosely hanging “shuka” (piece of cloth or blanket draped over one shoulder) on the upper portion of their bodies.

We crossed over a river with a dozen naked kids swimming or bathing. Bare-chested women laundered clothes, spreading them out to dry on large stones. Virtually all the women (young and old) wore numerous bangles on their wrists – brass, copper, and silver. From their pierced ears (or cut earlobes) hung astounding beaded earrings in various lengths. Many wore the large, stiff beaded necklaces as well.

As various passengers got on and off our vehicle, I noticed that often their hair wasn’t combed – both male and female. It wasn’t as tightly curled as most Kenyans’ and many heads of hair had brownish colored patches.

One guy had a “torch” (flashlight) in his back pocket. I suppose that’s a prudent move, in case one is still out after dark. As we stopped to pick up a young man, he eagerly approached the wrong side of the matatu, apparently expecting a sliding side door. The conductor and driver animatedly told him to use the other side. He must not travel in vehicles very often.

When we stopped for a beautiful young woman who flagged us down, the driver patiently waited as she picked up some clothes drying on stones, a plastic bag dangling from a wooden fence, and a large gunny sack lying by the side of the road. She was marvelously dressed and adorned with numerous, brightly colored beaded necklaces and earrings. About a dozen intentionally placed scars served as beauty marks on her chest.

Simultaneously, a similarly dressed and adorned handsome young man boarded. He had long chains hanging from his pierced ears. They were both quite stunning. One could think they had just walked off of a movie set, but obviously this was their daily wear.

After a night at a guesthouse (amazingly founded by a group from Iceland), we headed out for market day at Sigor. We encountered a rather forlorn-looking woman. When Geoffrey greeted her, she barely responded and didn’t muster a smile. Because it was so inconsistent with how most Kenyans greet each another, I asked him if he thought something was wrong with her. Somewhat matter-of-factly, he replied, “You know, these people live desperate lives.” In fact, he repeated that exact phrase on a few other occasions. My own recollection is that I saw little display of joy while we were there.

With Geoffrey’s limited Pokot, he informed her that I wanted to take her picture. Very reluctantly, she agreed. I handed her a 20-bob coin (about 25 cents) – both as a token of gratitude and as a gift. She simply stared at it lying awkwardly on her palm. Geoffrey tried to explain to her what it was worth. As we continued on our way, he confirmed my suspicion that she likely has rarely handled money in her lifetime. Many nomadic communities in northern Kenya strictly function with a bartering system.

Without a single vehicle in sight, we had no choice but to start walking. We were naively confident we would find one along the way. It was fairly early in the day, but already the sun was hot. I got out my umbrella to create some shade.

We saw dozens of goats and occasionally a few donkeys. At least one goat in each small herd wore a bell of some sort. Some bells were simply hollowed out turtle shells. Weaver nests dangled from the branches of the acacia trees.

Here and there, we passed by a few items for sale lying unattended alongside the dusty road – a bag or two of charcoal, a few poles (tree trunks) for constructing homes, or a pile of gathered firewood.

Geoffrey and I maintained a fairly lively discussion as we walked. Besides observations about our interesting surroundings, much of the time we talked about God’s Word – a passion for both of us. We walked for over two hours and only encountered five people on the road!

Crossing over a small stream on a newly constructed bridge, I noticed a large tree on one bank. Several men lounged under its shade. Perhaps they were elders discussing a hot community issue. Two of the older men lay on blankets with their heads on a “kaydeke”.

We also passed by a group of young women sitting in the shade of a small tree, grooming themselves for this once-a-week social outing. A few combed their hair while others spread goat fat on their legs and arms. It’s my guess that market day is the only time they do such primping.

When we got to within one mile of our destination we did see more people on the road, likely all heading to Sigor for market day. Most of the women we encountered carried three or four decorated calabashes (gourds) filled with goat milk. They were held against their backs with a leso (piece of colorfully printed cloth), similar to how babies are typically carried.

Twice we heard the noise of an engine. Hopeful it was a vehicle approaching, Geoffrey exclaimed, “What’s happening?” However, both times it was a plane flying overhead. We pressed on, walking six miles before we finally got a lift on the back of an already crowded lorry. The guys we squeezed in with were amazed to see me.

In Sigor, a small trading center, every cluster of trees seemed to have a grouping of goods being sold underneath. The women with milk-filled calabashes sat under one tree. Nearby were the women trading in “cereals” (beans, flour, rice). Another area had fresh fruits and vegetables. Obviously, these latter two groups of women had traveled from the surrounding areas, in higher elevation, to sell their goods.

There were also groups of men. Some bought and sold goats. When a purchase was made, the new owner would either march the goat away holding onto one of its legs or attempt to control it with a short length of sisal rope. In another area, men bartered over goatskins. I’m told that they’re still commonly used for bedding – like a sheet or a blanket. Like the other one we’d passed by earlier, a group of older men were clustered together under a tree, apparently holding a serious discussion. Several young people strolled around the area; their clothing and jewelry were captivating. A few school children were out for lunch break.

I found all the people gathered for market day to be utterly fascinating. Ironically, I believe everyone was as mesmerized with me as I was with them.

I discovered the Pokot don’t like being photographed, at least not by a stranger. To be sure, they were less gregarious than many people groups I’ve encountered in Kenya. In fact, I would say they are rather somber and almost suspicious. I had the distinct feeling they weren’t too fond of the idea of me intruding into their space. Although my presence didn’t arouse much noticeable attention, I was aware of people staring at me. I guess I can’t complain. After all, I intently observed them as well.

Geoffrey and I were hot, tired, and parched after our long walk. While he bought some mangos, I found a piece of comparatively unoccupied shade and sat down on a stone. A group of children formed a semi-circle around me to nonchalantly watch me from a distance. I spotted a “duka” (small shop) with a sign boasting “Cold Soda”. I sent Geoffrey to test the truth of their claim; incredibly he returned with cold soda for each of us. I do believe it was possibly the most refreshing soda either of us had ever had! I gave the last few swallows of mine to a young boy who had stood only two feet away the whole time. Even though he tried his best to appear aloof, he had never taken his eyes off of me.

Throughout my two-day excursion into West Pokot, I was dumbfounded with all I had witnessed. The Pokot live nearly the same as their forefathers did several generations ago.

I submit that it’s irrelevant whether or not these people are aware of the Middle East crisis. It’s immaterial whether or not they know about the hatred between the Jews and the Arabs.

Rather, what they do understand is that if a neighbor steals their livestock, they feel hatred. And in turn, they seek revenge. Strange as it may seem to you or I… that’s their reality.

That morning, I had woken up early to watch the sunrise. In the distance, a lingering fog hung in low-lying areas. Birds heralded the new day. Suddenly, a gloriously beautiful orange ball appeared from behind the undulating peaks and ridges.

In countless villages and homesteads across the expanse of West Pokot, families engaged in their normal morning routines – milking goats and preparing breakfast.

Another day dawns. God is on His throne. In spite of everything, He is in control of history.

By your and my estimation, surely the Pokot live a sparse life. They have few amenities or luxuries.

The vast majority certainly isn’t savvy about current world events.

Nevertheless, what is important is that if they know and fellowship with the living Christ, their lives are complete! If they can enthusiastically say, “Kwole Jotion” (Praise the Lord), then they can rejoice in the commencement of a new day, all the while oblivious to the crisis in the Middle East.

13 September 2006

Travis in Kibera

Travis connected with this little guy - Humphrey. He and I (and two of my Kenyan friends) spent 5 hours exploring Kibera. It was my fourth visit but I always find it to be very fascinating. Kibera is the second largest slum in all of Africa. 900,000 people are crammed into the hilly slum, living in rather disgusting squalor. Their homes are crude, to put it mildly. The fumes and sights that one experiences are almost beyond belief. It's hard to imagine living there on a daily basis. And yet, somehow, there's joy on the people's faces.

Travis' Observations After Only Four Days in Kenya

19-year old Travis arrived in Nairobi on Thursday evening for a 3-month stay in Kenya. It's his first time out of the United States. Please pray for him as he seeks God's will on where he is to plug in for ministry opportunities.

I've added a hotlink to his blogsite in the right-hand column. I hope you'll take a minute or two to see what his early observations are. Here is a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

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"The last few days, I have felt more alone than ever. I have left everything I ever knew behind and am here in a whole different world that is so foreign to me. Though I fell torn, I feel like I have been awakened here.

I have met so many Kenyans who have faith that just blows me away. These people are so on fire for God despite what they go through. It puts America to shame. You can see happiness in them even when they have seen the worst of the worst. They have nothing, yet their faith is so real. It is tested daily by their trials and they persevere through so much more than the average American. They have scars emotionally and physically. They have been broken yet they give God honor for everything.

I ate lunch at a refugee friend’s house the other day. The typical house here is one room supported by scrap metal. They cook with a little fire and go to the bathroom in a hole. They have no electricity or water. They live on faith and nothing else. It makes my complaints sound so puny.

I have learned how pain can really draw you closer to God. He is the only one that can pick you back up and carry you on, heal your wounds, and mend you back to who He wants you to be. I don’t think God can use people until they have been hurt because it shows how useless they are without Him. As A.W. Tozer says, “It is doubtful the Lord will use a man greatly until He’s hurt him deeply.”

Yesterday, as I stood in church singing and praising with other Kenyans, it felt so much more lively. It’s like this fear of reverence towards God, a trembling that grasps your heart. The people here yearn so deeply to feel His presence and to be moved. They push ever hindrance aside and willingly live to honor Him."

07 September 2006

The Grandparents Meet Joy for the First Time

This is one of Karo's "step-grandmothers" - Diana. Her grandfather (who died some years ago) was a polygamist. Two of his four wives are remaining. Karo's actual grandmother died just a few months ago.

This is Jeremiah's mom and dad. His dad was also a polygamist and had three wives. They live only about an hour walk from my place in Matunda!

This is Karo's mom and dad. They live in Siaya, which is north of Lake Victoria. They were absolutely delighted to see Joy!

Traveling Kenya Style

This is Karo's dad on the morning we left their place. We had booked 3 boda bodas (bicycle taxis) for 7:00am sharp... but they didn't show up. So... we walked about 45 minutes before we found one. Karo and Joy took it, while we kept walking. Then two came - one for me and one for the luggage. Just to reach the road from their house is a difficult walk. Nothing is easy, it seems, in Kenya.

Karo's mom is carrying a very heavy bag of sweet potatoes and greens (both from their "shamba"), "omena" (minnow-like fish from Lake Victoria), and a freshly slaughtered hen. This is the typical way Kenyan women carry things. And the items in the bag are very typically sent home with urbanites when they visit rural areas.

A Long, But Successful Trip

Finally... we reached Nairobi and were done traveling! We had covered hundreds of miles. We'd been on nine different vans, numerous bicycle taxis, and a "tuk tuk" (3-wheeled taxi in Kisumu). We were all tired of traveling!

This is a shelter at Nyagondo's stage, near where Karo's parents live.

Celebrating A Birthday!

Jeremiah was thrilled with his birthday cake! Celebrating birthdays isn't done so much in Kenya. But I thoroughly enjoy baking cupcakes or cakes for my many friends. We always sing "Happy Birthday" as well.

September Prayer Letter

Praise –

Relationships – I was privileged to spend some quality time with many of my friends this past month. Some of them include Karo and Jeremiah (on several occasions, two of which included celebrating their birthdays with cupcakes, candles, and singing “Happy Birthday”); Kim/Martin (on two occasions, one of which included hiking around Ololua Forest and climbing the rocks at the waterfall); Rose and Sammy (for lunch in town); Linet (briefly, to share some gifts with her); Robert (as we enjoyed nyama choma); Mark (a young Sudanese friend of mine); Judith (while enjoying an Ethiopian lunch to celebrate her birthday); Bishop and Margaret and their family (on an overnight stay); Sammy (while seeing him off at the airport on his way to Morocco to play with the Under-18 Kenya rugby team); Kim/Moses (over lunch); and the homegroup guys (over a lunch of nyama choma, in order to recognize some of their recent achievements); both Karo and Jeremiah’s parents (as they all got to meet Joy for the first time); and Collins (during a brief stay at Matunda). The focus of my ministry is one-on-one relationships. A glance at my calendar reveals that I pro-actively pursue spending quality time with the folks God has connected me with.

Teaching Time – I taught at Kwa Njenga Church for a second time on the subject of God’s Word. I believe it went well and that the people were blessed to receive it.

Safe Travels – Karo, Joy (now 3 months old), and I safely traveled to Matunda and Siaya over the course of nine days. We prayed earnestly regarding each and every PSV (public transportation vehicle) that we entered (a total of 11, not counting the many boda bodas). There have been three fatal accidents on Kenyan roads in a recent two-week span, with 27 people killed. Just as we finished our journey late last night, we passed by an accident scene in their neighborhood in which a person had been killed by a “lorry” (large truck). Just a few minutes later, we heard on the evening news that a family of six had been killed in a highway accident earlier in the day. We praised God for our safe travel over many hundreds of miles!

Prayer –

I’ll be hosting Travis Brim (a young man from my previous church in Omaha) during the next three months. I will appreciate your prayers as I show him the many facets of life in Kenya and as we engage in various ministry opportunities. Please also pray for safety as we do some traveling throughout Kenya.

I have another teaching time scheduled at Kwa Njenga Church on the 17th. Please pray that God’s Word would not return to Him void but that it would accomplish His purpose.

Please remember to pray by name for my many friends here in Kenya. The schools have re-opened for the 3rd and final term of the school year. Pray for Collins, Rose, Sammy, Masudi, Masha, Musyoka, and Jim as they study and learn.

As always, pray that I’ll maintain my focus. I want to only engage in the activities that God has pre-ordained for me. May I also be able to say, “I was born for this,” like Joan of Arc in the 15th century.

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“I am not here for my own purpose at all. I am here for the purpose of God. The two are not the same.” - Oswald Chambers