26 March 2007

April Prayer Letter

Praise Items - Rejoice with me!

  • I've gotten to spend some good quality time with Caleb's daughter, Aaliyah. I have thoroughly enjoyed it! Besides a great afternoon at the park, we've read some library books and made chocolate chip cookies and lasagna together. She is such a delightful little girl. And... I'm not at all biased! :)

More Praise Items:

  • Good time of speaking at a retirement home chapel service and of sharing at a Seniors' Bible class
  • Making memories doing several 1000-piece puzzles together with my Mom, especially while snowed in for 2 days during a blizzard
  • Good times of reaching out to a newly-widowed neighbor lady, a friend in a difficult period of transition, and a friend convalescing at a rehab facility
  • Lots of catching up with old friends over scrumptious meals
  • Great visits by out-of-town friends and relatives
  • Some good bike rides in lovely Spring weather! I love to be on my bike!
  • News Flash! I get to go to Jess's wedding! God made a way! I'm so excited to be there for her big day!

Prayer Items -

1) Please pray for my safety as do some traveling:

  • March 28 - April 2: St. Croix (in the Virgin Islands) for Jessica's wedding
  • April 8-18: I'll be making a bit of a circuit tour to Cleveland and Cincinnati (Ohio), Louisville (Kentucky), and Mt. Vernon (Illinois). I'll be visiting several friends I've met in Kenya at each of these stops and sharing about my ministry.
2) On the 15th, I'll be delivering the Word. Please pray that God would receive all the glory.

Thank you so much for upholding me in prayer!

"Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led.
But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading.
It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason -
a life of knowing Him who calls us to go."

-Oswald Chambers

Jesus said,
"You're tied down to the mundane;

I'm in touch with what is beyond your horizons.
You live in terms of what you see and touch.
I'm living on other terms."

John 8:23 (The Message)

An Afternoon at the Park with Aaliyah

Aaliyah and I had such a good time at the park! We played on the playground, swinging to our hearts content! We fed the geese and ducks. We just simply enjoyed the sunshine and one another's company.

Rachel, Aaliyah, Caleb

More Professional Photos of the Turkana People

NOTE - All text in this post is from bluegecko.org/kenya

In spite of the poverty of their land, the Turkana have managed to create something out of almost everything that surrounds them. The materials they use reveal an incredible ability to use almost everything that composes their environment: leather, iron from smelted haematite ore, copper from old electric wires, aluminum and tin from old cans and spoons, wood, beads and seeds, nuts, shells, fish vertebra, horns and hoofs, bones and stones, tusks, gourds, ligaments and plumes, hair and tails of livestock for decorations and charms, and nowadays even old car tires which are turned into supremely comfortable '5000-mile shoes'. To misquote the proverb: scarcity is the mother of invention!

Like the Maasai and Samburu (and many other pastoralist peoples), they are also well known for their colorful and often intricate beadwork. This is primarily the preserve of the women, and their color, form and arrangement can have both social as well as ritual significance.

Such beautiful headdresses and sophisticated jewelry are common sights

For women, marriage is the first and primary stage of adulthood. Turkana girls are usually married when between 15 and 20 years of age. They usually have some say in the selection of an appropriate husband. The wedding itself may take a couple of days and is perhaps the most important event in Turkana social life. There is much ceremony, dancing and feasting.

As mentioned elsewhere, a Turkana man can marry several women, so long as he is able to pay the bridewealth for each. And among the Turkana, this is hefty by any standards. As a young boy explained, "Turkana people can marry even 10 women so longer he is rich to avoid the dowry. 1 woman can cost 20 cows 30 goats and 15 camels and some donkeys."

Among Turkana women, a wife "generally considers it an economic advantage for her family to have additional co-wives since the women help each other in doing domestic chores and in caring for their animals. The co-wives may also help their husband find a new bride. They interview young women with a goal of finding one who will be compatible with them and hard working. Their husband usually must have their approval before going ahead with the wedding. For him, an additional wife also has disadvantages. The co-wives may get together, gang-up on him, and force him to do things that he does not want to do. More wives can mean more potential domestic trouble for a husband."

For the most part, pastoralism - the semi-nomadic herding of animals - is quite simply the only means of survival in such an arid location. Turkana rely almost entirely on cattle for their survival. It is an implacable logic that a man should aim to keep the largest herd of cattle possible, so that come the next drought, a comparatively large number of animals may survive. Grass has acquired an element of sacredness for its role in feeding cattle, and it is said that when a person wishes to make peace with his enemy, he will present him with a bundle of fresh grass. It is a powerful and symbolic offering which no-one can refuse.

The staple foodstuff in the Turkana diet is provided by a mixture of cow's milk and blood, though milk yield depends on the season, and may cease completely during prolonged dry spells. For these times, provision is made during the wet season by boiling fresh milk and letting it dry on skins, to make edodo powdered milk. In the dry season, the Turkana also eat fruit, most commonly wild berries which are either crushed to make dried meal, or mixed with blood and made into cakes.

Only rarely - either through extreme need, an animal's infirmity or old age, or for ritual purposes such as rain sacrifices, welcoming rites and mortuary rites - are cattle slaughtered; meat for eating is provided by goats and sheep instead (only in the dry season), which are also milked. The first animals to be slaughtered will have been specially chosen and castrated long before, as are sacrificial animals. These are presented to God with a simple and bluntly honest formula, something like "This is your animal, take it" or "This is your ox, take him." The sacrificers then continue: "Give us life, health, animals, grass, rain and all good things".

Apart from providing 80% of their food requirements, cattle have an amazing multiplicity of other uses, providing skins for clothing, mats, shelters, twine, sandals, slings, containers, bags and so on. The horns are used as containers (as they have been throughout the world), dung is burned for fuel, the hairs and tails are used as decorations and charms, the bones are turned into clubs, fat turned to oil for softening leather, stomach contents spread out for rituals...

On a more prosaic level, cattle are offered as gifts on social occasions, while fines and compensations suggested by elders for transgressions such as fathering illegitimate children are also expressed in head. Cattle can also be bartered for grain, tobacco, beads and ironware.

In the same way that elders are respected in part for their having survived, so a man with large numbers of cattle will be admired and respected, too, for the survival of his family and relatives rests assured. This is especially true given the scarcity of water and pasturage (which runs as a constant theme throughout Turkana life), which has itself raised the practice of livestock raiding (and the resulting warfare) to a quasi-economic pursuit, through which men are can acquire reputations for bravery as well as sudden wealth.

This is not just a matter of pride. The symbolic bridewealth payment, which of course is made in cattle, is traditionally very high, providing young men with a powerful incentive to establish their reputations and herds through raids on non-Turkana groups. The symbolic transfer of cattle thus not only compensates the bride's family for the expense of having raised her, but also signals the man's ability to found a successful and prosperous family for his wife and future children.

Penye wengi pana Mungu

NOTE - The following is taken from bluegecko.com/kenya

Penye wengi pana Mungu -

(Where there are many people, there God is)
Swahili proverb

An estimated three quarters of all Kenyans profess to be Christian, whether nominally or otherwise (the majority being Protestant), up from precisely zero before the first European missionaries arrived in the 1840s. Approximately one fifth of the population still adhere to their traditional beliefs and religions, although these are fast disappearing in the face of an often aggressive evangelical presence. A minority of Kenyans (around 10%) are Muslim.

The only geographical distinction that can be made between the various religions is with Islam, which is practiced mainly on the coast and in the adjoining northeast of the country bordering Somalia.

Thankfully, religion is not a divisive issue in Kenya, and has had nothing to do with the sporadic outbreaks of 'ethnic violence' that have plagued the country since the early 1990s.

Christianity in Turkana land -
Since 1961, when the Africa Inland Mission established a food-distribution center and mission at Lokori to offset a famine that had started the year before, Christianity has been met with only limited success. Despite two hundred missionaries in the field today, the swift nomadic lifestyle of the Turkana precludes any long-term attempts at conversion, so that the only established churches are among the minority of settled Turkana in the small towns near the lake, and on the lakeshore itself where fishing is practiced.

"The Turkana are receptive to change if they feel it is to their advantage. However, religion is not seen as a vital part of their life so they are indifferent to Christianity."

NOTE - Kim and I did see a church meeting under a tree on our way to Lake Turkana.

Lake Turkana

By its very existence, the windswept expanse of Lake Turkana is something of a miraculous anomaly. Situated in the arid lands of northwestern Kenya, it is the largest permanent desert lake in the world. Roughly 150 miles long and 25-40 miles wide, it occupies a clearly delineated trough in the Northern Rift Valley, lying mainly in Kenya but with its marshy northern end jutting into Ethiopia.

The climate is harsh, with a mean annual rainfall of under 10 inches and a merciless hot wind which blows almost constantly. Mid-day temperature is typically 104 degrees!

The lake contains the world's largest population of Nile crocodiles, of which some 12,000 were estimated to be breeding on Central Island in 1981; there are no recent figures available.

It was so hot while Kim and I were at the lake, that we sat in the shade of a dilapidated shack the whole time. We enjoyed watching this guy wash his laundry. The whole time he did so, he quietly sang a song to himself.

This little guy and his buddy thoroughly enjoyed themselves as they played with their homemade boats. We also took much delight in observing them. As I took this photo, the father yelled at me. He thought I only took it because the boy was naked. Kim had to do some fast talking to calm him down.

A Few More Photos from Our Incredible Adventure

Waste management is a concept that doesn't really exist in Kenya. Both of these scenes above are all too typical throughout Kenya - that of burning trash or trash piled high and unsightly (to say nothing of it being unhealthy).

These two guys are typical of the men we saw. They're both wearing sandals made from recycled tires and carrying their walking sticks and headrests. The one on the right has the typical blanket draped across his body. His hair is covered with blue mud.

The young man on the left is wearing a military-looking shirt. We saw many sporting such shirts and carrying a chip on their shoulder. They seemed to be looking for trouble!

About 50% of the men that we saw wore "wrist knives". These weapons, worn on the wrist, are made from sharpened steel. They're 6-8 inches in diameter and covered with a piece of leather. If provoked, the protective piece of leather is quickly removed and they can go into instant hand-to-hand combat. One swipe with such a weapon could do severe damage!

We had to do a bit of negotiating to convince these guys to let us take their picture. They weren't too interested at first. Finally we agreed on a (nominal) price. But, still they didn't seem so sure about the whole thing.

Notice - they're NOT wearing wrist knives!

More on the Turkana

A typical Turkana village

Miscellaneous thoughts on the Turkana:

To a large extent, the Turkana have been lost in the folds of time.

They are a hardy people born of a warrior tradition. Cattle raiding is as much a sport as football (soccer) is elsewhere in Kenya. To this day, disputes are settled by gun and spear without any formal law and order.

Turkana are reputed to be fierce and intelligent. Two adjectives that could be very easily used to describe them are:

  • Belligerent (spoiling for a fight, aggressive, argumentative)
  • Bellicose (warlike, combative, confrontational)
We experienced these aspects of their personalities often!

They are a tall, graceful people, with an elegant build and delicate facial features. Seeing them lean on their long spears and gazing dreamily at outsiders or watching them lead their herds into the distance, you find it hard to imagine them as fierce bandits.

They are extremely adaptable; they've become skillful fishermen and farmers while continuing their traditional raising of cattle and camels. Rapidly expanding millet farming is not necessarily incompatible with nomadism. The seeds are sown before rainy season and harvested before they move cattle to a new grazing area.

Turkana inhabit some of the most inhospitable land on earth (hot and dry). They're used to famines that wipe out herds and people. Despite the intense heat of the area, their main article of clothing is a wool blanket – often red.

I find them to be a most fascinating people group.

I managed to take these two photos from our bus window. I did it as discreetly as possible. One woman managed to see me and started hollering, "picture!" Fortunately I was inside the safety of our bus, otherwise it could have turned ugly.

These people are selling charcoal to passersby on the highway. Our bus driver purchased several of these large bags. Charcoal is a common cooking fuel, especially in the rural areas of Kenya.

Still to come from our trip/adventure - photos from Kakuma Refugee Camp

13 March 2007

The Turkana People

In December, I traveled to the area inhabited by the Turkana - a most interesting people group. It was such an incredible and memorable trip! I went with my good Kenyan friend, Kim. He and I both seem to have been stricken with a spirit of wanderlust!

We saw everything that these photos depict. These people do currently dress this way. In fact, they seem to live in a sort of time warp.

Because I couldn't always get such good photos myself, I got these five photos off of the internet. You will see, as you read further, that they are a very warlike tribe. To say they don't appreciate having their photo taken would be an understatement! As a matter of fact, we had more than a couple of close calls when they saw my camera. Because of that, I was a very frustrated photographer! The scenes we saw that I couldn't photograph are many!

I hope you'll take the time to read what I've included about this fascinating people!

We saw numerous men with their hair fixed like this. They cover it with mud and paint it blue. It can stay that way for months. This guy is resting on a head stool. Virtually every man walks around carrying one of these.

You can see that this young man also has a head stool with him.
The other item that virtually every man walks around with is a walking stick, or fighting staff.
Notice the ostrich feather sticking up from his head.
This is a very common adornment for men.

We saw numerous men and women with such piercings. Usually it was some sort of metal.
The women wear their hair in braided mohawks.

The following information was taken from the website - bluegecko.org

With a population around 300,000, the Nilotic-speaking Turkana are Kenya's second-largest group of pastoralists, after the Maasai.

The majority live in Turkana District of Rift Valley Province in the arid northwest of Kenya, near Lake Turkana (the world's largest desert lake) and its volcanic hills.

The land they inhabit, for the most part, is parched desert plain strewn with rusty sun-baked rocks, coarse sand and small outcrops, and some low and equally barren hills. The climate is dry and often blisteringly hot, and the paltry annual rainfall prevents any but the hardiest of desert plants from growing: spiny acacia, low thorn bush and seasonal grasses. In any case, rainfall patterns are unreliable and patchy; many years the rainfall is scant or fails altogether.

As a result of their hostile environment, in which drought plays a regular part, survival is very much the primary concern. Like the related Maasai, cattle are the primary wealth (although goats and camels are sometimes also kept), providing for almost all the Turkana's material and nutritional needs, as well as being symbols of social standing intricately bound into the tribal fabric.

And so the Turkana move constantly, chasing the clouds in the hope of rain and the small patches of freshly sprouted vegetation which it gives. As rainfall is uneven and unreliable, this can only be accomplished by the tribe fragmenting into small groups, for what there is of pasture is insufficient to feed a large number of livestock, and hence people.

Given the sparsity of grazing lands and cattle pastures, competition with neighboring tribes is fierce and relations are generally volatile, usually verging on warlike. There is a recurring cycle of raids and counter-raids over cattle in which rifles or automatic weapons are now primarily used. In general, it seems that the Turkana are more often instigators of such raids rather than victims, and as a result are feared by many.

Cattle raiding is not so much a 'mere' matter of pride and manliness for the Turkana, as it is for the Maasai. Rather, it is the necessity of guaranteeing one's own survival while weakening one's competitors, and is equally important in securing the wealth necessary to obtain a wife, for bridewealth payments are made in cattle.

Drought and hunger are a recurrent feature of life, and surviving them are what has made the Turkana who they are today: a proud, self-sufficient people, adept fighters and territorial expansionists, indifferent to the lures of 'progress' and change.

Way of life: The majority are cattle herders, though many also herd goats. Some have adopted the camel. A small minority, dispossessed of their herds in previous droughts, now engage in small-scale agriculture and fishing on Lake Turkana.

Religion: The vast majority have retained their traditional beliefs. 5-10% Christian, and then mostly only nominally.

The Beginning of Our Adventure

Kim and I met in Kitale (about an hour from my place at Matunda). We sat on a bus for 4.5 (!) hours before it was full of passengers. It was so hot! The really good thing, though, is that we had the two front seats! This photo is of from a bustling street near downtown Kitale, as we headed out on our way - finally!

This is what my travel book had to say about the journey:

"From the thorny wilderness of the Turkana Plains and beyond, it's hard to extract much of a scenic interest unless you're a desert aficiondo, though the regular stops to pick up increasingly wild-looking passengers maintain gently heightening expectation about the far north you're headed to."

We, however, found the scenery to be stunningly beautiful!
We delighted in it all and ooh-ed and aah-ed so much, as we rounded every bend in the road!

More Shots Along the Way

The trip was arduous! It was hot and the road was atrocious! We jostled to and fro constantly! This bus is what we traveled in. Finally, after 4-5 hours, we stopped at a halfway point, at a place called Koinuk for a 30-minute break.

Insight Guides has this to say about the journey -

"Kenya's northernmost regions by road is a grueling trek across rugged but fascinating terrain... spellbinding beauty... thousands of kilometers of dusty plains relieved by daunting volcanic formations. Armed hold-ups along the route are not unknown... bone-shaking stretches... endurance test... In the dry season, it's like driving on an old-fashioned washboard. The roads - beyond the realm of comparison with standard thoroughfares - pose a challenge to both man and machine."

This man was so interesting to me! Notice his sandals made from recycled tires. You can't really see it, but he has a round piece of wood or metal pierced below his lower lip. Notice, also, his walking stick. He's sitting on his stool (or head rest).

We chatted for a bit. He asked me (with gestures) for a handout so he could get something to eat. At first I refused, but we continued to interact with one another (through glances and smiles mostly).

Finally, with Kim's help, I asked him if I could take his picture. He agreed and
proudly struck a pose. Just as I snapped the shot, a young man sitting near by jumped up and started hollering at me. "You can't take his picture!" A number of people gathered around.

I discreetly stayed in the background and let Kim do the arguing. He calmed the man down, assuring him that I hadn't taken a photo. As we headed back to our bus, he asked me if I'd gotten the picture. I grinned and said, "Yes."

At long last, we reached Lodwar. This is what my travel book has to say about this frontier town -

"The town is wild, to put it mildly. Morning newspapers arrive in the afternoon. Lasting impression: sad, desolate, hot, dusty town but for a day or two you may find the rough frontier atmosphere exhilerating."

I think that both Kim and I would concur on those sentiments.

The above photo is the "watchman" at the hotel where we stayed. Notice the holes in his shoes and his runga (stick used as a weapon) and "torch" (flashlight). Such poses of watchmen in Kenya are not at all unusual! By the way, he was so soundly sleeping that he was absolutely oblivious to the fact that I'd taken his photo.


This area has numerous seasonal rivers. It seemed we were constantly crossing them. This is a rare one that we saw that actually did have water in it. By far, most were bone dry. This is what Insight Guides says about them -

"... whimsical dry rivers known as 'luggas' (lazy avenues of sand for most of the time, but filled by sudden torrents of rushing water in a flash flood)"

This huge expanse is a dry river bed.
If it rains in the hills off in the distance, it can fill almost immediately with water!
The resultant huge wall of rushing water often catches people and livestock unaware.

Another dry river bed we're about to cross.

This photo shows 2 women "harvesting" water. To do so, they dig a deep hole (theirs was about 5 feet deep) and allow the water slowly seeping in from the sand to fill a small bucket. Then they laboriously pour it into a larger bucket.

Then... they carry it - at times for long distances - on their heads to their home. The whole thing takes hours!

Just imagine! Most of you reading this have water flowing inside your homes... simply at the turn of a knob!

On Our Way to See Lake Turkana

These are fascinating and mysterious stones at Namoratunga.
Although several theories have been presented, no one really knows why they're arranged in such a manner.

One person has described the landscapes of this area as "spectacularly harsh" and "severe beauty".

This is Kim.
Many parts of Kenya are dotted with such termite hills, but this area had thousands and thousands of them!
They dotted the entire area, it seemed.

I do believe that taking this particular photo will be a memory long cherished by Kim and I. We had hired a vehicle to take us to Lake Turkana. Just before we stopped to see the stones, we passed these two women (and a young girl that you can barely see in the background) out walking the same direction we were going. The shorter gal has a baby strapped to her back, as well. Since it was so incredibly hot out, we asked our driver to offer them a ride.

Amazingly they were very reluctant, but they did finally climb into our van. Then I had the great idea that since we were giving them a free ride,
maybe they might allow me to take their photo.

The taller, older one immediately and very sternly refused. In fact, as our driver and Kim communicated with them, we discovered that they didn't even really want the ride if it meant they had to be photographed. The younger one, though, kept giggling. Finally they did agree, but only after negotiating on a price. (I paid them each the equivalent of $1.40). Actually, I don't think they were that interested in the money. Somehow, we just convinced them to agree.

Please notice the "finger knife" the shorter gal is wearing on her right thumb. I wish you could see it better. It's made of sharpened steel and is 2-3 inches in diameter. Men often wear "wrist knives". In fact, I'd say a good 50% of the men we saw were wearing them.

The Turkana are described as being "bellicose". I had to look up that word. It means "warlike"!

These "knives" are used for hand-to-hand combat! Normally (for daily activities) they cover the sharpened edge with a strip of leather; when the occasion arises, they quickly pull off that covering and go into battle. I imagine a person could cause instant and severe injury (if not death) with a well-aimed stroke of the arm!

Near the Lake

Palm trees were common as we got closer to the lake

It's sort of hidden, but this is a typical Turkana home (on the left).

Camels quenching their thirst

I'll post more exciting photos from our trip in about 2 weeks.
Don't miss them!

Please leave me a comment so I can know your thoughts about our trip!