19 May 2008

Hope and Determination

In March, when Margaret and I were at Matunda,
she surprised me with a question. She wanted to know if a new teacher at the school could stay in my house. I agreed, mostly as a favor to her. Also, I felt that with someone regularly staying there, possibly the burglaries would cease.

I was introduced briefly to Sarah, who was thrilled to
hear the news. Before leaving that very same day, I showed her around my house.

Returning last month provided me my first opportunity
to get acquainted with my new boarder. I found Sarah
to be a delightful young lady. She finished high school
just last year. Undeterred by the lack of any formal
teaching training, she now confidently instructs her own “age mates”.

In the evenings, we spent lots of time getting to know one another. We shared one story after another. Often, we laughed heartily. I told her about some of my challenges living in a foreign culture. She told me about some of the trials she’s faced in her short life.

Throughout our conversations, her personal maxim would periodically enter into the conversation.

“Hope and determination – that’s what got me through my struggles!”

“I would cry out to God, ‘God don’t stay asleep. Wake up and see me! See what I’m going through. Here I am. I’m Sarah. Come to my rescue! Don’t forget about me.’”

“I reminded Him what I’d read in the first chapter of Jeremiah. ‘God, just like you created Jeremiah in his mother’s womb and gave him a purpose to life, so you also created me in the same way. I know you gave me a purpose. Don’t let me fail now. Come through for me and remove these hurdles. Let me succeed. God, I’m depending on You!’” I marveled at her tenacity and boldness.

Hope and Determination (continued)

One afternoon, while Sarah taught in the classroom, I had a knock at my gate. As I walked the short distance to open it, I wondered who it might be. Much to my surprise, I found Charles Chiloti grinning sheepishly. With him was his wife, Agnes, with their “last born”, Caleb Zachary, in her arms.

Many of you will remember this couple and their children. A few years ago they lived on the same compound with me. You’ll likely recall the thrilling story of how I was privileged to help with the birth of one of their sons and that he was subsequently named for my Dad – Duane.

In the past three years or so, they had “migrated” (moved) to many different markets and villages – all in the quest to provide for themselves and their children. Throughout all this time, we had stayed in touch.

They don’t own a phone, so it was always up to Agnes to initiate contact through my phone. She would do that every few months. Numerous times I had made the effort to go visit them. Each time, I would have to travel some distance and attempt to interpret Agnes’ directions. I last saw them in early August at Misihu, just after Caleb Zachary was born. Agnes had asked me to name him; he now bears the names of my two sons.

Now, here they stood very unexpectedly at my gate – over eight months later. I immediately invited them inside my house and we got caught up with one another.

Charles loves to talk about God’s Word. As I stated in a past story, I find him to be eloquent in spite of his broken English. He inevitably has a dimpled grin on his face as he recounts one of their amazing experiences. Together, the two of them are entertaining storytellers. If he gets stumped for the right English word, Agnes jumps in on his behalf. At times, they humorously and seemingly unknowingly talk at the same time.

This day proved to be no different, as they told me yet another incredible tale. I fixed them some peanut butter and jam sandwiches; Zach drank my last cup of tea.

The latest place they had lived was about 20 miles west of Kitale. Charles was one of many workers on a large farm, all of whom were paid on a monthly basis. Interestingly, he was the only one with a family; the rest were all single men who basically imbibed locally brewed liquor each evening. A rent-free room was provided for each worker.

Like the others, Charles toiled hard for hours on end, “weeding” in the maize fields. A clerk kept detailed records of their daily food purchases – some maize flour, two tomatoes, a mango, etc. By the end of the month, his pay amounted to only 100-140/= ($1.50-2.25)! Many of the days, Agnes worked equally hard at “casual labor” – being paid a few coins at the end of each day.

Their existence was meager to put it mildly. However, through sheer determination, they had managed to purchase school uniforms for two of their boys – Pope and Adu – and got them enrolled in school.

It eventually reached a point, though, when Agnes realized they would never get anywhere at that rate. They were both exhausted at each day’s end and they had absolutely nothing to show for it. She decided – and Charles agreed – that they had better make a break from the endless cycle that loomed in front of them.

Leaving Pope, Adu, and Duane behind, Charles and Agnes set out on foot to find Pastor Nathan. Zach was strapped to Agnes’ back. They thought maybe Nathan could help them find a house and some work in the Mtoni area.

They were determined. They held onto a sliver of hope.

They walked for a day and a half – roughly 20-30 miles – with not a cent in their pockets! They used a zigzag route, following their own sense of direction and asking for help when they needed it. For portions of the first day, it rained. Only Agnes and Zach benefited from their one umbrella.

Part way through their journey, as the sun dropped low in the sky, a “good Samaritan” gave them a place to sleep. In the morning, after a cup of tea with the kind stranger, they continued on – now with 10-bob (15 cents) in their pocket.

When they finally reached Nathan’s house, they were bone weary. However, Nathan was nowhere to be found and neither was his wife, Alice. Having been told by their children that their parents were to return soon, Charles and Agnes patiently waited for a couple of hours.

Eventually, they decided to walk to nearby Mururi center to share a single plate of “githeri” (maize and beans) purchased with their coin from the kind man.

They finished their tale by explaining that as they walked up the hill from Nathan’s house, Charles happened to see the door of my house open.

An hour or so after their arrival at my house, Nathan arrived. Having been informed by his children that Charles and Agnes were around, he correctly assumed they might be at my place. The three of them greeted one another warmly.

Nathan inquired of them, “Now, what’s your plan? You must have a plan to have come all this way.”

We caught him up on their latest saga. Nathan assured them that he could find them a cheap house as well as casual labor in the Soy Sambu area (about a 20-minute walk from my house). He also said they could sleep at his house for a few nights.

I offered to pay the fare for Charles to collect the three boys and their things; all of their worldly possessions could be gathered into three bundles.

The four of us discussed at length how much that might come to. He would use a combination of walking, bicycle taxis, four matatus, and a “mkokoteni” (hand cart). We calculated the total amount to be 1,000 shillings ($15).

Agnes and Zach would stay behind. On that same day, Nathan would attempt to find a house. I offered to pay the first two months rent and buy a bag of maize to eat – a total of another $15.

Hope and Determination (conclusion)

Two days later, the entire family of six spent a joyful afternoon at my house. Sarah and Collins also joined us. I splurged and bought everyone a soda to accompany the banana bread I’d baked.

They had already moved into their three-room mud house and had found casual labor weeding a maize field. We again told stories and laughed together for several hours.

Hope and determination.
It will get you through your struggles.

More of the Family

This is Agnes with 8-month old Caleb Zachary. She says her other boys call him Zach. The other two are Pope (short for Popino) and Adu (short for Anderson). The photo above is three-and-a-half year old Duane. Sorry, I didn't get one of Charles this time around.

A Recent Photo of Collins

Some of My Friends from Nairobi

This is Karo, Jeremiah, Jim, and Joy.
They recently moved to a new house that's closer to their church.
They are praising the Lord for this blessing in their lives!

The photo above is Kim and Mark. Below is Moses and Mike. Along with Sam and I, we all recently attended the wedding of Mike's sister. We had a nice time hanging out together... as always!

This is Jim, Karo's son. He spent a couple of days at my house recently while on "holiday" from school. We made cupcakes for his 13th birthday and went to see "Horton Sees a Who".

He's a great kid!

05 May 2008

An Afternoon at Nairobi National Park - Plentiful Giraffe

As I mentioned last month, I was pleasantly surprised to be invited for an afternoon at Nairobi National Park. What a fun 5 hours!

It was the first time for all four of us, but we managed to navigate around the sprawling park comfortably. Three of the four sides are fenced, as the park is nestled inside the city of Nairobi. However, the fourth side is not fenced. This allows freedom of movement for the animals. In fact, that fourth side is along a natural migration route.

Seemingly everywhere we looked, we saw animals. Around every bend was another thrilling sight! We thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of the afternoon.

We carried in a sack lunch with us and found the shade of a tree to sit under. A giraffe meandered quite close to us while we ate. Perhaps we had taken his favorite picnic site!

May 2008 Prayer Letter

“Gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life.
To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways,
not knowing what tomorrow may bring.

This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness,
but it should be an expression of breathless expectation.
We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.”

- Oswald Chambers

During the month of April, I took care of some necessities:

  • Renewed my typhoid immunization (each vaccination lasts for three years)
  • Opened a local bank account (in case of emergencies)
  • Refilled my cooking-gas canister for my stove (each fill lasts 4-5 months)

I met with numerous friends over meals. Jim, Karo’s 13-year old son, spent a couple of days with me. I spent a night at both Karo and Jeremiah’s and Bishop and Margaret’s houses. I got to spend some time with Mark Deng Deng, my Sudanese friend. He was in Nairobi for “tuition” (tutoring) during his April “holiday” from school.

Our fellowship group met in my house a couple of times. One Saturday afternoon, we all attended a wedding together. This past Saturday, we had a “talent night”. It was excellent!

I took an active role in my church:

  • Chairing the second Rehema Team meeting
  • Regularly attending homegroup and occasionally leading the discussion time
  • Serving on the Projection Team

I closed out the month by spending ten days at Matunda. I’ll post photos and a story from this trip in a couple of weeks.

How you can pray for me:

1. Regarding what needs God desires that I meet. For instance: encouragement, mentoring, financial, etc. I need to be careful to follow God’s prompting and not my own impulses.

2. Wisdom in how I spend my time.
There’s a constant tension between disciplining myself for adequate personal time (for all-around health and renewal) verses being out-and-about engaged in ministry.

3. Continued good physical health. I still do a fair amount of walking and biking.

4. Ongoing progress with the newly-formed Rehema Team, as we continue to meet monthly. We
eliminated the word “benevolence” and chose “rehema” (Swahili for mercy) instead.

5. Sensitivity regarding relationships, most especially as it concerns
taking on new ones and/or allowing others to diminish. The ministry God has assigned to me is very much relationship-based. As we all know, relationships can be tricky and demanding at times.

6. My work permit has still not come through.

Thank you for praying for me!

Impala and Ostrich

You can see Ngong Hills in the background.
I love to gaze on - and hike - them!

In the background of this photo is Nairobi's downtown skyline.
It was as if the ostriches were posing for us.

Glimpses of Life in Kenya

A Waiter

For quite some time, Freddy’s has been my favorite café whenever I pass through Eldoret. Recently, as I entered, it was readily apparent that they didn’t have power. Often they have a TV and a radio loudly competing with one another. On this day, not only was there silence, but it was rather dark inside.

I wondered if I’d be able to order anything. The fact that the friendly waiter seated me and handed me a menu seemed to be a good sign.

I ordered my usual menu item – Freddy’s sandwich. The waiter smiled and left to place my order. In a short time he came back. “I’m sorry, but we can’t prepare that because there’s no power and it has to be toasted.” I told him that was okay; I’d take it without it being toasted.

Again he left. And again he came back after a short time. “I’m sorry, but we can’t prepare it without power. Part of it has to be done in a microwave.”

“Then, what can you prepare for me?”

“I’m sorry. But actually we can’t prepare anything without power.”

“Then why did you seat me and hand me a menu? Why are we even having this conversation?”

“I’m sorry. That’s why I’m apologizing.”

A Waitress

Last December, when I was in Ukunda visiting Masudi, I took him out for lunch. Joining us were the two young boys he stays with – Dennis and Mumo. Masudi had suggested a particular café. When our food was brought to us, I asked ten-year old Mumo if he’d say the blessing. It was readily apparent that he was much too shy for such a task; he silently looked to his older brother for help. Instead of putting Dennis on the spot, I asked Masudi.

Ha! Before Masudi even had a chance, our young waitress volunteered.

Before any of us really realized what was happening, she said, “Let’s pray,” and then proceeded to pray for our meal. When she finished, Masudi and I grinned at each other.

Acacia Trees

I love the many varieties of acacia in Kenya!
To be sure, they are the quintessential African tree!

Another Glimpse of Life in Kenya

A Hotel Attendant and a Cup of Coffee

On the same trip to the Coast, I got a room at the usual hotel I use; it’s operated by Muslims. As I entered the rather run-down building, I noticed a lethargic, young man sitting on a plastic chair. Inquiring from him if he had a room available, he unenthusiastically replied, “Yes, I have a room.” However, he did not move from his position. Instead, offering me a chair, he announced that I could wait while he finished his tea. I politely obliged him.

Eventually, I paid him for the room and he handed me the key. “I’ve given you a room on the second floor, because you’re old. You’re strong, but you’re old.”

I climbed the steps and entered my room. As per usual, there was no soap or tissue (toilet paper). Soon, I heard a knock at my door; I assumed it was the attendant with the necessary items.

Instead, I found him standing there empty-handed. “I forgot to tell you the rules,” he stated rather matter-of-factly.

Assuming he wanted to inform me of the check-out time, I told him I’d stayed there many times in the past. “But maybe you don’t know our rules. There’s no intercourse allowed.”

With a smile, I assured him that I wouldn’t be having intercourse. “It’s not bad if I tell you the rules, is it?”

I interjected that I needed soap and tissue. “You mean you don’t use water, like we do?

[Note: Readers, I’ll let you use your imagination on that comment. Surely... cultures all over the world are different!]

I walked around town for a while. As I normally do whenever I’m in Mombasa, I purchased half a kilo of dates from one of the many vendors on the street. I also bought some halwa (a sweet gelatin) for a friend in Nairobi.

I stepped into a tiny watch repair shop. The friendly gentleman that owns the place keeps a pot of Arabian coffee brewing throughout the day. He’s always glad to have anyone stop by for a free cup and some chitchat. While I sipped mine, he rattled off the same conversation he does every time I stop by.

“Some people say caffeine is bad for you. But my 75-year old papa drinks 35 cups every day!”

Suddenly, he said goodbye and closed up his shop. It was, after all, time for afternoon prayers at the mosque.

Later on, back at the New Daba City Hotel, I couldn’t get my door unlocked. Virtually all interior doors in Kenya use the old-fashioned skeleton keys. I had jiggled and jostled the key in the well-worn keyhole, but it was all to no avail. So, as much as I would have liked to avoid the young male attendant, I was forced to go ask for his assistance.

He deftly had it open in a matter of seconds. I know you couldn’t unlock it, because you’re old. How old are you? You’ve reached fifty, right?”

Ha! Just another day in Kenya!

More Miscellaneous Shots from our Park Tour

Aren't the many different shades of green
that God made on his palate of colors just amazing?
I often marvel at that!

Another shot of the Ngong Hills