18 June 2008

A Typical Day in My Life in Kenya

Every once in a while, one of you asks me what one of my typical days is like. The following summary will hopefully let you in on one such day. Perhaps you’ll choose to come along with me!

5:30am – The alarm on my phone wakes me; it’s “winter” here in Kenya right now and the mornings, evenings and nights are especially chilly; with no furnaces in the stone houses, it can easily drop down to 60° inside

5:40am – Knowing I have a full day ahead of me, I force myself to crawl out from under the warmth of my covers; I toast some multi-grain bread and cook tea for breakfast; as is my morning routine, I spend some time in the Word and read Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest

7:30am – I head out the door, carrying a somewhat heavy box, and hail a matatu at the end of the driveway where I live; I awkwardly squeeze into the already crowded van with my box; as is becoming the norm, the matatu has a mounted video screen with an annoying and loud music DVD playing; I hold the box on my lap

7:40am – I alight at Karen shops and buy a newspaper from my usual street vendor; I walk a short distance to a stage and wait for a City Hoppa bus to “town” (downtown Nairobi)

7:55am – The bus comes and I board; compared to most any matatu, these buses tend to be a little more civilized in their manner; I luck out and am able to set the box on the floor; this forces some folks to have to step over it, but no one complains; I read some of the newspaper as we bounce along potholed Ngong Road

9:00am – Finally arriving in town; I alight on Kenyatta Avenue and walk to a cyber café on Standard Street, weaving my way through the terribly unorganized mass of humanity and vehicles; I am, of course, still carrying the heavy and awkward box; I quickly check my email; however, that plan is interrupted by a phone call; it’s Charles using a neighbor’s phone; he requests that I call back (so it’s my phone credit that’s being charged); I tell him I’ll call back in a few minutes

9:30am – I walk another fairly short distance, again weaving my way through the chaotic mass of humanity and vehicles, and still toting my box; I board another bus at the large and congested Ambassador Hotel stage (this time it’s a Double M bus); again I hold the box on my lap; I text Sammy that I’m just about to leave town; while I wait for the bus to fill with passengers, I call the number Charles had used; he tells me Agnes is quite sick and puts her on the phone; her weak voice is an indication of how serious her condition is; in fact, Agnes sincerely believes she may be dying; very conscious of the fact that everyone on the bus can hear my part of the conversation, I tell them I don’t have any money I can send for a hospital visit; I do reassure them that I’ll pray; immediately after we end the call, I send several text messages to folks (including to my church prayer chain) asking them to pray for her; the news of the gravity of her situation weighs heavy on my mind

9:50am – The bus is finally full and we pull away from the stage; as we go around the roundabout at Halle Salassie and Moi Ave, there’s a huge traffic jam and everything comes to a complete stop; I crane my neck and look out the window to see what might be the cause; I notice dozens of buses and matatus on all three lanes hurriedly jockeying around to change directions and escape by driving the wrong way on Halle Salassie; it’s very much a comical sight; my guess that it’s the Kenya Polytechnic students rioting once again is confirmed by the news later in the day (the students were protesting – by blocking traffic and throwing stones – over the accidental killing of one of their classmates by police); in many ways, it’s just another day in Nairobi; our driver has no choice but to opt for a different route out of town and continues to circle around the roundabout

10:15am – We make pretty good time out of the chaos of town and head down Jogoo Road; however, as we near the Donholm roundabout, we move at an absolute snail’s pace; I get a text from Sammy that he’s already at Steer’s (our meeting place); I text him back that I’m stuck in a jam but will be there shortly

10:30am – I alight and walk a short distance to the Steer’s hamburger joint; I give Sammy the box, (containing various kitchen items, which I’d been borrowing from them and their mom); we chat for a while as we enjoy some fresh fruit juice; I try to encourage him in the midst of his difficult circumstances

11:15am – Sammy heads on his way to town for a morning class; I stay put and finish reading my newspaper

11:45am – Again, I walk a short distance to a stage and board a noisy mini-bus to Bishop’s church; just after alighting, I purchase three whole cobs of roasted maize (the young man selling them is amazed that I would buy that much; his English isn’t so good, so another vendor selling sweets voluntarily assists us in the transaction); arriving at the church compound, I look for Linet in the church office; Richard and Henry are there discussing Scripture; they tell me I can find Linet in the kitchen; as she and I chat, waiting for Joe to arrive, we share a maize cob and also enjoy a cup of tea; smelling food, both Richard and Henry stop in for a piece of maize

12:15pm – Joe comes; I haven’t seen him for over four years! Linet offers Joe some tea and maize; later she serves us some rice and stewed meat and attends the “lunch-hour” service, leaving Joe and I alone; we’re seated in a poorly constructed room that sits between the church office and the tented sanctuary; while we eat, Joe tells me the heartbreaking tale of his life and also fills me in on the past four years that he’s been out of Nairobi; he also sadly explains that he’s contracted TB and is on the six-month treatment; the effects of the illness are readily apparent; we have an intense 2-hour conversation

2:20pm – I get the call I was expecting (from a relative of Masudi’s mom, Stella); I tell Joe I have to leave, but that we’ll arrange to meet again soon; I sincerely promise to pray for him; as I step into the office to say goodbye to Linet, she happens to mention that Karo and Margaret are in Bishop’s office (apparently they had arrived while Joe and I talked); it’s a pleasant unexpected surprise for all three of us, however, I have no time for anything more than a very brief conversation; we do briefly talk about Agnes and they commit to continued prayer for her

2:30pm – Joe “escorts” me to the stage, where I board another noisy and crowded mini-bus to go back to town; he’s happy when I offer him my newspaper; the bus gets held up for a long time in yet another jam at Donholm roundabout; several people opt to alight and walk to their destination

3:10pm – Abiding by the new law, the mini-bus stops at the new Muthurwa market and bus terminus, where all passengers are forced to alight; I’m running late and decide I shouldn’t walk the 15 minutes to where I’m meeting Stella; instead I hop on a motorcycle taxi; oh, my! these rides are almost suicidal as the daredevil driver zooms in and out of any available space between the hodge-podge of vehicles; he wears a helmet but doesn’t have an extra one for his passengers; as we fly in and out of the various congested lanes of traffic, I find myself unconsciously squeezing in my legs tightly against the motorcycle and simultaneously try to make sure my head is never in the same vicinity of another vehicle’s rear-view mirror as we zoom past

3:20pm – I hop off the motorcycle right in the middle of traffic – another jam of snarled vehicles – and pay him his coins; I cross the bustling street and head to where we’re meeting; I don’t expend too much energy looking for Stella, her young nephew, and Immaculate in the crowd; I know they’ll spot me easily (I basically stick out like a sore thumb with my white skin); soon eight-year old Maudi runs up and throws his arms around my legs; Stella (Masudi’s mom) is bubbling over with joy to see me (I also haven’t seen them for about four years); using Immaculate as her interpreter, she asks to see my wound, so I take off my shoe and sock and show her (in the middle of the crowded city street); we then find a somewhat quiet café to have a soda while we talk; Stella thanks me for everything I’m doing for her son, Masudi and we discuss some recent issues he’s had to endure; I take a picture of Maudi drinking his soda (it’s his first time to ever be in Nairobi)

4:30pm – We say our farewells; I board my seventh vehicle of the day and head back towards Karen shops

5:30pm – Upon arriving at Karen, I pick up a few grocery items and check my mail at the post office

6:00pm – I view the stage and find it’s packed with people (as is normal at this time of day); I opt instead to walk the 30-minutes to my house; Agnes is heavy on my mind as I trudge home

6:30pm – I’m once again home – eleven long hours, one riot, one matatu, five buses, one wild and dangerous motorcycle ride, three appointments, and one distressing phone call later; it was a tiring day to say the least, but satisfying at the same time; I met with so many of my friends and engaged in the ministry for which God sent me here

Final note – please pray for these particular friends in the story:

· Agnes to fully recover – she’s had this ailment (in the area of her stomach or uterus) the entire time I’ve known them, which is around five years now (her son, Duane, is the one I helped to deliver in November of 2004); I talked to her on Monday (10 days after the phone call in this story); she is doing better but is still quite weak

· Sammy (and Rose) as they continue to find their way in life after the death of their mom, Doris

· Joe as he continues to take the treatment for TB and regains his strength (there’s a photo of Joe in my book, for those of you that have it)

· Masudi (son to Stella) as he finishes his high school education this year; his final exams are in November

Maudi with His Soda in Nairobi

03 June 2008

June 2008 Prayer Letter

“A saint’s life is, in the hands of God, like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says – ‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed; He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands.”

- Oswald Chambers

My Struggle

The emphasis of my ministry is virtually 100% based on relationships. We all know that any close interpersonal relationship can be trying at times, even when both people are from the same cultural background. Throw into that mix two completely different cultures and the difficulties increase immensely.

Americans and Kenyans have two distinctly different mindsets and two distinctly different world views. The two people groups ascribe to completely different ways of doing things, two different sets of expectations, and two different attitudes about so, so many things. These attitude differences include, but are not limited to such things as – time, personal space, property, the sharing of resources, family and friend relationships, work, dress, learning methods, humor, social conflicts, vulnerability, self-worth, judgment, goals, etc.

The past couple of months have especially been a struggle for me in this regard. In fact, to be honest, I’ve been a bit down about it and have struggled with depression.

Frankly at times, I’ve not been too terribly proud of my actions and words, either.

For those of you that have lived all of your life in the States, you may not grasp what I’m talking about. It’s actually hard to put into words. However, I think the following excerpts (from a book titled “Ministering Cross-Culturally”) will give you a better sense of what it is I’m trying to say. Please bear with me and read until the end. I believe it will assist you greatly as you pray for me!

Excerpts from "Cross-Cultural Ministry"

“An attempt to belong to groups whose standards are in conflict with ours produces emotional stress within us and antagonism in our relationships with others. For this reason, most of us choose to belong only to those groups within which we find people who have standards and values similar to our own.”

“We include those people who reaffirm our values and relationships, and we exclude those who in some way do not measure up to our standards or do not fit within our prescribed sphere of social relationships. This pattern of inclusion and exclusion often prompts us to fear and even reject the very people we are sent to serve.”

“Cultural blindness makes us ineffective communicators in alien contexts and leads us to assume that the problem lies with others rather than with ourselves… We become certain that our way of doing things is the proper way, and we are blinded to the possibilities of doing things differently or of engaging in new behaviors that might be beneficial to our community.”

“Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ… means undergoing drastic personal re-orientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. They must enter a culture as if they were children – ignorant of everything, from the customs of eating and talking to the patterns of work, play, and worship. Moreover, they must do this in the spirit of Christ, that is, without sin.”

“Discarding or setting aside something of one’s American-ness is almost sacrilege to many people… We must love the people to whom we minister so much that we are willing to enter their culture as children, to learn how to speak as they speak, play as they play, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, study what they study, and thus earn their respect and admiration.”

“Becoming incarnate in another culture will be a trial by fire, a test of inner strength, of personal faith, and most of all – a test of one’s love. An individual who is not ready to give up being an American for a time and to begin learning as a child is not ready for the challenges of cross-cultural ministry.”

“We must release our attachments to home, income security, convenience, significance in work or ministry, and even comfort of family. We must enter a new community of strangers, often without many if not most of the comforts and symbols of home, and begin as children, learning at the feet of those we have gone to serve. We must be willing to become world Christians. The challenges will shape us; the changes will trouble us. Our bodies will get sick, our minds will suffer fatigue, our emotions will sweep us from ecstasy to depression. Yet the love of Christ will sustain us.”

“A failure to grasp the meaning of cultural cues (for example: knowing when a conversation is about to begin) results in misunderstandings, confusion, and oftentimes interpersonal conflict.”

“The key to growth and maturity in cross-cultural ministry is incarnation with complete submission to and dependence on God… Becoming incarnate in another culture will lead to sin only if we lose our sense of dependence on and unwavering trust in God and His Word.”

“(We must recognize) that culture defines the contexts for daily activities and relationships and that in the world there are hundreds of contexts, all of which are valid and useful to the people who share them… We must suspend our commitment to the context in which we have lived all our lives, enter a cultural context that is strange to us, and see that new context as the framework for our life and ministry. Peter speaks of this as being aliens or strangers in the culture to which God sends us… This significant change in our thinking will allow us to enter into relationships with people whose values and lifestyles are fundamentally different from our own. “

“We must accept the value priorities of others. We must learn the definitions and rules of the context in which they live. We must adopt their patterns and procedures for working, playing, and worshiping. We must become incarnate in their culture and make them our family and friends. We must do all this empowered through faith and freedom in Jesus Christ and living in the Spirit and not in the flesh.”

Conclusion of Prayer Letter

The following excerpt, from a personal word of encouragement I received over two years ago, is very fitting and apt for me even now –

"It’s not easy to live in a foreign culture. If God Himself does not send you, you’ll just give up and go home. Those that stay are only able to endure because God has sent them and is enabling them."

I’ll conclude with Romans 15:30 – “Join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” The Message Bible renders it – “Pray for me. Pray strenuously with and for me.”

Please also pray for the following friends of mine:

  • Agnes - regarding her health
  • Sarah - regarding her intense dream to become a nurse
  • Moses - regarding the stress he's under to provide for and raise his three younger siblings

Thank you so much for praying for me and my friends!