January 14: Questions

The more time I spend in Kenya, the less I think I know about Kenya. I observe ways certain things happen, but I don’t know understand what is happening. For instance, there is Kenyan time. If a meeting is scheduled for 10:00 that does not mean the meeting happens at 10:00. It means people start leaving home at 10:00 to go to that meeting. We made arrangements this evening to drop some Bibles at someone’s house tomorrow and we made the point to say we would be there at American time and not Kenyan time.

We are the only Caucasians I have seen this week. Wherever we go, people look at us. When we pass children on the road they often call out to us – “sweet, sweet”. What they want is a piece of candy. They seem to think we Americans have candy to give away – and sometimes we do! But is that reinforcing some image that we do not want to reinforce? This week, we started painting the exterior of a building with a roller. The painter came and told us not to use the roller but to use a brush. We knew a roller would be more efficient, and we thought about trying to convince him that we had a better way. Instead, we surrendered the roller and painted with a brush. Did we do the right thing or should we have shown him another way? There have been moments of frustration when rather than going with the Kenyan practice we did it our way because it would be quicker. Was that the appropriate thing to do?

This evening we invited a local pastor and his wife to have dinner with us. His church is small – only 40-50 attend worship on a Sunday morning. He said it is hard to get men to come to church – and he has no teenagers. This is a country where Christian Religious Education is compulsory in primary and high school. We see Christian images and phrases on vehicles, buildings and signs. And yet, this pastor indicates what has been taught in the schools is not reflected in worship attendance.

We observe teaching practices and would like to suggest other teaching practices that we have found helpful with our children. They do not seem to be the Kenyan way so we keep silent. We want to be helpful and we also want to be respectful. Our desire to be both often keeps us silent. But should we? We are guests in a culture very different from our own. I am often pausing to reflect on how my thoughts and comments have been shaped by my culture. My way may not be a better way – just a different way.

As I study the Bible, I have found a greater depth of meaning by learning more about the life, culture and practices of the people at the time books of the Bible were written. Luke 14 begins with Jesus at a Pharisee’s house. I cannot understand what happens next unless I understand what it meant to be a Pharisee at that time and what practices a Pharisee would consider appropriate and inappropriate on the Sabbath. In other words, cultural understanding is important.

This evening as it began to get dark, the pastor and his wife needed to leave. To get home, they would be taking a matatu (a small van that stops along the highway to pick up passengers) and also walking a certain distance. I would have certain reservations about walking after dark. Poverty is apparent everywhere. With 30% unemployment, desperate people can sometimes do desperate things. So as they were leaving, we gave them a torch (flashlight) and I said, “I hope it is safe for you to be walking.” He smiled and said, “This is our country.”

I still have so much to learn. God, help me to listen and to be humble.

Today’s readings: Genesis 34-36; Luke 14

The reading begins with a horrible story as awful as any we might hear in today’s news. The question is whether what happens in this chapter will sidetrack Jacob and the direction God has given him. It is noteworthy that God is not mentioned in this chapter. The next chapter returns us to Bethel. Jacob has refocused his direction on God’s way. The final chapter offers a contrast between the descendents of Jacob and the descendents of Esau. Why would there be such space devoted to the listing of these descendents? What would people learn about you by look at your descendents?

In Luke, we receive teachings about humility, commitment and total surrender to God’s way through Jesus Christ.

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