Imara

image image image imageSince most of you have not visited Imara, let me provide an introduction. We are staying at a guest house a kilometer or two south of Nanyuki. As we into town, I am reminded of the farming communities of my childhood. The main highway is lined with shops and cafes. Instead of the pickups from my childhood, there are land cruisers and great many boda bodas (motorcycles). The traffic is constant with a great cloud of dust when a truck lumbers along the highway slowed by speed bumps and massive potholes. If it is early morning, we can see to east the top of Mt. Kenya. Most of the day, the mountain is covered with clouds.

The road leading to Imara is a couple of kilometers north of Nanyuki. We turn on a dirt road (most roads are dirt roads or mud roads when it rains) and go about 100 yards to an intersection where there is what I call a convenience store – a small shack (4 by 6 feet) where someone is selling a few fruits and vegetables. We turn right on a road with the kind of potholes that would keep us Minnesotans from even driving on the road. The first gate on the left is Imara. Security is essential in a country with such extreme poverty. There are several lines of defense: a front gate that is chained and locked, another fifty feet and a solid gate connected to a perimeter lined with tall thorn bushes that are nearly impenetrable, then a fence topped with barbed wire and motion detectors that shine lights on anyone who overcomes the other lines of security. At night, a guard roams the compound. Inside the house, a panic button would sound an alarm – and a cell phone to call for help if it ever came to that.

Once inside the compound, you would see a place of refuge, a place a tranquility from the harsher, busy world outside. You would hear the sounds of chickens and the laughter or cries of young children. Immediately, you would be greeted by Oscar, a female german shepherd, who would smother you with kindness. And if you get close enough, the two “guard” geese would also announce your arrival. The path to the house is lined with beautiful blooming bougainvillea. To your left is the chicken coup with hens for eggs and another coup with hens that once large enough will be eaten. Also to your left is a storage shed that was recently added. To your right is the Imara house and beyond the house is a garden that provides some vegetables. There are two water tanks – one that collects the rainwater from the roof and the other that collects water that comes from town – when it comes (nothing in this country is for certain).

The house is built on a cement foundation. The walls are brick and a metal roof. There is not an inch of the house that is unused. It is amazing that the household can manage 9 girls, 7 babies, and four staff who all live together. I catch myself thinking up words to the old Brady Bunch television theme song: “here’s a story of an American named Carol who came to Kenya… (still working on the middle part) and together they became the Imara House!” It is extremely cramped for space, but somehow it works. Most of my life, I’ve lived with women without the benefit of another male presence (even our dogs have been female), so I pray daily for my friend, Pastor Reuben, who lives with 12 women and 7 babies! Bless you, Reuben!

The day begins early and is structured to accomplish meal preparation, baby care, schooling, and chores. A teacher arrives from town and together with teacher Jayne who lives in the house (Reuben and Jayne are the Kenyan house parents) mornings and afternoons are consumed by school. One of the great joys for a visitor is to assist with baby care (most are now toddlers). Even better, diaper changing is the responsibility of the moms.

A cook arrives to provide the noon meal and begin preparation for the evening meal. There is an L-shaped common space that provides a small area for the children’s table and a larger area for two tables for school and meals. At the evening meal, the children are served first, then the moms, staff, and visitors are seated. Food is served family style by Carol, a prayer is offered and as we eat each person has an opportunity to describe highs and lows from the day and answer the question of the day.

We are at the equator (in fact, our host told us the equator probably runs through the guest house where we are staying) which means 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness 365 days a year. Daytime temp has been in the mid 70s and nights in the 50s. Each morning, I awake and say to Amanda, “Another morning in paradise.” It feels that way. Though the challenges in this country are great. There is much uncertainty about the present, much less the future. There is political unrest. The gap between rich and poor is enormous. The treatment of girls is far behind what we would consider fair and just. The stories that we have heard about traditional ways are difficult to comprehend – but it is changing, ever so slowly thanks to programs such as Imara.

Each day, I give thanks for those of you who have opened your hearts and offer your prayers and resources to make this ministry possible. This morning, what comes to mind is the promise of John 1: In him was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.

Thank you for allowing the light to shine through Imara. I see it in the faces of 9 young women who have been given hope and 7 young children who have a chance to begin life in the presence of the Light.

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mzungu walking

20140611-090918-32958260.jpgAs you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:6)

So today we went walking. We are staying in a cottage about 2 kilometers from the heart of Nanyuki. It is a town of maybe 45,000 people, though from the main highway that runs through town, it appears to be a small town. But then, it is very densely populated with many people in very small (often 1 room) homes.

We walked down a dirt driveway to another dirt road. There are many things a person can only notice from the slow pace of walking. One thing I noticed was that there were no other mzunzus (white people). We walked by a place where someone was making furniture. He looked up, saw us, laughed and began to sing with words we could not understand. After we had passed, the singing stopped. We never felt unsafe, just awkward. Everyone stared at us. We greeted those we passed – “jambo”! And a couple of times there was a tentative response. We walked past a primary school. The children in the playground ran to the fence and waved. “Mzungo, mzungo!” they cried. I waved.

Persons walked past us and then turned around to look at us. Cars slowed and drivers looked our way. I began to wonder if the newspaper headline might in fact be – MZUNGU WALKING!

One reason that we decided to spend 3 weeks in Nanyuki was the significant white population in this area. I want to see how whites and blacks interact Continue reading

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Church

I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. (Psalm 104:33)

How does one choose a church to attend when in Nanyuki? My one hope was that I would understand what was spoken (at least some English). We decided to try the Methodist Church. In Kenya, the Methodist Church is part of the British system and not the United Methodist denomination.

We hired a tuk-tuk and guessed correctly – 10:00 a.m. and an English speaking service! It was exactly 10:00, and we were among the first to arrive. We were greeted and then took seats near the back. We were quickly ushered from the back to the front. What followed was a 3 hour worship experience that seemed far shorter than that.

A quartet of young adults had already begun singing, alternating between swahili, english and meru (the local tribal language). As children arrived, they were seated in the choir loft. Soon the children were invited forward, and the church prayed over the children before they moved to the children’s church. Our first hour was mostly singing, led by a variety of singers and a keyboard. We were reminded several times that we were singing to the LORD. At one point, all of the men came forward to sing. Then the youth came forward to sing. The choir came forward to sing. The visitors were asked to introduce themselves (and fortunately not ushered forward to sing!) which gave me an opportunity to look at those seated behind me. To my surprise the sanctuary was filled, and we were the only mzungus (white persons) present. Each visitor was applauded. We estimated 150-200 adults in attendance. Later, I was told that about 300 persons are counted as members.

Songs and scripture were projected on a screen. There were a few songbooks, handwritten and handmade – in Meru, I assumed. Scripture was read in English, three readings – Isaiah 42:1-6, Philippians 2:1-11, John 13:1-6. Although it was Pentecost Sunday, the theme was disability awareness. The pastor (called the superintendent minister of the circuit) was out of town. The special education teachers from the congregation were leading worship; the guest preacher was a counselor and therapist. For the third hour, we heard two powerful messages about how all people are special, even those with disabilities. The speakers spoke against the view that disability had anything to do with a lack of faith, that families should acknowledge the existence of a child with a disability (reference was made to some areas where a child born with a disability is killed and a recent news story where a family kept a disabled child chained to a tree and treated like an animal). This was a moving message, bringing many to tears. The church was challenged to be those who would lead the way for justice and seek out the special ability that God has given to a person with a disability. At the end of the sermon, all of the special education teachers were invited forward to be prayed over. I understood only a few words of the prayer, but frankly I didn’t need to understand. This was a prayer given with such great power and emotion that it moved me to tears.

We had been given offering envelopes soon after we were seated. The offering box was placed at the front and as a song was sung, each person came forward to place their envelop in the offering box. Then another basket was passed in which people seemed to place coins.

The service ended with everyone saying the benediction while turning to shake each other’s hands. Then we sang a song in swahili and exited the sanctuary with those in the front, the first to leave (there ought to be some perk for sitting in front!). As persons left the sanctuary, we shook hands with those who left ahead of us and then formed a line to shake hands with those who followed. Amanda and I were quickly greeted by the secretary of the congregation who invited us to tea. We were lead to a small room with a table. It turns out that guests are given dinner. A few leaders of the church were present and the guest preacher’s family. We were served a meal of rice and beans with a cup of tea. We made a few connections with people who promised to call us. The secretary (Moses – a biology teacher at the secondary school) offered a tour of the grounds. The church has a primary school through class 8 for 282 students. They are building a dormitory for students in class 5 and above. I found it impressive what this church of 300 was accomplishing. And the message of justice was as compelling as any I have heard.

I have been to church today. Our worship may not have referenced the day of Pentecost, but I experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a way that celebrated the inclusion of all people.

I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

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Immortality Project

I had not heard the words, Immortality Project, in my prior trips to Africa. My friend in Tanzania said there are many such projects. Projects that were funded by persons or organizations after seeing a need and wanting to provide a solution. Sometimes the donor’s name is attached to the project, but not always. It’s not that the project isn’t well-intentioned or isn’t attempting to help someone. The project may save lives. In the past week, I’ve had several conversations with persons in the mission field who have shared a similar frustration even when they have not used the words, Immortality Project.

Let me explain. Let’s say that a person from the US makes a trip to Africa and sees the dire needs of the desperately poor. I’m going to do something about this, the well-intentioned person says. Health care is lacking and so the person wants to make a hospital or at least a health clinic possible. Funds are raised and given and the clinic is constructed. The project is dedicated and soon the clinic begins seeing people. Suddenly, the desperately poor have somewhere to turn. Two problems emerge – there was no plan for how the clinic would be funded longterm or become self-sustaining, and no one took the time to determine whether the clinic was the significant need that needed addressing. And the desperately poor, though now with some health care, are still desperately poor.

In his book, Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton writes: “Mercy that doesn’t move intentionally in the direction of development (justice) will end up doing more harm than good – to both giver and recipient.” To better understand what he means, I encourage that you read his book which I completed this week.

I am reflecting on the words of Micah 6:8. “[the LORD] has shown you what is good and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with the LORD.” In some translations, it is “mercy” in place of “loving kindness”. The Hebrew is “hesed” – mercy.

We see or hear something and mercy tugs at our hearts. Mercy also becomes a window to the heart of God. But mercy is short-term and without justice, without a longterm plan, the needs becoming overwhelming. Justice also needs mercy so that heart and head work together. Add humility and God’s greatest work can be accomplished through us.

In Acts, when Peter and John encounter a lame man who begs for money, they do not give any money. Instead they give something greater – healing. It is the gift that brings long lasting change. That’s justice. And given in the name of Jesus – that’s humility.

Every day that I’ve been in Africa, I have been approached by someone asking for help. Today, it was a woman in the marketplace who was begging. We didn’t give money but a carrot after her plea that she was hungry. But then she begged for us to take her with us and when that failed, pleaded that we not forget her. There is a heart-wrenching moment everywhere we turn. My mercy meter is working overtime!

We could give money, but is that justice? We could give money to an organization, but is that mercy? I don’t have the solution, but I want to do more than offer a bandaid.

Henry Blackaby writes, “Find out what God is up to and get in on it.” I met a nurse two days ago who moved to a remote area of Kenya to start a clinic. His advice to me: Enter a community and spend time getting acquainted with the people and God will show up. Do that and you will begin to see miracles happen that equal anything you’ve read about in the Bible.

Micah says: the LORD has shown you what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?

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Control

20140605-124254-45774700.jpgOn Sunday, we met our driver at the Tanzanian border. We had gone only a few miles when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. In my previous trips to Africa, I had seen these checkpoints but had never been stopped. Our Kenyan driver told me that was because there were mzungos (white people) in the car. Our Tanzanian driver produced his driver’s license, then was told to pull over and get out of the car. The car was inspected. We refrained from watching all that was transpiring between the police officer and our driver. Later, we asked our friends with whom we were staying about these checkpoints. They are stopped regularly, always with the intent to find some infraction – once it was even for having a dirty car (is there such a thing as a clean car) – that will produce a ticket for 30,000 shillings (about $18). Every day, we pass several of these checkpoints. Yesterday, on our return from Tanzania we were stopped four times – three by police and once by the Kenyan army. Thus disproving the comment that the vehicle is not stopped with mzungos inside. I did ask our friend why I didn’t notice any matatus (mini-vans that shuttle as many as 14 people) being stopped. Even I could see obvious safety infractions in the matatus. His answer: most of the matatus are owned by the police.

At the same time, there is almost total disregard for traffic laws. Traffic lights regularly ignored. Lanes of traffic where there is no lane. Often entering the oncoming lane of traffic. More than once, I’ve thought US drivers would be shooting each other if this kind of driving was commonplace in the US. What amazes me is that the police are not stopping drivers for obvious infractions.

A report by the BBC, lists the traffic in Nairobi as one of the worst in the world. Far worse than any city in the US. Having experienced Los Angeles (the worst that I’ve experienced in the US) and Nairobi, I will have to agree with the BBC.

In our first week, we have not experienced bed nets but most nights our sleep has been disrupted by mosquitoes. It has been too warm to close the windows, and with windows open, mosquitoes enter to feast on the human buffet. The nightly visit by mosquitoes reminds me to take my malaria pill the next morning. I asked my friend about the efforts by many churches and even the NBA to eradicate malaria through bed nets. He didn’t have much information and wasn’t aware of any work in Kenya or Tanzania. Malaria was eradicated from the US largely through the use of DDT which was later found to have significant harmful effects on the environment. Our friend said that many Africans wonder why the US way of eliminating malaria was okay for the US but not okay for Africa. Who decides what’s right for whom?

Life in another country. The differences become clear fairly quickly. We spent three days with my friend who lives in Arusha, Tanzania. We went to college together. He was one of the groomsmen in our wedding. He has lived in Africa for 18 years. “Seeing all the differences from life in the US, why would you want to live in Africa?” I asked. “It’s the people,” he replied. The pace of life is much slower and less stressful. Hakuna matata (no worries). And the closeness of family. I find amazement when we share how far our children live from us and how infrequently we see each other. I still think we are a “close” family, but not in the way it would be defined here.

My friend states that there is much for those of us in the US to learn from Africa. That’s what I hope to learn in the weeks to come.

And so, I turn once again to that verse of scripture that is my guide for this journey: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as your trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13) Today, the key word that speaks to me from this passage is TRUST. In whom do I trust?

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Every step an arrival

20140602-104247-38567580.jpgEugene Peterson uses this phrase taken from a Denise Leverton poem to describe his formation as a pastor. Every step an arrival. Becoming the person that I didn’t know I was becoming.

“Surely The Lord was in this place and I did not know it.” Such was the realization of Jacob after a night of wrestling with the circumstances of life that were not as he expected.

We move freely between two worlds. Freely, but not comfortably.

On Sunday, our Tanzanian driver asked us where we would like to eat. He gave us several price options. Because I didn’t have any Tanzanian currency, I asked for a place where we could use a Visa card. “I want to buy you lunch,” I said. He thanked me but said he only ate traditional food – something not available at a place that would take a Visa card. So, we asked about traditional food, and hearing his description, chose the traditional option. He would pay for the meal, then take us to a place where we could exchange our Kenyan shillings for Tanzanian shillings. We ate at an outdoor cafe, a setting much like what we would experience at an outdoor summer festival in Minnesota. Except our food came without silver ware. The traditional way to eat rice, ugali, chicken, and fish is with one’s fingers. I don’t think I had eaten this way since I gave up the “high chair” experience. It felt odd to be instructed on how to eat with one’s fingers without making a mess. Still, I made a mess! Amanda and I were the only caucasian persons among the twenty or so people who were eating. I would pause in my hands-on eating experience to watch those who were watching us. I wonder their impressions of us. We are the tourists. There is no disguising that. Our driver, a Masai, indicated this is the typical menu and manner of eating in his home. He has learned to eat fish. The Masai, he said, are afraid of fish. Traditionally, they eat beef and goat only.

At one point, we were driving through a small town marketplace. Our driver pulled to the side of the road so that we could observe. Amanda asked if she could take photos, and he replied that photos were permitted. But as she took photos from inside the car, I noticed obvious displeasure from persons who were watching us.

Moments like this, I wonder who is watching whom.

At any stop, we are approached with requests for money or persistent appeals to purchase some souvenir. There is no way that we can blend into the crowd.

Riding through a village on the way to my friend’s home for the night, people alongside the road watch us. No specific emotion that I can detect, but I wonder.

We come from one world and have entered another. We move freely, but not comfortably. At night, we lock ourselves inside, windows double barred and padlocked. It is for our safety, and yet a reminder that we can experience a night of safety amid a world of extreme need.

We step inside. We step outside. We move freely, but not comfortably. Surely The Lord was in this place and we did not know it.

Ever step an arrival. Living into the journey.

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Trust

imageIn the journey of life, rest can be elusive even when you have the time. After an 8 hour flight, a 5 hour layover, and another 8 hour flight, we arrived in Nairobi late on Friday evening. I did not get a wink of sleep as we traveled, and then when I got to bed, sleep was elusive. Thus the wisdom in a free day in Nairobi to adjust to the time zones and care for a few tasks like buying a phone and exchanging money.

A few things that I have observed today:
Traveling to the African equator, we see plants and animals that we don’t see in North America. This beautiful tree, for example, with yellow blossoms on the Guest House grounds where we are staying.

If the people we met in the airport and on the plane are any indication of what’s typical in Kenya, there must be hundreds of westerners entering Kenya every week to work at mission projects in this country. Even so, the needs here are enormous.

At breakfast this morning, we ate with three physicians from North Carolina, here to volunteer in a hospital for a week through a Franklin Graham organization. Another man from Pennsylvania has set up neurological units at hospitals in east Africa through a program called CURE. He mentioned that doctors from the US are now coming to east Africa for training, because procedures that are rarely seen in the US are common in this part of the world.

Also met a young man from Nairobi who is here to visit family after the death of his mother. He noticed the shirt that I was wearing which advertises a coffee shop in North Carolina. He attended college at Stout and worked in the Twin Cities before moving to North Carolina. He is blending a MBA with a degree in technology. He owns 3.5 acres of coffee trees and would like to find a way to bring Kenyan coffee to the states – but he no longer wants to live in Kenya. From his experience, trust is a fundamental value in the USA but not in Kenya. Too often, in Kenya, he says, it is fraud and corruption.

Makes me wonder how to share trust. And how different my life would be without trust.

And then our driver, who wanted us to know that Kenya is not as dangerous as the news reports. He is proud of his country and feels the opportunities are improving for people. But as we pass people who are living alongside the road, I realize there are many who have not been touched by the improving opportunities.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Tomorrow, we travel to Arusha, Tanzania.

 

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Ready, Set, Go!

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At the beginning of every journey, it is good to pause a moment and remember that there is Someone who walks with us on our way, who can protect and provide for us.

Psalm 121 is a song for travelers that helps us remember. It is part of a group of psalms known as “Psalms of Ascent.” (Psalms 120-134) As the people traveled to the Temple they sang these songs. Picture a traveler with his bags packed, ready to head out of the city gate to Jerusalem. It’s one of those goodbye scenes. The priest is there, and so are the members of his family and his community. They have come to see him off, to wish him well on his journey. Then the time has come for him to depart.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Life itself is a journey, and we all are travelers. On May 29, Amanda and I step beyond our normal path to experience places in Kenya and Tanzania. If you are reading this, you have entered our journey. Come with us as we open ourselves to what God can do in and through us these next weeks.

Thank you, God, for this new day. We place our lives in your hands. Guide us and protect us along the way. We await the wonders of what’s ahead as we seek to serve you each step of the way. Amen.

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Confession: it’s good for the heart.

counseling-a-friendGuilt. It is in today’s news stories. It is part of our lives. It can become so imbedded in our own story that we hardly know life without the guilt we carry. Guilt does not remain buried, but grows in such a way that it touches everything that comes in and goes out of the heart. Before us all, we are seeing the damage that years of deceit and efforts to cover  up the deceit. Will it be deceit, guilt, confession or a clean heart that will define Lance Armstrong? It is too soon to know. A process has begun, but will it continue?

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

Confess and pray. Confess is to tell somebody. Find someone you can trust and admit what you have done. Ultimately, you will need to tell the person you have wronged. And pray. Prayer isn’t just calling out in the dark to a distant unknown God. James knew that God draws near to those who draw near to God. Heaven and earth come together when someone calls on the name of the Lord.

Confess is horizontal. Pray is vertical. To confess and to pray is to renew one’s heart. The debt is cancelled, and you are free.

Today’s reading: James 5:15-16

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It’s the heart.

Can both salt water and fresh water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? James 3:11-12

James asked the questions not because he didn’t know the answers. We know the answers. Of course not. I would not go to a fig tree to get olives. I would not go to a grapevine to get figs. And I certainly cannot drink the water if the spring is salty. But James is not talking about fruit and water. His point has to do with our words.

How important are your words? Haven’t we learned that the wrong word at the wrong time can ruin a relationship? A promise can be broken. A bad impression can be given which can never be repaired. No wonder Proverb 4:23 tells us: Above all else (if you don’t hear anything else, hear this), guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

There are times we’d like to dismiss what comes from our mouths. It wasn’t me! But if it wasn’t me, who was it? James knew what his brother Jesus taught: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart (Matthew 15:18). Only a renewed heart can produce pure speech. We often excuse our words and actions because we want to believe that we have a good heart, but our words and actions are the stethoscope to the heart.

A first step to a renewed heart is to admit that there is a problem – to admit that I am powerless and there is One who is greater who can renew my heart.

You, O Lord, are the spring of Living Water offering water to us all. In those times when I am less than I want to be and less than you need me to be, help me to hear my words and recognize my deeper need to drink from your spring of Living Water. May my words and actions this day give honor and glory to you. Amen.

Today’s reading: James 3:1-12

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