Monday, December 31, 2007
The events over the elections appear to be calming down quite a bit. We thank you for your prayers and will continue to keep you updated.
We just want to wish you a Happy New Years and ask that you would continue to keep this nation in your prayers.
Friends and family,
Just wanted to send you a quick update that everyone at Gideon's home is safe. We are currently without power and are unsure of how long that will last, thus we don't know when our next email or blog will be sent. We are hopeful that things will calm down soon. There is no source for news right now, so rumors are spreading quickly and it's hard to know what is true and what is not (so you may know more about what is happening than we do).
Please pray for this nation, that peace will come quickly. A few of the pastors we work have stopped by and so far their families, homes, churches, and church members are all okay... we pray to hear more news like this.
The gift of democracy... We never knew to be so thankful.
Blessings to each one of you.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
I am a bit emotionally charged right now but ask that you pray for these people. Mandy and I (as well as Gideon and his family) are safe and well, but there are people that cannot run, hide and remove themselves from the slums which are overpopulated to begin with. There is going to be a long road ahead in healing the corruption (whether perceived or truth) that has taken place this weekend.
Today was a step backwards for Kenya as it attempts to build a mature democracy.
We work with pastors that are in the most vulnerable areas of the city. We ask that you pray for them, their families, their congregations and even their church structures as things are a bit chaotic. We hope to contact them soon and learn of their safety at this time.
Again, we are safe...but there are many people that we know and that we don't that are caught in the middle.
We'll keep you posted on any developments.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Please pray for peace and justice in this process...and never take democracy for granted:)
Friday, December 28, 2007
We left for the coast approximately 36 hours ago, hoping to enjoy a few days on the Indian Ocean. Somewhere along the way, things took a turn and here we are...back in Nairobi again!
We had an awesome train trek out there...it was a 14 hour trip, most of it during the night hours but train travel is just a great way to travel. It included dinner and breakfast, where we got to enjoy time with other travelers from Nigeria and Denmark and we had our own sleeping compartment. The only noteworthy hitch with the train ride between Nairobi and Mombasa was the German and/or South African woman in the compartment next door. While entertaining, her pompous traveling behavior was ridiculous. When the lights went out in our car, she made sure that EVERYONE heard about it, not to mention her “VIP” status, which little did she know, everyone is considered to have. The meals were way too salty and there was no way that she should have to pay for breakfast because apparently she is God's gift to East African cuisine. Mandy and I would like to salute her for the priceless entertainment, her loving character and prize-performing complaint fest. We would also like to salute the Kenya Railway staff (all 12 people that had to deal with her at least once-both on the train and at the office in Nairobi) for resisting the temptation to sneak her into the bathroom and send her through the toilet (a hole in the floor where the tracks are visible below).
Upon our arrival in Mombasa, we took a ferry to the south shore and a matatu to a place called Tiwi Beach. It is said to be a dangerous 3 km walk to the place that we wanted to stay, so we got a lift from a security company that was headed out in that direction. They dropped us off 200 meters from the entrance of the lodge. No more than 60 seconds later, two thugs took our hip pack and ran off into the woods with it. After a chase, reconvening the security outfit, settling down the Kenyan women that had witnessed it all and a ride to the police station in the back of a Kenyan police car (which are much more comfortable than matatus), we found ourselves 500 km out of Nairobi with no money, phone, camera, Bible, journal, hip bag, headlamps, Nalgenes and sunscreen lip gloss. Thanks to Mandy's great memory, we were able to call Gideon in Nairobi from the police station when he told us of an Anglican Guest House in Mombasa (20km north of where we were) that we could ask to borrow money from. A few phone calls later, a trip to Mombasa in the police car and with extraordinary generosity from the Anglican Guest House, we had $50 to get us back to Nairobi...and a bit of extra for some food for our hungry bellies. We ended up walking around Mombasa for 5 hours just to check it out (although it was extremely dead because it was election day). Although many have ranted and raved about how great Mombasa is, it wasn't quite what we had anticipated-partly due to our frustration with what had just happened and partly due to how much was closed due to the elections. We enjoyed sodas along the coast of the Indian Ocean, stuffed our faces with Indian food and caught an overnight bus to Nairobi.
We arrived in Nairobi at 6 AM this morning, eager to get things sorted out, to get home before the election results are announced and to see if any of our stolen items would be covered by insurance (which they are not:( ). Thanks to Gideon, email and Adam (in Tacoma), we were able to get stuff canceled right away and will be up and functioning again soon. We are safe, well and rebounding from our little escapade.
As for the elections, stay tuned-we will learn more today!
Well, our 5 day trip to the coast turned into 36 hours. The sour taste has dissolved and we will try again sooner than later...perhaps when our friends Robby and Karl come out from Tacoma...next week. On second thought, this is the 2nd time that Mandy and I have been robbed near a beach-maybe we will stay put or go to the mountains:).
What a gift it has been to have the opportunity to spend a Christmas in Kenya. While the familiarities were far away, we were exposed to a refreshed look at what Christmas is all about. Although a few of the shopping centers have Christmas Lights and Santa sessions, the lack of commercialism that we associate with the season would have made it easy to pass December 25 without noticing. A few things that we learned along the way...
Although our songs about winter and snow neglect it, Christmas comes during the summer for the entire southern hemisphere!
Gifts are not a universal norm around the holidays. It was incredibly freeing to not have to worry about gifts this year!
Movies are big in Kenya on Christmas Day...from 10 AM-1 AM the next day, you will find most Kenyans from Nairobi hovering around a television with food, friends and family.
Doors are open on Christmas Day...if you are not hosting the party, be ready to make the rounds visiting 4 or 5 homes throughout the day visiting with others.
Many people travel to their home villages at this time...although this year was slightly different as voters needed to stay in their home area until December 27 to cast their presidential vote.
There are very few Christmas Eve or Christmas Day church services.
Chicken and Chipati (a tasty version of a tortilla) are the staple foods for the holidays.
We joined some friends from Ontario for a Christmas lunch followed by a Kenyan feast at home in the evening. 30+ visitors came for some tasty eats, a movie or three and one last discussion on the elections 2 days before voters head to the booth.
We wish you all a wonderful holiday season and hope that you have had the opportunity to enjoy it with family and friends.
On a side note, it is interesting how we have tainted the Christmas story to be something that it is not. Jesus wasn't born in the Mayo Clinic, nor did he pretend to live as the part of our modern day population that lives on over $1 a day but perhaps, He came to bring hope for people whose world looks a bit more like this...
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
It makes me think about our 'Leisure Time" as Americans or Westerners. For these folks, it takes a very major holiday to take a day off, relax with one another and enjoy some movies. For us, we often have enough time to watch a movie once or twice a week. Many people who live in Mathare don't have jobs, so at first I found myself asking, "don't they have a lot of leisure time since they don't work?" But thinking back to personal experience, it is the times in life when I was unemployed and thus in theory had plenty of 'leisure time' that I found myself the most stressed and unable to relax because of the pressure I felt to always be searching for a job. I can't imagine what many of these people are going through on a daily basis. For many, they either never made it to school or were pulled out of school to begin working to support their family at a very young age, leaving them as adults with little skills to offer their community.
Before we came to Kenya, I didn't know what to expect but I was thankful to step out of American culture for a bit and see things with a new perspective. Since being here, I have often found myself more appreciative for the "American Way" that we so often target as corrupt or wrong. But yesterday I was blessed with the way children from Mathare see Christmas. I feel that they understand Christmas in a way that I don't know if I ever will.
I want to wish everyone a very wonderful Christmas! I hope that it is a day of family and peace :)
We are currently spending two days a week in Mathare with the Inspiration Center. What we thought might be 20-25 kids coming together to tell their story through photos and words has ended up being a crowd of 80. It is incredible to see the kids run with our theme, "Born from below" and tell a story about what it means to be a part of their community. AIDS, child labor, inequality, talent, beauty, artistic, athletic...these are the stories that have emerged from the 80+ students that join us on Mondays and Thursdays. We hope to compile their work for our February intensive as a way to share with pastors in the Nairobi community the stories of the kids from Mathare, our intended venue for the training.
Today started out with a Swahili lesson. Staged in a 10 foot by 12 foot one-room home with two adults and two kids, Violet taught us to barter in Swahili for a fair deal at the market.
-“You are giving me the mzungu price” (which literally translates to wanderer as white people are seen as never sitting still but always moving around)
-”I want the Kenyan price. That is too expensive, please reduce your price”
Back and forth we go, trying to knock a few shillings off of our make-believe elephant carvings, sunset paintings and wooden spoon sets. In the back of my mind, I am thinking about the lavish Pier One store in Tacoma where the prices are often marked up 50-100 fold for international artwork. It is really ethical for us to barter? I would rather have the artist reap the benefits of my white skin and inability to speak proper swahili than corporate America. What about the rich Kenyan at the kiosk next to me who is exerting his pocket power to make his living room look pretty. I deserve to be treated fair compared to him, don't I? I searched around the house for remnants of a Sunday market to find nothing. Our lesson fees covered her family's rent, food and school fees but apparently we didn't pay enough to send her to the market with her leftover money at the end of the month.
At the end of our lesson, she gives us her two cents on how she perceives us white wanderers. Careful not to offend, she points out the realities of mzungus that we try to avoid yet are confronted with many times each day. The concept of travel is within grasp of a very small percentage of this world. Planes, trains and private automobiles are few and far between in some circles. Crossing an ocean seems impossible to some while taking a bus to visit family 300 km away also poses its own set of problems. We thank her for her willingness to integrate Kenyan culture into a language lesson, say our farewell and wander on to our next engagement-an afternoon with a pastor in the same informal settlement.
We find him in the midst of an election rally waiting at stage 2, the last stop on the matatu route. He spots our complexion from afar and welcomes us to his turf. Because of the heat, he decides to cut back our schedule for the afternoon a bit, the main engagement being lunch at his home. We first walk to his church to find 10 of his members waiting for a 5 minute greeting, a prayer and a promise of return. We agree to the terms. Our walk through the community is insightful as he highlights the struggles, triumphs and some of the overarching issues that inform how and why it is the way it is. We have a great deal of respect for this pastor, his commitment to his community and the vision that he has for transformation.
Very similar to the home of our swahili teacher, we sit on a couch which is facing the bedroom and kitchen with no walls to separate the three. His wife graciously prepared a delicious stew, Sikumawiki (cooked Cale) and ugali for us. It was absolutely delicious. We enjoyed a conversation about hopes, dreams and goals for the future of his ministry. He also took the opportunity to learn about us, what it is that we are passionate about and how we feel that our experience in Kenya will change us. We spoke honestly, openly and without the cultural barriers that often hinder one's ability to feel comfortable in being themselves.
Minutes later, a neighbor arrived. Also a pastor, he had lots of questions about what we thought of Kenya, the people and specifically the church. We shared a few thoughts and took the opportunity to learn from his insight in the process. As if he were on cue, he began saying things that no longer corresponded with eachother and digressed from conversation about us as individuals into a conversation about “you people in America”. Over the next ten minutes, we were gawked at because of the amount that we paid for our plane ticket, we were told that our lives would be longer if we gave money to a church to buy land and that we should help bring pastors to the U.S. to be trained. Our wonderful afternoon had taken a turn for the worst.
We often find ourselves in much tension over the power associated with money. Our skin color and ability to travel to Kenya target us as having bulging pockets. It is somewhat ironic that Mandy and I have had many discussions on how things here are much more expensive than we anticipated, how we feel the need to spend wisely as some of our financial support has come from others and that we feel the need to live frugal lives here in comparison to many Kenyans and virtually all Americans. Kris Rocke, the CTM Director reminded us that money is a sacred subject, one that reveals something about the parts of ourselves that we want to cover up the most. I would add that in our situation, money is also a public subject, one that finds us in all situations. Although talk of money does not scare me amongst those that I know and trust, I am not sure how I feel about the sacred meeting the public in this instance.
Our bulging pockets, however slim we might perceive them to be have caused us to feel ashamed, to resent people's motives and to take a closer look at our own constructs of money than we may have ever wanted. Yet in the process, we are learning how to bless people appropriately, whether financially or in other ways, out of obligation, calling, crisis or the fulfillment of a lofty dream.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Spending my first World AIDS Day and beginning of Advent in Africa has raised some interesting questions in my mind around the concept of preparation. The statistics and stories of HIV/AIDS in Kenya cannot be avoided as it has impacted everyone in some way. I have wondered how it is that those infected prepare themselves for what is to come? What does the advent of their declining health look like? What are they preparing for? What if this Christmas had the potential to be my last one? What would I shop for? How would I schedule my days? What would I commit to do in the next year?.
Perhaps, my friend Banuwa has it all right as he opens his eyes with a sense of relief each morning as yesterday wasn't his last. He has declared victory for one more day in his fight against the terrorist inside of his body. Perhaps his level of preparation far exceeds mine and yours as the holidays approach. Perhaps his priorities are more purposeful. Perhaps, there is something that we can learn from him.
World AIDS Day in Nairobi looks very different from western Washington. I have experienced times in the states when this day comes and goes, without a thought of those infected by this deadly disease. NGO's, CBO's, churches and government entities alike be sure to pause and acknowledge the impact that HIV/AIDS has on the Kenyan people. We spent our day partnering with the Inspiration Center in Mathare where we held a youth rally. Through the arts, youth were given an opportunity to share their story, the stories of others and to offer a renewed sense of hope within their community. Hundreds of people showed up throughout the day to share their appreciation with the performers and to inhale a breath of hope for the future. (See “Ode to Boyye” for pictures from the event)
On a national front, the decrease in HIV/AIDS prevalence has decreased over the past 10 years. Kenya is a leader throughout Africa in sustainable education models and access to medicine for those infected. This being said, there is still much work to be done! The infected rate hovers around 10% nationally and 15% in the slum areas. For those of you that are teachers, imagine 2-3 kids in your class carrying the weight of this burden with them and the impact that it would have on the dynamics of your classroom. 10-15% is a large number of people. While this rate remains lower than other parts of sub-saharan Africa, I cannot adequately explain the impact that it has on the entire population. Whether infected or not, there are ties to this deadly disease all over that span throughout the country, throughout generations and throughout the landscape of society.
In the American context, this sentence sounds like it came from a “Learn to Read” book for a first grader, and there would not be much thought regarding what it is saying. I am currently learning by experience the power of context. In Kenya, this sentence creates a lot of stares when it is put into practice (which I do about 3 times a week).
Step for a moment with me into the context of a Kenyan living in Nairobi. People are on their way to work (most likely) and they see me running by. Some could care less, and yet some stare so hard I wonder if I'm missing a major article of clothing :)
After many runs I've come up with some possible interpretations of this sentence:
White girl: power, money, what is she doing here?
Run: Exercising? Willingly? Doesn't she walk enough?
Outside: Why is she not an athletic club with the other mazungu?
Wearing shorts: What? In this weather? It's not nearly warm enough for shorts.
I cannot say if this is an absolute truth...but after so many runs, and so much staring and several comments, my mind begins to wonder about how I am perceived.
So if we were to flip this scenario around and think about context in the US... What/who do we stare at? What's out of our context? How should we react to it?
These are pictures taken by a friend of ours from Mathare. Boyye, whose father past away this month is 19 years old, has grown up in Mathare and now shares a piece of who he is with the children of the Inspiration Center. This is his first time behind the viewfinder portraying a few glimpses of our World AIDS Day event through his lenses. Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Needless to say, having visitors around makes things a bit more busy. A few highlights since the last time that we posted:
Visiting Dagoretti 4 Kids, a youth program aimed at street kids in one of the many hard places around Nairobi. We were incredibly impressed with their organization, their thoughtful planning and the commitment that they have shown to their own backyard community. Check out their website at dagoretti4kids.org.
Joining the Seattle crew for a delicious dinner at the infamous Carnivore Restaurant. It was great to see people from home, to be reminded of seeing Kenya for the first time again and catch up on happenings in the NW. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your team.
Welcoming Andy Guinn (PLU) and his friend Bryce to lovely Nairobi for the weekend. We weren't sure if it would work out to get together during Andy's semester abroad in Dar e Selaam, but we pulled it off. Thanks for making the trek guys. We shared a bit of our experience with them by spending time with friends in Mathare, playing some ultimate frisbee, eating delicious Ethiopian, Indian and Kenyan food and playing a few rounds of cards!
World AIDS Day event in Mathare...see AIDS and Advent
Joel's first shot at preaching in a church service...Since arriving in Kenya, we have been approached by many of the pastors to share in their churches. We explain that we are not pastors, that we have utmost respect for them and their work and see ourselves best supporting their work in other ways. This usually is followed up by, “When will you preach to us?”. So, Joel gave it a shot...it was much too short for their liking (Much to long for Joel's) but people seemed to be remotely interested and it went pretty well. Having a translator mimicking everything said is a bit distracting!
Our first bed bug epidemic-Not sure where they came from...but we have the bites all over our bodies to remind us that they are around. Itch, itch itch.
Christmas Celebration with the pastors: Last week, we met with the pastors and their spouses for a Christmas breakfast. Many of them will take off for the holidays to visit friends and family in their hometowns. French toast, Mandozi and fruit was the food of choice.
We will write more soon but wanted to let you know that all is well, the week has been busy and that life in Nairobi is picking up before the holiday and election lull.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
For the past two months, Mandy and I have seen, touched, heard, smelled, laughed, cried and even pooped the molecules of life in the slums of Nairobi. At times, we have found ourselves building an immunity to the beauty and affliction while other moments provoke the inevitable gulping contraction of the throat. There are many estimates out there on how many people live in the 170 slums of Nairobi, the most common exceeding 2,000,000. We have come to wonder where all of these people come from, the stories that frame their existence and the journeys that they have embarked on.
This week, I had an opportunity to join a group of people a group from Seattle through World Concern (a development non-profit out of Seattle who is doing some great work www.worldconcern.org) for a visit to Narok, a Maasai area in southwest Kenya. It was here that I was confronted with the realities of many of the people living in rural villages throughout Kenya, the adjustment that they must face when journeying to a city of 4 million and the beautiful people and place that they temporarily (or perhaps forever) abandon. Life outside of the most developed city in East Africa is different to say the least. My first day in Narok brought me back to September 7, when we landed at Nairobi's airport. With little confidence in language, a paralyzing mindset to be culturally sensitive while attempting to manage my senses and the life of the Maasai took its toll.
Perhaps the picture can best be painted through the story of a man named Peter.
Peter grew up in traditional Maasai culture. No electricity, no water, one father, many mothers, hundreds of cows and goats, no education, perplexity at the sight of a car and calloused feet from his miles explored each day. His mother was the first wife, feeling robbed of sharing her family and resources with others. Maa was the language of choice in and among his people while his land was similar to the most remote places of Nevada, New Mexico and Utah as his people were confined to barren areas by the colonizers. (sound familiar?) I hate to use the word primitive as it implies that society has advanced through industrialization and technology, (What has it advanced toward?) but it is the only word in my mind to adequately describe the live of rural villagers in Kenya.
Imagine life without plastic, with life possessions on one shelf and under the cow hide bed, being trapped in a carbon monoxide dungeon every day with a cooking fire inside of a windowless hut and never really seeing or needing access to money.
At the age of 12, Peter was told by his father to take over the foraging goats on a graze in quest of food and water. These journeys are ongoing, spanning across the region and often led solo or with a pair of Maasai boys. Days or perhaps weeks into his journey, he did what most 12 year olds would do, fell asleep and lost the herd of goats. Upon waking up, they were nowhere to be found. Even though he could see miles across the desert landscape, his goats were gone. He returned home to tell his father of his careless mistake. Needless to say, his father was incredibly upset.
Ironically, a few weeks later, the police came to the village and mentioned that there were a few openings in a boarding school near Nairobi. Convinced that his son was a shame to the tribe, Peter's father sent his son with the police with few reservations. This was the beginning of Peter's educational journey through primary school, secondary school and eventually university. Unfortunately, Peter's siblings were strong herdsman, warriors and sought-out girls and women bound for marriage and never had the opportunity to be punished by being sent to school.
I am not sure how the next steps panned out in Peter's life, but know that he is now back in his community, eventually accepted by his family and tribe and working with orphans and vulnerable children in rural areas. I was most intrigued by what the car ride must have been like for him as he entered into Nairobi for the first time, seeing multilevel buildings, at abundance of produce at stands lining the streets, traffic jams, brick walls around homes, watchman, restaurants and car alarms.
It is no wonder that many people end up in the slums. While I realize that this is not the path of a good chunk of the 2,000,000 people living in nearly inhumane conditions, at some point in time, families moved to the city in search for a better life. Life better than Kibera, Mathare, Kawangware and Lunga Lunga. Perhaps there is comfort in being surrounded by those who have experienced the same contrast, by those who have lost their goats and by those who were punished by a trip to the city.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Just want to wish you all a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving! We hope that is a time of being surrounded by loved ones and allowing you to ponder the many blessings in your lives. We have thought of all of you today and are so thankful to be surrounded from 'afar' :)
It is hard for us to believe that the holiday season is officially here, as it was warm and sunny this afternoon here.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
When the service finally completed, they asked for the first timers to move to the back to be welcomed. I should have listened to the inner voice saying, 'now is your chance to escape...' but that would be rude, so I headed to the back, unaware of the trauma I was about to encounter. Our group of newcomers was split into several smaller groups and I was sent with the man with a mission, Pastor Lee. Pastor Lee is a 50+ year old Asian man with a hearing problem, broken English, and the eagerness to save souls. What was meant to be at the most a thirty minute, 'welcome to our church' schpeel, turned into a very harmful encounter with the Christian faith. Pastor Lee began by learning our names, of which I'm sure he doesn't remember, and then proceeded with his “mission” of bringing us to Jesus without any further inquiry into what we believed and why we were in Kenya, and it still wasn't enough to explain to him that we believe in Jesus. He diligently continued on taking us through many familiar scriptures of the Bible...the Roman Road, and the fall of man, etc... exerting his beliefs unto us like a criminal who can overpower his victims, refusing to read the obvious cues that he was offending us. Oh the anger and hurt that was welling up within me as he continued on and on, often times refusing us the opportunity to speak because 'he wasn't done yet.' To disagree with what he was saying would only lead to further abuse, so in time I simply succumb to the despair I felt and stopped fighting it.
What could have been a wonderful and engaging conversation quickly turned sour and ended in a direct abuse of power. To think that this may be a person's first experience with Christianity nearly brought tears to my eyes in the midst of him talking to us. Without any attempt to build even a casual relationship, this man forced us into a conversation that we were obviously resistant to having. Not to mention the fact that we expressed our belief in Christ from the very beginning.
An hour after the conversation began, he was still pursuing us and even had the nerve to express interest in seeing us again, which would be like an attacker asking his victim out to coffee after stripping away their dignity. With the tiny amount of strength (and yet restraint) we had left in us, we politely stood up, thanked him, and walked away. He followed, requesting our contact, and I ignored him. I have never felt so rude in my life, and yet I wish I would have walked away much sooner.
I felt demoralized spiritually on Sunday. The man may have had good and honest intentions, but I walked away deeply paining for people who have had similar encounters.
An invitation into the Christian faith should NEVER feel like this. There is no “3 step formula” that opens the eyes of people to see Jesus, it is His doing within our hearts. To think that we as humans have the ability to convince people into the faith is a disgrace. I apologize for the graphic metaphor, yet I can't think of a better way to explain the experience, which only reinforced to me the utmost importance of building relationships with people and sharing your faith out of love, not a formula.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Four hours later, I returned home hungry and exhausted.
Four hours of interpreting pieces of Swahili, watching those around me, deciphering scripture, explaining my presence, singing and day dreaming. It made me think a great deal about the church (or any other social structure for that matter) and what it means to enter in for the first time. While familiarity allows us to relax and be comfortable, entering unknown territories has the opposite effect. I was literally exhausted by the end of it all. It made me think about what it takes to practice inclusion, to create a gracious space where all are not only welcome, but comfortable to be who they are. I thought of the international students at PLU, the visitors that walked into Trinity for the first time or even the first day on a job.
What do you do to create an environment that allows one to be himself? When do I think about the needs of the outsider-the individual whose first language, culture and customs are different than the norm?
An hour later, a taxi picked us up and took us to a field where we play ultimate frisbee every week. The grass is green, the players are white, the language is English and on the field, people are who they are. Two and a half hours of running around felt like a nap compared to the morning. I was in my element...well I should note that it is an element that is quite new. As of six weeks ago, I had never played ultimate frisbee and felt the pressure of stepping into the unknown. I wasn't an outsider this time around, nor did I feel the need to pick up on everything that was going on around me, but instead-just to be present.
The contrasts of these two parts of my day made me think a great deal about “diversity”. For a split second, it made me question some of my previous thoughts on inclusion. It made me wonder if diversity is a term that people strive for to be politically correct. Maybe it is OK to have black communities, white communities, schools and churches. What is wrong with me not wanting to be exhausted by a church service by making it “diverse”? What is wrong with me feeling more comfortable around the UN, USAID, and embassy workers on a field than those speaking fluent Swahili?
Peeling back one more layer, I see a few flaws in my theory:
1.Diversity is not just about sitting together, but about understanding one another. I think that is why my Sunday experience was so tiring-I have a lot to learn in order to understand the people of Kibera. Understanding people is no different than understanding any other complex subject. It takes time, work, energy, failure and constant attention.
2.I have to be extremely careful with what is really at stake with diversity. I get sick of the term because it tends to be a light and fluffy idealistic word for inclusion when its actual roots are formed in oppression and injustice. Is it possible that my discomfort is actually result of dealing with the past and the present, the forms of injustice and oppression that have occurred and continue to occur? That is an exhausting thought in itself. I can't just dodge it all together.
3.What if I never stepped foot in a church that made me uncomfortable? What if I never took any college courses that challenged me? What if I never took the time to hear the story whose life is drastically different from my own? Who would I be? Who would they be? What if everyone took this approach? What would our world look like?
The night ended with a tasty sandwich and playing cards with friends. It took me to a place that was comfortable, allowing me into a space where I could make sense of my day, my desire for comfort, my contributions to the whole diversity debate and what it means to be a white, male in the streets of Nairobi...once again-I am tired.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
A few days ago, one of the leaders in the CTM network came over for a meeting. We strayed heavily from our agenda and I showed him an article about his community that someone had sent me. He read it, felt that it was very accurate and asked if I had any photos of my family on the computer.
One thing led to another and I showed him photos from the last two years of my life. It never dawned on me until then how difficult it is to tell an accurate story with photos across cultural barriers. Think of the things that we take pictures of and how this might be interpreted by others. It forced me to think hard about the story that my photo album tells and how inaccurate (or maybe accurate) it might be perceived by another. Here are a few examples that required some serious explanation:
Backpacking with my dad and brother in Colorado: “You mean to tell me that you flew on a plane to a different state (country in many people's context) to walk for 4 days and stay in a tent when you have a nice home that you can stay in?”
A “decorated” car after our wedding: “People put paint on your car, fill it with balloons and tie cans to it...on your wedding day and you aren't supposed to get mad?”
Ugly Christmas sweater competition at work: “You go out and buy the ugliest sweater that you can in order to beat out your coworkers? Will you wear it again? Wouldn't you rather wear your other clothes...like the shirt that you have on-that one looks much better.”
Tubing behind the boat in the Puget Sound: “What is the boat for? Do you use it to get places? Why do some people ride on a tube? Is there not enough room for them in the boat?”
On the magnitude of wedding photos: “What are you going to do with thousands of wedding pictures? Do you print them? Then what? Why do you smash cake on Mandy's face when you are wearing nice clothes. Did she get mad at you?”
On the entire collection: “Are these all from you country?” Oceans, lakes, mountains, sand dunes, cities, flowers, fall leaves-not something that people are used to seeing every day.
My folks house in Michigan: “Where are the other houses? Do people pay to visit? Does anyone stay in the covered area in the front? (the porch)”
It was an interesting process. One that challenged me, made me laugh and made me somewhat embarrassed to know that many of the people that I interact with here would not be able to identify with many of the experiences that have made me who I am.
Friday, November 2, 2007
I came across this the other day on Africa Online when doing some research on one of the communities that we are working in. It is well written and inline with so many of the feelings that we have been experiencing...
On a quick note, we are doing well. We had a great week and a lot of cool stuff is going on. A few of the highlights that we will ellobrate more on include...Mandy getting a job, moving forward in Mathare-one of the neglected slums of Nairobi and gearing up for some cool stuff happening in February!
Give a man a fish he feeds for a day, teach the man to fish and he feeds for a lifetime. The most complex problems in a society can be sometimes be solved by simple ideas and concepts based in old proverbs. It is time we realized that the solution to poverty is not handouts in whatever form they may come, but sustainable long-term solutions that benefit all Kenyans equally. If those in power and those who have the responsibility to vote would take heed to these wise words, the poverty problem would not be what it is today.
The economy may be on the increase and several sectors resuscitated, however the reality is; although the number of those living in areas like Runda and other wealthy suburbs is on the increase, so are those living in Kibera, Mathare Kangemi and other sprawling slums. Even with the increase in fuel prices, it seems that more and more Kenyans are able to afford cars despite the limited infrastructure as is seen with Hummers and other luxurious cars that litter the Nairobi roads during rush hour.
It would be my biggest recommendation for all Kenyans to walk through areas like Kibera and Mathare; I am not talking about slum tourism where their lifestyle is exploited at their expense. What I wish is a simple walk, a mile perhaps in their shoes. Imagine living with millions of other people in approximately 3 sq km, where a trip to the kiosk or bus stop requires you to develop superior navigation of open sewers where faeces and waste form part of the path. Imagine waking up cold, or wet, everyday in your house built of mabati and mud, only to give birth at home because basic hospital services are but a myth. This is how a great majority of us live, and it is not because they are lazy or not like you. It is time we realized that poverty is our problem, and affects us all. How can we expect a safer society when so many live in such deplorable conditions that, crime becomes a lucrative business? How can we expect the economy to grow when such a small population controls so much?
Kenya is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Resource distribution is favorable to the few in power, where the fight for power is entirely among the elite, who wants to safeguard their economic prosperity. It is undeniable that there is money in this beautiful country, what one must ask is why it not trickles to all levels of society. The economy may have improved for you, you make more money than you did 5 years ago, but yet, you still pay your gardener and watchman the same amount you did then. If your basic necessities amounts to more than you pay your unskilled worker, how is he or she supposed to survive with so little?
The poverty problem cannot be successfully addressed without addressing rural poverty, which accounts for the majority of poor who live on $2 or less a day. If more financial investment and development focussed on rural areas, less people would be inclined to leave their farms and shags to move to the city in search of a better life.
Once again elections roll around and we hear the same rhetoric on job creation and poverty alleviation, yet 5 years down the line although some things may have changed, I am yet to hear of long-term solutions that stand a chance of creating change. The middle class is a mere blip on the radar while the gap between the extremely poor and economic elite is vast almost to be measured on the same scale as space.
When I asks around the common consensus is poor governance is to blame for our pink elephant. Our political history created this complex poverty vortex, where the way out seems almost impossible. What is clear then, is we are the architects to our own demise, we choose our leaders and therefore we choose our fate. In this election I would urge everyone to listen to the issues, to the proposed solutions, and to whom these solutions will indeed benefit. When you vote, think about the woman who sells tomatoes on the side of the road, the man who is employed as your guard or gardener but is forced to live in a shack to make ends meet, the graduate who is forced to drive the City Hoppa bus; these people are the majority, and are affected most by the choices we all make.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Sorry for the blogging delay. There is not much to report on when you are hampered by an Amoeba in the stomach. We took our first dose of Cipro (The equivalent of carbourator cleaner for the tummy). It takes you down for a bit and then brings you back to life. I guess that stomach egos were slightly uplifted when we learned that the whole house had it and that it wasn't just the white folk. While it did not completely put us down for the count, it was enough to plan for short days and to make sure that a bathroom was close at all times.
One of the highlights of the week was meeting with all of the CTM Network pastors/leaders. Several of them just graduated from a local urban leadership program. We enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate with them in their hard work. It was great to sit in a circle of leaders that have lived their call in commitment to their respective communities. Many of them have had opportunities to “move up” and “out” of the informal settlements but have remained committed to their people. What an admirable and courageous undertaking!
The week of Amoeba would have been complete without the Nairobi 10km! Our week of training leading up to the consisted of walking up the stairs, to the kiosk markets for a Sprite and several trips to the restroom. To our benefit, there were a few glitches in the race that made things a bit easier on our end. The race had a great turnout...about 12,000 runners...most of whom were a bit discouraged by the end of the day. The course for the 10k was an out and back that led us through the finish line within 5-6km. There was no one telling us at that point that we needed to continue through and do an additional lap in the other direction. 90% of the people (including Mandy, Gideon and myself) stopped, walked around a bit in confusion, got a cup of water and then...realized that there was another lap to do. So...we turned up the throttle a bit and finished the last lap of the race. Walking away from the finish line the 2nd time, I looked at my watch and learned that I had just completed a 10km in 33 minutes! The excitement was killed a second later when I realized that there is no way that I was running 5:20 miles. The well deserved buzz from the front runners reamed the race organizers for a poorly managed race. Not to mention, the prize money that was compromised. All mistakes aside, it was a great run and the shirts are great!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Last week, we spent some time at the “Inspiration Center” in Mathare, a slum on the east side of Nairobi. We walked around the area for a couple of hours, ate a delicious lunch in a local hotel (restaurant) and visited the largest school in the slum. It was one of those days when I wished that I could have come home, sat in the electric recliner, read the newspaper and drank a nice cold Black Butte Porter. My exhaustion didn't come as a result of our 5 km walk, nor the scorching sun, but the marathon that my mind completed that day.
It all started when we stepped foot off of the matatu and were greeted by the “How are Yoooouuuuuu!” screams from the nearby children. They don't require a response, just a validation of their limited English vocabulary. If you ever want to boost your ego, this is the place to be as a simple touch of the white skin puts you in Santa's league. The first question that I had to ask myself was, “why in the world are these kids not in school?” With the current presidential elections, politicians are tauting their implementation of free primary school for all kids. Apparently “all” no longer includes a huge chunk of the population under 12 years of age in Mathare.
Moments later, we began walking through the community just to get a simple lay of the land. The feel was starkly different than any of the other slums that we had visited. On our 90 minute walk, I saw 3 churches, two schools, one public restroom and 2 vehicles. Mathare is situated in a valley, so the opportunity for roads is limited but the lack of services was just disheartening. Where are the small, microfinance projects? The churches? The Non Government Organizations (NGO's)? The government? With all do respect for those that are doing things in other needy areas of Nairobi, did this community fall off the map? The walk gave us a pulse for the community...a pulse that was strong yet slightly hardened as there were very few units on standby for any type of resuscitation.
An afternoon walk to the largest school in the area gave us a glimpse of the realities of life in Mathare. Leaders of the Inspiration Center estimated that 700 kids attend the school sitting in the heart of Mathare Valley. In terms of Physical space, I would estimate that the facilities were 150 feet by 200 feet. For those of you that are voting on levy's for school renovations think about trying to pass the construction of buildings like these. We visited several of the classes where kids sang us a song, recited a Bible verse and /or a social issue chant and laughed at us as we stumbled through introductions in Swahili. The walls between the classrooms vary from tin to bed sheets as 40-50 students cram onto the benches with their notebooks. A side note: some of the best schools in all of Kenya are located in the slums as these are the kids that are extremely motivated to surpass societal expectations.
I was reminded of a book whose title I can't remember that was written by a friend and colleague of my brother and sister-in-law in New Mexico. The author, Tim Stewart-posed a question around children being labeled “at-risk”. In short, he asked whether there are any kids in this world that are not at risk of some type of failure. If there is any community that I would label as a haven for producing “at risk” kids, Mathare is it. Yet, under the dirt, the crowded conditions and few services, these kids are survivors. They are determined, have an amazing instinct and can navigate systems with the best of them...while the kids across the way at the embassy school, with everything that they could ever ask for and more may be the ones that are “at risk”.
We will be back at this school again. There was something that was warm, inviting and cozy about it even in the scorching heat. Behind the voices of these children was a source of hope and promise...one that I am “at risk” of missing.
Following our Swahili lesson on Friday, we joined Pastor Alfred in a community call Kawangware on the west side of the city. He took us to a church which functions as a school during the week and introduced us to the kids. There are 37 kids that attend the one room school ranging from age 3-10. Teachers out there...count your blessings as curriculum development and classroom management for a group like this cannot be a simple task. As the norm here, Mandy was asked to lead a PE lesson on the spot. Given the circumstances of no equipment, a language barrier and getting 3-10 year olds on the same page, she rocked it! These kids pay about $4.00/month to attend the school so that the teacher can be compensated. They are hoping to set up a food program as well so that the kids can have a meal at school. Lunchables, cafeterias and leftovers are not the norm in these parts of the city.
Soon, we gathered for lunch at Alfred's house with his family. 6 people living in a 10 foot by 12 foot space. We got cozy on the couch and enjoyed some Ugali, potatoes and beans followed by two rounds of chai. As guests, you never go hungry here! Shortly after lunch, we saw a girl pass by outside. Alfred mentioned that she is deaf. We explained that Mandy took American Sign Language and that we might be able to communicate with her.
We soon learned that Ruth was 9 years old and was born deaf. She has never been to school, only recently learned how to finger spell and has a very difficult time interacting with her family. Can you fathom what it would be like to not be able to communicate for 9 years? I am sure that she has been able to express herself in some ways, there is no such thing as a Disabilities Act over here, nor are there accessible resources for those that don't fit the norm. Mandy taught Ruth and her father a few signs. We will meet with her family again this week or next to see if we can help arrange for them to enroll her in a school and/or find some resources for them.
When I think about the life of a child in Kenya (I guess anywhere for that matter), the voice plays such a crucial role in discovering yourself and your surroundings. It's a ticket to asking questions, to picking up on social cues and to sharing who you are with the rest of the world. There are no “How are yooouuuu?”s from Ruth. No crammed classrooms with 40-50 kids listening intently to their teachers. No songs...just a glance of curiosity toward her surroundings...for now at least. We'll keep you posted.
There is something so beautiful and authentic about a child in song...I have to share a brief story about a little boy names Moses at the Inspiration Center on Sunday. This little guy was a true gift to us. He couldn't have been more than three years old, standing at a proud 30 inches and a smile that pierced through the oppression outside. Moses was one of about 50 kids at a church service of 70 people. Kids galore! When he came into the room, he ran up to me trying to see what mzungu (white person) skin feels like. He ran over and just grabbed my hand, gave me a high five and then just looked up at me. I had a hard time figuring out who he was looking at early on as his head was facing one way and his eyes another...come to find out-my little man Moses is cross eyed. That didn't stop him from giving some wicked high 5's, climbing up onto my lap during the church service and dancing in the aisles during worship time.
I didn't hear many words from Moses, but his actions spoke louder than any keynote speaker that I have heard. He didn't hold back...but instead used his “voice” to welcome us, to make us comfortable and to show what it means to be authentic in the presence of others...particularly in the context of church...where we often feel stifled.
Moses did something for me that day that will help guide my time here in Nairobi. He gave me eyes to see and ears to listen to a Psalm from David that touched me in that place at that moment. His toothless smile, intersecting eyes and weathered clothes helped me articulate a Psalm that is emerging in my mind...although there are many stanzas to this Psalm of Nairobi, this speaks to the context in which I met my little friend.
“To the One who remembered us in our low estate,
His love endures forever.” Psalm 136: 23.
To the Inspiration Center and the communal cross that it carries,
His love endures forever.
To the waves of dung wisping from the neglected toilets below,
His love endures forever.
To the children entering with calloused feet and ugly sweaters,
His love endures forever.
To the little boy whose crossed eyes do not make him blind to worshipful dancing,
His love endures forever.
To the valley below, where moonshine is prepared to intoxicate the city,
His love endures forever.
To the Nissan vans lined up on the street, their bumping systems and careless drivers,
His love endures forever.
To the mother behind me who sits in tension of giving an offering or eating a meal,
His love endures forever.
To the Mark and Moses, who choose to cry with the city instead of for it,
His love endures forever.
To the pastor down the street striking a deal to buy a helicopter,
His love endures forever.
To the landlord, who has not provided electricity for months,
His love endures forever.
To me, who can leave at anytime, and not come back,
His love endures forever.
To the millions of people in Nairobi, dreaming of a better life,
His love endures forever.
To campaigning politicians, soliciting slum votes soon to abandon them,
His love endures forever.
To the drugged rapper meters away whose bitterness prevails in his psalms,
His love endures forever.
To the churches and NGO's who have neglected this community,
His love endures forever.
To you, the reader who has faithfully supported us in this journey,
His love endures forever.
His love endures forever.
Monday, October 22, 2007
“The most honored parts of the body are not the head or the hands, which lead and control. The most important parts are the least presentable parts. That's the mystery of the Church. As a people called out of oppression to freedom, we must recognize that it is the weakest among us- the elderly, the small children, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the hungry and sick- who form the real center. Paul says, “It is the parts of the body which we consider least dignified that we surround with the greatest dignity.” (1 Corinthians 12:23)
The Church as the people of God can truly embody the living Christ among us only when the poor remain its most treasured part. Care for the poor, therefore, is much more than Christian charity. It is the essence of being the body of Christ.”
Joel and I are here on behalf of Center for Transforming Mission. I am convinced that if the Church, the body of Christ, lived in such a way that we treasured our 'weakest' parts, there would be true transformation. I guess another way to ask the question is: “If we (The church: those who claim to be made in the image of God and to be living for Him) are not considering these weaker members with the greatest dignity, then who will?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
-I would guess that 70% of the televised news has to do with the elections at this point. Another 10% goes to soccer followed by a bit of local news. We joke that the stations will have no news broadcasts after the elections are over.
-Newspapers are sold on the sides of the road at market stands. Every morning, when a new issue comes out, there are 5-15 people gathered around each newspaper to learn or the latest election news. We have not seen any newspapers without election news on the front page. Everyone is interested...young, old, male, female, white collar, no collar-everyone.
-60% of Nairobi's 4.5 million people live in informal settlements (slums). While there are some exceptions, the vast majority of these people are living in financial poverty...I will clarify “financial poverty” at some other point. As you can imagine, $1000/plate fundraising lunches are not the norm in this neck of the woods. No candidate will stand a chance without appealing to the majority of his/her people living in the slums of Nairobi.
-Although there are 150-200 parties running for president, two main parties have emerged...PNU (People's National Unity-which was created about 3 weeks ago built around the current president) and ODM (the Orange Democratic Movement which was developed to encourage change and the formation of democracy in Kenya's political system).
-Rather than red states and blue states in Kenya, there is an issue around tribalism. Because Kenyan culture is rooted in place and community, people vote for leaders based on where they are from, which tribe they are a part of and who they associate with. This issue is evolveing quickly as people continue to move into cities permanently.
-The current president has the final say in when the elections will be held. There is an obligation to hold the elections prior to January 1, 2008 but if it would be advantageous to hold the elections earlier, the current president has the power to do so.
-The poles as of Saturday, October 13: Kibaki (PNU-current president) 37%, Raila (ODM) 53% and Musyoka (Another ODM Candidate) 9%
As of now, the time leading up to the elections has been peaceful. We hope and pray that this will continue as historically this has not the case.
This is a verse that I have found myself meditating upon this week. It's to the point and easy to remember which may be the reason why it comes to mind so easily.
Joyful in hope: It's amazing how if I chose to be joyful in the hope I have, if I stop to recognize that my life is full of hope...my perspective will change. Many people here are teaching me this lesson so well. Their lives are less than desirable in many respects, and yet they are so full of joy. They get it. They see God in such a way that fills them up with the joy of the hope that He gives. Wow.
Patient in affliction: I again am humbled by what I find 'afflicting.' Maybe it's a headache or a person who I don't get along with. I have yet to deal with the affliction of watching my child go hungry each day, or of being suppressed by the government that is supposed there to 'serve the people,' or the affliction of working for an unjust boss that refuses to pay his workers a fair wage. Many of you have read “The Kite Runner” and I think of Hassan, a character in the book who I feel exemplifies the idea of 'being patient in affliction,' and there is something so beautiful about a person who endures pain with out complaining. I don't think this means to just sit back and take it... but when the affliction is beyond my control, the way that I deal with it will say a great deal about my character. I desire to become a person who is patient in affliction.
Faithful in prayer: It is so easy in America to forget to pray... It is so easy in Nairobi to forget to pray. When my eyes are closed to the suffering around me and even within me, I am not faithful in prayer. When I open my eyes and truly see the condition of my heart and of those around me, I find my only reaction is to pray. It is my prayer that my eyes will stay open, that I refuse to be blind to the hurts of others, that I don't look the other way and hope for the best. The question I must ask myself when I pray is: Am I listening? ... a true listening post. How does God see this situation, what is His take on everything? What is He asking us to do? Wow. If only we listened to you Lord, forgive us.
These are just some thoughts floating around this head of mine...
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The Center for Transforming Mission
Many of you have asked what it is that we do over here. Prior to our arrival in Kenya, we didn't feel that we were in a position to answer that question. 5 weeks later, I think we can give you a snapshot of what the organization looks like in Kenya as well as how we fit into the grand scheme.
CTM is a non-profit based out of Tacoma that works to develop grassroots leaders in hard places. What do I mean by hard places? When I think of hard places, I think of the parts of town that you and I try to avoid after dark, places that no not have well-developed infrastructures and places where passionate people are left to care for the people because no one else wants or dares to. The idea behind CTM emerged from inner-city Philadelphia but has since expanded to support urban leaders in several cities around the states, in central America, Thailand and now, Nairobi. It looks different in each of these areas depending on what the “hard place” is in each respective place. In central America, the overlooked population deals with gang members that have been sent to prison, in cities around the states, the urban centers that no one wants to get their hands dirty with and in the case of Nairobi, the slum areas where leaders are not well-supported by organizations or churches but feel a call to reach out to communities in dire need of transformation.
CTM is not a program-based organization, but focuses on building capacity amongst what already exists through trainings, further education and bringing leaders together to create a network of peers. In many parts of the world, organizations are not 501c3's with advisory boards, endowments and long range plans but instead one or two people that see a need and have a desire to meet it. CTM recognizes this and looks to support these small organizations and churches whose work is imperative in transforming communities.
In our particular situation, Gideon (the CTM Nairobi Director) works 30-35 grassroots leaders throughout Nairobi that are working in hard situations in and around the city. He is a support for them by checking in with them regularly, pulling them together on a monthly basis to discuss challenges, celebrating their successes and providing local and international training opportunities through the US CTM office.
Over the past month, we have spent out energy on getting to know some of the pastors/leaders in the network and learning more about their work. We are now entering a stage that will allow us to pour more time and energy into specific areas and enhance the support that CTM can provide.
A few of our focal points:
Work with two leaders (Mark and Moses) that are working in a community called Mathare. This is a slum that it seems that no one is paying attention to. In many of the slums, there are lots of churches and NGO's, yet it seems that Mathare has reaped the benefits of neither of these. We are exploring setting up the CTM office in Mathare part-time in order to find ways to partner with them and support them in their work.
Another group that is often neglected in hard places is the 14-24 year old age group. Since high school is not free and many come from disjointed families, this poses to be a difficult time in life. CTM is partnering with a local non-profit called Real Stars to sponsor kids to go to high school while also providing a complimentary leadership development program that takes place over 3-one week intensives over their 4-year high school experience.
We are in conversation with Carlile College to provide a formalized educational opportunities for slums in the area. Carlile takes pastors through a 2 year certification program to help them in their respective areas. CTM is looking at the possibility of a partnership with Carlile and Bakke Graduate University (A Seattle-based Theology school) to provide a master's level program for the pastors working in slums communities.
This is the work of CTM in a nutshell. If you are interested in learning more about it, please check out the website at www.ctmnet.org.
Notty pines, nor warping
Not the sticks that builders use, Nor the 1 ¾ x 3 ½ deception to save a penny.
2 meters x 4 meters
A dwelling. A house. A home.
4-5 adults and children.
Sleeping side by side.
Windows in the mud walls are not an option.
The sun fries the tin roof cooking the contents.
Karibu (Welcome) is what they say.
Sit down on our lone couch, while I make us Chai or buy us Fanta
Beds, a shelf, coffee table and couch-each square foot is used.
A TV in the corner
A light in the center which works on occasionally
The yellow water buckets carried from who knows where
A smile, their best English
Our best Swahili
Her it comes-Chai and bread followed by a plastic bin to wash our hands
We bless it
We eat it
We laugh and share.
We leave. They stay.
Back to our 2x4 bedroom we go
1 Room in a house of many
Cement walls keep us cool
1 bed, many shelves, a desk and chair
a bathroom-running water
The door is closed
We are sleeping.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Pace, Power and Provision
On Saturday, we enjoyed the Night of Champions Track event in Nairobi. It was the first international track meet that Kenya has ever hosted and drew some of the top runners from all over the continent. Although supported by Tusker (Kenya's equivalent to Budweiser), it was a big step for Nairobi as event planners have historically stayed away from large events at night because of the potential for violence. I have never seen anything like it before...they were hauling! 3:40 for the 1500 and 7:40 for the 3000 meter races. Can you imaging the kind of pace that one would have to maintain to do that? It's interesting to think about where sports have come from and where they have taken us. With illegal enhancers in the Olympics, the Tour de France and just about every major sporting league, one can argue that we are wasting our time and resources on such events. Our night under the lights was a refreshing example of how athletes can compete on behalf of a family, a tribe and a collective nation to share a talent with others, to overcome adversity and to combat the lies of unethical competition.
We have had several interesting conversations lately around some of the cultural differences of Kenya and the states. It has allowed us to understand a bit more about how to interpret cues from others, which areas to be sensitive to when interacting with Kenyans and has highlighted some things that many of us have never been forced to think about. In particular, I was drawn to an interesting conversation around the role of power in establishing independence. Let me explain. It is no secret over here that most western nations are independent in nature. We like space, freedom, fences and oppose carpools, sharing rooms and cell phones and sitting in the seat next to someone when there are others that will allow us to be further apart. Where did this mentality come from? The Native Americans didn't think this way, neither do some minority groups. It was brought to my attention that independence can often be equated with a certain amount of power. When one develops enough power, he or she does not feel the need to rely on others, to create a communal voice or to represent others in his or her opinion. I remember during the first day of classes when we were instructed how to contribute to classroom discussions by using statements like, “I feel that” or “I think that” as a way to make others feel comfortable, to not generalize on behalf of others and to make a clear distinction that it was my opinion that I was sharing. Even last week at a conference with 50-60 African leaders, I often heard the terms “we” and “us”. It was a collective plea for power, in community. The next time you are offended because someone uses you as a guinea pig and speaks on behalf of a collective, consider the implications. Most of the time, you can say, “I think...” but with that comes an understanding that you have somehow acquired the power to represent yourself...independently.
Yesterday morning, Mandy, Gideon and I sat down for 4 hours and spoke about what we were seeing and hearing as we begin to create a vision for our time in Kenya. It has almost been a month already! Our conversation was a reality check in that there is a lot to do, that American long range plans and agendas do not work over here and that our goal is to be adamant about finding ways to fill niches that exist in serving the least, last and lost of this community. In the context that I come from, there is an organization serving all of the needs that you could think of. Not to say that there aren't problems, but it is often not because of a lack of people trying. If you want to start something new, you find a specific area that you can dig into and stay focused. Well, let me welcome you to Kenya, where niches are enormous, needs are prevalent and all organizations do a little of everything. In some ways, this is daunting, while in others it is empowering. Gideon has a warm heart for this area and his gentle spirit has allowed him to encounter an array of people that will allow him to further his ministry. As we look ahead, we will be focusing on putting some structures in place that will allow CTM Nairobi to succeed in its mission to serve leaders in the slums, to raise up a generation of youth that can tell their story in a world that doesn't want to hear it and help mainstream churches and organizations see the value of those that are working in extremely difficult places...where the pay sucks, where the outcomes are often never seen and where it takes work to see Joy. We ask for provision in discerning these questions.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Hello Friends and Family!
We went to a conference this week called the Monday Church conference... It was about a new way of looking at the church... in that we should see our vocations, our callings as more than just a job...but where God has called us to be, and where ever our job is, that is 'OUR' church... that is where we minister to the people in OUR congregation... and then on Sunday's all of us 'pastors' gather back together to be equipped and filled and ready to serve. It's an interesting concept that really validates the fact that we are not all called to be pastors or church workers, and yet God has still included us in His plan for His Kingdom.
One thing that I REALLY appreciated about the conference as well is that the speakers really emphasized that our job is not just to 'save souls'...but to walk along side of people as they transform their lives and to live a life of service. Especially in the context of the poor, so many people believe in Jesus, and they are just waiting for the glory of heaven, relinquishing all hope for here on earth... yet in the Lord's prayer he says, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven...”
It was just an opportunity for a renewed perspective that God has a calling on my life and those that I will be working with, not to just wait for heaven and not to just 'survive,' but to be LIVING here on earth .
On another note: Joel's birthday was yesterday and I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who sent a fun email his way! He has a lot of irreplaceable memories with many of you and I know that many of you have been a part of shaping him into who he is today... which is someone I'm very thankful for!
We LOVE to hear from you and what is going on in your lives!
Snapshots on life:
All cell phones here are 'pay as you go,' there are no long term agreements or plans... Nice :)
I'm reading a book called 'The Kite Runner,' right now. I'm just a short way into it, but it is VERY good so far, and I recommend it already :)
There is a house being built next door to us, and last night when we came home (around 9:00pm) there were probably at least 50 men all working together as one solid machine to combine the sand and rock to make concrete and then pour the roof. This process MUST be done all at once or the house will have a pour foundation to build any other stories on... It was AMAZING to watch so many people work as one unit to complete a job (in the dark!).
All around town there are people who are roasting corn by the side of the road... they put a seasoning on it and it tastes similar to popcorn... it's very good!! It's an African treat :)
When we walk through areas where they are not used to seeing white people, we will often hear one of two things:
Mzungu!! Which means white person (or European)
How are YOU?! And the kids all say it the same where the 'how are' are in their normal voice and then the 'you' is emphasized and they say it for longer and usually with a higher voice
If you watched the Constant Gardener, there was a very short scene where Tessa is walking around Kibera, and the children are saying, 'how are you?!' and this is EXACTLY what it is like
That's all for now... I pray that these blogs provide insight for you... and if there's anything you want to know more about... don't hesitate to email us! We really hope that our time in Kenya will be educational for everyone, not just ourselves :)
This week has been a change of pace for us. We have participated in a conference with several African leaders around the role of the church in transforming society. (I should point out that 4 of the 5 presenters were from the states) It has been an interesting case study in developing an image of the African Church, the struggles that it deals with and the lessons that it might share with the rest of the world. It is interesting to consider what the African Church might look like without Western Influence. Africa as a whole seems to be a very tribal continent, recognizing the interconnectedness of various facets of life and lifting up the importance of community. Somehow, there has been a shift to a dualistic nature toward isolating pockets of life, separating the mind from the spirit and in some ways losing a sense of what it means to live in authentic community. I should say that my observations were based on some of my own preconceived notions as well as a conversation with church leaders about the role of western influence in African societies. I wonder what it might take to let Africa be itself, to feel empowered and equipped to live with nonwestern systems. The conference was valuable. It raised some interesting ideas, allowed me to be a part of a process of contextualizing western thought amongst Africans and affirmed my taking for granted of access to continual education.
Last night on the way home, I experienced something pretty cool. As most of you know, Mandy and I are currently living with Gideon (CTM Nairobi) and his family. Gideon’s sister in law, Rose is building a house next door. All of the homes in our community are made out of block/cement. It has been interesting to watch the builders work from the ground up to develop the home. Over the past couple of weeks, the walls were completed and prepared to lay a cement ceiling. (This is done so that the homeowner can build additional levels when financially able). I am not very familiar with African construction, but I guess that when a ceiling is laid, it needs to be done in one shot…so an early start is necessary along with tons of human power. Well, at approximately 9 PM, they were at their prime. It was dark out, but the moon was full and there were at least 40 people working to pour this roof. It was incredible. Everyone had a job and collectively they created a giant machine. From the sand, water, crushed stone runners and cement ratio supervisor to the assembly line up the stairs to the roof, each person knew their role. A constant chatter was present and despite the hard work, limited tools, and very little compensation, people were committed to finishing the job and doing it well. It was amazing.
Late last night, Mandy, Rose and I watch Constant Gardener. Trinity (our home church) is going to watch it and discuss it tonight. Part of the movie is filmed in Kibera, a slum that we live very close to in Nairobi. It was interesting to watch it for a second time. I remember the first time that we watched it in the states. Both of us had a gut-wrenching feeling about what we were getting ourselves into. It seemed so extreme, so horrendous and so unjust. In viewing it after having spent time in Kibera, it took on a new persona. Kibera is no longer so bad…it is what it is. In some ways, I am extremely frustrated that I am already desensitized to these living conditions. In other ways, I feel like I have begun to see beauty in Kibera. Through the injustices, I see people living in community that are beautiful, that are wise, that work hard, that help others, that laugh, that dance and sing. Through this inner debate, I hope that I never stop questioning the why. Why are these 1 million people called to live on a 600 acre plot when others of us around the world live in such affluence?
This is the latest and greatest from Nairobi. We will be sending our first monthly newsletter shortly. Thanks for checking out the blog. It is great to know that our experiences can be your experiences.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Some refer to Kibera as a middle class slum. My version of middle class looks a bit different than temporary structures and horrible sanitation systems, yet something about the people, the economics and the opportunities that it provides boosts the state of the community. It wasn't till last Friday that could trump its state. We entered a slum on the west side of Nairobi to visit Mark and Moses, two products of the slum that have given up the past 10 years to run a community center on the perimeter of the slum. We walked for a total of about 250 yards in the slum and both immediately felt something different. Something was missing...or maybe something was present. Maybe it was psychlogical, none the less-different than anything else that I have experienced.
I will write more about this community later but wanted to share a brief story about Mark and Moses...These guys are Mandy and I's age and have lived in Mathare for their entire lives. When they were teenagers, they started hanging out at a building where that Matatu (taxi) stops along one of the main roads east of the city. After finishing high school, they stayed committed to the center and began spending more time there. The center has since evolved into a place for kids to hang out in the evenings and a church on Sunday mornings. There is no electricity or running water, but they have a generator that they bring in occasionally. The center attracts 50-75 kids each night. The center, called THE INSPIRATION CENTER is all that and more. Well, maybe not the center itself, but the guys that run it are as much of an inspiration as I have ever seen. These guys have had the opportunity to leave the slum for 10 years, yet they have remained committed to serving this community that is crying for help.
Recently, they partnered with a rotary club to do a project in their community. Wanting to truly make a difference they asked the residents what they would like to see changed. Most of them wanted to see the community bathrooms improved. With no sewer systems, community bathrooms are the only solution to people defecating on the streets or “flying toilets” when people poop in a bag and throw it out of sight. We first went to a recently renovated public toilet. The facility was light, clean and carried a sense of pride with it. Soon, we walked to another facility that had not yet been touched. I usually have a high tolerance for this kind of stuff but I nearly puked. It was absolutely disgusting. Mark and Moses shared their vision for this bathroom and for 11 more bathrooms throughout Mathare that they hope to restore in the future. I couldn't help but think about Jesus as he washed his disciples feet the night of the last supper. These guys are washing and restoring the “feet” of this community...not because they have to, but because they are committed to restoring the lives of individuals and transforming their community.
A few other random updates: Mandy and I went to a 4 hour church service on Sunday (extra points for us!), I played my first ultimate frisbee game on Sunday, we are both feeling much better...thanks for the prayers, we now have a Kenyan cell phone (see the right side contact info if you're interested), we start Swahili lessons 3x/week next week, we met up with Lorraine-an old friend from PLU and we are at a conference for 4 days this week looking at how churches work with other sectors to transform society.
Sorry for the lame update. I am tired after 8 hours of listening at the conference. I will write more later this week! For those of you that are interested in photos, bear with us-we want to be sensitive to our roles and will take pics when we build up relationships with the kids and leaders that we are working with.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The first, we were without electricity for 4 days last week and without internet for 6 days. Two days without power due to a tall truck that took down the wire near Gideon's home and the other two days for who knows what...maybe because of the furious rains that came in!
Perhaps more important, the processing of power distribution in what it means to enter into this community. In our preparations, we explored the realities of power in a community that isn't used to seeing many “Vanilla Lattes”, the baggage that comes with it and the unavoidable topic that we have CHOSEN to enter into a hard place plagued by injustices, extreme poverty and unfathomable living conditions. I think that we are in a dangerous situation if we ignore these conditions, yet since our pre-trip planning a new dynamic has emerged.
***I want you to know that we are having a wonderful time. My thoughts below outline some of the questions that we face. These experiences are also surrounded by warm hospitality, people that are interested in learning about us and leaders that have blessed us in many ways.
Mitatus are imported used white Toyota vans from Japan and Europe converted to squish together 15 passengers, and whose muffler secretes enough soot to make a gravel road look like asphalt. Each one tells a story with a layer of stickers on the exterior, blaring music and the young man hanging out the side herding passengers at each stop. The roads are FULL of these vehicles...people line the streets waiting to be picked up.
As I wait on the side of the road, I become the newest prey for the 20-30 shilling (40-50 cent) trip down the road. “Mzungu CAAM HEEYR”, (White person, come here) they call. I look at the route on the side of the van making sure that it is headed in the correct direction and jump in. I soon wish that my 34 inch inseem was cut in half as my knees dig into the seat ahead of me. Around me, people are talking...perhaps catching up on the upcoming Kenyan election, maybe pointing out a nice car or commenting on the driver's lead foot. But me...I don't know. I have no clue what they are saying...later to find out that they are joking about charging me more because I am white.
Down the pothole ladened road we go...at the mercy of one of many CRAZY matatu drivers...with inches between us and the car next to us, ahead of us and behind. Music blaring, Swahili lingo flying, stenches permeating, coins passing...and the white kid in the back seat.
Where the streets have no name...
I wouldn't know where to begin in painting a picture for you of what Kibera might look like. Some day, I hope to be able to find a way to share its personality, its appearance and some of the stories that are derived from it with you...but for now-as I have already begun to lose my initial shock, I will share some of my first impressions.
A bit of context on Kibera:
Kibera is the largest slum in Africa...Although there is now way to completely tell, there are around 1,000,000 people living in this area. NWesterners...this is more than Seattle and Tacoma proper combined. Michiganders...more than all of GR Metro. They live in approx. 2 square miles. (5,280 feet by 10,560 feet). A railroad track cuts between their beloved turf and it sits in the midst of a valley. Kenya is in the process of dealing with a dilemma in which rural villagers are moving to Nairobi in groves. This has been a common occurrence for decades. Historically, people moved to the city to make some money, to get educated or to make connections that would support their rural agricultural needs. Times have changed...and now they are not returning to their native communities. As people come to the city, the only affordable housing lies within the slums. While Kibera is by far the largest slum in Nairobi, there are 169 other slums throughout the rest of the city. 170 slums in a city of 4.5 million people! The main distinguishing factor about a slum is that the government owns the land, and residents are not allowed to build permanent structures on it. Consequently, infrastructures are terrible and people are forced to make temporary dwellings...usually mud/stick walls and rusty tin roofs. Electricity is available yet water comes from the river flowing through this sewerless community. Each year, people live with the question of whether or not they will have a place to call home in the future.
As we entered Kibera for the first time, It was raining. I got to pull my hood up over my head, focus on the muddy ground and seclude myself from the thousands of people around me. My long pants and jacket covered my pasty arms and legs, and I could bury my face by pretending to concentrate on the puddles. Was it that I didn't want to see? Or maybe, that I didn't want to be seen? Each time I enter the slums, I continually question whether I ever will or ever shall “belong”.
On Sunday, when returning from church in Kibera, a man began walking next to me and shared some of his thoughts in English: “Take a look around, these are my people. They are black. You are white. What are you doing here?” I blanked...I had absolutely nothing to say and kept walking. I wished that it was raining so that I could put my hood over my head again. He was right. What am I doing here? What gives me the right to enter into his community? Some might find this a bit cruel on his part...but you have to understand that many of these people have been taken advantage of by politicians, tourists, Hollywood actors, institution, non-profits, etc. How can I expect him to determine whether or not I am here to do the same?
For the past 25 years, I have been granted a sense of power. I am white. I am a male. I am balding and look older. I am educated. I have money. For the past 10 days, these seemingly positive attributes have been challenged. I have to rely on others to understand the language around me. I am White. I am Educated. I can leave whenever I want to...I don't “belong”.
Power is fearlessness.
Power is money.
Power is communicating.
Power is opportunity.
Power is belonging.
Loving life, identifying challenges and feeling blessed,