Friday, March 28, 2008

A fresh glimpse

Last night, we said farewell to Joel’s parents as they headed back to Michigan. Their 11 days in Kenya were packed with days of fun, laughter at cultural differences, reflecting on hard questions and grasping an understanding of our lives in Kenya. It was a much needed refreshment for us as well as an opportunity to voyage into parts of the country that we had put off until visitors came.

The following slideshow paints a pretty real picture of how they spent their time here.

Thank you to all of you who encouraged them to come to visit Kenya. It was a great encouragement to us and will continue to be important as we process sights, sounds, smells, relationships and signs of transformation in our own lives upon our return to the states in July.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Finally-a visitor!

We are happy to report that Joel's parents are less than 2 km away as we write this.

We picked them up from the airport last night and took them to their guesthouse, where we caught up briefly before their attempt to get some sleep. (It was 3:00 in the afternoon for them!)

It was fun to see someone's first glimpse of the city and reminded us of how much we have learned during our time here. It wasn't too long ago when we made the trek from the airport to Gideon's home with wide eyes wide open! We will keep you updated of their ventures along the way if possible, but in the meantime-enjoy the gift of family!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Break Time!

Written Saturday, March 8:

In less than one week, Joel's parents will be in Nairobi! While the pace of life here is slower than in other places and we have had lots of “free time” following the elections, we are ready for a break. We eagerly await the opportunity to “bless ourselves” with some rest and relaxation-not only physically, but mentally.

Today was one more example of the polarized world that we find ourselves in. We left this afternoon to take Mwix and the girls to an International Food Fair at Mandy's School. We took the Citi Hoppa bus to town and then an old, beater matatu out to the school. We passed through slums, the large Nairobi Indian community, mansions and poor rural farmlands before reaching the school. Our short walk from the matatu stage to the school revealed $60,000 Toyotas and Mercedes and children whose outfits cost more than a months rent for 50% of people in Nairobi. We enjoyed foods from many different countries, acrobat entertainers and a fresh dip in the gorgeous International School of Kenya pool. Minutes later, we returned to the matatu and headed back to town, where a street girl's eyes pierced me ash she asked for money and one more man who needed to reiterate that he was “born again” pleaded with me to help him and his family.

I am reminded a bit of the location of our apartment in Tacoma last year. Our small 4-5 block neighborhood sat in what Tacomaites know as “the wedge”, the in-between zone that separates the more affluent North End from Hilltop neighborhood. While our apartment was closer to the North End in rent price and upkeep, we could not neglect our neighbors on each side. A trip to the Safeway in each direction revealed that we were in the middle of something. The SUV's, $50,000 landscaping jobs (trust me I know-I worked on them!), abandoned cars, sirens and occasional gunshots all told a conflicting story about how how polarized our world is.

There are many days we we find ourselves living in “a wedge” here in Nairobi. Living with a middle class family and serving those that struggle to put food on the table in the center of their 2 meter by 4 meter home and connecting with the world of families connected to the International School of Kenya, whose tuition is $12,000/ year. It is within this tension that we have learned so much, not only about the polarized world that we live in, but also about ourselves and where be begin to situate ourselves. It is in this hard place that we can remain effective in our work, while understanding “the other”.

It has made me think about how life will change when we hop on a plane in June and return to world that is far less polarized. A friend shared a thought via email that she heard in an interview with Jim Wallis commenting on the notion that “many middle class Americans don't know or associate with any poor people. How can we truly advocate on behalf of the poor?”. This is not only true in terms of economics, but also in our vocation, our interests, our advocacy. Until we can understand the world of “the other”, we remain untouched, feeding our own egos about our virtuous behavior without considering the wellbeing of another.

Teachers, know a struggling student. Middle/Upper class, know a poor person. Health care workers, know a sick person. Members of a church, know a pastor and someone in the community that has been hurt by the church. Advocates, who are you advocating for? This is when the wedge begins to takes down the wall that isolates us from “the other”.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Thursday, February 28, 2008 will go down as a historic day for Kenya.

It was somewhat ironic that we were on a reconciliation retreat with the grassroots leaders that we serve to reflect on cultural issues that have emerged over the past two months when the news broke the air. Perhaps the most symbolic part of our retreat was 20 of us huddling around the television for the evening news from different ministries, different tribes, different socio-economic levels and different political affiliations to learn that the government and opposition had signed a power sharing deal. While the memories will never be buried, the breaking news provided cautious hope as Kenyans move forward from this difficult time in history.

The following day as I traveled through town, it seemed that the vibrant Nairobi that we had come to forget, had returned. Uhuru Park (Freedom Park) was finally open after being shut down in fear of mass meetings for two months. Young couples wooed each other over Cold Fantas and old men read books without military officers waving their AK-47’s in sight. The buses and matatus buzzed with noise as the burdens of conflict began to subside. At one of the matatu stops, a banana supplier bringing a shipment to a roadside kiosk leaned in the window of our matatu, counted the heads and gave a banana to everyone. Even the aggressive hawkers (street sellers) nudged their sales tactics down, offered a smile to those walking by and joked with their sidewalk neighbors as they competed for sales.

Yet buried within the relief of moving on from the 2007 elections, I can’t forget about our CTM retreat where leaders were given space to learn from one another in how the past two months had impacted them. It became clear that members of our network had experienced a great deal during these times. From having their homes taken over and not being able to work in a church because of their tribe, to having to learn to operate with a machete in hand and learning code words to protect themselves from “the enemy”, this stuff was not just national news, but snapshots of the life stories that many are dealing with. It’s real, it’s ugly and it runs extremely deep.

This week marked an important time not in that the issues of the past two months can or should be lost or forgotten, but that it gave us all permission to hope for the future rather than being consumed by surviving the day. There have been many times in my life where I have been grateful to experience adversity because it brought me to a fuller appreciation of the world around me. Once again, I feel that I have been blessed with an experience that has tinted the lenses that I use to see this world. But for our friend Mark, whose finger was shot off and Peter, who lost his home and job, to the hundreds of thousands that have been displaced and to the families of those that have lost loved ones, we are reminded that it is a privilege to be able to move on from life’s valleys.