Things that wouldn’t happen in Canada (well, that tell you, you live in the African bush)
- You are not surprised to see a duck or chicken walk nonchalantly out of your bedroom
- Your children become scatological experts by age 3
- You are willing to spend an hour sifting worms out of your flour.
- You speak using a combination of 3 languages and rather ridiculous pantomime
- You need to use the phrase, “stop dissecting the cobra at the table!”
- Dancing, dog fights and camel watering seems to be a regular part of the order of service on Sunday
- You get your mail by standing on an airstrip waiting for it to drop down from the plane (gives a new meaning to “air mail”)
- You enter into a battle of wills with a one-eyed monkey who has the gall to sit on your counter sampling the stew on the stove, or stealing loaves of bread or bags of granola.
- You become used to the lizard in the ceiling, the mice in the thatch and the general food chain in which you live in some sort of symbiosis…as long as you end up on top….
- your children ask for fruit in their stocking instead of candy
- Being told, “I’ll flash you later” (meaning I will text you my number)
So much has taken place since last writing I fail to keep up with the events that encompass our days. Our last ‘adventure’ left us at the side of the road in a small place called Katina, broken down, Landy rear differential in pieces, while I am using every advantage I can think of to try to flag sympathetic drivers into assisting us. So I position myself by the car with my pregnant belly jutting out and place Jesse on the hood. This caused only a few stares but unfortunately no stops and offers of assistance. The kids were in their usual position in the back seat, using the remains of their Nintendo DS battery, while asking the occasional question about the availability of gum or snacks. We have gotten used to the routine of breaking down, and although these events never anticipated and always avoided by routine mechanic visits, this last incident was provoked by having our oil changed where the cap was not replaced…. For those of who are mechanical there is a collective shudder at this stage…. My response of “can’t you just put more oil back in” at the time was not greatly appreciated by Jay who is confounded that after so long, I can not grasp the significance and consequence of mechanical malfunctions in the bush.
So we waited for hours on a strip of grass near some rice vendors, fending our car from small children jumping on it requesting emphatically and continuously for a sweet. Having no food in the car, after a few hours I started replying to the “give me sweet” demand, “give ME sweet”. As the hours wane on I consider as with the last breakdown, it seems there would be no kind citizen donating his half eaten turkey sandwich for us to devour. A dusty and stale package of cookies is found and shared, wishing there was some sort of miracle to multiply the food. Jay calls the mechanic and removes our back differential and arranges that I and the kids are to be ‘delivered’ to Nanyuki 2 1/2 hours away by car hire. Jay will remain with the LandRover, however, what to do with the trailer full of our 3 months supplies. It can’t be moved and it can’t be left. With little daylight left, we try and come up with a different plan. Thankful that we broke down at a speed bump it gives us the advantage of slowing cars. Jay stands near the bump, while I scan back bumpers for a ball trailer hitch and give the thumbs up or thumbs down sign. After about 1/2 hour we flag down a safari vehicle who has a ball hitch who is willing to help pull our trailer and follow me in our ‘rental ride’ to Nanyuki. For anyone who knows me, directional ability is my nemesis. And now with the mantle of responsibility to ‘show the way’ to our lodgings which is nearly 3 hours away (and then off unnamed dirt roads) I am feeling more than a little bit of pressure. I am the girl who into her twenties could never really figure out how a compass works since “North” always seemed to be pointing straight ahead.
Long story short, and after another breakdown, where the safari vehicle loses it’s trailer hitch and then ingeniously, Charlie, the white Kenyan in his 60’s, who has been our hero helper, decides in the dark, at the side of the road, works to ‘create’ a new trailer hitch with some hangar wire, a spray can of some kind and a bolt, we are on our way again. Now at about 10km/hour fearing the trailer will at any moment break free from the vehicle and start rolling backwards with a mind of it’s own. Nervous, tired, but feeling tremendously blessed by this man’s kindness and humanity.
I did indeed find the way to our lodgings. A serendipitous call from Jay to our driver (who didn’t speak any English) came at the exact timing where I needed to provide specific directional instructions. I had to laugh as when Jay would call, the caller ID came up as “mzungu” meaning simply, ‘white Man’. We arrive in the dark, hours after the blue DS lighting of the back seat fades with finished batteries, quiet, calorie restricted children are happy for a bed and perhaps some semblance of nourishment which awaits them.
It took a few days longer to get the car fixed, but all said, the damage could have been a lot worse than it was. As we had a guest scheduled to join us in Kurungu, I met the flight with the guest, Fletcher, a researcher on tribal violence, in Nanyuki and flew up with Jesse ahead of time, leaving Jay and the three kids to stay in Nanyuki until the car repairs were completed. It was a shaky start to our next three months. Uncertainty seems to loom constantly around us and we are learning the art of being flexible, giving thanks in all situations (regardless of how desperate and financially ruinous they feel) and praying instead of worrying.
We can not possibly describe the tremendous blessing it was to host the Waterford Community Church team. They came bearing blessings, gifts, notes, encouragement and love from home.
In seeing these things splayed out, I thought it quite funny that these are the things (like a whole suitcase of Shreddies flying from Canada to Kenya) which keep us going. It seems quite comical that marshmallows, koolaid, croutons and skittles are so integral to our ministry, but it is not so much the familiar food, but the remembrance that while we are here, there are a whole host of others who are so faithful to pray for us and encourage us back home.
Over the course of the 10 days the team was with us, we were able to extend the ministry here in ways that could not have been possible on our own. 5 VBS events were held in three different village areas, hundreds of kids heard the Gospel, warriors came out to a goat roast (which the team did pass on the entrails, stomach and rice stew). The Jesus Film was shown twice and a medical outreach was held where countless patients were seen and assisted with medicines. The team was also able to hand out clothes to some of the children. Although all of the children wore some clothing to come to the VBS, we were made aware that many of them had to borrow clothes in order to attend. The smiles on faces when they opened a bag containing a t-shirt or shorts or dresses were those kinds of smiles that engrave their image upon your mind and cause you to smile at every remembrance of it.
The team was introduced to some of the needs here and bore witness to some of the heartbreaking stories of poverty. One little 4 year old girl during the VBS had to sit down, she was too weak to stand, her parents had left the children in search of food and so the children had not eaten for some days, except for the VBS snack of 2 cookies. These are the ‘incidental’ moments that face us often. We have a chance to respond and help, although it stretches us from the sheer numbers in need and the smallness of our efforts.
It was great to see the WCC team partner with the church here. So often we see the power imbalance of groups, teams or aid from the West coming in and taking over, willing to lead but not work together, to truly partner with the national people. The 5 Bible students were an integral part of the outreaches and made the events possible with their input in planning, translation, leading in speaking and reaching out.
Although it was never really stated, we knew that the team members all sacrificed to be with us and help us in our ministry here. Some gave up vacation time, time with family, some faced fears of snakes and scorpions, others perhaps insecurities of serving in such a different culture and place. It was hot, dusty and tiring at times. We pray they leave with open eyes and soft hearts. They return home having seen and experienced so many things, the surreal experiences of sitting beside a warrior over a leg of roasted goat, the sight of shooting stars in the clear African sky, and some experiences that will be hard to digest as they return to Canada. Some pieces of a puzzle that won’t quite fit, questions related to suffering able to coexist with joy, questions about resources and wasting, and the many people who struggle in poverty that the world has seemingly forgotten.
Thank you, Thank you WCC team, Josh, Frank, Wendy, Anna and Karena!
Today the floor of the AIC Kurungu church was shaking, which seems to be a pretty big feat for an all-concrete building. There were about 300 people packed into the structure, not counting the dogs or the children who wandered in and out and couldn’t find a seat or a mama to sit with. Singing and dancing, colours flying, beads keeping beat to the rythym of praise. I found myself moved by the music. There is an impossibility of standing still, ‘baptist style’ when the people around you are vibrating with enthusiasm. The rains have come (well 2 solid rains anyway) and the earth has turned green once again. For a nomadic people this means the animals are home, the milk is flowing, the warriors are safely nearby. There has been much rejoicing and we pray that the 2 rains we have had will not be the end, that some more will follow to bless the earth here, so dry from 8 months of drought. I am continually amazed with the wonders of creation. Brilliant pink flowers have budded from underneath the sand, which was days before baking and barren in the hot sun. The desert rose and flowering cacti, globeflower and morning glory all testify to redemption that is present just beyond the surface, the glory that flowers, which seems an impossibility in the season of despair, but lays hidden to bloom with life and rejoicing.
Relief: In response to some of the needs here we were able to apply to a fund through AIM to purchase a small amount of relief food. The food was distributed this week, many thankful, smiling faces came to get a few kilo’s of beans and maize which would help for a few days feed their families.
The last 2 weeks my afternoons have been filled with a 2 hour return trip venture into the bush to a small village area called Karee. Here there is a young shepherd boy who came two weekends ago on a hired motorbike, foot covered with bloody bandages. He had fallen on the rocks while tending his camels, leading to a foot which I had little hopes was going to be able to heal. After a day, much walking on manure strewn ground, he presents with his left heel in pieces. So day after day, the trek is made to visit his home, change the bandage which consists of honey, banana leaf and gauze dressing, and encourage him to keep still and not bear weight. I can not help but think of the vast difference between healthcare in Canada and here. For one, this boy would have had access to an ambulance (instead of the day walk) and surgeon, he would have had dressings done in a sterile environment not on a soiled gunny sack while the goat sits beside and a cow sniffs at the dressing supplies I have brought. The boy would likely be on a morphine drip, as opposed to the few ibuprofen I am able to give him to help the pain. He would be in a bed, not on the ground.
I remember as I was leaving McMaster there was a donation drive to donate IPADS to the ER to help children in distress. No iPad here, no chair, book or pillow. I bring a sweet and a few crayons to help coax the boy from playing and putting weight on his foot. Lesum is his name, and we are praying that his father will be wise to not return him to the forest right away. The father is eager to have his shepherd back, but Lesum’s foot will take months to recover, and likely never recover fully. Jay has taken to driving me somedays, setting up pylons and using the ‘puncture less’ soccer ball that the WCC team donated. We do not fear the soccer ball vs. thorns now, going deep into the mynyatta to play with the congregation of children sitting on tree branches or herding nearby. Today our pitch was set up beside a newborn baby camel. The older kids playing with a shuka (skirt-like wrap) with a panga (large knife) tucked inside. Jesse intent on catching baby goats (still with umbilical cord) and hugging them. The Samburu children wonder at the oddities of the white kids pursuits of ‘petting’ the animals.
Nteresa: You might remember the story of a young women who has had 15 childen all of whom died shortly after birth or in their first year. We have tried to help diagnose what could be the issue sending her for some testing in hopes that whatever is causing the losses can be prevented. We are happy to report that Nteresa had a baby girl a few months ago, she required complete bed rest through the pregnancy, and the baby still came a month early, but she is doing well and nearly 3 months old now!
We are saddened to report that the little girl, Ntallaso (the six year old, ‘pretty in pink’ girl with TB to her spine) passed away, as did the widow we had been helping to feed. We are not sure what the nature of the illness was, we were away in Nairobi at the time, but are saddened just the same at this likely, preventable, loss of life.
There is a mama in Longerin famed to be nearly 100 years old. Her son looks to be in his 80’s, so the rumours may indeed be true. He is the village astronomer and we are told he can read the stars. Over the last weeks, since treating this mama, the son has walked the 4 hours to come get various medicines and supplies. This mama is quite ill with a wound infection. It seemed evident that after a few weeks of the family trying to assist that we should check up, so Thursday a week ago, Jay, Jesse, I and our AIM Canada visitor, Tim went to Longerin to visit her. Please pray for her. We were able to dress the wound, and give some more pain medication, but the situation looks grave. There is no consistent Christian witness in Longerin, so we pray not just for her physical health.
There is this boy, named, Ntlpasso, he is otherwise known as the boy who was lost on the mountain. I watch him week after week in Church. Since his ordeal, a 5 year old boy 5-6 days alone on the mountain and in the wild, barely surviving, he has changed. He is both more vulnerable and yet there is a strength to him as well. At times I see him crying, not sure of the particulars, but for a boy to weep in Samburu culture is a very odd thing indeed. Even in severe pain, the tradition is to show no emotion. The boy, Lesum, who with his injured foot, will not grimace or cry out. At most I might here a click of the tongue, but never an admission to what the Samburu would consider a weakness. But here is Ntlpasso, week after week he joins the older boys choir at the front of the church. It does not seem to make a difference to him he is 3 feet too short, or 8 years too young, or that most of the congregation is hiding behind snickers and giggles at the sight of this little boy and his insistence on praising God in a choir where he certainly does not fit in. He looks out, face focused, singing, praising, jumping, waving his arms, hardly able to keep up with the older boys who are showing off for their pals and mothers. He seems oblivious to everything else around him except for his song. It doesn’t matter that he has no shoes, or that his clothes are tattered or dirty or sometimes lacking, he comes, he sings, he pursues this passion.
I am learning some things from Ntlpasso, 1) to preach the Gospel, whether in word, song or action as unashamedly as he does, and 2) to keep focused as we press on. I think the 2nd lesson harder than the first at times. The mission world, and perhaps the missionaries’ life seems to be pulled by so many opposing and contrasting threads. And we feel at times vulnerable to negativity and criticism that always looms close by. There are some who agree with what we do, and others who do not. Some who have issues with the Gospel and others issues with relief and development/humanitarian aid. There are churches who only want to hear of church planting and others of helping the poor. There are books that challenge helping philosophies and the presence of Western aid, strategizing the dispensation of grace. There are websites which declare a people group “reached” or “unreached”, based on a set of research parameters. I read recently, the Samburu are declared one of these “reached” areas, yet I struggle with this definition, a people group with only one translated book of the Bible, and very few with literacy to read it, few if any trained pastors to lead a church, and the vast majority of the population (hundreds of thousands) living in places untouched by the Gospel. Currently the pendulum swings in organizational policies to change focus and direction away from a medical/teaching/children’s ministry focus as a means to reaching the lost. And it makes us wonder perhaps where we fit, or how this will marginalize those who pursue meeting the needs of the lost who remain some of the world’s poorest in practical and tangible ways. And it is hard to stay focused. It is hard to not be distracted, frustrated or just apathetic to the din of all the relevant and non-relevant thoughts and opinions. I heard it said once, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing”. And I realize that I need to involve myself less in the semantics, policies and positions, and instead go back again and again to the person of Jesus. His model of ministry amongst those who were needy, afflicted, hurting and lost. His embrace of the whole person, body and soul, His willingness to pay attention to “the least of these”. His example of feeding, clothing, healing, preaching, modelling how to live out transformationally the Gospel in it’s many facets in a world that was suffering. He ministered using every means possible, motivated and moved it says, time and time again by compassion for the lost. He kept His eyes on the goal, despite extreme pressure from every available source.
Canaries in a coal mine:
I have had a lot of time to think in the last week or so having been sick with fevers and chills. Not as bad as it probably sounds and NOT ebola! (for those who may be wondering) but a relentless fever that leaves me spent of any physical energy, there could be many culprits here. Likely it has been due to so many mynyatta trips lately, sitting on the ground while treating patients. In all fairness, I must say that I am always offered a stool, but I usually decline, fearing the humiliation of a pregnant woman falling awkwardly off the 3″ high apparatus in a community crowd….(my mind returns to the traumatic experience of the McMaster University pool, trying to swim at 7 months pregnant, the term ‘beached whale’ spoken aloud as I attempted to exit the pool without a ladder, which I must say is a cruel torture for someone with compromised gravity).
The Canadian team had been teased that they were sent as a contingent of canaries in a coal mine, the guinea pigs of the African experience, and perhaps if they didn’t die of ebola or terrorist attack or snake bites, maybe another team would follow. But, as I think on it, we are all canaries in our particular mine called life. For some the tunnels are short and wide and easily passed through, for others the journey can often be dark and deep. But we are all going somewhere, flying with some purpose (usually) some idea about what will happen when we get to the end, when we free ourselves from this mine and fly out into the light of freedom. There is no guarantee of safe return, we can explore or shrink back. We can lose hope or carry on. We risk getting lost in the dimness and find a perch for which to rest. But there are rubies to be found, gems in the darkness of experience, and there is a Guide who comes alongside, waiting to be welcomed on the journey. He is not there to keep us from difficulties or distress, but He is there, He will not force His way into our journey if we are content to carry on alone, but He waits. The faint whisper of a birdsong echoing in the darkness, a calling to find the way Home. To find the path that leads to light and life, meaning and fulfilment, and joy. The breath of fresh air, perhaps in such a long time, filled with Life. And there are risks to be sure, and some are more dangerous than African cobras, terrorism or Tick bite fever. Apathy, indifference, narcissism, hatred. And so for me as I struggle to recover (now on some good medicine!) I may not have as much physical comfort as I would like, but I have an inner peace. I do not regret the decisions to treat in the mynyatta, to see Lesum daily and help save his foot, to take a mama with urgent needs to hospital, to sit beside the still form of an old women as she bears unbelievable pain while we treat a wound, to assist the two mama’s this week who lost babies. We take risks. The VBS team took risks. Everyone faces risk. It is about figuring out what risks are worth the while, and with wisdom figuring what risks we are called to face for our greater good perhaps, remembering that as we face these difficulties we do not have to go at it alone.
PICS of the month