We are always so thankful for your prayers, and His protection. The roads these days can be precarious, and we were grateful to have another family, the Andersens to accompany us most of the way to Kurungu. There is a comfort in driving in convoy,- to feel you have ‘back up’ or at least another hand if you get stuck or break down. Just past Merille, the last big village/town before the 7 hours drive into the outback, we usually take the opportunity to pick up “the last” cold coke. As we were waiting for Jay in the car to get back from the shop a LandCruiser sped up to us and warned us that he had just gone down the road only to see bandits attack 2 lorries. He warned us to take a different path, which we gladly heeded. It was a cautious few hours on the road, although a different one, there was still a nervous energy of watching carefully the road ahead to see if there were signs of trouble. All sorts of thoughts and emergency plans go through your head, but mainly just prayers for protection. My thoughts drifted to Jay’s cold coke, and how that little stop may have saved us from a lot of trouble, and of the warning we were given, and of other mercies we are often unaware. As Chris Tomlin sings, “the God of angel armies is always by my side”. Privileged to know and feel that this is a reality for us….
Whom Shall I Fear?
You are my sword and shield, though troubles linger still, Whom shall I fear?
I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind.
The God of angel armies is always by my side.
The One who reigns forever, He is a friend of mine,
The God of angel armies, is always by my side…
My strength is in your name, for you alone can save
You will deliver me, your’s is the victory
Whom shall I fear.
As it was we arrived to Kurungu with a flat tire, although it seemed miraculously only flat upon arriving in our driveway. A flat is not such a big deal, but when your tire bolts are locked (making removal impossible unless you have the key) and the key happens to be accidentally locked away in the shop at your destination, you have a cause to see the Hand of God watching out for you!
Hosting a group of 40 missionaries coming from all directions, from the border towns of Ethiopia, metropolis of Nairobi, the mountains, valleys, deserts, small village towns and deep bush of Northern Kenya in an effort to encourage, praise and pray with each other was no small feat. It took a week to prepare and nearly a week to recover. But it was worth it. There is something about hearing in your own language, mixed with various assortments of accents, tones and harmonies the simple but profound chorus of “great is Thy faithfulness” and to realize that the words hold weight and private meaning of humble thanks for the many who lifted up their voices heavenward.
….. We reacquaint ourselves to Kurungu after a time away, to see Mama Monica for the first time after the passing of her son Jonah and offer heart felt sympathies. I had constructed an idea that it would be nice to give her a framed picture of Jonah, a little token to remember his face, his sweet smile. Thankfully I asked advice about this first, and discovered that for the Samburu that would be a terrible gift. I was disturbed to understand that in Samburu culture when someone dies the family does their best to forget and move on. They shave their heads in mourning, they are required to move house, they give away or burn the possessions of their loved one, they are no longer permitted to speak their name! And it just feels so sad, I want to challenge this belief, especially in the lives of the believers here. But then I wonder, in a place with so much sorrow, Is the cost of remembering too much to bear, is the cumulative pain so great that one simply must move on and “shake the dust” away so to speak from grief in order to cope? And for the believers, What about our hope? What about victory over death through Jesus? All of these thoughts swim through my mind, and I wonder how to challenge the traditions and superstitions that have so much sway and hold over the people.
Not quite the Baptist Casserole….
We have also heard on our return of the difficulties that now are facing the Samburu in the valley. The rains did not come, and the animals are far away. There is little milk, little food. There is little famine relief (if any) coming into the area and people are starving. In the week we returned I saw at least 5 children with complicated illness and acute malnutrition. People have come asking for work, bringing chickens to sell or begging for food. How do you respond to a mama who tells me her children are starving? It is a fearsome thing, our natural reaction is to help, give food, but we also know that it is more complicated, we can not possibly feed a village or even every one who comes to our door. We heard of a widow today, NomaJena, who has been left destitute. She has one daughter who is married and gone away, and no sons. So for this widow it means that no one will care for her. She is so sick she can not walk to get medicines, she has no food. I asked the church elder who told me of her plight, “so who cares for these widows?” , well, he replied, “If she had sons, or animals someone would look out for her, but she has nothing, so she is left alone”. What about the church? I ask, how can we show her love (she lives in a mynyatta with a few believers), Is it not our role to care for the widows and orphans? long pause, quiet hush. These are difficult times. Families barely with food enough to survive now facing questions of reaching out to those who have less, who have nothing. It is stretching, it is a hard question to pose, especially given the “grandeur” of our stocked pantry. And yet there is the feeling that we rob the church of opportunities of service when we solely taie over the role of caring for the needs of the community. it is the work of the church to meet the needs, the love outpoured by other Samburu brothers and sisters, not simply the job of the missionaries or the aid from the Christian West. We can pitch in, we can be an example, we can be the hands and feet and cheerleaders of encouragement to put love into motion. Please pray for us as we tackle some of these questions. Tonight I sent a meal over (not the typical casserole) but I had some stew with meat and vegetables that I wanted to share with this widow… problem was it was still partially frozen. The logistics of trying to explain why soup is ‘hard’ but will again “turn to water” was beyond my Swahili skills. Mzee Letipan who was to deliver the meal looked quite bewildered with his plight of bringing this ‘hard’ soup to the widow.
There is this nagging feeling of restlessness that has come over Jay and I. I am not sure where it has originated or why it lingers. For Jay, this past week, has brought 2 flat tires, broken water tank, stove regulator that quit, issues with drainage (where not knowing the logistics of the house includes digging up a better part of the backyard to find the pipes, and then at that, the digging was partially done with a pick axe, which,- oops happened to make contact with the pipe in rather a negative way! ) Dogs that chewed wires to our water pump, new generator with electrical issues, lizard in the ceiling and snake on the porch. If it wasn’t stressful it would be comical. There is no Canadian Tire down the road, or Wade Feere to call up to lend a hand, and the weight of the tasks before him become heavier with the little and typical mechanical set backs in the outback. Please pray that he would be encouraged as he juggles these household/station upkeep, continues to work on building the volunteer houses (still requiring plumbing) and also balances teaching, preaching and family.
and it kind of builds up… the feeling of uselessness, of spinning your wheels, walking in circles, that nothing comes easy. It is true, that it is easy to succumb to feelings of helplessness or hopelessness or distress. I think there is a recognition that our efforts are so little (compared to the needs and problems that exist) and even our best work often come to naught,- we are reminded on a daily basis and with great humility that it is only by His grace and strength that we get through the days, that we forge ahead and face the needs. It helps to face our own smallness, to look into our weakness and not try to defy its boundaries but surrender them to the One who can give us the energy, encouragement and strength we need.
It always seems worse in the night….
Not that it happens all too often, but the times I hear the soft ‘tap tapping’ on the door after darkness has settled in usually means I will find one of three things: snake bite, scorpion bite or traumatic injury. This last week at 10:30pm I hear the soft knocking of our guard Isaya, and open the door to a group of Samburu (there is always a group, the greater in number the greater the problem) featuring Ongoto (mama) Melita and her small girl. For the life of me I can not remember the name of the small girl who comes every day with some goats milk for the station chai, but she sits with us, smiles at Jesse, sometimes will even venture a glance and smile at me. She is about 8 years old and a sweetheart. But tonight she sat on my step with blood pouring out of her head, having been struck by some sort of tree or stick. The wound has soaked through two cloth wraps and was just about subsiding. She looked scared, she was shaking either from the cool night air, loss of blood or fear, I am not sure. But there was a question of what to do. In the night time, things always seem much worse, more acute. We deliberated that since the wound had stopped bleeding we would leave it til morning. I have sutures but no freezing and I couldn’t bear the thought of sewing this little girl’s head with no pain relief, or the risk that opening the wound would lead to greater blood loss. I was glad the bleeding had tapered to a trickle, gave extra pressure bandages to the family and instructions about concussions. There were questions of my sanity when they heard the instructions that the mama needs to wake up the girl every 2 or 3 hours to ask her what her name is etc. “but they know her name, why are they asking her name?”… so my simplified explanation of brain trauma was it is not good for the head to sleep after being hit so hard, and you have to ask her something when you wake her up, so it might as well be an easy question! I get these looks sometimes from the Samburu or exchanged between two Samburu which seems to say, ” Is this lady making this stuff up!”. Thankfully, the next morning we assessed the wound, saw that it was a small puncture wound and could do with cleaning, antibiotics, tylenol and a lollipop.
Ok, so you probably think by now, that I may be just a bit depressing. (apologies if so, I will try to be more perky in our next blog 🙂 I do realize that I have focused a lot on questions of suffering and pain,- mostly because that is a huge part of what we face here. Philosophically, physically, emotionally we deal with these questions everyday. Our kids ask us, they watch us and we struggle at times to feel hopeful and to spread this Hope to others.
So… bear with me….even though most people may likely tune out by now, it helps that I can send these thoughts into some sort of blogging abyss. To remove the weightiness from my mind by sharing them with you.
Looking at questions of goodness and suffering. It is not just here that we face questions of suffering, although here, we face it most acutely and directly, we can not escape from it. We see it in gaunt faces, hear it in stories of children who die of of diarrheal, preventable illness. It echoes on the wind which passes over the dusty earth, evidencing the deadened dryness and slumber of the fertile ground. These themes and the ideas of bad things to good people, or even good things to bad people, are questions to tackle not avoid, as there is no avoidance here, nowhere to hide. We want our children with such young minds and hearts to have some understanding and context in which to place the things they see, to understand pain, the seeming incongruence of a loving God who abides in a world of suffering
We strive to come up with some sort of formula to protect ourselves from the seemingly randomness of hurt and pain. Some people perhaps aspire to being good, to somehow earn and deserve a blessing and/or protection. And this is often where we get stuck as a culture, whether Western, Christian or Samburu, that there is a way to placate ‘the gods’, or God into believing that we are good enough to make it past the gauntlet of affliction. When things are going well, we feel pleased and to have somehow earned the blessings of health,wealth, privilege and family we enjoy. Yet it seems also a common feeling for humanity that when suffering comes, we don’t feel that we are deserving of it, for aren’t we kind and nice. (well nicer than him…) But that raises another deep question that we don’t like facing. If we feel we don’t deserve pain, what does that say to those who are suffering around us, that somehow, they do? With trying to deserve good things, there is that gnawing fear, to what standard is good enough? Is being good, being better than our friends, our neighbours, is it simply being the best that we can be? And there is this insecurity that we will never quite know to what measure we will be judged? Then there are others, who seem to live in the apathy of expectation of pain, to see its inevitable coming and curse the world, or people or God who may have put it there. Yet, I can not resolve to tread down either of those paths, for it seems like the choices are either eternal anxiety or a depressive resilience to endure or defy the worst that the world can strike at us.
Trouble is you can not look at the problem of pain or suffering while removing that the cause of the problem is sin, evil, badness,- whatever word you would chose to use. There is evil in the world. That is not hard to find, look at Nigeria, Look at Moncton, CNN or CBC. Does God cause evil to happen, or is it a natural consequence from the evil that already exists?
And in no way do I feel that those who face difficulties are those who are facing the consequences of their particular sin (certainly that can be the case for some as rotten behaviour and misguided choices usually does lead to consequences of some sort) but, evil exists because God loves man enough to allow him his choices. Man was not created as a robot, toy, or celestial pet, but a person with a will to be able to chose for himself. Free will, this is a loving gift from a loving God, however, not all people choose to use their free will to bring about good, evil emerges and multiplies, and touches humanity with suffering.
So how does God fit into the problem picture? If he didn’t create or orchestrate the evil, and if suffering will continue as waves of consequence cresting with each generation, then where is God?
Most people I know would probably consider me rather simple. I do read, and I do have thoughts, but I have no drive to continually search further into the world’s philosophies, create my own or to sift through ideals or religions on how to answer this question of pain. It is not because I have never looked in those places, I have, but I guess I have been satisfied with what seems to be the most simplest, profound truth that I know. This truth has held me up in dark and depressing times, it keeps me during moments of frustration and anger at the lack of justice in the world, it bears with me when I am afraid or not my best self. You know what it is, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. To be honest, I have looked for a more ‘educated’ synopsis of my beliefs, at least one that would put me on an academic level a few notches higher than a Kindergartener, but well,- as they say sometimes, “less is more”.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote a bit more poetically, “I wait,- Dear Lord, Thy ways are past finding out, Thy love too high”. Her words hold weight, as they come from a women whose husband was killed by the Auca Indians, and who returned with her children to minister to them. Talk about courage, suffering and sacrifice.
In the end, the only thing that really comforts, that satisfies me, that provides me with a marrow to relieve my anxiety, to soothe my apathy, to assist my comprehension (or lack thereof) of the world and what is happening in it,- is that I have to trust that His love is higher than my understanding of it. His love of me, of you, is greater than my ability to tease out the how’s or why’s of pain and suffering and make sense of it all. It is not a resigned apathy to accept whatever comes, but a great solace to know that God loves me, He is a God of compassion, who may not prevent evil or suffering or pain but will suffer with me, as I trust Him for my good.
“The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you
He will quiet you with His love
He will rejoice over you with singing”
Amazed, comforted, happy, hopeful, expectant of trouble, but trusting that the one who takes great delight in me, who sings lullabies with rejoicing, when the time comes to face trial or pain or difficulty will suffer along side, quieting me with His great love.
On a silly note…
You never know how you will be entertained in a Skype conversation with the Callaghans. Yesterday while Skyping uncle Aaron, he heard the phrases: “Jesse stop running with my cross bow!” and shouts of “snake, snake”. The second declaration actually brought on an episode of finding rake and shovel while trying to kill the 4ft cobra sunning itself on our front porch. Unfortunately the cobra got the better of us and got away. Jesse is not happy at his inside quarantine of for the next few days until we can ensure that the invader has moved on to new territory… Today, I spent the better part of a half an hour trying to re-claim a bag of granola that a monkey sat eating up the tree. Not that I wanted it back, but it was the principle of it. That was MY granola! I was near to getting the slingshot out and practicing my aim! Maybe Luke’s crossbow would have come in handy!
stayed tuned…. more updates coming soon 🙂