Beginning of the End….
The morani guard the Mountain we are told, and yet that didn’t help me feel better after visiting Joesphine, looking into her eyes, seeing tears building to illuminate the hazel brown colour, daring to spill, or daring to not perhaps. She is now caring for 7 orphans, the littlest one, barely 2 years and will not remember his mama. My heart sinks to think of Josephine’s sister, caught in the bush, tortured and killed. A casualty of war. I bring a small offering of clothes and some shoes, which didn’t seem very much in the face of such loss.
The warriors sing long into the night, after the moon rises and spills into the skylights and I wonder what kind of song they are singing, one of victory or one of mourning? One of war or peace. It is usually a beautiful sound, that of the low voices rumbling into the darkness, the rhythmic chanting, but now it leaves me sad and a bit afraid.
As things progress, this war between the Turkana and Samburu over past vengeance, stolen animals, land rights and now this mama,- we know we rest on volatile ground, it is hard to predict what the outcome will be.
There are more reports that come in of people shifting and moving with their animals, some struck down as they do so. A car full of people going to a wedding shot, airlifted to Kijabe Mission Hospital, an attack on a village called nopillipilli where a number of children were killed. I have a hard time processing this information, there are daily reports and sometimes more than one. This does not seem like the kind of animal/tribal banditry we are used to. This feels evil. A village west of Baragoi is attacked, leaving many (including mamas and children) dead, the numbers of casualties unthinkable. Guns and RPG’s were used, I can’t picture the chaos of what that would have been and yet my mind conjures images of mynyattas I have been too, sat, drank chai in, visited, laughed and cared….and a scene passes before my vision of a picture of the terror of war. We know retaliation only moments or days away. We start packing.
By Monday, a call from a missionary friend in the next major Turkana town up (about 1hr drive from us) reports gun shooting. Packing which began as a precaution, now continues in earnest. The kids thankfully removed from the knowledge of what is going on, continue with their homeschool day, they have suspicions I am sure with hushed conversations and worried parental looks….not really grasping why there is a hurried (rather frustrated) negotiation with them of what Calvin and Hobbs book to take and which to leave behind. It is hard to pack up house in 3 days… a bit overwhelmed with baby in hand and sorting with the other. We recognize the value of packing for furlough now, knowing that there is a rather significant chance that we won’t be able to get back into the village. Tuesday is quiet, no word of further violence and we wonder if we are making the right decision. It is easy to lose objectivity, and while living in an idyllic, beautiful place interacting with mama’s and patients and wazee under the chai tree to face the threat that is upon us. Really, is this happening? Perhaps we are over-reacting, and yet in the same thought, I think of the need to ensure the “safe” room is stocked with enough water and food, while also thinking to myself – maybe we are not ‘hard core’ enough to stay behind and weather this out. The packing continues amidst conflicted thoughts and feelings.
We tell the kids that we are leaving a few days earlier than planned. We also tell them we are not likely coming back up, and the tears come, silent and slow with the realization of leaving home, Buster our cat left behind, and the release of Sheldon and Big Jim our 2 tortoises. The fact we will not see monty the monitor lizard doesn’t quite bother me… There is heartache visible, and the lack of ceremony over goodbye is making the farewell difficult.
Wednesday morning our day guard Peter, brings news that the Turkana are making their way into South Horr. Grant Swanepoel, our neighbour, partner and unit leader, comes over detailing Peter’s report that a heavily armed group of Turkana are moving closer (8km away). Grant notes that we pack the essentials, we may have to leave in 2 hours. The house looks like a bomb exploded everything out everywhere,- leave in 2 hours? I am in a fog. The day and actions in front of me feel surreal, and although time is progressing, it actually seems to slow into moments, like I am living a page from a story playing out upon the stage in our house. People come to greet, having heard we are leaving soon. It is so so hard to take the time now to greet when so much has yet to be done. I force myself to make conversation, to look into the face of these friends who I may not see in a long time. By the afternoon more information confirms Turkana are farther away than thought, and we are safe to leave the following morning. Last minute goodbyes, calling mama’s who I have gotten to know and love to the house for a small little giving away party of food and clothes and the most important item, I feel privileged to give,- the Gospel Treasures. I share a few words,- about being light in the darkness. And although I know they are real words with real Hope infused into them, they feel so small of an offering and I give it up to the Spirit to transform such little into more, much much more for these women, for these families.
We left Thursday morning, our station families (the swanepoels, morgan and abbey our volunteers and the callaghans) parted on the road past Kargi. Some tense moments in the car passing Turkana warriors and Samburu in their war clothes, passing Rendille who were quickly trying to pack up and leave the insecure territory. We had a safe, but long (2 day journey) to avoid violence and rains. We arrive in time for a week planned previously for the kids educational testing at RVA. We arrive in a whirlwind of thought and mind as to what the next days and weeks hold.
……Choma Nkai……… I sit in Nairobi now, trying to figure and reconfigure the moments of the last days spent in Kurungu. I picture the sunrise, filtering light over the mountains, I think of the airstrip and the shadows of the afternoon which stretch upon us as we walk Lucy and visit with children going to fetch evening water. I think of the Sunday School kids and their rush to get into the gate, their happy faces as they take turns skipping to made-up tunes afterwards, the choirs as they praise and dance, the proud faces of the young boys as they jump straight and high as they soar on dreams of becoming warriors. I think of faces of the dear ones we have become acquainted with, etched with lines and smiles and familiarity. I wade through the thoughts, the pictures, the faces, the little hands and fingers that grab mine, the smile and soft “asheoling” (thank you) after providing some small medical remedy, visions of the most magnificent combination of mountains, green and birdsong. Flashing colours of beaded mama’s carrying yellow jeri cans of water, camels and goats and sheep, kids in the pink and blue school uniform walking the road into town. The guards greetings in the early morning, chai time under the acacia tree with arms spread out encircling us all. And the pictures are vivid and endless….Along with the beautiful there is the hard, like not being able to say goodbye to so many, to say farewell to Lareno and Ntlalpasso, and now to look at the sad look on Mama Lareno’s face as I am sure she is wondering how she will get by without the little help that we provided with work for her 2 mornings a week. She offers me a single string of beads to say goodbye. “The children made this, they are crying for you” she says and I swallow hard.
How do I put into words the last few weeks. I fear to process all that has happened, to risk that the little box in which I have placed the heart ache may break open and spill out in front of me . And I pray, as I leave Kurungu it is with a smile on my lips and a pain in my heart for the space and distance that will move between that place and me, for those I leave behind, so precious and facing insurmountable difficulties, magnified by the grief of violence and loss. How do I let go? How do I leave? How do I realize that this place which pulls my heart in so many directions and my feet and hands in many more places, may not be the place where we can rest as a family for now, for long.
It was a tough week, but I know as hard as these moments were for us as a family, many others are facing so much worse, far worse, and although I want to give permission to myself to mourn and grieve the challenges, the fears, the disappointments, the loss, the sense of falling short to not complete the term as anticipated …I also know that for the sake of others, I want to be strong, to face the future with confidence and fear only for the greatness of the One who leads us in both the dark valleys and brilliant horizons – and to chose to seek out the blessings instead of burying myself in the broken.
We talked about transitions in homeschool week, namely the transitions for “third culture kids” as our kids will be,- there was a discussion which resonated. The sense that kids (and us) fear to really embrace what is ahead, to enjoy our home, fearing that somehow our happiness lessens or betrays what we have known and experienced. And I don’t want to fear being happy at home. Although I know culture shock,- or counterculture shock will hit. I am sure one day, one of you perhaps will find me, a sobbing mess at least once in the cereal aisle, or some random place like the shoe clearance rack in the back of the Walmart just looking at all the food and choice and excess in light of the faces I see before me, who I can name, who I have held in my heart and still do, who remain hungry and without shoes….
So what will get me through?
Grace and Gratitude
And this, perhaps my last reflection of Africa for a while, I recognize that I had promised to be honest about the journey we were on both good and bad. And I tell you,- It is easy to be overwhelmed in this place. Everything hits the senses. There are extremes glaring at you, coming at you, demanding your attention. Bright colours and colourless deserts. Rainy season and drought.; feast and famine; good, sweet beauty and terrible, heart rending evil. I get lost in the largeness of this place. And I am overwhelmed. The feeling of being underwater perhaps, where there is a sense of everything surrounding, pressing in, the lack of breathing, of control, of posture or position, no ground to stand on. and yet… I can choose to surface, to instead of living in a fog of processing everything that comes at me, live in a state of awe, overwhelmed by the things that are worthy to focus on. Overwhelmed by beauty and grace. Overwhelmed not so much that things didn’t turn out as planned but that we had the incredible opportunity to live and serve amazing and beautiful people. For a while, sharing life, sharing joy, heartache and Jesus. Overwhelmed not so much that evil exists, but that there is Grace big enough to redeem it and mercy available for all who desires it. I want to be overwhelmed not by the hard things, or the sad or evil things,- for although I know they exist and experience them, being swept up in them, in the current of sorrow, wouldn’t that lend more victory to darkness? I want to be overwhelmed, immersed apart of things that matter, the things of goodness, of grace, of God, of gratitude for even the smallest of gifts. Those sticky hand holding moments, the beautiful African moon, the passing of juicy fruit and bandaid, the giving of a ride, treasured friendship… the sweet breathing of my own dear loves, from adventurous boys, sweet girl, sticky toddler and tender baby breathing. I will fix my eyes on the One who has given me this time, these gifts. I will fix my eyes on Jesus. I will fix my thoughts on what is true, honourable, right and pure, lovely, admirable and worthy of praise. (Phil 4:8)
And I release these years to Him, to move and work through the moments to bring glory and joy to Him. I leave heavy hearted, yes, but joyful and grateful and blessed beyond my understanding for the amazing privilege He has given to live and work in Samburuland.
Near and dear have the words been, on my lips these days.
Be Still my soul, the Lord is on Thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul, Thy best thy heavenly friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still my soul, Thy God does undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still my soul, Thou waves and winds take hold
His voice will rule them while he dwells below
In You I rest in you I’ve found my hope
In you I trust, you never let me go,
I place my life within your hands alone
Be still my soul.
UPDATE: Unexpectedly and a few weeks early We are indeed coming home! The 7 of us (and nearly our dog Lucy, but thankfully she found a home here!) are Canada bound! In discussion with the mission it was decided that due to housing shortage, a challenge in finding a role for a family of 7 for 6 weeks remaining in their term, and in light of the events of evacuation and current refugee status in Nairobi, it would be better for us to return for Home Assignment early. So many prayers have been offered for our safety and provision,- so many answered. The generosity of people to provide a house, a van for the time we are home, we are truly blessed by His providence and His people. We fly out May 27th ant 10:25pm, likely two tired parents and 4 excited children to watch TV all night and eat airline waffles and one red haired baby who is on the verge of teething, we appreciate your prayers that we make it this final leg of the journey well. We will update everyone soon on our contact information. We hope to see you all soon.
~with love & thanksgiving
Jay & Laura, Nate, Luke, Lily, Jesse and Eve