I made it to Washington DC. Which as I have said before was no small undertaking. Of course my flight to Africa had already left, which meant a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines. And as anyone who has ever worked with any airline knows, this is not a walk in the park, especially with Ethiopian Airlines. But since the African people never want to disappoint, they are intentionally vague to avoid confrontation. It is only once it is too late that you find that you did not get what you were promised. This meant I spent the night in Washington. And as luck would have it, I met a very pleasant man named Mike on the Metro to Pennsylvania Ave where the Pepperdine University satellite campus is. Mike and I had a great conversation about almost everything, which resulted in a new friend, a phone number, and a place to stay that night if the Pepperdine house didn’t work out. Once at Pennsylvania Ave, I was on the phone with Casey and I heard a voice: “Is that Taylor Thompson?!” I didn’t know AJ Hawks was in Washington but it was certainly a nice surprise. AJ showed me around the town a little. It was nice seeing a friend. However, I learned that I would not be able to stay in the Pepperdine house. The administration has really begun to crack down on visitors and this includes cameras and room checks. This is a rule that has always been present in theory, but has not until recently actually been enforced. I thought of calling Mike, but since I was only in DC for one night, I decided to tour the city. I started at 12am and it took me until 4am to see the white house, capitol building, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial, but I got it all in. And I clearly didn’t wait in any tourist lines. What a great night! The sights truly are better at night. And I had a companion, because Casey was taking a verbal tour as well. Since I didn’t get to sleep in DC and I only had three hours of sleep in my luxury hotel in El Salvador, I thought I would sleep on the plane to Addis Ababa. Wrong. I talked to TendieMuz from Nairobi, my traveling buddy in the seat next to me, for hours. When she was tired and going to sleep, I was tired of sitting. I went to walk around but ended up exchanging travel stories with others who were doing similar things for four hours. When I got back to my seat, Tendie wanted to talk some more. By the end of the flight, I still had not slept, but on the plus side, did have three more places to stay if our group decides to travel in Africa. I waited for three hours in Ethiopia for our connecting flight, but there was nowhere to sleep in that miserable place, so I arranged my photo library. Once I finally got on the plane to Mombasa, I learned that the seat that the “accommodating” people from Ethiopian Airlines had put me on in Los Angeles was actually not a real seat at all. Sure there was a row sixteen and a column D, but seat 16D was in a lavatory. When I told the flight attendant, he got the pilot who told me I would wait another day until the next flight on Friday. By this point I was no longer willing to hear these words. I simply refused. So I got the only seat left and I realized why it was not assigned when the plane was at capacity in the first place. It was a seat in front of the exit hatch with about twelve inches for my legs and feet and no window. I accepted this over my other option. So yet again, I did not sleep. Keep in mind that it is now Thursday, and I have been going since my flight on Monday morning with only three hours of sleep in El Salvador. When I got to the airport, a group of my three American friends- Abbie, Greg, and Kaitlyn- and an entourage of ten other Kenyans greeted me. What a triumphal entry! I was welcomed so warmly with hugs, kisses, and best of all, African song! How wonderful! We made our way to the house where we were again welcomed very warmly. We also took a quick tour of the place we will be staying for the next four weeks. The tour included the following: a toilet room with no running water, but instead a bucket filled with water that we scoop out of to “flush” our little treasures; a shower room with a barrel of water that we will splash on ourselvesto become clean; a kitchen with a small sink, many jugs of clean water, and a small coal floor stove; a living room with a tiny fuzzy TV, a few couches, and a rebar-framed window; and finally, our bedroom, two bunk beds encased in mosquito netting and very little room to walk. After the grand tour, we headed for the living room to for a traditional Kenyan meal and wonderful conversation. After talking for about two hours, we were shown to the town and the Ocean. We came home to another wonderful dinner, more conversation, and my new, must-watch soap opera, Soy TuDueno. Yes, they watch Spanish soap operas here, only with horribly matched English voices. For example, the old fat woman has the voice of a young airy girl, which could easily be simply a man in falsetto. This might be my favorite new Kenyan tradition! That is a lie. I fell asleep. Friday morning we woke up at 8am. Of course we had a spectacular meal awaiting, and this is something I am quickly getting used to. Then we went to read with our guests until 7pm. I cannot put into words or even remember all of the mountaintop experiences I have had throughout the day. I am, however, certain of one thing. This is easily one of the most spiritual experiences I have had in such a long time! Or maybe it is just exercising my spiritual muscles that I have not yet learned to use yet. Either way it was truly wonderful. I cannot believe how quickly and easily I connected with the amazing Kenyan people. They are just amazing, and such an encouragement to us all. I met one friend in particular named Brian. His yearning for the gospel is ceaseless. We are supposed to do, at most, three lessons with each learner. Brian did twelve. Finally, we just began talking. His love for Christ is amazing. He taught me so much about African culture and is probably one of my best African friends other than those I am staying with. At midday, we were interrupted by what I though must be an intense street fight going on in the room next door. It was actually just praying. In Africa, they understand that there are a lot of people praying in the world. So if you want God to hear you, you must pray the loudest. I think they must have won that battle. We missed out on being a part of the next yelling-to-God experience too, because we were helping Michael take the cornrows out of his hair. He was ready to become a Christian, but he wasn’t allowed to do so with this Rastafarian look. He had explained to us earlier, that being Rastafarian was sometimes associated with bad things in Africa, but that he liked associating with the Rastafarians and yet was still a good person who wanted to be a Christian. His Rastafarian lifestyle did not affect his spiritual walk, he explained. This tears me. In one way, I see it as the battle in America going on between those who embrace tradition, and value that over God’s perfect and all encompassing love. On the other hand, I do not want to overstep cultural values. I obviously did not say anything, but yearned so strongly to reassure Michael that he could keep his much beloved cornrows and yet still be a man of God. God’s perfect love is big enough to accept cornrows, right? When we came home, it was time to eat. The food is all so wonderful, but I have had to learn not to take into account the way in which it is prepared. It is nothing unusual to find a pair of chicken hips in your soup! After dinner, I asked Pastor Paul, the man whose family we are staying with, what the biggest problem facing his church is. He told me that it is hard to get the wealthy to understand their need for God. He began asking me to help him do a number of speeches and presentations in hotel meeting rooms to help bring the wealthy to Christ. I agreed that I wanted to help. But it scares me. He continued to ask me to make commitments. In Africa, saying that you will try to do something is as good as a promise (no crosses count, pinky promise, criss-cross, etc., etc.). He also asked me to preach the sermon on Sunday. I hope that he is not expecting too much from me. I don’t mind preaching, and I don’t mind speaking to large groups. In fact, I was honored by the opportunity. But it seems like he such enormous plans for his church. The focus seems so broad, and it seems like he expects us to come in and do what he is not able to do. If God intends to use us in that way, I will be more than honored. He must also understand, though, that we are not equipped in some way that he is not. We cannot come in and change a nation in one day, and at some points in our conversation, it seemed like that is what he expected. Then he told me that the second biggest problem facing the church was that some people were beginning to feel that it was ok to praise God with instruments. Oh dear! NOT INSTRUMENTS!!! Again, I held my tongue. Today was our free day. We were able to go to the beach and experience the city. We were led around by our good friends Frank, Matilda, and David. These people are so wonderful, and I feel in many ways closer to them than I do to our home family. Frank is a funny man and a great leader. He is caring and always carefully watches that we do not get into trouble. As we swam out into the warm Indian Ocean with Matilda she shared with us a little of why she loved Frank so much. Matilda was infected with Tuberculosis about a year ago, and had a low expectancy of living. Frank prepared her food and nursed her back to health. She explained so many traits that Frank has already shown to us. She talked about his kindness and love. She told us about his transformation from when they first met. It was such a beautiful thing to hear about this special love. After she went back to the shore, Kaitlyn, Abbie and I were questioned about our swimming skills. Most Kenyans seem extremely terrified of swimming and the water, and noted how brave we were to swim without the large inner tubes that the rest of them have. I told the small Kenyan who was inquiring that it was easy, and he asked if he could learn. “Of course!” I replied, and the swimming lessons began. I held him up in the water as he tried to learn to hold his breath and stay afloat. The funniest thing was watching this terrified little boy, probably 18 years old, struggle to paddle around in the chest high water, not wanting to disappoint his new teacher. How proud I was of my little student! When we arrived home, we said goodbye to our home mom, who is going into the city to work for two weeks. We sang her a song of worship and then I said a word of prayer for her. She left and we came to the small internet room in the city, which is where I meet you now. As I continue on this mission, I ask for prayer from my friends and family reading this. Pray that our group may remain humble and observant in this foreign place. It is easy to get ahead of myself when it seems like some of the Kenyans want to put the world on our shoulders. Pray that God would give me the strength to do everything I can, and the understanding to remember that I can’t do everything. And pray that as I share my understanding of the Gospel, I would be able to share God’s full love in the most true way I know how, but still not overstep any cultural or personal boundaries that could close people off. And pray that I would always remember to listen more than I speak. These people have such a great many gifts to offer, and so many things that Americans can learn from. Pray that I would have the discernment to consider and learn from these things. And above all, pray that the hearts of these people always come before my selfish desires. And as you pray for me, know that I am also praying for you!
There are picture to come, but for now, dinner is waiting, and we have no more time in this internet cafe. Love to you all!