Well, it took me less than a week to make an African man cry. Luckily his tears were tears of joy! As the team sat around the living room, eating our ugalisima and bean soup, Lule told us that African men NEVER cry. He told us that his father has instructed him since he can remember that African men cannot cry. As we sat around we shared stories and talked about cultural differences. We got to joking and laughing, and before I knew it, I had said something to set Lule off. The whole room was chuckling, Frank was saying what he always says when I do something silly: “Tayla being Tayla,” but Lule was literally rolling. Then it happened, Lule’s first ever tears. “You may be the first ever Americans to see an African man cry,” Lule enlightened us.
Monday began the reading again. This entails waking up at eight to go to the church by nine and reading with students until six with a thirty-minute lunch break. This can get pretty exhausting, as you can imagine. Particularly because it is important to listen very closely to the readers to decode what they are saying. But it has truly been a growing experience spiritually. In only one week I have built such strong relationships already, and I can really see my readers and friends growing in Christ even in this short time. I feel so blessed to have an entire two weeks of reading left, but it already seems that time is going too fast.
The team has a good deal of down time between readers, which we have used for various things. I have had a good amount of time for reflection in the word and my journal. I have also made a good dent in about three books. But especially uplifting is our conversations with members of the church who are there while we read. Many of them don’t have jobs for one reason or another. It is an economic downturn, we have been working with the poorer people, and a number of them are employed in one way or another with the church. The people in the church have been such an encouragement to us all. We have talked about a great number of things and it seems like they have told us about almost every aspect of Kenyan culture, but I know in reality we still have so much to learn.
We see one particularly encouraging example of Christ’s love in our new friend Michael. Michael bounced around between jobs, and at one point was performing shows with the Kenya Acrobats. He was at one point very wealthy. He quit the team because he did not support the way they were living. He came back to Kenya and had a job carrying water to people’s houses. It was here, in his lowest of states, that Daniel found him. He was dabbling in witchcraft, which is a very big problem here. He had lost hope. Daniel, a pastor-in-training, asked Michael to come in to read with us. He agreed and came in to begin reading with Kaitlyn. Two weeks later the rest of us arrived. Michael has made such great progress. This is the same Michael who shaved his Rastafarian hair for Christ. We have explained, and he now understands that God’s love is big enough for his Rasta hair, but he has shaved it so that he may not carry the look that is associated with those types of people. On Tuesday we were blessed to witness Michael’s baptism. How happy he is now, and what an encouragement to see someone so excited in Christ!
Lule is another man in the church who I have been very blessed to grow close with. Lule is a teacher by profession, and in fact one of the few professionals in the church. I did not know that he was a teacher or professional until Thursday, but it makes sense. He is very knowledgeable and loves discussing politics, philosophy and economy. Friday morning, Lule explained the ten largest tribes in Kenya and common stereotypes associated with them. I followed by telling him common stereotypes of people from different regions, states, ethnic and political groups in America. Lule just became a Christian four months ago, but already his love, faith, and understanding in God is mammoth. I have enjoyed getting to know him so much, and he is another of my best friends.
Another man we have been in constant contact with is Pastor Paul. Throughout the week, Pastor Paul has been asking me to come into the town with him to minister to the people there, while the others stay back and read.This has been a struggle, as have many things with Pastor Paul. He has often asked us for various things: camera, computer, car, HOUSE!!! Don’t get me wrong, Pastor Paul is a great man with a wonderful heart. Our world could use more people with his zeal for the Gospel. But he may be one of the most awkward people I have ever encountered. Couple this trait with a cultural personality that has absolutely no social reservations with regard to awkward conversation, and you have the Pastor; the man that we are staying with; the man who I have been traveling into town with. Greg had the opportunity to travel into town with the Pastor as well. He traveled between the Pastor and one of the Pastor’s friend on a cramped and hot matatu (janky fifteen passenger van that serves as the city’s main mode of transportation). Paul’s friend picked a zit off of Greg’s neck and then said that Greg had a mosquito on his neck. A dissatisfied Greg sat helplessly as the large and sweaty Pastor clamored over him to observe his friend’s handiwork. But these types of interactions have become typical of our relationship with the Pastor. We have simply began to refuse his advances in this manner.
However, even through the Pastor’s awkward encroachments and demands of random people whom he has no prior relation to in the market or small cafes in the city, and even through my equally austere stubbornness to these strange interactions, God has somehow used them. I met a woman named Cynthia on Thursday in a tea café in the city. After reading with her a little and getting to know her for about an hour, I found out that she had more in common with my mother than just a name. She was born the daughter of a Pastor but by age nine her dad was practicing polygamy, a common occurrence here in Africa. He disowned Cynthia’s family and began publicly humiliating her. As her story unfolded in front of me, I realized that time and time again throughout her life, people of this world have taken God’s perfect love and distorted it in some way or another to make it something ugly and disgraceful to Cynthia. An hour-long conversation yielded tears on both sides of the table, and a sincere longing that Cynthia understand the true love of God. A dripping Cynthia told me that she missed the Church and that she understood for the first time in years the truth of God’s love because of what we had talked about. I had connected with her through the story of my own mom and as I walked away I realized that I had come to the truest understanding of Romans 8:28 that I have ever had.
On Friday, our team left for Malindi. This is where Kaitlyn served for LST two years ago. We were welcomed and taken through the village in a tuktuk, a three wheeled taxi common in Kenya. We observed goat herders, cow herders, and even chicken herders as we made our way to the church of Uziima. We were welcomed and shown our room before heading into the village. This was exactly what you think of when you think African village. They were mud huts with straw roofs and little dark families inside – dark because they were African, and dark because there was no electricity too. It was around 20º C (68º F) and we had to stop to get porridge because our hosts were freezing. Then we headed back for Uziima. When we woke up on Saturday, it turned out that the Malindi LST team was there right then too. We had a good time meeting them and went to the beach together before coming back to eat lunch and leave. We were planning on leaving at around three to get back for a dinner invitation with one of my readers at six. Of course, we did not leave at three, because even though we had made our hosts very aware of our plans (something we have certainly learned the importance of) they had not even started cooking at three. Still, it would have been very rude to leave. We stayed, and were not able to meet our invitation until almost eight.
When we got back to Mombasa our new hosts had been waiting since four. Dinner was great though, and the house resembled a 1980’s decorated version of an apartment in the Malibu Villas. His wonderful family gave us one of the largest meals we have had yet, and then showed us pictures until we left around ten. On our way home, we met Pastor Paul who informed Greg that he would be preaching the next day. Typical.
On Sunday, we woke up at nine and the taxi was already waiting outside. We had not discussed Church time and just assumed that it was the same time as a week before, but instead it was at nine. We rushed to get ready and got there to find that we made up three fourths of the audience. GLAD YOU GOT THE WORD OUT THAT WE WERE STARTING EARLY PASTOR PAUL! Greg preached a great lesson about putting our faith into practice. At two we held our party and taught forty Kenyans how to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and musical chairs. Afterwards they taught us how they play football. All in all it was a great day! Today, on Monday, we woke up to business as usual. The day followed the routine of a typical weekday with one exception.
Today, Greg and I became men. We went to read at nine as usual. Right before lunch, I was reading “Radical” by David Platt, and thinking about how much we rely on ourselves to accomplish our daily tasks, when instead, we should realize our need for God. I have had the tendency to write those readers of ours who are Muslim off, thinking that they are already very strong in their faith and will not be changed, only coming to us for English lessons. I prayed that God change this attitude, and help me to realize that I can do nothing to change anyone; only God can change the lives of the people I work with, and he is just as powerful with the strongest of Muslim believers as he is with the most receiving of readers. Just as I said these words, Ibraham walked in. Ibraham is a Muslim. He came in drunk. I soon realized that he is mourning in heartbreak over his wife, who he has not seen in two years since he was released from prison. As we talked, I could feel the weight coming off of his shoulders and moving onto God’s. When he was leaving, the pastor-in-training, Daniel, greeted him. Daniel was not aware of what had happened, but told us when he came back from chatting with Ibraham that he could see in his eyes that Ibraham had truly been touched. I truly believe this, and am so thankful for this growing experience.
After lunch, David took me to the market to buy two chickens. This was a part of the Kenyan culture I have been asking to experience for a long time. We brought them back and after we came home from the rest of the day of reading, it was time for Greg and I to become men. David taught us how to hold the chickens down as we cut their throats. It took two minutes for us to become men, as the life left the lungs of these poor creatures. Then we were taught how to de-feather and dissect these animals. It was no small tasks, and the Kenyans truly use every single part. Every single part except the intestines. This includes the head with beak and eyes, the stomach, the kidney,the EVERYTHING!!! I have to admit, I am glad to be finally considered a man here, but I don’t think I want to become a man again. It was strange seeing our recent friends on our plates, but they were certainly tasty. The Pastor has informed us that next week we will perform the same task, but on a goat. Oh Lord! Come what may.
As I continue on, I could not be more grateful for our wonderful Kenyan hosts. Especially Frank and Matilda, who have taken such good care of us. I really feel like I could stay here forever if I didn’t miss my friends and family so much. I do ask for your prayers though. I am frustrated with the way that scheduling happens here. Pastor Paul asks us every day what our plan is for our trip to Lake Victoria next week, even though we have gone over it countless times. He seems to think that if we don’t have it planned out to the T, it will not be able to happen. He also refused to let me visit the monetary exchange center that we were standing right next to to make a three-minute transaction because we had not planned it the night before. Instead we made a separate two-hour trip the next day. On the other hand, he often hands us the cell phone with no warning at all to explain who knows what to someone we have never met. He tells Greg that he will be teaching a sermon twelve ten hours before the sermon is to be presented. And he fails to inform us that our taxi will arrive for church an hour earlier than the week before and wakes us up five minutes before it leaves. I understand that this culture is different than our own, and I must get used to it. I also note that these people have been extremely patient and accommodating to our needs. I pray for the same patience in my own life.
I have also been becoming frustrated with the way we are treated as white people. Most of the people are so down to earth with us. When we go through the city we are treated as a novelty. This is especially true in the villages where many children have never seen a white person before and rush to hold our hands as we walk through the streets, which is kind of fun in a way. Still, our pigment contrast has been causing some problems. When the Kenyans see a white person they see money. Obviously, many of them just see us for the friends that we want to be. However, there has apparently been some drama and gossip that Frank and Matilda are only friends with us because we are giving them money. These rumors propagate out of jealousy and cause divisions in the church. We have explained that as college students, we actually have very little, and our closest friends here understand. It is sad to hear of divisions created by those who don’t. We have also been used as a type of promotion or as poster children by the Pastor, who introduces us to everyone as Americans. This we are, but he is using this as some type of exploitation. He seems eager for people to see us with him, and it seems like he feels that this gives his church the image of power. I pray for humility in this atmosphere, but I also pray that we would be able to do the pure and true work we came to do without race getting in the way.