Greetings from Kenya!
A lot has happened this past weekand a half, Lots of traveling, eating, seeing animals, learning and experiencing a different culture. One thing that we have done practically everyday (and sometimes a couple times a day) is visiting widow groups. The widow groups are always located on the outskirts of the community and they are always ostracized and overlooked by the community. It is believed that these women are now cursed by their recently deceased husband or other bad spirits. These women are very poor and don’t have jobs, they often are living with AIDs and are learning to live “positively” with the disease while raising children. Their children are considered orphans and often cannot go to school because there mother cannot afford to send them and/or they are needed to work to help support the family.
Friends Bring Hope and Rural Service Programme have a field officer stationed in different areas of western Kenya. They identify widow groups that are most in need and report back to the home office to give us assignments to visit, bring gifts and blessings, and the resources to build a home for a single widow they find who is most in need. When we go to help “mutope” or mud a house, we are greeted by the widow group singing and dancing around our vehicle. To have American “muzungus” come to your home is a great honor and one that will elevate their status in the community and will lift the curse off of them and their home.
Because these women have literally less in their home than I can pack in my suitcase, the greatest gift they can muster to bless us back is sharing a meal. To American standards it is a humble snack, but to them it is a feast, a thanksgiving dinner. It is important for us to accept their gift(s) because according to the culture you shouldn’t let anyone enter your home without treating them hospitably, also if you are given a gift the standard of reciprocity is strongly upheld. If we are lucky we might also be given a chicken (Paco Paulita will forever be remembered in our hearts) or have a tinsel garland placed around our necks. These may seem like small gifts but to these women, and to us, they are worth their weight in gold
Another important aspect of meeting the widow groups along side giving and receiving gifts and helping mud the new house is introductions. This entails us all (visitors and widows) to say our name title and where we are from. For me this looks like, “Merembe! (shalom) My name is Katy Vanderploeg I am a nongraduating senior at Barclay college and I study Elementary Education. I live in Haviland Kansas with my husband but my parents are missionaries in Belize Central America.” Listening to the widows share is very meaningful and a personal way that expresses that they are people worthy of an American “muzungo” coming to their home and listening to them. This not only honors them as humans and peers to us, whom we and God loves and sees, but also elevates them within their community as a human again worthy of friendship and respect.
Visiting with these widows and orphans and showing them love and respect and empowering them to be self reliant, strong, and to feel human again is really teaching me how much more God knows and loves me. How much He wants me to grow in faith and maturity. These widow have also taught me, when we go to visit them, how much more God celebrates us and welcomes us into presence and community with Him.
When I go to these widows and orphans in their place of suffering and destitute I see Christ. When I am welcomed into their communities and homes and lavished upon so generously I see Christ. When my spirit weeps for the unfair treatment of women and children Christ weeps with me. When I look into the wondering and amazed eyes of an orphan child I see the wondrous love and innocence of Christ. When I see the faithfulness of the old mamas to her grandchildren and children I see the faithfulness of Christ.
I pray that my eyes will continue to be open and willing to see God at work and in Kenya. I pray that my heart will be soft and moldable for god to continue His work in me. And I pray that God will ever bless the people and ministries here in Kenya and around the world.
Mungu Abarete Wote.