Greetings from Kenya. May this post inform you that God is at work on the mission field here, and also to assure you that we are not yet dead.
On Friday night, we landed in Nairobi after 22 hours of continous flights and layovers from Wichita, to Denver, to Frankfurt, to our destination. Despite our shared exhaustion, we arrived in Kenya on time with no complications, and we rested well at the Amani Gardens Inn (formerly the Mennonite Guest House) before driving to Kaimosi the next morning for 10 hours. Again, we arrived safely and without incident at the Rural Service Programme Guest House next to the Friends Theological College campus.
In rural Kenya, widows possess the lowest status in society and are often considered to be cursed by their communities — somehow responsible for the death of their husbands. They are subject to much abuse and shunning. Through farming, many earn an income as little as USD $0.50 per day. The Friends Church has a very prominent presence in Kenya and sponsors many widows groups of women who financially and spiritually support each other.
Since Monday, we have visited four widows’ groups throughout western Kenya even as far as Mt. Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. We have assisted in the building of mud-houses for three of these groups and delivered goats to the fourth.
When we had arrived at the meeting place in the village of each widows group, we were greeted jubilantly by the ladies as they danced and sang beautiful call-and-response praises to God. We then would don our work gloves and assist in construction of the house. After this, we the JG team, the RSP staff, and the widows would sit together and enter into a time of introduction. In Kenya, to be known by name is a dignity denied to these widows, and the opportunity to introduce oneself in front of a group is reserved for “big people”. By engaging in this ritual of introduction, the widows’ status is greatly elevated and gives them the dignity that they are too often denied. After we all introduce ourselves to each other, we exchange gifts — from us, clothing, sandals, food, candy, calendars, crayons, medicines, etc. — from the widows, hens and fruit. We then share a meal, typically of tea, chicken, kale, bread, and ugali (corn mush) that the widows had eagerly prepared.
Our assistance in building the house has been almost entirely ceremonial. The widows had only handed us each a few mud heaps to apply to the walls of the building before inviting us to their table after thirty minutes of work at the most. At first, we were a little anxious to have been led away from labor after so little time and felt guilty that these poor women would lavish their food on us during the time of year known as “the time of hunger”. It all seemed so one-sided. We were supposed to serve them.
We came to realize, however, that most of the money we paid to go on this trip was used by RSP to purchase the wood, the nails, and the sheet metal used to build the homes and the goats, chickens, and other livestock given to the widows to assist in their income production. Besides, if the widows invited us to visit them, it would not primarily be so that they would totally entrust the building of their homes to some clumsy white kids.
The seemingly disproportionate response of these women was not because of our labor or our gifts, It was because of our presence. Whereas their very neighbors despise them and heap abuse upon them, a few comparatively very rich American college students spent several thousand dollars and traveled 4,000 miles merely to share a meal with them. We had communion with them.
Wherever we travel in rural Kenya, George, Shauntel, Amber, and I are greeted with excited cries of “Mzungu!” (“white person”) from the local people. We are perceived to be opulent and are immediately treated with respect merely due to the fact that we are Americans and because of the color of our skin. It’s a very uncomfortable fact, and it’s entirely unfair. But this unfair, unearned, and undeserved status the culture ascribes to us we use to demonstrate Christ’s love, and utterly confound the local people, when they find that the rich white Americans didn’t come to their market or their village to be treated like royalty but to share a simple meal with those considered to be unpersons. How much greater, then, is the love of Jesus — whose praise, adoration, and respect is entirely fair, entirely earned, and entirely deserved — when he left his opulence and status behind as King of the Universe to break his body, the bread, and pour out his blood, the wine, for us — the people who hated him and hung him. Our response to God should be like that of these Kenyan widows — joyous singing, dancing, and thanksgiving — every single day.
So, yes, we are still very much alive.