Tuesday, July 31, 2012

African Friends and Money Matters

I recently received this very insightful analysis of the differences in the ways that Africans and Westerners perceive money and friendship.  This material comes originally from the book African Friends and Money Matters by David Marenz.  It was edited and adapted into the list below by Shawn Tyler.  Shawn added a lot of the corresponding Western viewpoints you see here.

1A - The financial need that occurs first has first claim on the available resources - African
1W - Finances may be categorized and should be used only for designated purposes – Westerner

2A - Resources are to be used not hoarded - African
2W - Resources should be invested and saved for a rainy day - Westerner

3A - Money is to be spent before friends or relatives ask to borrow it - African
3W - Money is a personal resource and does not have to be released to friends or relatives - Westerner

4A - If something is not being actively used, it is considered to be available - African
4W - If something is not being actively used, it is still the possession of the owner and he must be consulted before borrowing - Westerner

5A - Being involved financial and materially with friends and relatives is a very important element of social interaction - African
5W - Westerners distrust friendships that regularly include financial or material exchanges - Westerner

6A - Africans assist their friends who are in financial need as a form of investment for those future times when they themselves might have needs. This arrangement constitutes a virtual banking or savings system.
6W - Westerners have come to rely on banks and lending institutions for financial assistance and encourage their friends to go there.  Lending to friends is seen as a way of creating tension within the relationships.

7A - The financial implications of friendship and solidarity go beyond immediate friends to include secondary relationships (people who barely know you) – African
7W - Financial implications include only the parties involved and do not necessarily extend to anyone else - Westerner

8A - Africans readily share space and things but are possessive of knowledge - African
8W - Westerners readily share knowledge but are possessive of space and things - Westerner

9A - The person requesting a thing or money from a friend or relative has an important role in determining whether or not his or her need is greater than that of the potential donor, and consequently, of whether or not the potential donor should donate – African
9W - Westerners do not assume their wealthy friends have access to finances since most money will be tied up in investments, business capital, or used to pay off monthly bills.  Since money may be designated for other purposes, being wealthy does not mean money is available for loans to friends.

10A - A person to whom money is entrusted has a major say in how that money will be used - African
10W - A person to whom money is entrusted must use the money as outlined by the donor/lender - Westerner

11A - People who have many possessions or a surplus of money are judged to be selfish and insensible to the needs of others - African
11W - People who have many possessions are judged to be successful in their endeavors without connecting it to relationships or the needs of others - Westerner

12A - Precision is to be avoided in accounting as it shows the lack of a generous spirit - African
12W - Precision in accounting is a sign of transparency, accountability, and honesty - Westerner

13A - Budgeting, in a formal sense, is not an accepted way of handling personal finances - African
13W - Budgeting, in a formal sense, is considered a foundational step in personal finances and future wealth - Westerner

14A - Africans do not budget for special events; rather they spend as much money and other resources as they can marshal for each one - African
14W - Westerners value the ability to budget for special events and to accomplish it without going into debt - Westerner

15A - Living beyond one's means and income is accepted as normal and is almost universally practiced – African
15W - Living beyond one's means is considered unwise though it may be a practiced by some in all levels of society - Westerner

16A - When someone goes on an errand to make a purchase for another, if he is given a bill or coin that is greater than the amount of the purchase, the person running the errand will normally keep the change unless asked for it – African
16W - A westerner expects a person making a purchase for him to return automatically any change because it still belongs to him unless he expressly says, "keep the change".

17A - Africans often purchase products in small amounts even though the unit cost is much higher than for purchases in larger quantities.
17W - Westerners will purchase larger quantities in order to save on the cost per unit.

18A - A network of friends is a network of resources – African
18W - A network of friends that includes material considerations is suspect - Westerner

19A - Visiting is concentrated on friends and acquaintances that are actively part of a person's economic network – African
19W - Visiting is concentrated on friends and family and does not necessarily include financial considerations - Westerner

20A - Most networking is done vertically or "up" and seldom "down" socially or economically – African
20W - Most networking is done horizontally with those who share a common interest in work, religion, sports, or other social activities - Westerner

21A - African are more hospitable than charitable – African
21W - Westerners are more charitable than hospitable - Westerner

22A - Requests are made indirectly in the form of compliments or hints of a personal need – African
22W - Requests are made directly accompanied with an explanation of the need - Westerner

23A - Africans find security in ambiguous (vague, unclear, indefinite) arrangements, plans, and speech.
23W - Westerners find security in clearly defined relationships, arrangements, plans, and speech.

24A - Africans show solidarity with friends at funerals, naming ceremonies, circumcision, feast days, and weddings through attendance and contributing financially.
24W - Westerners show solidarity with friends at funerals, weddings, and feast days through attendance and giving gifts (money is considered non-personal and not as valued as gifts).

25A - In rural communities, and less so in urban neighborhoods, people are afraid to accumulate more goods or property than their neighbors and kin for fear of creating jealously which may lead to reprisals being carried out against them on an occult level – African
25W - People in rural and urban areas may work to accumulate more goods or property without fear of creating jealousy and reprisals from their neighbors or kin - Westerner

26A - Money "corrupted" or misused is not expected to be paid back; accountability is not enforced; restitution is not practiced - African
26W - Money "corrupted" or misused is expected to be paid back; accountability is enforced; restitution is practiced - Westerner

27A - A major function of the government is to provide money and other resources to those members of society who are in power or have a close relationship to those who are in power – African
27W - A major function of the government is to provide money and other resources to those members of society who are underprivileged, handicapped, or unable to support themselves.  Politicians who enrich themselves and their friends from government resources are punished by law - Westerner

28A - Giving preference to the employment of kin over non-kin is a normal expression of family responsibility and solidarity – African
28W - Giving preference to the employment of kin over non-kin is nepotism and is considered a criminal offense - Westerner

29A - An unjust settlement (non-objective facts) of a dispute is better than an offended complainant (subjective feelings) – African
29W - A just settlement (objective facts) of a dispute is best even if it offends (subjective feelings) the complainant - Westerner

30A - Those with perceived financial resources are assigned positions in society as that of givers and or loaners – African
30W - Those with perceived financial resources are not obligated to give or loan money since such resources are obtained through banks and other lending agencies.  However those with great financial means often become philanthropists donating to worthy causes in the community, but this is done on their own accord and not by pressure from others - Westerners

31A - People typically receive satisfaction from being asked for financial help, whether or not they can provide it – African
31W - People typically feel pressured and uncomfortable when asked for financial help, whether or not they can provide it - Westerner

32A - The reputation of people with means is enhanced through the frequent visits of their clients – Africans
32W - Westerners tend to be frustrated and inconvenienced by frequent visitors seeking assistance or who are uninvited or unplanned - even if no request is made.

33A - Leaders in society (political, religious, and business) are expected to have a small group of followers, who distribute resources and in other ways provide for their followers whenever they have needs.  It is most ideal when these leaders have commanding personalities – African
33W - Leaders in society are most appreciated when they provide for the general community and avoid distributing to a small group of followers.  It is most ideal when these leaders have commanding personalities - Westerner

34A - A person with financial means is expected to pay a higher price or make a larger donation to individuals or society than the poor person - African
34W - A person with financial means is expected to pay the same price for goods but may feel greater pressure to make larger donations to society (not individuals) - Westerner

35A - Success in life is attained through personal relationships, through connections with people in positions of power and authority, and through spiritual means – African
35W - Success in life is attained through the accumulation of wealth, positions of authority and power through ability, hard work, education, and delayed gratification within a system of a just society - Westerner

36A - When there is a need for money or some good, the normal and acceptable way to get it is to ask for it from a relative, friend, or acquaintance that has it – African
36W - When there is a need for money or some good, the normal and acceptable way to get it is to borrow from a bank or credit company and avoid asking relatives, friends, or acquaintances since this is considered impolite and
an imposition - Westerner

37A - Old debts are forgotten and are not expected to be repaid neither by the debtor nor the lender – African
37W - Old debts are not forgotten and are expected to be repaid no matter how long it takes - Westerner

38A - There is a strong sense in which people want to be owed money by their friends – African
38W - There is strong sense in which people do not want to be owed money by their friends - Westerner

39A - There is a strong sense in which people want to be without money so that they can more easily refuse a request for a loan – African
39W - There is a strong sense in which people want to have money in their pocket at all times and can still easily refuse a loan - Westerner

40A - The value of a development project is not measured by its long-term success or sustainability – African
40W - The value of a development project is measured by it long-term success and sustainability.  If a development project does not show sustainability and possibility of long-term success, westerners will pull out of the project - Westerner

41A - A loan is eligible to be repaid when the creditor's need becomes greater than the debtor's need – African
41W - A loan is always eligible to be repaid and does not concern the circumstances of the creditor - Westerner

42A - The repayment of loans may subjectively change due to changing economic, social, and time factors – African
42W - The repayment of loans is due objectively on the terms agreed upon which the loan was made - Westerner

43A - The responsibility of repayment of debts is primarily the creditor's to collect and not the borrower's to volunteer payment – African
43W - The responsibility of repayment of debts is primarily the debtor's to voluntarily pay without reminding them and not the creditor's to collect - Westerner

44A - Many people live with outstanding debts that they never expect to pay – African
44W - Many people live with outstanding debts that they are expected to pay - Westerner

45A - The risk of a loan not being paid back is largely assumed by the lender – African
45W - The risk of a loan not being paid back is largely assumed by the borrower - Westerner

46A - The use of the word "loan" when requesting money from someone is often a euphemism (substitute word) for "gift" – African
46W - The word loan means "loan" and the word gift means "gift" - Westerner

47A - The word "no" to a request for money, a loan, or a material object, is understood as an insult, indifference to a need, a lack of respect, or a sign of rejection of the petitioner – African
47W - The word "no" to a request for money, a loan, or a material object, is understood to reflect the lender's ability or willingness to help without reflection (insult, indifference, lack of respect or rejection) upon the petitioner - Westerner

48A - The relationship between seller and buyer may well affect the price asked and the price paid for goods or a service – African
48W - No relationship is expected between the seller and buyer.  The buyer will seek the best price and buy from that seller - Westerner

49A - Bargaining for a better deal in any transaction involves important social as well as economic factors – African
49W - Bargaining for a better deal is tiresome and seen as a way of gouging the unknowing buyer - Westerner

50A - Employers are expected to provide advances to employees in certain family situations and for certain holidays – African
50W - Employers are not expected to provide advances for any personal needs - Westerner

51A - Any financial matter is subject to re-negotiation until final payment is made – African
51W - Any financial matter once a price is agreed upon remains intact through the final payment.  Changes in price are the basis for court cases -Westerner

52A - A request for money from a government functionary or other provider of services may be a request for a "pretip" rather than a bribe - African
52W - A request for money from a government functionary or other provider of services before any work is done is considered a bribe.  Incentives or thanks should not need to be given since they are merely fulfilling their
appointed functions - Westerner

53A - Many people will choose a sure and immediate benefit over a potentially larger long- term benefit – African
53W - Many people will refuse a sure and immediate benefit in order to gain a potentially larger long-term benefit - Westerner

54A - People tend to accept immediate, cheap, or even quasi-legal solutions when dealing with business matters or land acquisitions, rather than take care of matters properly, deal with technicalities or delays, or incur additional expenses – African
54W - People prefer to take care of matters properly, deal with technicalities or delays, or incur additional expense so that future problems do not arise - Westerner

55A - When an occasion provides the opportunity to make a large profit, it is typically seized upon.  There is little concept of a reasonable, or just, or ethical price, or of price-gouging; rather, the accepted practice is to charge whatever the buyer is willing to pay – African
55W - People tend to consider and offer what is a reasonable, or just, or ethical price and to avoid price-gouging or large profits in favor of establishing buyer loyalty for repeated future or long-term business - Westerner

56A - Inaction or delay in carrying out a matter may constitute a well-considered, unverbalized message, and not just be the result of mere inaction, inertia, or delay caused by unforeseen events (even if the person claims this) – African
56W - Inaction or delay in carrying out a matter is seen as laziness, no concern for the job at hand or for the relationship, and will most likely cause the westerner to seek different partners in future transactions - Westerner

57A - When money is exchanged in a business transaction, there is very limited recourse when problems arise such as - mistakes, damaged merchandise, breakdown, or not meeting contractual stipulations- African
57W - Even after money is exchanged, westerners expect the seller to be responsible for mistakes, damaged merchandise, breakdown or not meeting contractual stipulations.  This is considered the mark of a good businessman.  By correcting the problem, the businessman will gain the customer's future business - Westerner

58A - When a problem is encountered in trying to complete or carry through with a transaction involving finances or other matters, the problem will seldom be clearly admitted at the outset, but will typically only be revealed over a period of time – African
58W - Admitting a problem immediately and explaining what steps are honestly being taken to correct the situation will ensure the customer that the business is worth future work.  Lying about the situation will chase the customer away - Westerner

59A - When a customer is told that an ordered article or service or payment will be ready on a specified time or date, it is unlikely to be ready at that time – African
59W - When a customer is told that an ordered article or service or payment will be ready on a specified time or date, it is best to have it ready at that time or even before in order to ensure customer satisfaction and future business - Westerner

60A - The amount shown on a receipt may or may not correspond with the amount paid for goods or services – African
60W - The amount shown on a receipt corresponds with the amount paid for goods or services and is considered by law as a legal voucher with punishment served for false receipts - Westerner

61A - Having the correct amount of money for a business transaction is the responsibility of the buyer; it is not the seller's responsibility to provide change – African
61W - Having the correct amount of money for a business transaction is the responsibility of the seller who will gladly provide change as a way of attracting customers - Westerner

62A - Giving a large tip to one person and expecting him to divide it among others is unfair and unsatisfactory – African
62W - Giving a large sum to one person and expecting him to divide it among others is sometimes the only way a tip can be given.  It is considered better to give one large sum than nothing at all - Westerners

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Last Thoughts Before We Board the Airplane

It has been so nice having Katherine blogging on this trip as well.  I have been so busy running around all day that I haven't had a whole lot of time to blog, so it is such a relief to know that Katherine has been keeping our friends and family informed about what is going on.  If you haven't been following her blog, I encourage you to take a look at it.


She is a much better blogger than I am anyway, and I'm glad that you have gotten to see her perspective of the trip.

I want to make sure you know that even though I haven't been writing a lot, I have been trying to tell the story of our trip with pictures and captions.  I have been posting the pictures to facebook, but I just now made the album public.  So, when you get the chance, go take a look at our Kenya pictures at:


We are in Nairobi right now, staying with Larry and Hollye Conway, our missionary friends here.  Katherine and Hollye ran off to shop for gifts at the Masai market, and then we are going to be leaving for the airport in a couple of hours.  So, I don't have a lot of time to write just now, but I will try to briefly recap some recent highlights of the past couple of weeks.

* We finished rebuilding the Home of Kenneth Oala and his wife Nancy and we had chai with them in their home.  They are the couple who lost their house and their daughter in the fire last Sunday.  I have lots of pictures of building a house in rural Kenya, and it's really pretty interesting.  Go take a look.  The house will not really be finished until they plaster the walls with a mixture of mud and manure, but we have to let the mud walls dry for two weeks before that work can begin.

* We distributed another 112 Luo bibles at church on Sunday.  It is hard to describe how grateful this community has been to receive the Bibles.  After we started our Bible distribution a couple of weeks ago, I started noticing as I walked around the community and prayed with people in their homes that they would often have their new Luo bible proudly displayed on the coffee table.  Many of the older widows in this community speak nothing but Luo, and they are so happy to finally have access to the scriptures.  Many others in the community speak some English, but they say that it is so much more effective to be able to read the scriptures in their "heart language."  It cost about $3000 to purchase these 316 bibles in bulk through the Kenya Bible Society.  We went ahead and funded this out of our own pocket, but if you are interested in helping out with this work, Katherine and I would be very grateful for some assistance.  We have received about $200 for this purpose already from people who have been following us.

You can contribute to Huruma House through PayPal at:

You can also mail a check to Huruma House, 4010 Cougar Way, Abilene, TX, 79606
Or if you worship at Willis you can give a check to Scott Darrow when you see him.

* Sunday was my last day to preach at Marera Church of Christ before we left.  The place was packed and a lot of people had to sit outside.  One of the church leaders here asked at the beginning of the service if anyone was interested in being baptized today, and four people came forward.  I haven't been preaching any sermons about baptism (my primary focus here has been to help the existing Christians in this community to grow deeper in their faith), so I was a little bit surprised at the response.  After they came forward, I spoke for a few minutes about what baptism was all about and about its significance in our journey of faith.  Then another 6 people came forward to make their confessions as well.  So we all walked down to the river, and Daniel Owino (a local church leader) and I waded out to a deep place, and we baptized 13 people.  It turns out that 3 additional people also decided to be baptized once we got started.  Kenneth Oala, the man whose house we rebuilt after the fire, was among those who were baptized.

* Over the past week, I started having some meetings with some people that I have identified as leaders in the community of Marera.  We put together a group of 18 people, most of them widow ladies, and we created a new community-based organization called "Hope for Marera."  I am really excited about the opportunity to work with this group in the future, and I am so glad that I know and trust the members and the officers of the group.  We decided to spend a couple of years just implementing some income-generating projects to earn income for the CBO.  Then once the CBO has some significant income, we plan to start a nursery school for some of the neediest orphan children in the community where they can be fed and educated.  The 18 members of the CBO are going to do some cost-benefit analyses of various income-generating project ideas, and then Huruma House is going to fund the best of these projects as money for Marera becomes available through donations.  Katherine and I are going to start funding the projects ourselves until we are confident that the CBO members will work well together.  Then once we are satisfied with their performance, I hope to be able to open these projects up to other interested donors as well.

I have so much more I want to tell you, but if Katherine gets home and finds the kids still dirty and the suitcases unpacked, I don't think "but I just HAD to blog" is going to get me off the hook for making us miss our flight.

We land at DFW airport at 9:45am on Wednesday, and Marty and Marilyn Turentine have offered to come pick us up at the airport in Vernon Williams' suburban.  We love you and miss you, and we will see you very soon on the other side of the ocean.

Lord, You are the good shepherd.  I surrender to You my fears about the church and the community I am leaving behind, and I trust that they are safe under Your watchful guidance.  Amen.

Monday, June 18, 2012


This morning I was scheduled to preach at Mogesa Church of Christ in Kisii.  Mogesa is not the church we have been working with here (in fact, it is in a completely different city), but it is the home congregation of Simeon Ongiri, the director of Sam's Place.  It was important to Simeon that my family pay a visit to Mogesa, so I told him that we would spend one of our Sundays there.

We arrived at Sam's Place early this morning so that we would have time to worship with the deaf orphans at Sam's Place before Simeon drove our family to Kisii in his car.  However, as soon as our taxi pulled up to the gate of Sam's Place, we learned that all was not well in the community.  

Our friends Kennedy and Eric, two brothers we have been spending a lot of time with, quickly informed us that there had been a tragedy in the community just this morning.  In fact, Eric was still muddy and dirty, having just arrived from the scene of the accident.

As I have been visiting different homes in Marera and praying with the people in their homes, I have found a disturbing trend.  Well over half of the houses in this community are the homes of elderly widow women raising their orphaned grandchildren.  Very rarely do I find a home with young mother and young father who are raising their children together.  But it was one of these rare two-parent homes that was grieving today.

This young man and young woman were raising three young girls.  The oldest daughter was a bit younger than Kerith, maybe 4 years old.  The second daughter was a bit younger than Anna, about 2 or 3.  And they also had a newborn baby girl, only one month old.

Sunday is market day in Rongo, so it is typical for the parents to get up early and take their goods to the open-air market to sell.  They leave the children (even very young children) home alone to fend for themselves until the parents return.  We have told our Kenyan friends that if a parent did this in America they would go to jail, but in Kenya this very common and it is actually the mark of a loving parent who is trying to keep the children clothed and fed.

So, this particular young couple were both out of the house this morning when a kerosene lamp caught the house on fire.  The roof of the home was made of thatch and the fire spread very rapidly.  The neighbors (including Eric) tried their best to put out the fire, but in the end they were unable to save the house from total loss. 

As Kennedy and Eric were telling us this news, we could still see the smoke rising up out of the forest only about a mile beyond the wall of Sam's Place.  It was coming from the direction of a group of homes I had just visited a few days before.  I left Katherine and the girls to worship at Sam's Place and I set out on foot with my friends to see if there was anything I could still do for this young family.

We walked quickly toward the rising smoke, and we were joined by a few more of Kennedy and Eric's brothers as we walked.  I was happy to see Bernard join us.  Bernard is the young Kenyan man that I am training to be a photographer, and I was relieved to be able to pass my camera off to him.  I have found that photography and ministry don't mix.  You can approach a situation as either a minister or a journalist, but attempting both at the same time is just awkward and disrespectful.  And I am so grateful to be able to hand off my camera to Bernard each day so that I can fully focus on the people in front of me.

After fording a small stream and scrambling through some brush, we finally approached the scene of the fire.  The little thatch house was still smoldering and the area was thick with smoke.  A group of about twenty neighbors and relatives was standing around the remains of the house when we approached.  I scanned the crowd to see if I could figure out which were the parents, but this was pointless.  The mother was the one who was on the ground wailing at the top of her lungs.  

Loud wailing is a very common way to grieve here.  I have been told that the entire community knows if someone dies during the night because the wailing of the family fills the forest for miles.  At first it seems like a shocking response to loss, but maybe it's more shocking that our culture expects grieving mothers to show so much restraint and self-control. 

After finding the mother the I glanced around for the children.  The two older children had escaped the fire uninjured, and they were clinging to their wailing mother.  The young father also stood near them, shocked and stoic.

Apart from the family, on the ground close to the smoldering house, there were a pair of blankets with a lump between them. Upon seeing the missionary arrive a couple of the people in the crowd carefully pulled back the top blanket that was serving as a shroud.  Several others ushered me toward the body of the little baby girl who did not escape the fire.

Kennedy had told me on the way that the baby did not survive, but I was completely unprepared for what I saw.  I think I had expected to see a beautiful baby girl who had perhaps died of asphyxiation from the smoke.  Instead I found a completely charred and blackened body.  Her limbs were frozen in a position of agony.  Her mouth was open in a loud cry, but it was only filled with ashes.

I'm not sure what they were expecting me to do as they directed me toward the body.  Catholic priests are trained in administering the rite of extreme unction, but that is something that Church of Christ boys are not really prepared for.  I guess they figured that the white missionary would know what to do in such a situation, but I didn't.  I just knelt down beside the body of little girl and placed my hand on her torso of charcoal, and I cried on the baby.  Rest in peace, and rise in glory little girl.  Rest in peace, and rise in glory.

By this time quite a crowd had gathered around to watch the mzungu missionary crying on the dead child and praying in English, so I figured I should probably stand up and address them properly.  I tapped Kennedy to interpret into Luo for me, but he had to punt to one of his brothers.  I don't remember now exactly what I said to them, but I do remember that I reminded them that God is always good all the time, that in times of loss the Father of Lies points an accusing finger at the Creator of Life and says "Look what your God has done!", that our response is to turn our faces from the liar and to bury our faces in our loving God because He is good and beautiful.

After this I felt like I needed to pray over the grieving mother and father.  If I had been expected to formulate a beautifully worded prayer, I don't think I would have been able to anyway.  So, I just prayed what I would pray if no one was listening, repeating a prayer for peace and healing and comfort over and over again.

As we headed back to Sam's Place, Kennedy told me that in the Luo culture a person whose house burns down is considered to be cursed, and no one will take the cursed family into their home for fear that they will lose their own home as well.  So, when a family loses a home they just have to build a lean-to next to a nearby tree until they get their home rebuilt.

These are good, hospitable Christian people we are working with, and it just baffles me that this old superstition would so powerfully trump the very plain teachings of Jesus about hospitality.  I don't know what kind of long-term effect my family can have on ditching the old Luo superstitions, but we are going to do what we can to take care of this grieving family right now.  There is a little house we paid to have built near Sam's Place last year, so we have invited the family to come and live in that house for a few days until they can get their original house rebuilt.  

We are meeting with some of the church leaders tomorrow to make long-term plans for the future, and one of the things we will talk about is making sure that this grieving family has a place to live before our family leaves Kenya.  Fortunately, in Kenya it only takes about $500 and a couple of days to build a house if the labor is provided for free, so we might be spending a good part of this week working alongside our Kenyan brothers and sisters to rebuild a home for this family.

I have found that I am grateful for my little Bethany quite a bit more today than I was yesterday.  Her body is about the same size as that hard little charred body I touched today, and I am so thankful to see her little legs kicking and her eyes smiling.  Maybe we should all stop what we are doing right now and go hug our kids.

Lord, we confess that we are totally incompetent to minster to this community by our own power, so use us as instruments of Your peace.  Amen.

P.S.  I want you to know that the $500 to build the house isn't going to break us, but if any of you would like to pitch in for this expense we would be very grateful for any help we can get.  You can donate to Huruma House using PayPal at the link below.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Baptism by Fire

On Saturday, several of the leaders of the Marera Church of Christ came to visit us at our guest house to plan Sunday's worship service.  They kind of trickled in because some of them had to walk over five miles to come to the meeting.  

Not knowing the cultural protocols is very uncomfortable, particularly in church meetings.  I don't know who is supposed to speak first or who is expected to lead the meeting.  I don't know how much time I'm supposed to spend asking about people's families before we get down to business, and I don't know whether I'm supposed to interrupt the meeting to greet people who come in late.  

Most importantly, I don't know how to end the meeting.  When a dozen Kenyan men and women are sitting silently, staring at me, and I have already made as many closing statements as I can think to make, how do I signal that it is time to leave?  Am I supposed to stand up?  Do I lead a closing prayer?  Maybe there is some secret phrase or hand sign I'm supposed to make.

I have decided that a confession of ignorance is usually the best policy.  So I ended up just saying, "I believe we will continue the meeting until 11:00pm because I confess that I do not know how to end a meeting in Kenya."  They all laughed at me, and my friend Bernard helped me save face by drawing the meeting to a graceful conclusion.  

It has been so nice in past years that my friend, Stephen Greek, has been the one to speak for the team.  As a long-time missionary in Kenya, he always knows just what to do, but since he and Claudia do not arrive until June 4, I'm just having to wing it for a while.  We call it "baptism by fire", and all of our team members have been experiencing that in some way or another.  

These church leaders walked so far to have this meeting to "plan" the worship service together with us, but we quickly saw that they already had the order of worship nicely printed out before they even arrived.  And of course, all of our team members had been given significant roles in the service.  Katherine and Alice were supposed to teach a ladies class together.  I was supposed to preach the sermon and teach two different classes.  And Lauren was supposed to teach two children's classes.  We had a good 12 hours advance notice for all of this before show-time on Sunday morning.  Baptism-by-fire.

All of us felt a bit overwhelmed, but Alice and I had kind of been expecting something like that.  If you go to Kenya on a mission trip, it doesn't matter who you are or what you think your role on the trip is, you had better have a Bible lesson up your sleeve because you will definitely be asked to teach something or other.

The schedule said that the worship started at 9:00am, and the church leaders recommended that we get there a bit early so that we could pray together before the service.  So, on Sunday morning we all scarfed down our breakfast and ran around frantically to get our kids in the taxi and get to the church before 9:00.  But when we finally got there 10 minutes late, we noticed that we were the first ones there.  I ran over to the home of one of the church leaders only to find that they were still eating breakfast and getting dressed.
I've been to Kenya a couple of times before and it has always been this way, so I should have known to be prepared for "Africa time", but they just sounded so sincere when they had said 9:00 that I thought just maybe it was different in this part of Kenya.  Nope.

Once church finally got started around 9:45 we got a few more surprises.  The program said that we were supposed to sing a bit and then have 45 minutes of Bible class, so I was all prepared to get up there and teach my Bible lesson when all of a sudden another man was invited to the front to preach an hour-long sermon about giving before the collection was taken.  When he sat down, another man got up to preach another hour-long sermon in preparation for communion.  The adults never had Bible class at all, but poor Lauren ended up being stuck with all the kids for two hours worth of children's Bible class.  

When I was finally invited forward to speak I didn't know whether I was supposed to teach my Bible lesson or preach my sermon.  Fortunately, all the children started dragging their little wooden benches back into the church building (leaving Lauren an exhausted heap on the grass outside), so that was a pretty good indication that it was sermon time.  

By the time I started the sermon, attendance was up to about 60 (they kind of trickle in because many of them travel long distances to come to church).  On the whole, I thought the sermon went fairly well.  Preaching in Kenya with an interpreter is so much easier than preaching in America.  For one, I must speak slowly to be understood by the English-speaking listeners.  And secondly, I have to wait for each sentence to be interpreted before proceeding.  All of this really slows down the pace of the sermon delivery, forces me to be efficient with my words, and gives me plenty of time to think about what I'm going to say next.  It's wonderful.  What would otherwise be a rambling mess of a sermon can turn out to be pretty good just because I have to wait for the translator.  In America, I usually feel the need to write out my sermons first in order to keep me focused and concise.  In Kenya, I can just speak whatever is on my heart.  

It also helps that Kenyan church-goers aren't looking at their watches.  Most of them don't even own watches.  There isn't really a scheduled ending time for the service,  so there isn't any artificial time constraint on sermon length.  The preacher just goes on until he is finished conveying the message he has been given. 

Once the sermon was over we had about 15 people come forward for the invitation, so we got to pray over each of them individually about their various needs.  Most of them wanted prayers that they would grow closer to God, some wanted prayers for healing, and some wanted to be better mothers of their children.  It was very interesting that of all the people who came forward, only one was male.
Once our worship service was over we resuscitated Lauren (still pooped after her marathon Bible class), and then the whole congregation had lunch together.  After lunch, we divided into our separate Bible classes.  I taught the men, Katherine and Alice teamed up to teach the women, and Lauren got one more round of the kids.  I was kind of concerned about how Lauren was going to hold up to all of that, but after class was over she was cheery and positive.  So, I guess she must have gotten a divine second-wind.  It was her baptism-by-fire.

We finally got home about 5:00pm, tired and very wet (because it has rained every afternoon we have been here).  Kerith, Anna, and Bethany held up to it all very well.  I have been so proud of my girls.  Kerith particularly, is being quite a social butterfly.  Anna found a friend today, too, a little Kenyan girl her own age.  Unfortunately, their budding friendship had to come to an untimely end when they decided that it was fun to lick each other's tongues.  Anna's mama freaked out so much about that, that I'm pretty sure Anna isn't going to try that again.

On the whole it was a really good Sunday.  Katherine and I both felt like good things happened at church today, in the main assembly and in our classes.  These people are hungry to hear the word of God.  Most of them are already baptized believers, but they really desire to go deeper.  And we are very excited about the transformation that can come to this entire community when Christ's life-transforming power takes a hold of this little congregation.

Lord, we confess that we are incompetent ministers in Your Kingdom.  Hide us behind Your cross so that those we minster to see only You.  Amen.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Finding our purpose in Marera

This is my third trip to Kenya. When I visited in 2009 and 2010 I had a very clear idea of exactly what I would be doing here long before I arrived. During those years I had a mission but no calling. I went from place to place and did the things I was supposed to do and experienced as much of Kenya as I could experience, but I did not feel called to the people.

 This year is different. This year I feel a very strong calling to the people of the little community of Marera. I feel called to pray with them and to help them grow in their faith. I feel called to bless their homes and bless their children and bless their relationships. And I am convinced that my beautiful family can be a light in this community. Kerith has so much love to share with these children. (Yesterday she spent an hour standing at the fence of our guest house and talking to dozens of Kenyan children who gathered around to see her. She kept running into the house, excited to tell us what all they had been talking about, and then she would run back outside again.) Katherine, also, has so much to share with the ladies here. This society is so male-dominated, and I'm so excited about Katherine being able to minister to these women, to share her deep faith with them and to talk with them about her passions.

So, this year I felt a strong calling to the people, but we had no actual plan or mission. In fact, in the period leading up to our departure, Katherine and I laughed about being unable to answer the frequently asked question "So, what are you going to do in Kenya?" Because we didn't actually know for sure what we were going to be doing. We only knew that we were going to minister in some way to the community of Marera.

As soon as we arrived in Rongo, we sat down with some of the leaders of the small Kenyan church we are visiting, Marera Church of Christ. We had some very long conversations with them to discuss the spiritual needs of the community, and then the church leaders took the initiative to make out an itinerary for my family for the rest of our stay. They were very considerate of the needs of my family and our small children and they have wisely left us a lot of free time in our schedule. And I am so happy that we did not have to make out the schedule ourselves, because we would have been unable to know what would best meet the needs of the community.

Most of our time will be spent walking around the area surrounding Sam's Place and visiting with and praying with the people of the community. On different days we will have various members of the church with us to translate for us. Many of the people here can speak English, but the ones who have never finished school can only speak Luo, their tribal language. They have also planned for us to host a three-day gospel seminar at the church here. I will preach the general sessions, and then we will break into smaller classes. Lauren is planning to teach the children, Katherine will teach the ladies, and I will teach the men. The theme of the seminar will be "Living a life of worship". We will learn about practicing the presence of God throughout the day so that every moment of every day becomes an act of worship.

It is also very exciting that we are going to have a "widow's day" led by Alice Caughfield. As a widow herself, Alice is particularly passionate about ministering to widows. So, the entire day of May 31 will be devoted to ministering to widows in their grief and helping them to learn to live again.

So, in case you are interested in what we will be doing each day, here is our full itinerary (in my own words). Of course, this is Africa, so everything is subject to change at any time. But as of today, this is what we plan to be up to...

May 17, 2012 Fly out of Dallas
May 18, 2012 Land in Nairobi
May 19, 2012 Visiting the animal orphanage and the giraffe center
May 20, 2012 Worshipping at Eastleigh with the Conways
May 21, 2012 Traveling to Rongo
May 22, 2012 Meeting with Marera church leaders
May 23, 2012 Purchasing maize, rice and beans in bulk at the Rongo market
May 24, 2012 Discussion of the gospel program, meeting the area sub-chiefs
May 25, 2012 Visiting Nakumatt supermarket in Kisii
May 26, 2012 Preparing for Sunday's worship service
May 27, 2012 Jeff preaches at Marera Church of Christ
May 28, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
May 29, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
May 30, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
May 31, 2012 Widow’s day (led by Alice Caughfield)
Jun 1, 2012 Possibly tour Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria?
Jun 2, 2012 Meeting the orphans of Marera
Jun 3, 2012 Jeff preaches at Marera Church of Christ
Jun 4, 2012 Arrival of our teammates, the Greeks and the Clares
Jun 5, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
Jun 6, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
Jun 7, 2012 Gospel seminar at Marera Church of Christ (classes taught by us)
Jun 8, 2012 Gospel seminar at Marera Church of Christ (classes taught by us)
Jun 9, 2012 Gospel seminar at Marera Church of Christ (classes taught by us)
Jun 10, 2012 Jeff preaches at Marera Church of Christ
Jun 11, 2012 Safari at Masai Mara (unless we decide to skip it)
Jun 12, 2012 Safari at Masai Mara (unless we decide to skip it)
Jun 13, 2012 Safari at Masai Mara (unless we decide to skip it)
Jun 14, 2012 Unscheduled
Jun 15, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
Jun 16, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
Jun 17, 2012 Jeff preaches at Mogesa Church of Christ in Kisii
Jun 18, 2012 Leader's discussion (Strategic plan for the community)
Jun 19, 2012 Special prayer service for the needy at Marera C of C
Jun 20, 2012 Special prayer service for the needy at Marera C of C
Jun 21, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
Jun 22, 2012 Visiting and praying door-to-door
Jun 23, 2012 Preparing for Sunday's worship service
Jun 24, 2012 Jeff preaches at Marera Church of Christ
Jun 25, 2012 Preparation for our departure
Jun 26, 2012 Travel back to Nairobi airport
Jun 27, 2012 Land in Dallas

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our first week in Kenya

Our family left for Kenya a week ago, and I still haven't written more than a few words to our friends and family back home.  I have been wanting to write, but we've just always been on the move since we first arrived, and we haven't really been able to catch our breaths long enough to sit down and write more than a few words.

Unfortunately, waiting a long time to write brings problems of its own, like feeling overwhelmed by the burden of summarizing the first week of the trip before relating any new adventures.  So, I hope it's okay if I punt here and just give a whirlwind summary of everything that has happened so far.  Ready?  Here goes...

* We arrived at DFW two hours before our flight left, which should have given us more than enough time to board the flight, but after waiting in long lines at check-in and security we just barely got into the boarding tunnel before they closed the gate.  

* Our two traveling companions, Alice Caughfield and her granddaughter, Lauren Harp, beat us to the airport by an hour, and as we walked into the plane we saw that they had been upgraded to luxurious business class seats.  I guess the early bird gets the worm.

* Hauling five heavy carry-ons, a five year-old, a three-year old, a two-month old, and two Britax Marathon carseats onto a fully-loaded plane wasn't particularly easy, but we did it (thanks to some very helpful Emirates airline staff).

* Emirates did an excellent job of entertaining our girls during the fifteen hour flight to Dubai, so it wasn't nearly as bad as we had anticipated.  I had to deftly vault over a couple of Indian guys every two hours to take Anna to the bathroom, but other than that, the flight was kind of fun. Bethany didn't even join the chorus of screaming children during takeoff and landing.

* It would have been nice to have had the opportunity to see more of the Dubai airport during our layover, but we were in such a rush to be the first ones on the plane this time, we just raced to our gate. Anna led the way through the crowded airport on her puppy-dog leash.

* The five hour flight to Nairobi was much easier than the first leg.  A lot of it had to do with the fact that we got to board first and get settled in and get our car seats installed before everyone else started boarding.

* All seven of us (the Wilhites, Alice, and Lauren) arrived safely at the Nairobi airport, but not all of our bags made it.  By far the most significant item we lost was Bethany's infant seat (which we had checked at the gate at DFW airport).  We still haven't received it.  Last we heard, it's somewhere in Detroit. 

* After spending an hour with the lost-luggage guy in the Nairobi airport, we finally got to leave the airport and step out into the city of Nairobi, Kenya.  There we scanned the line of 100 taxi and matatu drivers to find our very patient drivers, Barno and Peter (PEE-tuh) who had been waiting for us for almost an hour.

* Our very helpful drivers shoved our mountain of luggage into one of our rented matatus (11 passenger van), and we seven passengers rode comfortably in the other matatu.  Since Bethany's car seat had been lost, we had no other choice but to let Bethany ride through the crazy streets of Nairobi in Katherine's arms.  Fortunately, we all arrived safely at the guest house.

* Our missionary friends, Larry and Hollye Conway met us near the guest house and gave us all a warm welcome to Kenya (which was very much appreciated).  Hollye even offered Bethany her (25-year old) infant car seat to use until the airline found ours.

* We got our kids bathed and into their PeaPods as quickly as possible, and they were asleep within seconds.  Katherine and I hoped to follow them quickly since we had been awake over 24 hours, but then I heard it...a mosquito in our room.  Malaria is very rare in the city of Nairobi because of its altitude, but even so, we still couldn't really sleep peacefully without a mosquito net.  The guest house had provided the room with some kind of chemical mosquito repellant device, but because there isn't a big malaria risk in Nairobi, they didn't have a mosquito net hung.  So, Katherine and I had to get ingenious at 4am and build ourselves a little tent out of bed sheets and suitcases.  It kept the mosquitos out just fine, but it didn't really let the oxygen in very well. We made sure we bought a mosquito net for the next night.

* The next morning Hollye Conway picked us up early to take us to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage.  There we got to see a bunch of wild baby elephants standing on their heads, sliding down mud slides, and generally acting silly.  One elephant got a bit frisky with Anna and tried to shake her hand with his trunk, but all that came of that was a very muddy (but only slightly shaken) Anna.

* Hollye had packed a picnic lunch for us all to eat there at the animal orphanage.  Our main entertainment was  watching a dung beetle working diligently to role his ball of dung across the street.  He entertained us all for a long time until a passing Land Rover brought him and his dung ball to an untimely demise.  Rest in peace, little friend. 

* We visited another place in Nairobi where we could feed the giraffes.  This time it was Katherine who got frisky with the animals.  I didn't think anyone back home would believe me if I told them I caught my wife making out with a giraffe, so I got some video footage.

* Our first Sunday in Kenya we went to worship with Larry and Hollye Conway and all of their street friends who gathered at their Made In The Streets ministry in Eastleigh, a Nairobi slum.  Most churches have ushers; this church had bouncers.  And it was a little bit exciting watching Larry Conway carry a belligerent drunk guy out of the worship service.  Kerith, our social butterfly, really shined in children's church, and she instantly made about 27 new friends.

* Larry and Hollye treated us to Sunday lunch at Java House, about the only place in Kenya where you can get a salad, a hamburger, and a milkshake.  On the whole, the Conways did an amazing job of helping us gradually adjust to Kenyan culture before we headed out to Rongo (real Kenya) on Monday morning.

* On Monday morning our matatu driver performed a small miracle by fitting four adults, three car seats, and an enormous amount of luggage into only one matatu for the long-haul trip to Rongo.  This saved us a lot of money.  We had to stop for lots of potty breaks along the way, and we quickly realized that there is no spot in Kenya where no one is watching.  I took Kerith for a bathroom break in what I thought was a very secluded spot beside the road, and while we were in the middle of doing her business we looked up just in time to see a little naked Kenyan boy jump into the river.

* By the time we finally arrived in Rongo, the evening rains were starting, and we had to take shelter with some Catholic nuns until there was a enough of a break in the rain to carry our bags into our guest house.  These nuns in this very rural part of Kenya were hungry for anything we could tell them about life in America.  They thought it was especially funny to hear us speak "Texan".  Een oh-duh to be un-duh-stude een Afreeka, we moost speak vedy slowly, lee-meet our vo-cob-u-lah-ry, and use an Afreekan accent.  When we speak Texan, no one has a chance of understanding us.  Katherine is jumping right in to speaking Afreekan English but I snickered a bit today when she tried to say "y'all" in Afreekan accent.

* Our guest house here in Rongo is very rustic.  We are staying at Cardinal Otunga's Pastorale and Development Centre.  This is where the Sam's Place team usually stays when I come with that group, but there is a three-bedroom house in the back that we rented for our entire stay.  It has concrete floors and no hot water, but it is just right for our team of seven.  Lauren and Alice each have their own rooms, and our family of five are all sleeping together in the largest bedroom.  That leaves us with a sitting room that is perfect for debriefing and getting to know each other better at the end of the day.  We are very fortunate to be traveling with Alice and Lauren.  They complement our family well, and we are having lots of fun getting to know each other.

* Our friend, Kim Gress, from Abilene is currently working as an intern at Sam's Place. She has been there since March, and she was so excited to hear that we had arrived in Rongo that she took a piki-piki (motorcycle taxi) in the rain to come see us as soon as we arrived.  Kim is an amazing person, and she really seems comfortable living here in Kenya.  It has been so nice having her here in town with us to help show us the ropes.

* On our first full day in Rongo, we had plans to arrive at Sam's Place by 10:00am.  We thought we could just walk down to the end of the road and get a taxi to take us all to Sam's Place, but the taxi driver we found there tried to charge us four times the normal fare because we are wazungu (white people).  Fortunately, our friend Simeon at Sam's Place offered to come pick us up.  Later that day he put us in touch with Duncan, a taxi driver friend of his that will ferry us to Sam's Place and back anytime we call him.  Duncan gives us a reasonable fare, 400 shillings (about $5), to take all seven of us the two-mile drive to Sam's Place.  Of course, the girls have to ride in our laps (which we would never dream of doing in the US), but it is by far the best form of transportation we have here.

* We are quickly learning that everything in Kenya is about relationships.  To get anything done you really need to have a friend in the business, and Kenyans have lots and lots of friends.

The events of this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday directly relate to the main purpose of our trip, and I'm going to dedicate separate posts to those things, but I really felt like I needed to get all these travel-related events out of the way first.  Now that we are mostly settled in to our new home, we should be able to post more frequently.   Watch this space.

Lord, when we complain about muddy roads and muddy shoes, open our eyes to see the watered crops that feed the hungry children.  Give us divine strength to "in everything, give thanks".  Amen.