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.