Monday, April 8, 2013

Sunday in Marera

This is another personal letter I wrote to my family after our Sunday at church in Marera.  It may not make a lot of sense to those who are not familiar with my family or our trip plans, but here it is anyway.

Dear family,

Sunday morning about 5:00am I got a phone call from Rose asking if we wanted breakfast.  Dad and I hadn't talked about breakfast, so I figured we would just eat granola bars or something.  So, when Dad and Cody Ben woke up in the morning and came knocking on my door asking what we were having for breakfast, my name was Mud.

Anyway, Moses said that church would begin at 9:00 sharp.  Of course, I knew that was a joke, but we wanted to get out to Marera early anyway so that we could check out the chicken project.  We walked down to the end of the road to catch a couple of piki-pikis (motorcycles) to take us out to Marera, but Dad said he needed to stretch his legs some after those long plane and matatu rides, so he suggested that we walk.  Fortunately, Moses saw us walking along the road and got off his piki-piki to join us on our walk, so we got some good talking in along the way. Dad had all sorts of questions for Moses about Kenyan construction techniques and the local flora and everything else, so it was a fun walk.

The walk turned out to be a bit farther than Dad had expected and it was a bit longer and muddier than I remembered from the past, but an hour later (at 9:10) we finally arrived.  Of course, we were the only ones there for a very long time, and we finally started church about 10:30. But that gave us a good chance to scope out the project site and make plans for what we are going to do this week.

The project site is a fairly large piece of land that was donated to the Hope for Marera CBO by Plister Anyango (Daniel and Bernard's mother).  This is the same widow lady that sold Sam's Place the land it is now built on. The CBO already has the plot fenced off, and they have another inner fence around the existing chicken house.  The plot of land also contains the old foundation of the church building that the Marera Church of Christ used to meet at until it was torn down.  So, now the church just meets underneath a nearby acacia tree.

When we finally started worship around 10:30, there were only about 10 people there, and more people kept trickling in until about noon.  We ended up with about 40 in attendance.  At 10:30, Daniel was reluctant to start the church service with only 10 people, so he suggested that we have a conversation about some topic first and he asked if anyone had any ideas for what we could talk about.  As no one else spoke up, I took advantage of the opportunity to get the congregation talking about the topic of my upcoming sermon.  So, I suggested we attempt to answer the question “Where is God when we are suffering?”  In Kenyan fashion, the men took turns standing up to make little mini-sermons about the topic.  None of us Wilhites had anything to add.  They wanted me to say something but I told them that I would give my answer as my sermon.

About 11:00 Daniel seemed to decide that a quorum was present, so we kicked off the worship service.  I was fortunate in that I had advance notice the previous day that I would be preaching the main service, but Bernard wasn't so lucky.  He got tapped to lead the contribution thought (which is a mini-sermon) and he didn't really know yet what he was going to say, so Bernard took a break from interpreting into Luo so that he could prepare his contribution talk while David Bungu delivered the communion mini-sermon.  Unfortunately, this led to a situation where none of the men at the service were willing or able to perform the interpretation into Luo.  (Of course, the Wilhites were the only non-Luo speakers present, but they wanted to hold the entire worship service in English for our benefit and then have it interpreted into Luo.)  Anyway, Bernard's new bride, Reggina ended up being the only one available who was willing to interpret into Luo.  But this caused a bit of a stir among some of the older members because not everyone thought it was okay to have a woman speaking in the service. This is a Church of Christ congregation.  So, Daniel asked for a quick show of hands to see who thought it was acceptable for Reggina to do the interpreting, and apparently the majority didn't have a problem with it.  (I raised my hand, too.)

This was an interesting little twist because I have been curious for a long time about what these Kenyans think about women's roles in the church, but I haven't ever asked about it.  It was also interesting to see how this little church without elders resolved the issue quickly.  After worship was over, this little widow woman named Conslata stood up before the congregation to thank me for sharing the message of the gospel.  She was genuinely grateful and spoke everything in love, but just before she sat down she said that she would be willing to teach me more fully about the doctrines of the Church and about women's roles in worship.

During the communion and contribution mini-sermons (before the main sermon), Dad and Cody Ben took all of the children who were there and had a little Children's Church with them.  Nancy Atieno (the lady who lost her baby in the house fire last summer) went with them to interpret and help out.  Apparently, she and her husband Ken Oala have been very active members of the church since last summer when the Marera congregation helped them rebuild their house after the fire.  The kids were a long way off, so I couldn't really tell what was going on, but Dad said later that he and Cody Ben told the stories of David and Goliath and also of Joseph's coat of many colors.  They also sang songs with the kids and tried to teach them to count to ten in English.  From where I was sitting with the adults, all I could see was Dad holding this little Kenyan toddler the whole time.  Dad was very impressed with how well-behaved and attentive the kids were.  I think they taught about 15-20 kids this morning.

Ten minutes after noon the kids came back for the main sermon.  I preached from II Corinthians 4 and from James 1 about how God makes beautiful things out of our suffering; Daniel interpreted into Luo.  Before the sermon I was asked to introduce myself and my family, so Dad and Cody Ben both had the chance to stand in front of the congregation and greet them.  They did wonderfully.  As Cody Ben was speaking I kept thinking that he was done, but then he always had something else to add.  I finally realized that he just wasn't really clear about how he was supposed to end his little speech or whether or not he had said enough yet.  He kind of gave me this look that said “So, am I done yet?”  And I told him he had done a great job (because he had) and that he could go sit down now.

After the sermon I offered an invitation as is customary, but no one came forward.  Then Daniel said some things in Luo and the entire congregation came forward.  This is not the first time this has happened to me.  I think Daniel must be be saying something like “Come on guys, the mzungu preacher came all the way from America to talk to us today.  You can at least come forward for the invitation so he doesn't feel like a total loser.”

We prayed for Rosebella's mentally ill daughter and we prayed over all those who had come forward, and then we had announcements (that seemed to be intentionally lengthened to stall while we waited for lunch to be prepared).  The biggest announcement was that all the members of the congregation are invited to come on Tuesday and help rebuild the church building so that we don't have to worship in the afternoon sun anymore.  The congregation has been trying for several months to raise money to rebuild their building.  Of course, the congregation is small and they are all very poor so this has been difficult.  However, they have managed to raise enough money already to purchase 15 iron sheets and a bunch of wooden poles.  This isn't quite enough, though.  They are still going to need another $1700 to finish up their little building.  This metal building is designed to serve a dual purpose.  In addition to having a main auditorium for worship, it will also have a small storage room to contain the supplies for the poultry project, and it will have a small office that the community-based organization can use to run their various agricultural projects.

Unfortunately, the CBO doesn't have enough cash on hand to complete the various projects we planned to do this week and also finish the church building.  So, Dad and I are going to see if any of our friends in America would be willing to chip in and help this congregation get themselves a building.

When lunch was finally ready, we ate together in the Magambo home.  They served us fried fish and beans and rice and ugali and sukuma wiki and oranges.  It seems they remembered from last year what my favorite dishes are.

After lunch we split up into men and women's classes.  We had about 10 men in our men's class, and it was life-giving as always.  I was supposed to be the teacher, but instead of picking a topic, I decided to just let them ask questions (because they seem to enjoy doing that best anyway).  Bernard asked about how he and his new wife can grow in their faith together and Erick asked about how a young, unmarried man can grow in his faith.  A young man named George that I have never met before asked about how he and his wife can stay committed to one another.  Ken Oala asked about his fear of talking openly about spiritual matters with groups of men. Bungu asked  what I thought about judging other people. They were all wonderful questions, and I almost felt like someone had tipped them off ahead of time and gave them a list of “things Jeff really likes to talk about.”  Dad contributed to the conversation, too, and it was really fun to have him in class with me.  I think it might have been a little bit over Cody's head, and he slept through a lot of it.

We started class at 4:00pm, and at 5:30 we were still going strong when the rains started.  At that point no one could hear each other above the roar of the rain on the tin roof, so we had to end class.  I passed out granola bars to everyone there, and then Dad and Cody Ben and I waited for the rain to subside a bit before we made a mad dash for Sam's Place.  We were hoping to see Simeon, but he wasn't expected to return from church in Kisii until 8:00, so the three of us headed down the muddy Sam's Place road in a light drizzle hoping to catch some piki-pikis when we got to the main road.  One of the neighbor boys (about 7th grade) decided to walk with us to the road, and Dad had a good time chatting with him in very simple English.  I hadn't thought about it before, but all of Dad's experience communicating with his Mexican construction workers has turned out to be very helpful.  He is very good at communicating in simple English, although it's kind of funny when he drops in an occasional Spanish word.

We hadn't walked too far along the main road when a piki-piki driver stopped to give us a lift.  I put Dad and Cody Ben on the first one and then I hopped on the next one to come by.  That was their first piki-piki ride since we have been here, and Cody said he would be okay if it was his last.  Dad said that tomorrow he and I can catch a piki-piki together and let Cody Ben walk the two miles by himself, but I think his mama might have my hide if we do that, so we'll stick together.

When we got back to the guest house I asked Rose about dinner and she told me that we hadn't told her that we wanted dinner.  Oops.  Katherine had always handled that part of the trip last year, so I just didn't think about it.  Anyway, my name was Mud again because we only got one meal today.  But we pigged out on cookies and granola bars, so I think we are okay.  Now I have let Rose know that we will take every breakfast and dinner here, so this shouldn't happen again.

Wow.  If you are still reading all this mind-numbing detail, you must love me a lot or be really bored.  It's 4:00am and I am wide awake, so I thought I should do something useful.


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