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One Long Day of Kenyan Ministry

Note: This is a very long post but it takes this long to tell the story….

Going on a mission trip to Africa sounds exotic and exciting and I must assure you that it has been all that and more. However, it is worth noting that in the words of Chester Vaughn, “the best laid plans of mice and men eventually devolve into work.” I thought you might like to see how a day spent in ministry unfolds. Here is an account of Saturday, August 21.

Awaken to the alarm at 6 AM. When we are not travelling far out of town, we are awakened close to 7 AM by two Ibis birds that feed in our yard and visit the bird bath in our compound. They are loud and screechy birds with black bodies and long bills and shiny green feathers on their wings. You never sleep through their wakeup call.

We are fortunate that where we stay in Nairobi has a hot water heater for the shower. It is the only place we have hot water and it is warm, not hot. One of the challenges for this wasungu (white man) is to shave in cold water at the sink. We are very spoiled, I am afraid. After a quick shower, lest the hot/warm water run out, we are ready for the day.

We are renting a room in a private home for the nights we are in Nairobi. We spend most of our nights here and travel each day out to the villages because the water born diseases are so prevalent down country and because so many Americans are robbed and killed in the less secure areas down country. The offset of that is that there are many car jackings in Nairobi that target expats. The average African assumes that all white people are wealthy and thus, just being white makes us a target of carjackers and thieves. For each ministry event we do, we have to decide which is the lesser of two evils. Staying down country or travelling the roads. We have been prayerful and as safe as possible.

With our rented room comes Harrison, a great cook and house man. Each morning he feeds us homemade mueslix and fruit with coffee, tea, and juice. If we want, he will make eggs and toast. This day, it is mueslix, fruit, and coffee for me and Lori substitutes hot tea. Here in Kenya, if you order tea, it comes hot with milk already in it with sugar on the side. Harrison gives us a bag lunch of a ham sandwich with cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, and butter. I cannot get him to quit doing the butter thing. It is nasty and makes the sandwich soggy but it is the way it is done here. He is 45 years old, has two wives and ten children, and lives many kilometers away from his two families. It is a typical tribal African arrangement. He works in Nairobi and sends all his money home to his family. He lives in a small room in the main house.

We leave at 7:30 am enroute to Kaviani and the Springs of Faith Church. The event is scheduled to start at 10 and we are about 85 kilometers away, perhaps 50-60 miles. We stop by the Petrol Station to fill up and check the vehicle and the tires. With so many bandits on the road, you cannot afford to break down. We fill up the car, a 1994 Toyota Van with 4WD and a luggage rack. It is not very comfortable but it is very functional. The gasoline costs about $5.50 per gallon by the time you convert the liters to gallons and the shillings to dollars.

The journey takes us through Nairobi, by the airport, out the Mombasa Highway and to the left to Machakos Town. Traffic is crazy everywhere these days, but Kenya is always an adventure. Nairobi has doubled in size in the ten years with no infrastructure improvements. No one stops at stop signs or red lights. Every two lane road is used as four lanes and every four lane looks like a slow moving parking lot. They have roundabouts instead of four way stops and like in Judges, “every man does what is right in his own eyes.”

Our driver, James, also comes with the compound. He and his family (wife, Catherine, and children – Immanuel, Bradley, and Rita) live on the compound in a small cottage and he works in the yard, paying the bills, and driving and makes about $4.50 per day USD. We have been supplementing that a little by paying Catherine to do our laundry since we don’t have access to those facilities, but they manage very well and live frugally. The kids are all in school at a local school and James and Catherine live sacrificially so that can happen.

He is a very careful driver and knows the Kenyan system so we feel safe in his hands. He navigates the city this day and we get up to a reasonable speed on the highway. There are auto sized potholes that have to be avoided or navigated and the best roads here would make you write your officials in the U.S. There are several places where the roads have become so bad that people have made new dirt roads on the side. A trip that would take one hour in the U.S. will take us 3 hours today.

One of the more challenging things is the buses and Matatus, vans used as public transport. Both are often overstuffed with people and have people’s belongings stacked up to ten feet high on top of them. They are driven by maniacs. They will pass against traffic and flash their lights at you, expecting you to stop, move over, or have a headon crash with them. Every moment is a high stakes game of chicken. Every day’s paper has a story of a bus or matatu having a collision or losing control and rolling down a mountain or into a river. When it happens, the death toll is usually in the dozens. We spend a great deal of time praying during the trip.

We turn left to go to Machakos Town and the road deteriorates if that is even possible. At that turn, we pass the third mosque and at each one, we pray against the spirit of darkness as Islam tries to take over another African country. It is Ramadan here so they are making a lot of noise right now.

One of the highlights of the Saturday trip is that it is funeral day for the local village and we see several funeral processions with brightly colored dress of the tribal people. It seems ironic that in one little section of road there are about five small funeral services so as we travel it seems we are constantly seeing a funeral in progress.
When we get to Machakos, we stop at a Chemist (pharmacist) to pick up some medicine. For the most part you can get anything you want here without a prescription although it is not legal. Today, we buy more doxycyline which is used here to prevent malaria. Since we are going to spend next week in a village, we are taking it for a week to get prepared. While there, we pick up Patrick Kiseli, a longtime friend of the ministry and our translator for the day. He is an evangelist, shop owner, school teacher, etc. It takes a lot to make a living in this environment.

We stop at the Garden Hotel in Machakos for two reasons. First, our host pastor will meet us there to guide us the rest of the way. Second, it is the last “western” bathroom we will see today. It would be on your “do not stop here ever” list in the states, but here, it is five star. While there we met Bret Black, a church planter from Iowa who was working with a small church in the area.

Bishop Titus arrives and leads us out of Machakos toward Kaviani. We turn left onto a tarmac road that was more dirt and potholes than paving. Fortunately, before long, we veered right onto a dirt road that took us up 15 kilometers along the side of a mountain. The views were breathtaking and so was the danger. The last two turns that took us to the church were switchback turns on less than one dirt lane. As we turned it, the van lurched sideways but we made it.

Springs of Faith is a vibrant church in the middle of NOWHERE, but the pastor has done a good job of reaching the community. He is ministering to about 300 people. I have no idea where they come from but they just materialize when church starts. We arrive at 10:30, a half hour past the announced start time. There are a handful of people there. Bishop Titus greets us and phones the pastor on his mobile. (You talk about incongruity! A mud brick church with no power and no water and we are making cell calls.) The pastor says he will come.

About 11:30 after everyone has visited and been greeted and worship has ramped up, we are introduced amid much fanfare. Each of us is expected to extend greetings and bring a word to the large group before we break into our session groups for the day. At 12 noon, I am released to go with the youth and Lori goes with the Sunday School children. The youth group is ages 17-30, and there are about 35 of them who come and go through the day. Lori’s classroom is the front yard and mine is the back yard.

In Kenya, if you teach, you wear a tie. There I was, in the dusty back yard with young people, wearing a tie and listening to my bald head sizzle in the equatorial sun. I taught a lesson on influence that normally takes about 35 minutes but it was over an hour through an interpreter. We then took a break and allowed the youth to break into groups to form questions on the issues that face them. They gave great thought to what they wanted to discuss and took it very seriously.

It turns out their issues were very similar to youth everywhere. They asked about dating, sex before marriage, secular music, peer pressure, and more. I answered questions for nearly 2 hours and about 3:30 ended it so they could have lunch, which the church was providing. That was the schedule decided by the pastor and bishop. It would never work in America but the youth stayed with it.

Lori had 30 or so children all day with almost no resources but she did her usual magic and the kids loved her. She had a translator named Christen who did a great job. The kids drew pictures, played ball, listened to Bible stories, and just hung out together.

At the same time, Ric and Jane Taylor were teaching a mini marriage conference to the adults. For all three groups, you have to keep it very simple. You cannot assume they know anything. They are hungry but very few own a Bible and even fewer still are literate enough to understand what they read. The ones that can read and write record everything you say in a small notebook we give them and they spend weeks afterward discussing what you said in their group meetings. It is an awesome responsibility to teach in a society dominated by oral traditions.

At 4:30, we load the van and leave. The children were unsupervised and uninhibited and it gave us a near heart attack as they chased the van and got dangerously close. At one point a seven or eight year old boy, jumped on the bumper and held on and we had to stop and force him to get off. Of course, most had never seen a white man and they see maybe 2-3 cars a month so they have no reference for it being dangerous.

The trip home involved dropping Patrick to take one of the dreaded matatus home and a stop at a soda stand to buy a “black currant” or grape soda. As always, there is no refrigeration so we drank it warm with our sandwiches Harrison made. By then it was five and we were hungry so the warm soda and soggy sandwich were wonderful.

The trip in to Nairobi was blessedly uneventful but we cut it a bit close. It was nearly dark by the time we got into Nairobi and that is not good. Along the way, we saw zebras and wildebeests on the side of the road. On that stretch so far this month, we have seen giraffes near the airport and a herd of camels. I don’t think camels are indigenous but someone out there is raising them.

Just a few blocks from the compound, we witnessed a bicycle courier have a bad wreck coming down a hill. He wiped out and slid several feet in the direction of an oncoming bus. He rolled away at just the last minute. Had it happened a few seconds later either the bus or our van would have hit him.

We arrived back at the compound where Timothy, the night guard, met us with a smile and said welcome home! We exited the van in time for Harrison to feed us dinner of stuffed pork loin and applesauce about 8 PM. After dinner, we adjourn to bed, and set the alarm for 6 AM again so we can do it all over again on Sunday. Before we can call it a day however, we must perform the nightly security ritual. When the Taylors leave for their cottage, I open the front door and check in with Timothy. I then pull a steel gate over the front door and put a heavy padlock on it. I close the interior door and deadbolt it. Lori and I move up the stairs and I pull a steel gate over the top of the stairs and attach a large steel padlock and hide the key. We enter our bedroom and lock the door with a skeleton key. Before going to bed we locate the panic button which will summon private security and a swat team if pressed. We feel the protection of God but Nairobi is still a very dangerous place for expats.

As you can see, it takes all day to do four hours of ministry but it is worth it. Thank you for your prayers.

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