Channeling My Fury

I was so tired yesterday that I had what I can only describe as “out of body” experiences, times when it felt as though my spirit was leaving me. I kept my eyes open even when we stood to pray because once when I had closed my eyes, I caught myself stumbling forward a couple of steps and realized that standing was not enough to keep me awake. Then, when I was at this physical low, I met Zipporah. Her story depleted me of almost all but my love for God and my family. But even exhaustion has benefits. I slept through the night. And now my mind is racing furiously, trying to process all of this. So pardon me if I give expression to my rage for just a moment.

I reflect back to my time in college when professors decried Christian missionaries for seeking to change the belief systems of indigenous peoples, as though any people anywhere ever developed organically apart from the influence of others, or as though it were written somewhere that people should so develop. I suppose the kind of dung is still being propagated in the sterile environs of academia. It’s easy to romanticize about the wisdom of tribal elders and fantasize children’s stories of the shaman. Such idealized notions sound good from the quaint security of western ivied towers, and you never have to grapple with the patent lie of it all or wonder if such hallowed halls of learning would even exist if our societies had been untouched by the gospel. This esoteric horse hooey may seem lovely at 30,000 feet, but on the ground the reality is stark and ugly, rank and grotesque.

Do you know who should be the most ardent supporter of Christianity in the world? Feminists. Oh, I don’t mean those considered Christian egalitarians of today, I mean that dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying, militant 1960’s brand of feminism that refuses to shave its armpits. Why? Because of the elevation of women by Christ, the radical idea that in Christ there is no male or female. I look at societies influenced by the good news of Christ, and I see societies free to debate such issues and to develop in such enlightened ways. I see societies untouched by the gospel, and I see Zipporah.

Well, enough ranting. I want to finish with action, not thoughts. I want to raise the money to build Zipporah a house. A livable house in a safe place. That sounds daunting in our minds. But here the poor build their houses from the land, and it can be done for relatively little money, even with thatched roofing giving way to metal sheets. $1,000 will do it. Think of it. A life of vulnerability and terror completely transformed for $1,000.  And $5,000 would build a permanent house, including a well.

One of the problems I see in Africa is the sheer immensity of the challenge. This place is a black hole of poverty. You could throw Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s money at this, and it would just be absorbed within minutes and gone like “the disappearing dreams of yesterday.” Jesus said the poor would always be with us, and when I look at Africa I know those words are true. This often leads to paralysis. We can’t fix such a big problem, so we do nothing at all. But the way an ant eats an elephant is one bite at a time. I can’t solve poverty in Africa. We can’t do that. But we can make Zipporah’s life better. And we should. I’ll put the structure in place to assure this is done right. Then you can help. And you should.

A Child of Joy, A Child of Sorrow

I traveled this afternoon to a church about 30 minutes away. On the way, we stopped to see Pastor William and his just-born daughter. His wife had to have a C-section. I can’t imagine how that works at “Matata Hospital.” I don’t really understand the name, since Matata is Swahili for “Troubles.”  It’s a typical small town East African hospital—cramped, dirty, and somewhat chaotic. They did have a separate maternity ward, but it was open to the general public. Signs were posted to remind people to keep the windows open to reduce tuberculosis.

We found William, who took us to see baby “Betty,” named for Betty Musindai (I told you she was incredible!). The baby, still covered with a white waxy substance, was asleep in a bassinet that seemed more like a car-seat, with a ceramic heater nearby to keep her warm. I tried to stay outside the room where William’s wife was in bed, but he insisted that I meet her. I stepped in long enough to wish her every blessing, but the poor woman had undergone a C-section 3 hours earlier! As I stood outside with baby Betty, she began to cry. I used my best soothing voice and held her little hand, and she stopped crying. That felt wonderful. Even in Africa, I get to be Papa!

Then it was on to the church where I preached. I don’t want to bother with details about that, I want to tell of what happened after. I had seen a young woman there with a newborn infant. I said hello to her and blessed her baby. Later she came outside and spoke to Betty, who had met her recently at a Woman’s Conference. Her story shocked me so deeply I’m not sure how to tell it.

The 1-month old turns out to be Zipporah’s 5th child. Her husband died more than a year ago. It goes unsaid that it was likely AIDS, and that she’s likely HIV-positive. This baby is the product of rape from her husband’s brother, who was following tribal traditions that since his brother is dead, he must sleep with this woman. The man is now in prison for life, not because he raped Zipporah, but because he also raped her 14-year-old daughter. He may have gotten away with that except that the minor also became pregnant. The baby is due in a month or so. The daughter has been moved to a secret place because the family of the rapist wants to kill her, blaming her for his imprisonment.  Zipporah lives in fear of reprisal, for herself and for the 12-year-old daughter who is now most vulnerable.

This woman came seeking help because she is sleeping with her 4 children in a mud structure of about 40 sq. ft. No beds, no blankets, nothing but a dirt floor and mud walls. There are lots of poor people here, of course. Many rent out small, one bedroom, concrete structures that are more like our storage warehouses. I asked how much those cost. About $20/mo. But she doesn’t have $1, let alone $20.

My day, which began with such joy for baby Betty, ended with me doing everything I can do to hold it together, not to break down and weep for Zipporah and her children. But my sympathy is nothing. She doesn’t need pity, she needs help. Tomorrow, when I can breathe again after this gut-punch, I’m going to figure out what that looks like. Maybe you will think through that with me tonight.

The Quiet and the Chaos

I’m wide awake by the time birds start singing. The variety of birds here is truly a wonder, and their songs are both louder and richer than home. They begin their sweet chorus just before sun-up at 6 a.m., and the beautiful noise of the children at school does not lag far behind.

I have mentioned Betty before. Her full name is Beatrice Musindai. She works very hard from before dawn until after dusk, keeping the mission house shipshape and preparing three fine meals each day. I call her the “miracle worker of food.” She has prepared delicious meals that blend African foods with things we are more familiar with in the States. There is always lots of food and it is taboo to eat too little. I remember that, as a child, someone would always ask a visiting missionary, “What do you eat?” Here breakfast is a bit tricky. At the hotel last week, the buffet included baked beans and chicken wings. But Betty knows how to cater to Americans. We’ve had boiled or fried eggs, diced potatoes, and even beignets that can be pulled apart for a little spread of Nutella. Dinner and supper are standard American fare also, with a few exceptions. They make a vegetable gravy that resembles a thick soup, meant to be eaten over rice. We’ve had some ugali, a corn substance that looks like mashed potatoes but is so thick it must be sliced. There’s chapatti. Lots of chapatti. It’s a good thing I like chapatti. They also eat a flat bread that resembles thin pancakes with just a hint of sweetness. I asked, “What do you call these?” They looked at me with incredulity and answered, “Pancakes.” As you can tell, they eat a lot of starches. It is why even someone who only eats once daily may still maintain a healthy weight. And why I always come to Africa thinking it will be a good opportunity to lose a few pounds and come home having gained a few instead.

All of the women here work hard, at least as hard as the men. When I shake hands, I notice that their hands are just as rough and their grip just as firm as any man. This tends to age them prematurely, not in appearance but health-wise. Many 60-year-olds here are “Mama,” a title of respect for those who have done hard labor for so long that they simply can’t do it any more. And many of the younger women here have back problems. Part of it, I suspect, is their working stance. If they are weeding a garden, or washing clothes, they bend over at waist and stretch to the ground to do their work. It’s like the “toe-touch” exercise of calisthenics, only they could plant their palms flat on the ground and do so for hours on end.

The demonstrations in the major cities continue. It is a downward spiral. Authorities declare it illegal for people to demonstrate. That brings out even more people than before. Police crack down, use tear gas, and even shoot a few in the crowd. That brings out even more and incites the demonstrators to respond. It’s impossible to know which side is inciting violence and which side is responding. Both sides take to the airwaves to point fingers at the other. Maybe things are not so different here. Today, demonstration leaders have called for the “Mother of All Demonstrations” in Nairobi. The irony of the acronym is not lost on me.

I’m safe in the rural areas. The Echoes of Mercy compound is walled and gated. People here are working too hard to scratch a living out of the dirt to get caught up in the fury of the city. This afternoon we travel to another village, and I will preach again. I understand the group will be small. I asked for an appropriate theme, and Pastor Moses explained they are struggling with many issues right now, like financial problems at a time when food prices are rising because of the disturbances in the cities. He said they need encouragement. So I plan to speak on “hope.” That suits me just fine.  I still consider it my purpose to “Give God Glory, Give People Hope!”

Gentle Tears and Roaring Laughter

Today is the Lord’s Day. I was asked to preach for Echoes of Mercy Church here in Nyamira. Pastor Moses specifically asked me to preach about generous giving. I wanted to decline, quite honestly. I don’t especially like talking about giving in America because there are so many who focus on this as if it were the only Christian virtue. So you can imagine how I felt about talking to Kenyans, who have so little. I was wary of the perception of many (all?) Kenyans that every American is rich. But Pastor Moses pressed upon me so stridently, I considered perhaps the Holy Spirit was prompting him. And so I yielded.

I spoke from 2 Cor. 9 on how to cultivate cheerfulness in our giving. I established the context from the previous chapter, which I thought truly fit the moment: “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” 2 Cor. 8:1-4. And I stressed vv. 11-12 of that passage, also: “Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” 2 Cor. 8:11-12. This context helped me to be much more at ease.

Worship here begins at 8 a.m. with the children. At 9 is a Sunday School Hour. At 10 they have a discipleship class and communion. At 11 their service begins, and lasts until 2-2:30 p.m. Much like God’s Care Church in Uganda, the building here is perched on a hill. I think this is intentional. Though both Ugandans and Kenyans speak so softly it can be hard to hear them in normal conversation, they crank up the amplifiers to broadcast the service to the entire community. It serves as something of a village call to worship. When the service ended, we had a quick lunch followed by a series of meetings. Exhausted, I walked back into the mission house at 5 p.m.

For the last several days, we’ve been joined by two young men, both 30 and both single, who are being mentored by Pastor Moses. I’ve truly enjoyed Patrice’s and Vincent’s company. After lunch, I gave them each small gifts. You would have thought they had won the lottery. It truly put things in perspective for me.

We’ve also been blessed by the presence of a brother roughly my age, Pastor Esron, a close friend and colleague to Pastor Moses. Of all the good memories, I think the one that will stick with me the longest is his constant but incorrect usage of the word “impunity.” Pastor Moses has learned the habit, also, though he insists that Pastor Esron is “the father of impunity.” A politician will be bloviating on TV, and one of them will denounce him with an emphatic, “Impunity!” Or a situation will be under discussion, and draw the comment, “It is impunity!” Or a jealous local pastor will be spreading the lie that Echoes of Mercy has brought in white devil worshipers. “He is impunity,” they say. I tried at one point to explain the proper usage, but my attempt was rejected with, “That is impunity!”

[Addendum: I just read the above to the brothers. They are in stitches. Pastor Moses said between laughs, “This lawyer has a problem. It is impunity!”]

I have been familiar with the phrase, “Jambo, Bwana” since I watched The Flames Trees of Thika somewhere around age 20. I thought “Bwana” meant “sir.” So I had a real “Aha Moment” when I heard the prayers to “Bwana Jesu.”

As you might imagine, I truly relished the children’s choir. I also enjoyed the special moment of laughter when Pastor Moses called for them. They were a bit slow in gathering at the front, and he was encouraging them to move more quickly. I didn’t understand a single word until I heard him say, “Chop chop!”

I had one special moment when the tears of joy came. I was listening to the singing, so familiar and yet so different, so African. I found myself closing my eyes, simply lost in worship, completely oblivious to any reality other than being in the presence of God and His people. It all came back to me, that feeling of being home though I’m thousands of miles from where I reside. I realized my eyes were filled with tears and felt momentarily embarrassed that I had been previously unaware. It was just then I heard a small child say “Mzungu” (“white man”). It hit me that I was the only such creature on the entire campus. I hadn’t thought of it until that moment. I wished with all my soul never to be bothered by such thoughts ever again.

First-World Theology, Third-World Reality

Despite my jitters, I feel our class time went really well.

I’m teaching New Testament Survey.  The course utilizes a textbook which I find personally helpful and informative. Nevertheless, I am not sticking too closely to it, for several reasons.

First, the students will have the book available for future reference. Our time is limited and it really makes no sense to me to spend that time pouring over material they can read later whenever they wish.

But my primary motivation is this. The textbook contains lots and lots of information on the latest New Testament scholarship—the evidence for authorship of each book, various theories about its date of writing, its intended audience, the circumstances behind its writing, etc. As the saying goes, those are first-world concerns. It’s nice we have the time to debate whether Mark really wrote the Gospel According to Mark, and what the early church fathers said on the subject, and how Theologian A counters the arguments of Theologian B, but honestly …

What does a Kenyan pastor care about such things?  These aren’t theologians.  These are pastors.  Real world pastors.  Third world pastors.

More to the point, what does all this matter to the Kenyan in the pew? Or the hospital bed? Or the street?

So I’ve basically said to the class, “This is great information, and you have it available for future reference. But I want to spend our class time focusing on this question: What do you need to know that will make you a better pastor in your real-world setting?” In the same vein, I’m not giving a final written exam, but rather a final project, designed by the student and evaluated on completion by Pastor Moses, in which they put their newfound knowledge to some practical use.

Now I have to be honest, this is uncomfortable for me. I like esoterica. I like minutia. I like using (even inventing) words like esoterica and minutia. It’s so much easier, so much safer and more sanitary, than trying to figure out how to be a good pastor to the poor or how to faithfully extend the gospel to someone who is HIV positive. But this isn’t Staples, this is the Church of Jesus Christ. And in the end, I don’t want to hear, “That was easy!” but rather, “Well done.” And somehow, I just can’t imagine that Jesus will ask which theory I held about the author of Hebrews.

These Dreams, Though!

Many people have told me of recurring dreams they experience under certain circumstances.  These dreams may have slight variations, but the central theme remains.  I have several of those.

While in college, I dreamed often (at least once per semester) that during finals week, I would realize I had registered for a class, but never attended it.  Now I had to take a final in some subject I’d never studied. Or sometimes I dreamed I had driven to school, the exam was in five minutes, and I looked down to find I wasn’t wearing pants. Exactly how does one take a final exam in boxers?  Or get to class without being arrested?

When I practiced law, I dreamed regularly that it was the last day of the month and I had not billed a single hour. Strangely enough, I still have this dream from time to time, though I haven’t had a time log since entering ministry 24 years ago. Time sheets scar for life!

My recurring nightmare in ministry takes one of two forms. In the first, I am a guest speaker in a church I don’t know well.  I know the service has started, because I hear the singing.  But I absolutely cannot figure out how to get to the sanctuary. I meander down halls trying every available door, but I discover only a library, a broom closet, or a bathroom.  The time to preach is drawing closer … but I am not!  The music is fading as I get farther from where I need to be.  I’m panicked, lost in a labyrinth of corridors, the navigational equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube.

Or, in the even more horrifying version, I am in the pulpit, I announce my text … but I can’t locate it in my Bible.  I discover to my horror that I accidentally brought my chronological Bible, and can’t remember whether Jude was written before 1 John.  Or I forgot my Bible altogether.  I grab a pew Bible, but for some reason this church doesn’t include the Book of Job!  Or some kid has ripped out the minor prophets entirely. Oh, no, this isn’t a pew Bible, it’s the hymn book!

I realized last night that I now have a new stock dream for when I am teaching.  It’s the night before class begins, and I suddenly realize … “Wait a minute! I can’t teach _____ (fill in course title).  I don’t know the first thing about _____ (fill in course subject). I’m a student, I’m not a scholar!”

Fortunately, that frightful fit of a dream occurred in conjunction with the earlier-described jet lag.  Who knew God could use jet lag for His good purposes?  So I awoke in a cold sweat at midnight, and spent the night reviewing my notes and doing my Evelyn Woods impersonation with my Bible and textbook for the next 7 hours.

New Testament. That comes after the Old Testament. Check.

Matthew first, then Mark, Luke and John. Check.

Paul was an epistle who wrote thirteen apostles. No, wait …

OK, it’s class time. Let’s do this!

Rest and Preparation

As I went to bed last night at 8:30, I knew I’d never stay asleep past 3 a.m. In fact, I woke up at 2 a.m. I used the time to finish yesterday’s blog. Then I got another hour or two of sleep before breakfast.

Today is meant to be a day of rest and recovery from jet lag. The only item on the agenda was a tour of the premises here at Echoes of Mercy. There are several buildings in various stages of completion. A large and beautiful hospital has been built. It was sponsored by Casting Crowns, the Christian musicians. Though the building is complete, the hospital is not yet operational. Pastor Moses wants all of the money necessary to keep the hospital staffed and stocked before opening, as he doesn’t wish to open for a few weeks only to have to close. Then there is Echoes of Mercy Church, which during the week provides additional classroom space for Echoes of Mercy School. We are staying in a fully functional 3-BR mission house, and another is half complete next door. The downstairs rooms are set up to accommodate mission teams, with lots of bunk beds in the sleeping areas. The upstairs has only the brick skeleton. More money is needed to complete the building. There are a few small two-room structures to house various people in the ministry here. And there are also a few utility buildings for storage, the well house, etc. All of this on roughly six acres, and all built in the past six years.

Then Pastor Moses showed us two tracts of land he hopes to purchase for Echoes of Mercy. One is rich, fertile farmland. If he can add this tract, it will enable them to grow much of their own food and also to train the children in more modern agricultural practices. The second tract is where he hopes to locate an orphanage. It was interesting to hear him explain the building of the school before the orphanage. It comes down to prioritizing the future. By providing top-notch education, they expect 200 of their 320 students to go to college and become leaders, and then to invest in the ongoing work here. If they had built the orphanage first, they would have reached a much smaller number of children, some of who would already be HIV positive, and the trajectory of their futures is simply not as promising. They care deeply for these children and want to minister to them, but having a real impact in Kenya requires these kinds of hard, real-world choices.

My afternoon will be spent reading and finalizing lesson plans for tomorrow and Friday. I already know the effects that sixteen hours straight of teaching will have. Physically and emotionally, I will be drained. Spiritually, I will be so fulfilled. It may be something of a paradox, but it is a sensation that I wish for everyone I love, to find complete satisfaction in doing what I believe God designed me and put me here on earth to do.

Things As They Are, Things As They Shall Be

NAIROBI TO NYAMIRA

After breakfast we loaded up and headed to the airport for the quick flight over to Kisumu. On the trip, I noticed how much Kenya and Uganda look alike. The same markets set up along the roadway. The same buildings with the same vendors and the same advertisements. Much of this seemed like familiar ground, with the exception that Kenyans drive on the left side of the road, though they insist it is the right side.

At the airport, I got a chuckle out of one of the airline names: JamboJet. Brilliant! 🙂

The flight was only 30 minutes. They served the best package of mixed nuts I’ve ever eaten, but we had to wolf it down because the flight was so brief. One attendant passed out the snack and another came right behind him to collect the trash. The sun was bright and the clouds were large and billowy, casting dark shadows on the ground below. As we descended, I noticed the sun reflecting off the new metal rooves like a thousand diamonds on the ground.

Landing in Kisumu, we met Pastor Moses. I learned that Emily is his wife. He is gracious and good, clearly a man of many gifts and abilities. He serves as Executive Pastor of a church in Nairobi and is the administrator of GRASP International here in Kenya.

We stopped for lunch, not so much because we were hungry, but because there is a great deal of civil unrest in Kisumu and the mall where we ate was secure. The presidential elections in Kenya are in a state of flux. The Supreme Court nullified a previous election for irregularities, and new elections were set for Oct. 17. Those were later reset for Oct. 26. As we were arriving, one of the major candidates has withdrawn entirely from the election, and under their laws, that may necessitate rescheduling the election yet again. People who have been out of power and feel oppressed are seething, and unrest has spilled over into the streets. Demonstrators show up en masse and fill the roads. They will also throw large rocks and debris into the streets, set tires and brush piles ablaze, and generally do whatever is necessary to block passage. So Pastor Moses had hired a driver who was from Kisumu and who was well-connected to drive us from Kisumu to Nyamira. Our driver and Pastor Moses stayed in constant contact with others over the phone to determine which streets were passable. Based on these communications, they determined it was best to stop. We stretched lunch out for a couple of hours to allow some hotspot to subside. It was all a bit disconcerting, of course, but Pastor Moses and the driver calmly assured us that we were completely safe. I take some solace in knowing we are under the care of these good and knowledgeable men. I find ultimate peace, however, knowing I am here to do God’s will, that not a sparrow can fall from the sky apart from His notice, and that we are worth more than sparrows in His sight. There is no place safer than the will of God, no comfort greater than a reliance on His kind providence.

Within 30 minutes of leaving the secured mall, we were out of the city and travel was much quicker and more obviously safe. We stopped to buy sweet potatoes from three ladies who had many children between them. I spoke to the children and shook their hands. The oldest was a boy of 8 or 9 years. “How are you?” I asked. He gave the standard answer, the same one I hear uniformly from Ugandan children no matter their condition – “I am fine.” “What is your name?” I asked. The answer made me chuckle. “Frankly Obama.” I was reminded of how excited Kenyans were by the election of President Obama and how they rejoiced for his visit here. And I could not help but reflect on the sharp contrast between that spirit of hope and optimism and the current state of political fear and uncertainty.

In talking to Pastor Moses at the restaurant, I asked what was behind the political turmoil. In a word, the answer is tribalism. There are 43 tribes in Kenya, some large and some small. The large tribes gain power and use it to enrich themselves. There is no incentive to share power. To the contrary, the tendency is to hold on to power by whatever means necessary, including the suppression (even oppression?) of others, political corruption, fear-mongering and maintaining absolute solidarity within the tribes. Now, if you’re like me, you just had a succession of thoughts: 1) How primitive! 2) Wait minute, this sounds eerily familiar. 3) Isn’t this the logical progression/outcome of identity politics? 4) Aren’t lock-step voting blocs just “tribes?” 5) If we don’t straighten up our act in the U.S., this movie being acted out in the city streets of Kenya could be coming soon to a theater near you. Sobering to me, truly.

Within just a few minutes of meeting Frankly Obama, however, the Lord provided what is for me the ultimate relief from all those harrowing thoughts. We pulled into the more rural grounds of Nyamira and onto the site of Echoes of Mercy, a ministry overseen by Pastor Moses. I knew we would be staying here, but I didn’t realize that Echoes of Mercy operates a school with 320 children, who were all assembled (well past school hours now) to greet us. Being welcomed by the sweet serenade of African school children is an experience that must resemble what it will be like to be welcomed home to heaven by God’s angels. It is impossible to think of the world’s politics and turmoil, and impossible to feel anything but love, joy, peace, hope, humility, thanksgiving. When they sing, all is right, and the world is at it should be.

An on-site mission home will be our residence for the next week. We settled in, and I enjoyed getting to know Pastor Moses better. In my experience, Americans tend to think that Africans are somewhat backward, perhaps a bit lazy. It isn’t so. Pastor Moses is typical of what I find here. He is wise and good, clever and creative. He simply lives in a world where resources are scarce and opportunities scarcer. And still they work on, building a ministry out of nothing more than a vision and a determination to fulfill the call of God. I am in awe of these people. Absolute awe.

As we talked, a storm passed over us and we experienced a torrential downpour. The rain on the metal roof was a beautiful symphony. Pastor Moses grabbed plastic washtubs to gather the water. “I blessed the rains down in Africa.”

Betty, a ministry helper here, cooked supper for us. Chicken soup and spaghetti with meat sauce, all prepared to accommodate American tastes. How thoughtful. As we ate, I got one good reminder that I was in Africa. The power went out. I laughed heartily for this wonderful, humorous reminder of God’s goodness in bringing me to this place I love.

Louder Than a Freight Train

In younger days, I seemed oblivious to jet lag. I simply stayed awake while traveling and then would go to bed at night in my new place, sleep through the night, and wake up the next morning on a new schedule. Now … not so much. Of course, back then I was also oblivious to the effects of caffeine, arthritis, and hair growing in my ears, so jet lag should come as no surprise.

Here in Nairobi, I’m 7 hours ahead of home. So at 2 a.m., it was only 7 p.m. to my body.  I tried to stay awake en route, napping only for an hour on the plane to Amsterdam and another from there to Nairobi.  Having had only 2 hours sleep in the previous 36 hours, I thought I should be able to drop off easily last night. Umm … no!  I had almost pulled it off when I heard a terrifying noise that woke me and kept me awake most of the remaining night. It wasn’t loud like pealing bells or the tree frog in Stone Mountain that sounded like a screaming woman, but I heard it like a roaring freight train. It was the simple “bzzzzzztt” of a mosquito landing in my ear. That’s a nuisance in SC. That’s a nightmare in East Africa.

I finally drifted off about 6 a.m. That makes sense, since it would have been 11 p.m. at home. What did not make sense was then waking up at 7 a.m. Well, I’m sure my circadian rhythm should equalize over the next 9 days … just in time to reverse the process. 🙂

OK, off to breakfast.  Or is it supper?

A Little Cheese, A Little Whine

AMSTERDAM TO NAIROBI

In my 3-hour layover at Amsterdam, I met a fascinating young man, Emmanuel. He is a Kenyan marathoner returning from Chicago, where he had competed. He was quite modest, so it was hard to pin him down on just how good he is, but he’s good enough to be sponsored by his nation and flown all over the world to run for Kenya. This was a bit of irony for me, because when I have told people I was headed for Kenya, the response was often to associate Kenya with long-distance runners. The stereotype didn’t sit well with me, but I let it pass. I suppose it’s good I did, or meeting Emmanuel might have been the source of a lot of ribbing when I return. Emmanuel told me he was Presbyterian, and asked me how that differed from Catholicism. Since I have been focused on Reformation doctrine as we near its 500th “birthday,” I was happy to have that conversation.

Note to Self: KLM gets 1 out of 5 stars. The flight attendants were helpful, professional, and kind, but that is the only category in which I’m handing out praise. I was not allowed to pick out a seat online, and was assigned seat 60J. I didn’t know planes had 60 rows. In fact, the 747 has 68. It’s long and slender, a flying foot-long hot dog. The movie and music selections were extremely limited for English speakers. And the meal? Note to KLM (I know you’re reading!) – chopped cabbage is not salad, close quarters is not the place to serve strong Dutch foot cheese, and you can’t make enough brown gravy to remedy chicken offal. Oh, and every 20 years or so, change the padding in your seat cushions. Other than that, I have no strong opinions.

My views may be skewed, however. I started feeling a bit queasy on the flight, and even a bit jittery. As Paul Simon would say, I was “twitching like a finger on the trigger of a gun.” I wondered momentarily if I were coming down with something, or maybe in for another airline-chicken-induced bout of what my friend Greg Chambers diagnosed as “diflucous of the blowhole.” Then I remembered. This is how I feel when I’m taking malaria meds. This antsy shakiness will be with me for the next couple of months. Mefloquine also gives me vivid dreams. Not necessarily bad dreams, but vivid, almost psychedelic, dreams. Like Saturday night, when I dreamed a met Robert Redford in a park as he twirled like Julie Andrews in the Alps and shot photos with a camera disguised as a suitcase. Apparently, Bob and I are old friends.

My seat mate was a university-aged young man from Rome, Francesco. Soft-spoken and genteel, he was also quite handsome in that chic Italian curly-haired and 5-day-beard way. I suspect there were a number of young ladies (and maybe a few old ones) who would have gladly traded seats with me. I should have thought of that sooner … I could have scored an upgrade!

My most interesting conversation, however, was with Mohammed, a young accountant. He is Somalian by birth, but now holds dual Canadian citizenship.  We encountered one another as I was stretching my legs while we flew over his native land. We both stared out the window at the vast expanse of the Sahara. He said nothing and no one could live there. “Not a single tree!” he assured me. He, like most Somalians, came from Mogadishu. He had fled with his family some 12 years ago during their civil war, but is proud to report that the situation there is improving now “in every respect.”

Mohammed is a Sufi Muslim. He is well-versed in his religion and quite sincere. He wanted to ask me about the sharp rise in the number of Americans who have no religious affiliation. I said I thought the number of sincere Christians was probably constant, but that social norms had changed, so that whereas it was unacceptable to claim atheism 50 years ago, it is now somewhat en vogue, especially among the young. He told me of his understanding of Islam, and it gave me an opportunity to tell him about Christ in a civil and respectful way. As the conversation ended, he wished me God’s blessings, and I wished him peace.

Soon after, sixteen hours of air travel came to a (rather hard) landing. It took longer than normal for me to get through immigration and customs (so much for my George Clooney delusions), but Skip Ferron was there with his wife, along with Pastor Ezra and Emily who head up the ministry in Nairobi. I wish I could tell you how beautiful Kenya is, but all I saw was the ten minutes of street-lit highway between the airport and Melili Hotel. It’s quite modern by East African standards (wait … is that a Mariachi Band in the restaurant!?!?), unlike it’s more rundown and utilitarian neighbor, the ironically named Hotel Beverly Hills!

I’m grateful to be here. I’m already comfortable. I already feel home.