Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Meisisi Yesu!

Meisisi Yesu! (that means Praise Jesus in the Maasai language). I spent a very interesting weekend in a Maasai village, but before I get into that, I have some sad news to share. When I returned to work last week after taking time off to spend with my family, I received the news that Hilda had passed away on Thursday, Aug. 18th. I have mentioned Hilda in many of my emails - she was only 21 years old and is the mother to Shiro, a 3 year old HIV positive girl that we brought to a children's home in July because of Hilda's failing health. I have continued to visit Shiro often, and she is adjusting pretty well - she has her good days and bad days, but overall I think she is doing well. She will be having her third birthday this week on the 1st of September.
In July, Pastor Njeru, one of the pastors who is connected to Beacon of Hope, asked me if I would be willing to visit a Maasai village with him and preach in a Maasai church. The Maasai are one of the best known tribes in Africa, mainly because of their determination to continue with their traditional way of life. When we went to Maasai Mara, we saw many Maasai and Maasai villages - while none of us tourists could even step out of the vans because of the lions, leopards, and cheetahs that live there, the Maasai walk around freely and know how live in the middle of all of the wildlife. Many still wear their traditional dress and live in Manyattas, huts made of sticks, mud, and cow dung. They are herders, so they spend their days herding their cows, sheep, and goats. Their main foods are meat and milk. Some men have more than one wife and the men live together with their wives and children in Bomas - a Boma is a plot of land with a manyatta for each wife together with her children, a "pen" for the animals, and a fence surrounding the whole thing made of sticks or bushes to keep the lions and other animals out.
So I was excited for the opportunity to visit the Maasai village and set out early Saturday morning with Pastor Njeru. We got into a bright blue matatu headed to Namelok, and one of my fellow passengers was a goat! (yes there was actually a goat riding in the matatu!) The village was only about 30 minutes from Ongata Rongai where I work. This area is not as wild as Maasai Mara - there are no big cats that live there - only things like antelope, zebra, etc.
We arrived in Namelok and went to the pastor's house first. The pastor of the Maasai church is called Pastor John. He had set up several meetings for Saturday for me to preach. The Maasai speak their tribal language, but most know Swahili as well. Only two that I met spoke any English at all, and it was very, very limited. So I had to speak Swahili the whole weekend, which was good practice anyway. I had prepared two sermons to preach in Swahili, but when I arrived there I learned that I would actually be preaching 5 times! The first meeting was for children - I didn't know that I would be preaching to children so I had to make something up as I went along. This wouldn't have been too hard in English, but in Swahili it was a challenge. Thankfully, there was someone translating what I was saying into Maasai, so I at least had some time to think between sentences. Then there was a meeting for youth, and I was able to use one of the sermons I had prepared.
Then, we walked into the interior parts to visit some people who live farther from the main road - and we really walked! I think we must have been walking for at least 1 and a half hours. We climbed down a hill and first brought food for a family of 5 orphaned children who live together in a small manyatta. The church does a lot to support the children and is currently raising 24,000 shillings (about $300) to build them a house.
Then we continued walking until we reached a Boma where a man lives with his 3 wives. They were having a pre wedding celebration for another woman, kind of like a bridal shower. So they had cooked so much food - we had rice, chappati (kind of like fat tortillas), cabbage, potatoes, meat and tea. The first piece of meat I was given was a huge leg bone from a goat - the bone was about 8 inches long and up to 2 inches thick! Three years ago when I was a strict vegetarian, I never would have imagined myself sitting in a hut in the middle of nowhere chomping on a goat leg and actually enjoying it!
After we ate the pastor addressed the group, then asked me to speak for about 15 minutes and pastor njeru for another 15 minutes, and then they continued with the prewedding celebration. Pastor Njeru had arranged for me to sleep in a manyatta in that Boma, but all of the Maasai kept asking the pastor if he was sure a mzungu wanted to sleep in a manyatta - they had never heard of such a thing!
After the ceremony, I met a young Maasai named Joseph who is 18 years old and has never been to school before. We visited his boma and met his mother and some of his siblings. She said that we couldn't leave without having some tea, so she pulled out a pitcher, went over to one of her cows, milked it, boiled the milk and made tea! (kenyans make tea boiling milk and water together, not just water like we do). We stayed there until 7 and then walked back - even though they were "neighbors" the bomas were far from one another and there are no lights anywhere so it was a dark walk back (none of the bomas have electricity, and the women have to walk about 3-5 km each morning to fetch water from a river!)
At the church, they have a pit latrine which is basically just a hole in the ground. But out where I was staying, they didn't even have that luxury - you just went outside of the boma and picked a bush! Thankfully they assured me they were not any snakes in that area.
Then Phillip (a young man who works at the church, lives with the pastor, and who was left behind to lead us back to the church in the morning), Joseph and I talked with Mathayo, the "mwenyeboma" or man of the boma. Mathayo has 42 animals, three wives and 13 children (6 yrs-22yrs), which means he is pretty wealthy maasai. He even had a scar on his arm from where he was scratched by a lion in the place he used to live. Some of his kids are in school but they are behind - for example his 20 yr old son is in grade 7. We talked for a while, drank milk and ate chappatis, and then it was time for bed. So I went to the manyatta of Mama Jane who lives there with her 6 children.
Manyattas look small from the outside but are actually relatively spacious inside. there are no windows so it is completely dark. there is an area for a fire in the middle of the manyatta which provides heat and light, but because there are no windows it is very smoky inside. When I arrived in the manyatta that I was sleeping in, I saw that there would also be goats sleeping in the manyatta with us! The beds are like low tables made out of sticks and covered with a cow hide. Therefore, they are very hard, and I felt like I was climbing on my kitchen table to take a nap. Needless to say, it was not very comfortable but it was a fun experience anyway to get to sleep in the manyatta with Jane, her children, and her goats.
I woke up early in the morning to the sounds of cows and roosters. We had tea, milk, bread, and chappatis, and I was given a bucket with a little cold water and soap to wash my face. Because it is so hard for them to fetch water, bathing is not a daily activity. I talked with the family, we prayed together, and then we set out on the long walk to get to the church.
We walked for about an hour (this time we had to go up the hill) until we finally reached the church. It is a small congregation of about 100 people but there are not many people that live around there, and some people walk between 10 and 15 km just to get to church! Although they are small in number, they are very committed.
The service lasted three and a half hours! We sang a lot, prayed, and there were three preachers. I preached first, then pastor njeru, and then another pastor. We all spoke in Swahili which was translated into Maasai, so the sermons took twice as long as they usually would. But it was a very enjoyable service. After that, the youth had another meeting and I preached at that, and then we ended the meeting with a "nyama choma" which means we ate roasted goat, ugali (a very stiff porridge made from maize flour and eaten with your hands), and sukumi wiki (kale greens). After the nyama choma, we prayed together and then headed back to Nairobi.
Overall, I really enjoyed myself and the experience of participating in such a different way of life. It was also an opportunity to experience the reality that the body of Christ truly is made up of people from all tribes and nations. The Maasai were all very gracious and friendly, and excited that a mzungu wanted to sleep in their houses, eat their foods, and visit with their people. Part of their traditional dress is a lot of beaded jewelry, so I even received a few handmade necklaces and bracelets as gifts.
Please pray for this church and these people, and especially their challenge of getting water. Building a borehole costs about 8000 dollars, which is many, many times their annual income. Pray that they would continue to grow in faith and in love, and continually learn more about God's grace and His love for them.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The blessing of friends and family

It's been a very busy but very exciting past three weeks for me here in Kenya. I've had the wonderful blessing of spending the past three weeks with friends and family from home, and having the opportunity to share Kenya with them. In the beginning of this month, a group of 23 people from the Chapel Hill Bible Church came to Kenya, including several good friends of mine. It was great to see them! They spent two weeks here, and it was definately a full two weeks! The team invited me to stay in the guesthouse with them and to become a part of the group while they were here. The Bible Church has partnerships with Nairobi Chapel and Beacon of Hope, so they divided their time between the two groups. For the Nairobi Chapel activities, our focus was on prayer. We visited and prayed with some Nairobi Chapel social justice ministries, and visited and prayed with the leaders of the 5 new Nairobi churches that were planted the first weekend of August. We also visited Nairobi Graduate School of Theology (NEGST), the school I will be attending, and I was blessed by the group with prayers for my upcoming two years of study there.
For the Beacon of Hope activities, we did a three day program for about 100 children from the Kware slum community with music, games, crafts, devotions, and teachings. Our teachings were on HIV/AIDS, abstinance, and sexual abuse. Another day there were a group of doctors from a local hospital who put on an eye clinic at Beacon, so the group helped out with the eye clinic - about 150 people were seen! The final day of activities at Beacon of Hope was a sports day with a youth group in Kware that Beacon of Hope partners with. We divided into teams and competed in different games and races, and then finished off the afternoon with a big soccer match. It was a really fun day and a good opportunity to interact with the teenagers and young adults in this youth group.
The group ended their time in Kenya with a trip to the Maasai Mara, one of the largest game parks in Kenya. But, a day before the team left for Maasai Mara, my parents and younger sister Kelly arrived in Kenya! I was very excited to see them after being away from home for 7 months, and I was also excited for them to have the opportunity to come to Kenya, since none of them had ever been to Africa before.
So my family joined the group from the Bible Church, and we all went together on a very bumpy six hour drive to the Maasai Mara - the last 80 km were not even roads at all, and even calling them dirt roads suggests something much more defined than what they were. But it was definately worth it - we saw a lot of animals including lions and elephants, and thousands of wildebeasts as it is now the season for the wildebeast migrations.
Then we returned to Nairobi, the BIble Church team returned home, and I spent another week in Kenya with my family. In Nairobi, we made several visits to the children's home, and had a great time playing with the children there. We also spent a day at Beacon of Hope, so my family was able to meet my coworkers, walk through the Kware slum, and visit with some families in the slum community that we work with. We also spent an afternoon having a Swahili and African culture lesson with my Swahili teacher. Several of my friends also invited my family to their homes, so my family was able to meet a lot of my friends here and enjoy Kenyan hospitality (which means we ate a lot of good Kenyan food!)
We ended their trip with a visit to Watamu, a coastal area of Kenya, and enjoyed three days of relaxing at the gorgeous beach there. I slept a lot during those three days, and it was nice to get a chance to relax after so much activity. We returned to Nairobi for two more days before my family left, and they were able to help me move my things into NEGST.
My parents left late last night, and will be arriving home today. I am so glad I was able to share with them my life in Kenya, and that they were able to experience all of the beatuiful as well as all of the difficult aspects of life here. Kenya is such a country of contrasts - it is a beatiful country with wonderful people and rich culture, but at the same time the society is plagued with heartwrenching poverty, HIV/AIDS, and all of the challenges that come with them. Yet, in my seven months here, I have found so much beauty even in the midst of the pain in the Kware slum community, and have really come to love the people there.
Right now I am writing this from my new home, a small but comfortable dorm room on the campus of NEGST. I took the day off to relax and do some errands today, but I will be returning to Beacon of Hope for the next two weeks to finish up some things and then will begin orientation on the 5th of Sept.