This year our field visit to Kenya to pursue our programs centering on financial support resulted in a tour of the interior.
Working in partnership with another organization, we had requested to visit AIDS victims, widows, the handicapped and orphanages. Previously, as is now the case, our focus centers on those with the greatest needs, those who are frequently overlooked by society.
Here is a recap of our experiences. The journey over impassable roads lasts for several hours. Finally, we arrive at our first stop: a self-help group adjacent to a large school where the three hundred plus students had only seen white people in their history books. We step out of the car, are welcomed by the leaders and watched carefully from a distance by the children.
Mzungu! Mzungu! (white person) Their questioning eyes are fixed on us. Do they dare approach? Is it safe? What to do?
Funny about kids: how quickly they adapt. It only takes a few minutes of interaction with the adults before they realize the coast is clear, nothing to fear and they stampede us. They crowd around touching the white skin. They brush Charlie's hairy arms, which are definitely unusual. So far so good, only one question remains, how do mzungu's eat? Once the entertainment with the children draws to a close we venture into the church, a simple brick structure without any floor to speak of and a few wooden benches. What type of atmosphere do we expect to find inside? Not sure.
To our astonishment, we experience and I want to quickly add enjoy, a pattern of life that is repeated time and time again. Honestly, the difficulty of the journey is indescribable. Clearly, it is one of those occasions that you had to be there to understand. However, the people, oh the people, they too leave us surprised and breathless. We are greeted with a warmth that is seldom expressed in our own churches. The worship is filled with energy. I will never forget the beating of the drum to the faithful determined mantra: Tell the Pharaoh I'm not going back to Egypt, tell the devil I'm not going back! The courageous commitment is clearly symbolic of a futuristic view of life that refuses to be controlled by present difficulties or problems of the past.
Not only do we discover a genuine warmth, energy and faith among the faithful, but we also marvel at the praise and thanksgiving being offered to Almighty God. Thanksgiving? Yes. Thanksgiving! Wait a minute, there has been no rain for over two years, the animals are gaunt, food is scarce, water is difficult to find, AIDS is rampant, health care is marginal, there are over one million orphans, a corrupt government, and life in general is extremely hard. How people in such dire circumstances can sing and dance proclaiming their faith and God's goodness proves the truth of the scripture that teaches in the midst of all our troubles we have a hope and peace that the world does not share and goes beyond our human understanding.
Before leaving we are presented with a plaque that humbles us, it reads:
But precious people like you
Are forever treasured.
For us, the people we met, the stories they told, the smiles, songs and prayers we shared will always be tucked away as special memories. They are truly the treasure! And once again we learned the lesson that to reach out to help others is to reap a reward we can never be worthy of. Finally, there remains only one more comment: to experience the contrast of life in the bush versus our Western lifestyle is a humbling yet a mysterious experience. In view of this, how is it that we who have so much can often miss out on the joy those with so little are able to capture?
The question is why?