Wait But Why?: Maybe Atheists Have Something to Say

I tend to like atheist blog posts.  I tend to like atheists.  This might seem strange, as I happen to hold to a pretty traditional set of beliefs in a trinitarian God:  FatherSonandHolyGhost.  You may find it unusual that I would embrace the thoughts of someone with a completely contrary view of the universe.  You may even ask “Wait, but why?”, which would be hilarious, because that is the title of a very good atheist blog post, waitbutwhy.com.

Fair question.  Why would a person who has sold out his life to follow a Jewish messiah he’s never (physically) met think atheists have anything to say to him?

In a completely unfair generalization (but it’s my blog, so I can get away with it), there are two kinds of atheists: angry atheists, and humble atheists.  First, and most uncomfortably, are the angry atheists.  They’ve been seriously hurt or damaged by the church, or by god, or by their parents, or by society.  One of my best friends in Bend was in this camp.  Angry to the core, and deservedly so.  These atheists follow their guru, Richard Dawkins, and their mantra is “I don’t believe in God, and I’m really, really angry at Him.”

These types of atheists are like wasabi, the really hot mustardy stuff that comes with sushi.  Mix a tiny bit of wasabi with your soy sauce, lightly dip in the delicious sushi, and the flavors explode.  But make the mistake of thinking the wasabi is part of the main course, take too big a bite, and your brain catches on fire and you won’t be able to taste anything for weeks.  Angry atheists are to be loved, but can be toxic to take in entree-sized portions.  And these types of atheists tend to be fiercely evangelical.  If I’m angry at a god I don’t believe in, everybody else should be angry at him too.  As I said, I have a good friend in this camp, but that kind of anger is hard to sustain over long periods of time, and it is really destructive.

The second type of atheist, the waitbutwhy.com-type atheists, are humble truth-seekers.  Many have been raised  in religious homes, but at some point started seeing contradictions in what they had been taught.  Hmm, God is all-loving and all-powerful, but refugee children drown, people starve, hearts are broken…..wait, but why?  I was taught that the only path to salvation was ‘abc’, but those Christians are taught that the only path is xyz…wait, but why?  I was taught that Jews…I was taught that Muslims…I was taught that Catholics….  But then I see atrocities committed by “Christians” and acts of grace performed by Muslims….wait but why?

An honest soul, and one courageous enough to step outside the little-d dogma in which s/he was raised, starts to explore these contradictions.  And one route, the one to humble atheism, goes like this:  I see errors in some of the things I was taught in the church.  I see contradictions in the Bible, which is supposed to be the foundation of these beliefs.  I see those in church authority abusing their power in the most terrible ways.  Hmm, maybe these contradictions go all the way to the core, maybe the foundational premise, the existence of an almighty, supernatural creator, needs to be looked at.

Maybe this is all human-breathed, a psychological and sociological reaction to the too-terrible-to-face reality that we are alone, that we are random, that our lives are brief and meaningless and followed by eternal oblivion.

And on that happy note, isn’t it obvious why I find these people so interesting?  But I really do, because these are people with the courage to look at creation without blinking.  They are people who would rather ask “Wait, but why?” than to stumble on through the fog of their inherited Religion.

And so humble atheists tend to have an incredibly fresh and powerful view of the universe.  Rather than processing everything through a tiny world-view, they are unconstrained to accept what is before them.  They can look at the cosmos, at the human condition, even at God, through child-like eyes.

So I think, in some way, the humble atheist can see God more clearly than those inside Religion.  If God is represented in His creation, the humble atheist can see this creation unfiltered by centuries of cultural clutter.

So I am not offended by the humble atheist, and I embrace her/his intellectual courage and honesty.  But I don’t come to the same conclusions.  “Wait, but why?,” you may ask.

The humble atheist tends to accept what s/he can experience and verify through her/his intellect and senses, through reason.  If s/he has been betrayed by second hand knowledge, by taught “Truths” which turn out to be not-so-true, then direct experience seems a more reliable belief system.  And here’s where I differ from the humble atheist.

My direct experiences:

My wife loves me, even though she knows me.  Wait, but why?

My mother prayed for me, even when I was completely lost.  Wait, but why?

A single electron charge on a single molecule in a cell membrane changes the 3-dimensional shape of the molecule, enabling it to fit perfectly into another 3-dimensional molecule, triggering a biochemical reaction which leads to a smile. Wait, but why?

An atheist Jewish surgeon and I struggled together in a sweltering operating room in Haiti to put people back together after the earthquake.  Wait, but why?

Kijabe Hospital has survived violence, poverty, apathy, and missionaries like me, providing incredible care to the most vulnerable in Kenya, for a hundred years, despite all odds.  Wait, but why?

If you are open to them, day to day reality provides glimpses of the divine.  Our difficult life in this difficult time provides direct experience of the way things were meant to be.  Almost always through individual acts of grace, or sometimes through the complex beauty of nature, we can see through the fog to the divine truth that we are not alone, that we are not random, that life is not meaningless, that we are loved beyond reason.

To quote Tim Urban, the atheist author of the Wait but Why? blog:

“A true Whoa moment is hard to come by and even harder to maintain for very long… Thinking about this level of reality is like looking at an amazing photo of the Grand Canyon; a Whoa moment is like being at the Grand Canyon—the two experiences are similar but somehow vastly different. Facts can be fascinating, but only in a Whoa moment does your brain actually wrap itself around true reality. In a Whoa moment, your brain for a second transcends what it’s been built to do and offers you a brief glimpse into the astonishing truth of our existence…

I love Whoa moments. They make me feel some intense combination of awe, elation, sadness, and wonder. More than anything, they make me feel ridiculously, profoundly humble—and that level of humility does weird things to a person. In those moments, all those words religious people use—awe, worship, miracle, eternal connection—make perfect sense. I want to get on my knees and surrender…”

So the difference between me and the humble atheist, is that I get down on my knees and surrender.  If everything around me says “awe, worship, surrender”, why would I resist? Why would I not hunger for more “Whoa moments”?  If my direct experience tells me that an impossibly, unimaginably loving creator wants to be in relationship with me, why would I disregard my experience?

I’m not a theologian, I can’t keep a lot of dogma in my head.  A faith that has two main commandments seems to fit:  Love God, and Love the Person In Front Of You.  I’m not very good at it sometimes, but at least I can remember the rules.  And those two rules come from ancient Jewish books, and those two rules were declared the summation of all religion by Jesus. So I guess that makes me a Christian.

My direct experience has shown me a God of love.  And that Love is the answer to the question “Wait, but why?”.  Why is the universe so amazing, why am I here, why is there good in the world?  Because there is a force of Love, of Order, of Logos, of anti-chaos, permeating existence.  My direct experience makes me pretty sure that something strange happened when that Jewish messiah lived and died.  Pretty sure that something changed in the fabric of the cosmos, irreversibly “tearing the temple curtain”, tearing down the separation between the natural and the Supernatural, the created and the Creator, the beloved and the Lover.

So as Christians, maybe we have something to hear from the humble atheist.  Maybe a naked awe at the raw grandeur of creation holds truths about the Creator.  Maybe science serves as a light to illuminate our foggy perception of Creation.

And maybe we are called to love those whose beliefs differ from ours:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  For you atheists out there, that’s Jesus talking, from the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s Gospel.

Maybe He has something to say, too.  

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Back in the Saddle!

We are back in Kijabe after a really nice break in Ireland.  We took some time to rest, spend time with family and friends, eat delicious seafood, and soak up the rain!  We moved into the house we just finished renovating in Howth, where my family live. Howth is a small fishing village on the Irish coast whose cliffs rival those found on the west coast…in my humble opinion!  Here are some photos from our time there…  I took these photos with my i-phone.  I can only imagine what Benjamin Edwards would capture with his lens and creativity!

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Keeping Ireland clean, one poop at a time!

Keeping Ireland clean, one poop at a time!


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We took a family holiday on the west coast and cycled the Greenway with the kids.  The Greenway is an old disused railway track that has been converted into a cycle / pedestrian path.  It starts in Westport, Co. Mayo, and winds its way through Newport, Mulranny, and finally ends up at Achill.  It is 26 miles (one way) of the most gorgeous scenery as it snakes through farmer’s fields, down old country lanes, beside lakes and rivers, over mountains, and by the wild Atlantic sea.  The kids wondered if I had what it takes to cycle the complete route to Achill and back!  It took us 4 days to cycle the entire Greenway and we stayed in a friend’s house in Newport and B&B’s along the way.  The first two days brought torrential rain and winds, which blew Jane off her bike and into roadside ditches at least twice during the journey!  We had borrowed rain gear from our friends but were soaked through nonetheless.  Our feet squelched with each peddle we took.  Our gloves were saturated and our faces stung as we battled against the ferocious winds.  But, we loved every minute of it.  You can’t fight the rain in Ireland; you have to embrace it, and we did.


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The last two days felt like we were on the Mediterranean as the sun beat down on our bare arms.  It was glorious!  We stopped off at small village coffee shops and bars for lunch and consumed at least a month’s worth of fresh seafood!


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Jane chasing the sheep!

Jane chasing the sheep!



We returned to Kijabe recharged and ready to embrace the remainder of our time here.  We came back to a few more animals than we were expecting!  Caramel had a SURPRISE litter of baby bunnies while we were gone and Simba is pregnant for the second time and busy making a nest for her expected brood!  We have officially passed the point of no return!  Rats have taken up residence in our ceiling and sound like an army of excavators during the night!  Paul laid down some poison yesterday and we are hoping this brings their antics to an end…

Paul, handling the toxic rat poison and going to battle with the pests

Paul, handling the toxic rat poison and going to battle with the pests

Transport of goods, Kijabe style, on the back of a motorbike!

Transport of goods, Kijabe style, on the back of a motorbike!

Back to the deathly roads!  This is supposed to be a 2-lane highway!

Back to the deathly roads! This is supposed to be a 2-lane highway!

First day back to school = very happy kids!

First day back to school = very happy kids!

Runt and Lucy - always snuggling!

Runt and Lucy – always snuggling!

Way too many bunnies!

Way too many bunnies!

Although, they're very cute!

Although, they’re very cute!

A very happy Bosco to have us back :-)

A very happy Bosco to have us back :-)

So!  We are back in the saddle and happy to be here.  We do have some changes coming up, which we will communicate about in due course.  In the meantime, if you are not on our prayer newsletter list (mail chimp) and wish to be, please let me know and I will add your email address.

Thanks, as always, for your support and interest in our crazy life adventure!

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Day 7: Ministry of Availability!

After 2 years this past April, I transitioned out of my role in Resource Mobilization at the hospital.  There were many reasons for my decision to do so, including the fact that I had taken the role as far as I myself could.  I really enjoyed helping the hospital to rebrand their logo and build their website.  I especially loved communicating the story of this place and leveraging the support of individuals around the world to engage in this ministry.  You only have to take a short walk through the corridors of the hospital to know how special the work being done here is.  Its mission to serve the most vulnerable patients from across Kenya, East Africa, and beyond is both inspiring and a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Sprit.  Sick and often desperate individuals turn up on the doorstep of the hospital, with the hope that they will be treated despite their inability to pay.  Kijabe Hospital keeps its patient fees as low as possible in an attempt to serve as many people as possible.  No matter where we have traveled to throughout Kenya, everyone knows about Kijabe. Kenyans recognize this place for its excellence in healthcare, medical training, and compassion.  It truly is a city on a hill; a light in the darkness.

Towards the beginning of our time in Kijabe, the hospital invited Beth Fischer (videographer, producer and story teller, from Oregon and one of my best friends) to come and help communicate the heart of this place.  Every time I look at this video, my heart swells.  This piece was produced by Beth primarily for individuals who might be considering giving of their time or resources to help contribute to Kijabe Hospital.

Since April, being devoid of a tangible role, I have been practicing what my friend, Amanda Hansen calls, the “Ministry of Availability!”  This involves being available to invite and help settle our short-term volunteers, focusing more on the kids, and supporting Mike in his work.  This has been quite a challenge for me!  I do not do well without something to engage in outside the home, but I have felt God saying to wait…and wait I have, albeit climbing the walls at times and feeling without purpose. There are some potential opportunities for me to get involved with in Kijabe and once we get back after our summer break, I will pursue those.  For now, I continue to be available to…

Make oatmeal and raisin breakfast muffins (thanks Scott Myhre, for recipe!)

Make oatmeal and raisin breakfast muffins (thanks Scoot Myhre, for recipe!)

The local Post Office

The local Post Office

Posting a letter to Ireland

Posting a letter to Ireland

Helping Amanda make

Helping Amanda make “attractive” pecan pies!

Encouraging Amanda to put some LOVE into crimping a pie edge!

Amanda putting the LOVE into crimping a pie edge!

Finished Products!

Finished Products!

Enjoying this sign of beauty...as big as my hand!

Enjoying this sign of beauty…as big as my hand!

And chatting with Mama Gerry!  Mama Gerry works in our home, from 8am-12pm, Monday to Friday.  It is not uncommon for working Kenyans to have someone help them with housework, cooking, baking, cleaning etc.  Mama Gerry has been working for us for the past 2 years and we love her!  She is the most Godly woman I have ever met and is constantly in prayer for her family and ours.  She is pure light and joy and we are so grateful for her presence in our home.

Mama Gerry

Mama Gerry

I also helped remind my brother, Stephen, and his wife, Anna, of the infallible “swaddle method” of wrapping a baby, via What’s App!  Michael and Jane both loved to be swaddled and Mike was the king of swaddling…and so…this step by step guide ensued!




And so ends my 7 day challenge to document daily life in Kijabe.  It’s been a particularly hard season, which Mike alluded to in some of his more recent posts.  I think we both feel a little depleted, and in my case, unproductive.  If you think of us, please do continue to pray for our time in Kenya – some specific requests include:

  • Endurance and energy for Mike in work.
  • An unfolding of God’s plans for our future.
  • Purpose and opportunities to engage in work outside the home, for Ann.
  • Continued protection over Michael’s health and good management of his diabetes.
  • Increasing confidence in Jane with her reading.
  • A refreshing and rejuvenating visit to Ireland this summer.

Thank you, thank you, for your words of encouragement to us – we love to read your comments on our blog, emails from home, and updates from each one of you.  God bless you all.

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Day 6: Grocery shopping in the big smoke

The Supa Duka in Kijabe sells a large variety of foods, but once every two weeks I head into Nairobi to do a “big shop.”  Meghan came with me this morning after we got the kids off to school.  It is usually a 6-8 hour round trip, which involves taking our lives into our own hands, navigating the treacherous highway into the city, avoiding oncoming traffic and animals, and rushing around with a long list of things to get…all before the kids get out of school.  Kijabe sits about half way down the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, and to reach the main highway from Nakuru to Nairobi, you have to drive up a very winding and bumpy road.  For the past 100 years, patients with broken bones, pregnant women, and trauma victims have had to endure an excruciatingly painful drive down this road to reach the hospital.  The government has just received a big grant to finally fix the road of its pot-holes thereby making the hospital more accessible.  Today, it was exciting to see that work has begun with a flurry of activity and many individuals swinging picks and hoes.





IMG_0799 copyUpon arrival in Nairobi, we fuel ourselves with some breakfast and excellent Kenyan coffee in preparation for the marathon shopping expedition ahead.  We start at the general store and proceed to the butcher’s, pharmacy, and the fruit & veg store, all the while filling the car to the ceiling with plastic bags and boxes.


I cannot believe that I have resorted to buying food for a HEN!!

I cannot believe that I have resorted to buying food for a HEN!!


IMG_0769After packing the cold foods into freezer bags and boxes, we returned to Kijabe hot and bothered.  Here are some sights along the way…

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And for those of you who doubted the snuggling Lucy and Runt…


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Day 5: New life and sunshine!

Today was a good day…

At 11:50am last night, I got a phone call from my brother, Stephen, from the maternity hospital in Dublin!  Anna had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy!  He was 8lbs 6ozs and a complete surprise to the whole family who were convinced that he was a another girl!  His name is Toby (God is good) and he is adorable!  If I could, I would be on the next plane home just so I could snuggle him and cover him with kisses.  Soon.  We travel for Ireland in 3 weeks time, for a summer’s break.  Anyway, new life is the best kind of celebration and although Jane “doesn’t do boys” (her exact words), we are all absolutely thrilled with the newest addition to our family and cannot wait to meet him!

I was woken this morning at 6:40am by an unusual sound coming from the kitchen.  It was accompanied by whispers and giggles and then a “cluck, cluck, cluck.”  Michael and Jane brought their new “pet” into the house and she quickly made herself at home by flying up onto the kitchen table!  Let’s just say, I may have let a roar or two in response.  I have my limits! Lucy has settled in well in the rabbit cage.  She keeps the big male bunny in his place by pecking him on the nose if he gets in her way! As for Runt, the two of them could not be happier together!

To accompany the great baby news, the sun came out…for the whole entire day.  All was right with the world once again as washing dried on the line and the smell of mildew was eradicated from the house.  Laborers were hard at work once again chiseling blocks out of large pieces of stone and building a brand new entrance to the hospital.





I then colored Meghan’s hair…needs must…


And finally, hosted “Dessert Night” this evening, where visiting doctors to the hospital come and meet the long-termers!


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Day 4: 15 Passengers and a Hen!

We hauled the kids out of bed at 6:45am this morning!  Our friend, Margaret, who works at the hospital, invited us to go to mass with her at her church.  Both Mike and I were raised Catholic and have missed the rituals of the mass – the familiarity of the call and response prayers, the predictable cadence that brings comfort, and the blessing of the bread and wine.  We left the house at 7:30am and drove up steep and winding dirt roads, past small dwellings, plots of land with crops and animals, and finally arrived at Margaret’s home.



Margaret and her daughter, Mary Lucy

Margaret and her daughter, Mary Lucy

We had the Higgin’s family with us.  Thomas is an orthopedic surgeon who works at the University of Utah.  By strange coincidence, he and Mike crossed paths back in 2000 when Mike did his hand fellowship in Utah, but barely knew each other back then.  Roll on 14 years, and Mike got an email from Thomas asking if there was a need for a short-term trauma surgeon at Kijabe Hospital.  Mike realized who he was and invited him to come as soon as was possible!  He worked here for a couple of weeks last year and returned with his family this past May for almost 4 months!  His wife, Meghan, is phenomenal and we are like two peas in a pod (which I suppose makes me phenomenal by default!).  They have two kids, Corrine, who is in Jane’s class, and Owen, who is in Kindergarten.  Our two families could not get on any better!


Margaret and her Mama

Margaret and her Mama

We reached the church right on time for 8:30am mass, but the priest was nowhere to be seen.  He had been delayed at a precious service and would not reach the Magina Church until 10am!  No problem – the kids rolled with the delay.  Michael started wrestling with the other boys his age (as you do as a 10 year old boy!) and Jane plonked herself down on the grass while the littler kids played with her long, straight hair.  The children’s choir practiced their tunes and their moves!





IMG_0639Then the priest arrived just as the sky started to turn dark and mass began!  The singing and dancing were incredible!  The priest was energetic and preached in Gikuyu, Kiswahili and a bit of English (the latter for our benefit, of course!).  There was so much joy and celebration packed into those pews!

After the mass ended, there was a fundraiser and a very exciting raffle!  Meghan won a jug of orange juice and Mike won…









…a HEN!!!

And so ended the day…almost 7 hours later, with hungry tummies and very happy hearts, we piled into the car…all 15 of us and our new hen, Lucy…who now lives with the bunnies and was spotted snuggling with baby Runt shortly before bedtime!!!  We arrived home to monkey paw prints all over our kitchen counters (somebody left the window open!) and a very depleted fruit bowl.






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Day 3: Sad Goodbyes & Mucky Runs

One of my favorite things to eat while living in Tanzania was rice and beans.  While Maida was here, she showed me how to make them just like I remembered!  Beans, salt, oil, onions and tomatoes – nothing tastes as good over a bed of white rice!   After lunch, I headed down to the hospital to pick up some medications for a patient.  It always does my heart good to see the hospital vehicles and their branded logos, curtesy of Face Out Studio, in Bend, Oregon!  After dinner, we attended a farewell party for long-term families who are finishing their terms at Kijabe Hospital and leaving this July.  One of those families is the Myhre’s.  Scott and Jennifer are part of our Serge team here in Kijabe.  Soon after they both graduated from medical school (Scott as an Internist/OB doctor and Jennifer as a pediatrician), they headed out to rural Uganda with a small baby in tow.  They have spent the last 21 years in East Africa, serving selflessly, caring for the sick, healing and treating, showing grace and love to those around them, and raising 4 amazing children.  It’s hard not to feel just a little inadequate around them!  Their last child graduates from RVA this July and they are heading back to the US for a year, during which they will discern where God is leading them to next.  Their faith is real, practical, honest and raw.  They have been an incredible support to our family and we will miss them when they are gone.


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This morning, as with every Saturday morning, I woke up to the smell of bacon frying.  The kitchen is Mike’s domain on a Saturday morning and admittedly, he makes the best breakfasts!  (Despite the utter chaos that ensues during the preparation!) Maida was getting ready to leave and we were all feeling a little sad saying goodbye.  This is the downside to living a life like this – there are always so many goodbyes to be said.  Bosco was eager to go for a run – how could you refuse this face? – and I was eager to distract myself from my sadness…







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Photos from Day 2: Weather & Friendship

As someone from Ireland, I can’t but talk about the weather!

We have entered into the cold, wet and miserable rainy season!   The short rains, which were long delayed this year, have come with a vengeance.  Because our house is made out of bricks (with no insulation) and has a tin roof, it is often colder inside than outside.  This tends to raise my anxiety levels to an obnoxious high!  Imagine the scene…the dirt roads are turned into sloppy puddles of muck, the kids like nothing better than to roll around in said muck, Bosco picks up as much mud as possible outside and promptly deposits it all over the white tiles on my kitchen floor.   Flying ants come out after the rainstorms, enter under the doorways, in through the cracks and shed their wings all over the house.  Our clothes smell of mildew because we cannot dry them outside or inside!  We light our fire almost every night and huddle around it to keep warm. On the plus side, our garden looks tropical and our shamba has a ton of green, leafy vegetables.


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This is Maida Bajeneza.  I first met Maida back in 2000, when I was working in Musoma, Tanzania.  She and I worked together setting up and running a “Development Education and Leadership Training Program” for the Diocese of Mara.  She is a gifted teacher and trainer, and without her, I don’t know if I would have lasted the two years I spent in Tanzania.  While I was there, she applied for a scholarship to the college in Dublin, where I completed my MA in Development Studies.  She was accepted to the MA program and lived in Dublin for almost 2 years.  She got to know my family very well and spent many a “holiday” in my parents home.  Our friendship has lasted over the past 15 years despite living on different continents and this is the second time she has visited us here in Kijabe.  What a gift to be living close to her in this season of life. Michael and Jane adore her, and she them.  She has spent the last couple of days resting and we have enjoyed many cups of tea and chats in front of the fire.



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…one of my favourite photos (not taken today!)…

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A Week in Photos: Day 1

Let’s be honest – I’m feeling the pressure after Mike’s 28-day blog marathon!  In an effort to level the playing field, I am adopting my own 7-day commitment – not as extravagant, I know, but an effort nonetheless!  So many of you expressed your appreciation at being able to glimpse inside the everyday that is our norm here in Kenya.  I hope these photos will give you another lens through which to view daily life in Kijabe. paul

This is Paul Nganga.  Paul has worked for us since we arrived here almost 3 years ago. He works tirelessly each and everyday cutting the grass with a machete, trimming the hedges with a panga and a three legged self-made ladder, attending to the flowers, weeding the shamba (our small vegetable garden), chopping wood (to keep us warm during this miserable rainy season!), and caring for the rabbits!  He works hard.  You can literally set your clock by him – he is the most punctual person I know! He loves to help Jane take care of her rabbits.  He built these rabbit hutches out of scrap pieces of wood and bits of wire.  There just maybe some more rabbit hutch building in his future too!  I was woken up yesterday morning by a high-pitched scream from Jane.  Every morning, the first thing she does is look out her bedroom window to check on her rabbits.  Yesterday, she was greeted by this scene – Caramel (female) and Carrot (male) outside of their cages (Jane “forgot” to lock them!), running around the garden and driveway and in Jane’s words, “mating together,” followed by, “and it looks like Caramel is enjoying it too!”  I cannot handle anymore baby rabbits.  Seriously!


A quick trip down to the Supa Duka (small shop that sells staples) and the market to get some fruit and vegetables.  Kijabe is small.  Besides the Duka and the market, there’s a butcher, hair salon, hardware store, and a couple of couple of local restaurants which offer up the tastiest offal available in these parts!  Sometimes, my desire to ‘do a bit of real shopping’ overtakes me, and I start rummaging around the local shops.  This is a top I bought at the local Duka, hanging beside the trays of local eggs and the stacks of flour, oil and sugar.  Sarah, the shop owner, was modeling the same top at the time, which clinched the deal for me!


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One of my running routes here.  A little rocky in places (!) but Bosco confidently leads the way on a narrow road which opens up onto the cusp of the Great Rift Valley!

IMG_0247DSC_0425 copyAnd my biggest accomplishment of all, since arriving in Kenya?  Learning to bake a pie!  (Thanks to Sally and Meghan!)

And those leaves?

All mine…


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Neil Young, Papal Yogaphobia, and the Power of Prayer

As I intimated in my last couple of post, I’ve been going through a down patch, experiencing some discouragement and burnout.  In our pre-deployment training, we had lectures and sessions on this, and they were helpful, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s a little tough to see an obvious escape route.

One belief in Christianity is that we often get in the way of our own relationship with God.  The image is one of a door, with you on one side and Christ on the other.  He’s knocking to come in, but the door only has a handle on your side: God’s side of the door is blank.  We often shut the door, and then complain bitterly that God is absent, or doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care.  God is always present, waiting for us to open the door, but it doesn’t work if we close the door, close off the relationship.

Slightly cheesy Bible picture

Reaching for that handle, opening the door, re-establishing relationship with our creator, can be difficult.  Difficult not because it requires knowledge of a certain denomination, or sacrificial practice of an esoteric spiritual discipline.  Difficult not because the key to that door belongs to a certain sect, and not because one needs a mantra or wisdom from a gnome-like guru sitting cross legged in his mountain cave, or in his palace in Rome.

The opening of that door is difficult, because to grasp the handle, we must let go of what we’re holding on to.

From the Gospel of Mark:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”…

 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

I don’t think this passage was meant to say that everyone is supposed to go out and sell everything and give it to the poor.  If you look carefully, an unusual sentence is inserted into the passage:  “Jesus looked at him, and loved him.”  In his day, Jesus was a hugely popular and controversial figure.  He attracted crowds of thousands wherever he went.  But over and over again in the Gospels, we see Jesus as very “one on one.”  On only a few occasions does he address large groups of people.  Rather, he spent three years wandering around from town to town, engaging individuals deeply.  Touching lepers, dining with people we might despise, confronting the possessed, really “hands on”.

And in this particular circumstance, he stops, looks at this rich young man, looks into his soul,and sees what is preventing this particular person from experiencing God.  In this particular instance, this man cannot reach up and open the latch on the door because he is clinging tightly to his wealth.

The current Roman Catholic Pope Francis is a rock star.  The press loves him, mainly because he embraces humility, poverty, and authenticity, over the trappings of his office.  There was a recent flurry of concern over his comments on yoga!  Is the Pope yogaphobic?  Is he prohibiting Christians from using yoga for core strength or to get those six pack abs? If you take the time to look at what he said, you’ll find this non-controversial statement: “You can take a million catechetical courses, a million courses in spirituality, a million courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you freedom”.  The Pope tells us that only the Holy Spirit can “move the heart” and make it “docile to the Lord, docile to the freedom of love”. If we are seeking a zen-like peace from yoga meditation, or wealth, or security, then we are seeking peace from the wrong source.

So the supposed papal statement on yogaphobia also includes a warning that Catholic theology classes (catechetical courses) aren’t the way to go!  It turns out that the path to peace in your heart is just letting that door open, and experiencing God directly.  But again, to do that, you have to put down what you’re grasping.

One of the great poet-sages of our time, Neil Young, captures this pretty well:

Workin’ hard every day
Never notice how
the time slips away
People come, seasons go
We got something
that’ll never grow old.

I don’t care
if the sun don’t shine
And the rain keeps pouring
down on me and mine
‘Cause our kind of love
never seems to get old
It’s better than silver and gold.

I used to have a treasure chest
Got so heavy that I had to rest
I let it slip away from me
Didn’t need it anyway
so I let it slip away.

I don’t know what Neil Young’s spiritual beliefs are, but his song “Silver and Gold” captures exactly the same point.  Holding on to wealth, pride, security, pain, whatever is in our “treasure chest”, gets very tiring.  It’s okay to rest, put down whatever you’re holding on to so tightly, and reach up for the handle on the door.

So I think the Pope and Neil Young would agree:  if what you seek is peace, no amount of striving can get you there.  If you’re burned out and discouraged, trying harder, working harder, wishing people would just see your vision and fall in line, just isn’t going to put you on your zen mountaintop.

One of the advantages of living in a village in Africa is that you can get away from people pretty quickly.  Yesterday afternoon, I was in such a black hole that I couldn’t stand myself.  I put on my running shoes, and within five minutes of old man shuffle, was on a muddy twisty mountain road with dense bush on all sides.

This is a great place to talk with God without looking like a crazy person.  No one to judge you but baboons.  I shouted, I pleaded, I got angry, I let Him know exactly what I thought about my current situation.  But the door was firmly shut.  He was nowhere to be found.  Great.

Just when I need Him, He’s either not paying attention, doesn’t care, or doesn’t exist.

The only thing listening were the baboons, and they had nothing helpful to contribute.

I expected to come back from that run rejuvenated and energized.  After all, I had done my part, I had “gone to the mountaintop”, spent some quality time with God.  It was time for him to do his part.  So why did I still feel so black?

Last evening, we had a dinner engagement at our house with some of my favorite people in Kijabe.  Chege is one of our senior trainees, and his wife Evalyn is a nurse in the operating theatres.  They have a beautiful four year old boy named Nimwell.  They are gentle, loving, kind, amazing people.  Chege is in the middle of a spine surgery fellowship in Egypt, and so hasn’t seen his family in a couple of months.  He’s spending a short break back here in Kijabe, and they were good enough to agree to have dinner with us.

We had a great dinner of Irish stew and mashed potatoes, which, it turns out, is very similar to Kikuyu cooking.  No surprise that mashed potatoes and beef with gravy are everyone’s comfort food.  Great conversation, hilarious stories, just one of those nights of fun and relaxing relationship.  As we stood up to say our good-byes, Chege asked if he could pray briefly.

I’ve heard Chege pray and preach before, and he is a gifted speaker.  But he was moved at this moment to pray for me, to encourage me, to lift me up, to allow me to let go of my treasure chest of pride and insult.

As he prayed, I could feel the anger, resentment, burnout, begin to melt.  I went to bed, and woke up this morning, with the blackness gone, and the enthusiasm and energy returning.

I don’t pretend to understand how prayer works.  I don’t know how Chege knew that I needed prayer to help me let go of my treasure chest.  Theologians could debate paradoxes and mysteries for lifetimes.  But like this laptop, I don’t need to know how it works.  I’m just glad that it does.

I’m heading off on an outreach trip tomorrow, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to work.  The travel, cross-cultural setting, and security measures are all exhausting.  To head into that week depleted looked like a recipe for disaster, and I had contemplated a last-minute cancellation, knowing how disruptive that would be.

But I think that all had to do with what I was holding on to.  And I think my friend Chege saw how firmly I was holding that door closed.  His prayer helped me to just let go of what was bothering me, quit taking myself so seriously, and see the beauty around me.  We hold on so tightly to the chains that bind us, hold on so tightly to what we treasure.  Too often, the peace we seek is right in front of us, but we refuse to accept it.  If you think that might be true in your current setting, I encourage you to pray, find someone to pray for you, let go of your treasure chest, and see what happens when that door opens.

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