Monthly Archives: November 2012

Struggles and Perspectives…

Ann’s perspective on living in Kenya:

There is such a lot to be said for having a sense of belonging, where you understand social cues, can join in the banter, and where one can expect that most of the unwritten social constructs make sense…for the most part.

Living in Kijabe has demanded that we relinquish control of our expectations regarding how things should work.  Daily routine takes on a whole new meaning.  There are no supermarkets in the village, rather a small “duka” or shop, which sells the essential items such as oil, sugar, flour, soap and canned goods.  Beside this is the “butcher,” which commonly displays bloody carcasses hanging from a hook in the ceiling.Across the road is the market, which sells all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, our favorite being jumbo sized avocadoes, juicy pineapples and mangoes.  In the market sit a dozen vendors each selling their goods.  You do your best to buy from each of them to avoid hard feelings.  On return home, there begins the arduous task of bleaching each item in preparation for dinner.

 

We needed to buy a queen bed for all the visitors we are anticipating!  I asked around the village for a recommendation of a “fundi” that could make us one.  I was directed to a small timber shop and ten minutes later had ordered a cypress bed frame for $80.  After three weeks, I received a call from Joshua to say that the bed was finally ready for collection.  It took some time to make but it is one of the most beautifully crafted pieces of furniture that we have ever owned!  We arrived at the timber shop to see it completely assembled outside.

After inspection and words of affirmation it was disassembled and loaded up onto the roof of our car, after which we brought it home, reassembled it only to find out that we couldn’t fit it up the stairs!  We resorted to using a saw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a common saying in these parts that “Westerners have watches and Africans have time.”  The pace of life here is slow and relaxed, which makes a lovely change to the frantic pace of what we just left behind.  There simply is no hurry here and yet things always have a way of working out.  Yesterday, we had a painter come to our home to paint a couple of the rooms.  He travelled almost three hours to get here by Matatu (local bus) and arrived dressed to the nines in a suit and dress shirt.  I saw no evidence of a painter in him.  I asked him if he had paintbrushes to which he replied that they were in another house in the village.  We drove to get them and when we got back home he stated that he needed paint thinner.  Back into the car we got and drove to the hardware.  Once home again he said that we really did require putty for fixing the holes in the walls.  Yet another trip to the hardware store ensued.  Four hours had passed from the time he had arrived to the time he started painting. His work, however, is impeccable!  He uses no dust covers, no fancy gadgets, and yet there is not a splash of unwanted paint to be seen anywhere!  Things really do have a way of working out when you choose to take a deep breath and go with the flow.

 

Some days here are filled with such a sense of belonging and being right in the center of God’s will.  The kids love their new school, the weather is warm and balmy (when the rains stay away), our house here feels like a home, we have met wonderful people and feel as if we are already part of a community, and we are both filled with an incredible sense of purpose being here.  And then there are days when life is quite simply, difficult – when learning the language becomes an insurmountable chore, when our home is invaded by venomous “Nairobi Eye” beetles, when one of the kids says that Kenya is not the place for him/her, when we have an upset stomach for the umpteenth time, when our son’s blood sugars are out of control, when the need here is completely and utterly overwhelming.  It is at times like these when all we can do is fall to our knees and say, “God, help!”  The swinging from one extreme to the other can be emotionally draining and yet the pendulum continues its course.  God, are we really cut out for this life here?  Can we really be effective in what we are doing to alleviate suffering and make a difference?  Can it be that you chose “us” to be your instruments of peace and love in this place?  We are weak.  We are lacking in faith.  We are not equipped enough for the task at hand.  And yet, as we cry out, “God, help!” His grace abounds, our joy is made complete in Him, and we face another day in His power and mercy.

God has already put before me many opportunities to use my gifts and experience here.  I cannot begin to imagine what that is going to look like exactly but I trust that He will pave the way for me. During this time of transition, I am clinging to the following words by Elizabeth Elliot: “It is not our level of spirituality that we can depend upon.  It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes – the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package – our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses.”

God, help.

Mike’s Perspective on Moving to Kijabe

The move to long term foreign missions has involved so many facets, so many steps, that it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s strange being “one of those people” who had a “normal life” and are now doing something different.  I always thought this sort of thing was for other people.  But years ago, God’s quiet whisper began to make itself heard over the static of my “normal life.”  The more I listened to that whisper, the louder it became, until eventually it became deafening to the point of being impossible to ignore.  There’s never the right time, or good time, or easy time, to just surrender your will to God’s.  At some point, Ann and I realized, individually and as a couple, that our lives, though fine, “Christian”, and inoffensive to anyone, were just not aligned with God’s plan for us.  Though it was a little scary and a lot of work, abandoning our “normal life” for the adventure that awaited has

When you’re wearing gloves, you’re insulated.  You don’t feel the cold, you don’t feel the heat, you won’t get cut, but you also can’t play the piano or feel the softness of a baby’s skin.  Moving to Africa has removed the gloves.  Daily, I’m exposed to the most hilarious, disgusting, kind, cynical, gentle, violent, inspiring and heartbreaking people and situations I can imagine.  Last week, I left my iPhone in the locker room at the hospital.  A man found it and returned it to me.  That phone cost more than his house.  Later that day, I took care of a woman who was the sole survivor of ten people in a matatu (share taxi) crash whose driver was probably drunk.  Moments where I feel like I’m in the throne room of God, everything is shalom, amazing, followed immediately by devastating callousness and suffering.

As Ann mentioned, our missionary training taught us a very important phrase:  “God Help.”  There are so many times when I’m completely out of my element, my language training is pathetically inadequate, I don’t know what to do culturally, and all I can do is cry “God help.”  And He always answers.  I feel like I literally rely on manna, on my daily bread from God, to get by.  When you’re secure in your life, you don’t need to rely on God, and it’s easy to keep Him safely locked away until Sunday or the doctor gives you bad news.  For me, the greatest thing about our move is that all the crutches have been kicked away, and I get to hobble down the road leaning on Christ.  I’m sure a lot of people don’t need to move to a foreign country to have this kind of intimacy with God, but I think He understood my addiction to comfort and things and found a way to help me “take off the gloves.”

The work at the hospital is hard but very rewarding.  The orthopedic department functions at a very high level, and patients are treated kindly, so people come from a wide area to be taken care of.  Patients travel for days to get here from all parts of Kenya, Somalia, Southern Sudan, and DR Congo.  The suffering is hard to imagine.  In the US, if you break your femur or ankle, you’re in a hospital receiving morphine within minutes to hours, and having your fracture repaired urgently.  Some of these patients have had to wait weeks, with an unstable broken leg, and no pain medications, bouncing over rutted roads for hours on end to get to Kijabe.  Even after arriving at the hospital, they may have to wait for 6 hours or more to be seen.  It’s a busy place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My job here is to be part of training a new generation of Kenyan orthopedic surgeons.  Kijabe has the first orthopedic surgery training program in Kenya, and I’m privileged to work with an amazingly intelligent, hard working, and kind group of orthopedic surgery residents and consultants.  The residents are selected both for their academic excellence and their walk with Christ.  Each patient is prayed for before undergoing surgery, and each receives a level of care similar to what one would expect in a good hospital in the US.  I’m on a steep learning curve, becoming re-acquainted with conditions I haven’t seen since my residency, and some things that aren’t even published in books.  At this point, I feel more like a student than a teacher.  The senior orthopedic surgeon at Kijabe is returning in December to his home district after more than a decade here, so I’m trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

Overall, we feel amazingly blessed as a family.  We take great comfort in remembering the large group of people supporting us with prayer, and we look forward to reuniting with our friends at some point in the future.  For the moment, though, we feel like we’re exactly where God wants us to be, and that brings us a peace that makes all the inconveniences seem trivial.

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“Here I Am”

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

The Old Testament story of Abraham is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, for a number of reasons.  The historical figure of Abraham, incredibly, shapes global foreign policy to this day.  As the father of all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions, Abraham continues to affect world history as much or more today as he did in 1700 BC.  Thomas Cahill, in his book “The Gifts of the Jews”, argues the point that no one in Western culture can have a thought in his or her head which is not profoundly affected by the life of Abraham.  Abraham is the first recorded “man on a mission”, or man with a defined purpose in life.  As Westerners, we have trouble making sense of this statement.  Of course my life has a purpose, everyone’s life has a purpose.  Life is purposeful.  We can no more imagine a universe where human life has no purpose than a fish can imagine a life without being wet.  We are immersed in the notion that life has purpose.  Even the most ardent atheistic supporter of life as a culmination of random molecular events can enjoy improving his golf game, raising a family, or arguing against the existence of a loving, wise creator.

Abraham had a purpose.  Like Chevy Chase and John Belushi in “Blues Brothers”, he was “on a mission from God.”  Literally.  He was a well off guy, living his life in the ancient middle east, when God called to him.  Remember, this was prior to monotheism , Judaism, or any other prism through which we view God today.  He was called, and he said “Here I am.”  God told him to leave his place of comfort, and go build a people, a nation, the chosen people.  And he simply obeyed. “Here I am.”  There were no ten commandments, because Abraham had not yet founded the nation that would be taken into slavery in Egypt and freed by Moses to wander in the desert.  There was no Jesus (that he knew of), because the nation of Israel had not yet risen, fallen, and been put under Roman rule.  There weren’t yet even prophecies of a messiah, concepts of sin or forgiveness, or any other carrot or stick to motivate Abraham.

But Abraham obeyed.  In the child-like innocence described by an obscure Jewish rabbi named Yeshua the Nazarene 2000 years later, Abraham simply obeyed God.  By doing so, he entered into the first covenant between human kind and its creator.  Abraham had a purpose.

Prior to Abraham, the middle east followed the cyclical world-view of the Sumerians.  A world view similar to Greek mythology,  the seasons went round and round, and the gods played out their dramas in the heavens. People were simply the pawns of the gods, existing to live, die, appease, and fear.  No one life had any particular purpose.  Abraham changed all that.  After Abraham, life had purpose.

This incredible figure is widely described as the father of faith.  Revered by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, his life is held as the ultimate earthly example of faith.  God had made a promise, a covenant, that Abraham would be the father of a nation, the chosen people of God.  He was promised a son, even in his old age.  That son, that coveted, long awaited son, was Isaac.  After calling on Abraham to leave his home, his comfort, his life, and move into a foreign land, God calls on Abraham again.   The stakes are even higher this time.  God tells Abraham to take Isaac, to hike for three days to Mount Moriah, and sacrifice his son.  No reason given, no “if you do this, I’ll do that.”  Just do it.  Abraham’s response:  “Here I am.”  He just does it.  If you know the story, God calls off the execution at the last moment, provides an alternate sacrifice, and Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness.

Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Isaac

This horrific, murderous story is unpacked in one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, “Fear and Trembling”, by Soren Kierkegaard.

This book, really almost a pamphlet, was written by the philosopher credited with founding the field of existential philosophy.  Though existentialism is now viewed as an atheist philosophy, Kierkegaard was in fact a Christian.  The book looks like you could breeze through it in an afternoon, but it takes me weeks to get through.  Kierkegaard was nearly driven mad by the idea that an all knowing, all loving, all powerful God could ask his humble servant to do something as unethical as murder his son.  Though Abraham’s hand was held back at the last moment, in his heart he was ready to murder his son in obedience to a God he barely knew.

We think of faith as something lovely, warm, and reassuring.  Abraham’s life shows us that a life of faith may call us to behaviors seen as strange, unethical, or even on the edge of sanity.  Kierkegaard’s unblinking look at the story of Abraham reveals faith as a radical, uncompromising, and life changing path.

But notice what Abraham says to his servants:  “We will come back to you.  God’s covenant with Abraham includes the promise that Isaac will go on to be the father of a great nation.  Abraham was a wise and successful man:  he knew that sacrificing his son would preclude him from becoming the covenanted father of God’s chosen people.  But he didn’t need an explanation, he strode forward with child-like obedience and the resolve of a warrior.  He knew he could obey God, and against all odds, God would fulfill his promise.  The message is no less than this:  faith means abandoning all you know is right and good, in obedience to God.

I’ve gotten to know another Abraham recently.  There’s a man, about my age, who wanders around Kijabe.  Abraham is schizophrenic in a place with limited resources for mental health care.  He lives with his twin brother in a nearby town.  His twin brother is also schizophrenic, and so severely mentally ill he can barely speak.  Abraham wanders around, collecting sticks to trade for food or cigarettes at the nearby shops.  If you meet him on the path, he’ll ask for 10 shillings ( 12 Cents) or some food.

A few years ago, Abraham’s family collected the resources to take him to a mental health facility in Naivasha.  He was turned away, as they didn’t have enough medicine to treat him.  He was referred to a better supplied facility in Nairobi, where he lived for a time.  Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t have the resources for both medicine and food.  Abraham’s family travelled from Kijabe to Nairobi nearly every day to bring him food, but eventually this was too great a strain on the family’s resources, and they were forced to bring him back home.

Abraham gave his permission for this photo, and for its use here.

So now, Abraham wanders far from his home, with faith that God will fulfill his promise to care for us:

So do not be afraid…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows

God’s promise is that he cares for each of us individually.  We can convince ourselves that we’re self-reliant, but ultimately we have little more control over our destiny than my friend Abraham.  I don’t know Abraham well enough to know if his reliance on God’s provision is faith or simple necessity.  I’m not sure he has any choice.

I got to know Abraham because he started hanging out on our porch.  At 7,200 feet elevation, it gets cold here, and it’s been raining really hard.  I looked out the window, and he was sitting outside our patio door on a chair,trying to keep out of the rain.  His shoes and pants have large holes, and his jacket was soaked.  This raised a very minor Abraham-esque dilemma for me.  On the one hand, Jesus’s instructions are clear:

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Who better exemplifies “the least of these” than Abraham?  On one hand, God’s instructions here are clear.  This mentally ill man is Jesus.  In God’s mystical reasoning, helping Abraham is the same as serving Jesus.  On the other hand, I’ve got a family to protect.  I’ve got little children.   I’ve got a wife who is sometimes home alone when I’m at the hospital.  I’ve got a patio I’d like to be able to relax on by myself. It might be irresponsible, even unethical, maybe even a little insane, to embrace Abraham.  At the very least, it might be inconvenient.  I started weighing the pros and cons of giving Abraham some food, some chai, some warm clothes.  Sure God’s instructions are clear, but what about my family?  I started thinking that if I fed him, he would likely start coming around more, hanging out, and that might not be safe or desirable.

Then it occurred to me that this is the way you think about a stray dog or cat.  This man, this child of God, this unique creation, this representative of Christ, occupies the same part of my brain as a stray animal.

Faith is a tough road, and maybe not a place  for the completely sane or ethical.

Some of the hardest and most dangerous words  to say are “Here I am.”

 

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