Saturday, I was up well before the roosters. Ana was already outside heating water while also boiling the tea, milk and sugar together to make the chai or “mixed tea” as the tourist hotels call it. A proper chai is boiled for a full 20-30 minutes to get the perfect mix of flavors. And the ice cold well water needed ample time to warm up fully.
I washed my hair for the first time since arriving, and I was thankful for the very warm water in the bucket, as the air this morning was quite crisp. I sat on the living room couch, read to Paula and Paulette and enjoyed several slices of enriched white bread with Blue Band “fat spread”, along with two crisply fried eggs, to give me a little extra protein boost.
Today is my first day of speaking and we are going to Mumias, a small village about an hour past Bungoma. What should be a three or three and a half hour trip takes us almost five hours this morning, due to heavy road construction before Bungoma. Road construction in Kenya is interesting.
You don’t see any heavy construction equipment out here. Instead, a small crew of 2-3 people work with a generator-fed cutting saw, that is cooled with a slicer (slowly feeding water to keep the blade cool). They cut rectangular holes (sometimes as large as a car) out of the tarmac, to cut out rough parts, or potholes on the street surface. This provides straight edges for any patching that is being done. The chunks of tarmac are then broken up by hand, using pick-axes. They are then loaded into buckets, and hand carried to donkey carts or small lorries, depending on the location of the construction.
Along this 5-10 mile stretch, there are crews doing the cutting and crews doing the removal, as well as miles and miles of the road where the already prepared holes are sitting empty, waiting to be filled with new asphalt. Did I mention some of these are the width and length of cars? The best way I can describe the situation is if you think about playing dodgeball where your car is the ball, and other vehicles, pedestrians and the potholes are the other players. Your objective in this case is to NOT hit anything!
My second trip to Kenya, with Mike and Elizabeth Stamper, we dodged what we called “trays” instead of potholes, as the holes had already been cut and were waiting to be filled. It was as if someone had sunk deep baking pans into the tarmac, all along the road, at random intervals.
I’m beginning to think that Kenya’s road construction is quite like Chicago’s. Every time I’ve been in country, there are potholes. On my first trip, when Pastor George, all his kids, Pastor Evans and Momma Njeri (the late cook from the first elementary school we helped George with), traveled the distance to Kitale, it took us 19 hours. There were so many potholes and so many rocks, we kept getting holes in our radiator because the school van didn’t have an underbody tray to protect the engine area. To while away the hours on that trip, I had given Irene (then 10) the task of counting the potholes. I hadn’t remembered this, but she did!
Eventually we reach Mumias town, which is basically a small stretch of tarmac lined with venders and their wooden stalls or tarps laid on the ground, along with shops and a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) shade stand. We pull in and wait a few minutes for two passengers – Pastor Phillip, who had arranged for these two speaking engagements, and Stephen, a congregant of his. Phillip leads the second church group I will be speaking to and we are giving them a ride to the first event, so Phillip can be prepared to tell his congregation about me as we began our afternoon service.
Having Phillip with us as we later travelled to his group would be essential, since we will be driving into the bush outside of Mumias town. For now, however, we need his guidance to get to the church at Mumias Market.
When we arrive at Mumias Market, about two hours late, many of the ministers and congregants have already scattered to attend to other parts of their day. The praise and worship team begins singing, and their singing is like a call to worship, drawing people back to the church property. The church is constructed on the private land of Pastor Paul – a tall, striking and humble man who speaks no English.
The church building is constructed of commercial brick and had decorative details, wooden trusses and a tin roof, Pastor Paul’s house is constructed of the traditional clay and morter. Paul and Phillip lead us to the sitting room, off the kitchen, where unwind from our travels, and give people time to reach the church before I speak. I meet Paul’s wife Judith, and his daughter, Joy. Judith serves us tea and bread as the fellowship begins to gather.
As with all other sitting rooms in Kenya, the room is lined with couches, love seats and easy chairs, with coffee tables in the center, where tea and meals are served. Much to my surprise, a man walks through the door who I instantly recognize and I spring to my feet. Pastor Evans, the head of the Bungoma church, who had travelled with us 13 years ago, had come to Mumias the night before, so he can hear me speak today. He had been with me at every one of my appearances in 2007, including the week long pastor’s conference, except for my last Sunday in Nakuru. It is so good to see him, and I tell him how much I have been looking forward to speaking at his church the next morning and afternoon.
Evans has not changed in 13 years. He is still the same positive, happy Kenyan, despite the ups and downs over this past decade. His joy is truly palpable.
When we enter the church, at least 30 people have already gathered and more keep coming. Pastor George says a few words and leads us in another song, Jesu ni Bwana (Jesus is Lord). When we sang this song in George’s Nakuru church 13 years ago, the entire congregation did a dance that went along with it. Basically, the dance consisted of endless squats, with your arms extended to your side, so you were bobbing up and down like you were trying to take flight.
I start doing the dance at this church, but no one else is joining in. Awkward. When George sees what I am doing, he pauses the song for a minute and shares that since the song is about being carried by the angels on your journey through life, he had choreographed this dance move for the song at his Nakuru church, where we demonstrated being uplifted, enfolded and carried by the angels. Next thing you know, the entire church is engaged in the 10 minute “angel squats” with me.
Before I came out to speak, I had asked George to canvas the crowd to see what people in the audience most wanted to hear about from me. All five times I would speak this week, I would let Spirit guide me about what I was to speak about. And (except for this instance where I specifically asked in advance), every time I would stand up to speak, something that had been said before me provided the guiding beacon for my words. Every single time, the message was spot on for what the people gathered wanted to hear.
This particular morning, they wanted to know more about giving without fear, and how to embrace their connection with God so that they could be better servants for God. One of the things I talked about in passing was accepting gifts you’re given, even if they don’t seem like something you would want, as you may be simply the steward of that item which is meant to be passed along to someone else.
At the end of the service, Pastor Paul said that there was a woman at the service who had come a bit late and was feeling unwell. She had asked if we would lay hands on her and pray for her wholeness. Her friend guided her to the front of the church and sat her down in the plastic chair I had moved front and center. We all came forward and put our hands on her or on someone who was touching her. I placed my left hand on her back and raised my right hand up. As the Pastors emphatically prayed for her healing, in Swahili, we could feel the heat and energy flowing in and through her.
Pastor Phillip later reported that the woman said even before we began praying, she had begun to feel better and as we left for our next stop, I was able to hug her one more time.
Once the service was finished, we retired to the sitting room, where Paul’s wife graciously set before us chai, bread and margarine, and bananas. We assumed this was a light snack, to tide us over while we went on to our next church. We ate heartily, and then George leaned over and told me that unbeknownst to him, they had prepared a full lunch for us to eat. Rice, ugali (cooked maize dough used to scoop up food), chicken stew and meat stew quickly graced the table, along with kale and more chai. It was a beautiful feast.
Eating in Kenya is an interesting experience. Often, the only utensil that accompanies your meal is a spoon. A basin is brought around, and warm water is poured so you can rinse your hands before eating. You then use your chapati, or ugali to grab a scoop of kale, or a piece of meat, or use it to sop up the soup from the stew. The first time I ever had ugali, it reminded me of my childhood when I would scoop out the inside of a piece of Wonder bread, mush it into a ball and eat it like it was a lump of dough.After the meal, the water basin is brought around again, along with soap, to help wash off the grease from the meal. As you finish eating, a glass of water is presented to you. No meal is traditionally served with any liquid, except for the morning tea.As we exit the sitting room after lunch, Pastor Paul appears with a pigeon in his hand which he hands to me. Since I don’t understand Swahili enough, and he doesn’t speak English, I don’t understand that he is trying to give me a gift. The pigeon squirms, I lose my hold on him, and he flys away. Everyone around us laughs and as George, Phillip, Evans and I pile into the car to make the trip to meet up with Pastor Phillip’s church group. Evans explains that Paul was making a joke in giving me a pigeon, since I’d talked about receiving even unwanted gifts.Now that I was in on the joke, I understand better, and Evans translates as I share a story of the gift I turned down years ago, with unexpected consequences. When I was half-way through a tour in Tennessee, someone had gifted me with a beautiful paint horse and trailer. I was driving a Land Rover with a hitch, so it would have been possible to accept this gift. But in my mind, I still could not see a solution that would make accepting this gift a reasonable thing to do. I had 4 more churches to visit, over four weeks, and I lived on a houseboat at the time.
A month later, I finished my tour and stopped by my mom’s house (she lived in Tennessee) before I headed home to Annapolis. When I arrived at my mom’s and told her this story, she looked me dead in the eye and asked me: “why did you turn down my horse?” Turns out she had always wanted a paint pony! Lesson learned.
Pastor Paul and the rest of us laugh at that and then we head off. We are still running about two hours late – but we are well fed!
When we arrive back at Mumias Town, we take the vehicle down a red clay road which turns into gravel, and then into grass, as we ride into the bush itself. We are literally driving on a grass strip about the size of a side yard between most city houses. Rather than meeting at a church, we are meeting in the sitting room at the home where this group meets for church on Sunday, and throughout the week. As we drive to the house, about 20 young children run alongside the car to see the mzungu (white person).
The older woman who owns the property and several young women with children are the only ones present, We decide to simply allow people to ask questions for me to answer – we sit and talk and people open up about issues that are bothering them, about how to build their congregation, about how to hold their beliefs in the face of doubts, and how to transform issues they are having in their personal lives so they feel empowered and safe and loved – and stop seeing themselves as victims to outside forces that seem to be controlling their lives.
Soon, the entire room is completely filled. We talk and talk and then the elder woman asks if I will go around the room and lay hands on and pray for and with each person in the room. Everyone stands and sings and holds sacred space as I move around the room, person by person. I (and many others) soon find themselves crying as we pray. So much sacred joy is present in this room. I am touched to my core by this gift they have given me. As we wind down, we are once again treated to a full meal – and we leave for home closer to 7pm. Knowing we won’t be home before 10pm George gets hold of Leon (the only person at the house with a phone) and tells the family to go ahead and eat with out us. This is the evening where they were having spaghetti in my honor – the only prepared food they ate the entire time I was there. I will miss that treat and at the same time am grateful that they won’t be waiting for us before they eat.
We roll into the yard closer to 11pm. I hug everyone, drink a single cup of chai to warm up, and head off to bed. Tomorrow is going to be another long day and I want to be well rested for it!