I’ve been home from our trip to Africa for four days. Time to reflect on the twelve days I spent in Kenya.
One of the first things that impressed me about Kenya was how similar it was to Haiti. From the way buildings were constructed to swarms of motorcycles giving people rides to makeshift roadside stands selling anything you can imagine, I often had to remind myself I wasn’t in the Caribbean, but on a different continent. One of our friends in leadership told me that Haiti is much more African than most Caribbean nations. I still don’t know why that is.
I was surprised at how much of the English language we encountered in print. While the majority of the people and worked among spoke a dialect of Swahili, the newspapers, advertisements and signs were just about all in English. While sitting at lunch in one of the school classrooms where we were working, I peeked inside one of the teacher’s lesson plan books, and found a physics test — in English.
Every inch of available soil was used to grow food in the Kisii region. Corn, carrots, kale, avocados and bananas grew in between the small plots of ground where the cows and goats grazed. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables was available in every market we passed. Away from Nairobi, it was definitely an agricultural society.
Everything we had to eat was prepared fresh. This city boy was surprised to hear the sound of chickens coming from the kitchen. I was also surprised one day when our van suddenly pulled to the side of the road and one of our interpreters jumped off to purchase a live chicken, which was then tied up and put in a box on top of the van. We may have had chicken at every meal, but it was always fresh.
We had ugali at every meal, too. A thick, corn meal dough substance was carved into thick slices and added to our bowls each noon and evening meal. Late in the week, I discovered that our hosts actually used it as scoop to eat the rest of their food.
At our first meeting with our missionary hosts, we received a little cross-cultural training, which turned out to be very useful. In the rural areas of Kenya, male-female couples never held hands in public. However, two men would, a sign of close friendship. I soon found myself walking hand-in-hand with many men, from the bishop to the elders of the church, a very new and different custom for me.
Western influence was very evident, even in some very traditional settings. Cell phones were ubiquitous. Traditional Maasai villagers wore some very nice American sandals. American dollars were as readily accepted as Kenyan shillings. And everyone had an email address to share with me.
I am very thankful for the insights of Rev. Shauen Trump, who directs LCMS work in Kenya and Tanzania. He told our team that even if all we did was show up, we would have made a tremendous impact on the church and people there. Know that we would spend our time and money to come all that way to be with them made them feel significant, loved, and a part of a Christian church that really does stretch to the ends of the earth. As it happens, we were also able to bring some medical care, the gospel and prayer with us, too.
Of course, it made an impact on me and our team as well. We traveled all that way and found a joyful, vibrant and faithful worshiping partner church, who welcomed us, loved us and reminded us that relationships are often more important that schedules and tasks. Definitely a blessing.