By the time the whole team cleared the airport, we got the vans in place and loaded up, and made the trip to the Rosa Mystica Spiritual Centre (a Christian guest house run by nuns- simple, nice accommodations with food and very reasonable) and enjoyed a few hours rest prior to breakfast and orientation and worship in their chapel. I enjoyed waking up to a new day with the nuns singing "hallelujahs" at dawn. Then we loaded up the vans and were on our way. Along the journey we stopped at a high viewpoint overlooking the Great Rift Valley. My head was spinning as we thought about the history of the place.
I'm already noticing a certain trend in speech as many, many people are excited for our visit and we often hear the phrase, "Feel at home." The people, the climate, the food, and the opportunities to love God and love Kenyans as we love ourselves make it easy to "feel at home."
During the week we say a number of UMC churches and communities, experienced much of the culture and church life, and began building relationships with this part of the UMC family which has become rather isolated due to episcopal failures in accounting and accountability. I can't share all the stories or insights here (much of that is still "percolating" as I get over the jet lag and return to "normal"), but the team and I were impressed by the calling, the spirit, and the persistence of the churches and their lay and clergy leaders despite all of the challenges. If you are in North Georgia and want to know more I, or one of the team including our leaders of Rev. Tonya Lawrence or Rev. Bernice Kirkland, would be glad to talk with you or your church more about what we experienced.
Tuesday afternoon we visited a slum community called KCC. That's short for Kenya Cooperative Creameries, the employer that folded and left the workers without employment, and we had an immediate immersion into slum life in Kenya. But the good news is taht the United Methodists are there as they have a ministry called Panua: Partners in Hope. Panua is the Swahili word for "expand" and they express this UMC related ministry with a focus on orphans who are the eldest sibling caring for the younger children and needing employment and the skills to be self sufficient. In September 2010 the 3 year pilot program began with 160 households representing 470 orphans, children, and youth. They currently focus on empowering 16-22 year old orphans who lead their family. They have levels of training and apprenticing as they take in 70+ new young adults per year with a graduation in 3 years from the program. In addition to mentors they also have peer groups. They see the transformation in this for individual, family, community, and church and desire to expand this model into other cities and UMC churches.
Along the way there were many new understanding of the culture. At one point someone said that in African culture there is a love of visitors as they believe visitors come with gifts! Now this is something of a challenge to international mission as we are trying to get away from an overemphasis on funding and pushing deeper into the giftedness of relationship and partnering. While funds might still be exchanged all parties must learn how and when to do this well as a way of building self sufficiency and sustainability.
Other things we heard:
- the UMC in Kenya is growing, and often growing in the toughest places with folk who are overlooked, are IDP's (Internally Displaced Persons), and are in slum areas.
- the pastors of UMC Kenya are volunteers. They serve churches renting property, receive no income or reimbursements, and are often using their own funds from their paying job/s to help the church with some flow of funds.
- there is a great need for support and the larger connectional church to be an encourager and strategist along with the Kenya UMC as they are finding strong response despite limited resources. We heard of the negative impact of the United States UMC's that support independent churches and non-profits which are not working in coordination with the Kenya UMC. There is confusion and concern why other UMC's -churches, clergy, laity- wouldn't be supportive of the UMC family in Kenya.
- Kenya UMC has focus on what seems to be a hallmark of Methodism in history and current practice around the world- evangelism (outdoor meetings, door to door visiting, visible presence and partnering in community), community development including empowering women, serving children and orphans, emphasis on education including developing schools, and transformational ministries, plus the vibrant worship and focus on discipleship which are necessary for Methodist Christian growth.
- need for more pastoral education and church leadership for laity.
- The majority of pastors can't even travel to annual conference to be ordained (most don't own cars, must take public transportation that may take as long as two days to travel through the 6 countries of the East Africa conference depending on the location, and would also lose the salary of their job while away).
- Since they don't receive church salary they also don't receive any church pension.
Powerful quotes heard during the week:
- "We suffer from those who come for projects and not the church."
- Pastor Moses said, "When people are empowered they can do great things."
- "After the post election violence people fled, and were scattered, but similar to scripture they shared the gospel along the way." "God is able to turn the victim into victor."
- "You have come to walk with us and to work with us."
- "If you miss the way you need to go back to the junction."
- Regarding the impact of Bishop Wandabula's accounting improprieties and the impact upon Kenya UMC as his salary has been reinstated, but the local UMC congregations and ministries still go without any assistance: "You feed the father, but allow the children to die."
- And, "When two bulls fight the grass suffers."
Enough words for now. I'd highly recommend your own personal trip to experience Kenya UMC and learn about the global connection and possibilities of our denomination. Here are a few photos of the week.
Trinity UMC Naivasha was called "the Vatican" of Kenya UMC and one of the few buildings owned by the conference (could be long discussion here about any UMC church, clergy , or laity in the U.S. that understands the historic "trust clause" and normative accountability of using UMC giving structures versus giving funds, time, or in kind gifts to non-UMC churches or to non-profits, but that may best wait for another blog).
Visiting a church and a few of the members. All of their chairs had been stolen from their simple building. Inside the church we learned more, met with members, sang and prayed.
Another church visit. There were others, but I ran out of batteries and cell phone power on these long days!
Safari Saturday at the end of the week. Note "safari" is Swahili for "journey." Fun discussion about our safari with Jesus and one another every day no matter where we are!
Last Sunday in Kenya, August 16, included worship with Rev. Bernice Kirkland preaching and enjoying Moses translating. Our North GA team also included: Tonya Lawrence, Mike Selleck, Byron & Duwanna Thomas, Darryl Kirkland, JoAn Kinrade, Olu Brown, Robert Saunders, and yours truly. This crew was such a fun, insightful, talented group of individuals that quickly came together as a team. Once again I learned of the power of a team of disciples in following Jesus and how much better, and more effective, and more impactful, that is than an individual, solitary following of Jesus (worthy of another blog as the "lone ranger" way isn't how we can follow Jesus or be the church). Any of this exceptional team can tell you more about their experience in Kenya.
On Sunday we also spent a little time with Deacon Jerioth. She serves the Naivasha District and has responsibility with all of the churches to prepare new church members, prepare people for baptism, prepare people through confirmation, and oversee discipleship.
I was doing what I typically do on such trips, and wandering around taking photos during worship, and standing toward the back of the sanctuary where I could participate in worship while also capturing the story. There was a little boy on the back row, and throughout the worship he kept his eye on me yet with a playful engaging expression. When I took photos or videos he wanted to see! And also help!! I kept pointing him back toward worship as I soon realized that he enjoyed the interactions, but didn't speak any English. He would sing, and dance, and make sure I was doing my job throughout the couple of hours we were in worship. Toward the end of the proceedings, it was now close to 1pm, he went to his mom and got a small crumpled bag that had a couple of pieces of bread. As he walked toward the sanctuary door, and was passing me, he reached into the bag and broke of a good piece of bread. Then he did the unexpected. Instead of feeding himself, he lifted up his handful of bread for me! I said "thank you," and encouraged him to eat it with hand motions even as I gave the sweet boy a hug.
After worship I asked about him and his family and his name. Turns out he's a PK, a pastor's kid, and well known for his sweet disposition and inquiring, engaging nature. Meet my friend Blessing! I hope that you'll get to meet him, and his family, and his extended UMC family sometime soon. You'll find in the relationship more blessings than you can ever imagine!