Coffee and Carrots

Early morning mist at Brackenhurst

Early morning mist at Brackenhurst

The first snack I was ever served in Kenya were carrot sticks. It was the summer of 1996, and the mister and I had arrived to spend 3 weeks volunteering at a conference for 1st term missionaries. We arrived in Nairobi after 2 days of flying, with a long layover in London, exhausted and hungry. They were the best carrots I ever tasted.

Our welcome to Kenya dinner that evening was BBQ (Texas style) and it was then I learned about the great cooking and generous hospitality that runs rampant in missionary circles.

The next morning we left to go on safari for a couple of days before heading to our conference.

Located in the breathtaking highlands of Kenya’s tea fields, Brackenhurst Conference Center sits like a jewel of remembrance in the colonial crown. It’s lush landscape is a perfect picture of ever green.

The mornings were cold and shrouded in fog. The afternoons were a time for playing in the sun, followed by evenings with dinner by a roaring fire, if you were quick enough to get to that table in the huge dining hall first. Nighttime was just plain cold in those old concrete block dormitories.

Tea time was a twice daily occurrence and while chai is the main drink, I was encouraged to try the coffee. “I don’t drink coffee,” I said. “Ah, but you have never tried ours. It is the best in the world,” he explained. Kenyans are some of the most insistently hospitable people in the world, so I tried ‘his’ coffee. He was right.

And thus began a dual romance that my heart carries on till today: coffee, and Kenya. Thank you, Dunston, for giving me both.

 

 

I Will Never be the Same Again

Do you remember that old track from Hillsong?

“I will never be the same again. I can never return, I’ve closed the door. I will walk the path, I’ll run the race. And I will never be the same again.”

I can never forget the moment I realized that it was possible for me to become a missionary.

Always coming or going.

It was August of 1996. Charlie and I had come to Kenya as volunteers, teaching missionary kids during the day, while their parents attended meetings. All of these folks were new missionaries to East Africa in their first term of service. Most had been on the field an average of two years.

Every day we played with and taught some of the best kids on the planet. At night, we listened as our heroes told stories about their life and work. As each one spoke, I kept thinking, “That is what I want to do.” I felt moved, even called, but so unqualified.

After dinner, everyone would gather at little tables located outside the dining room in the main building. “Uncle Mikes” was a place for these folks to hang out, play cards or board games and unwind while reconnecting with friends. Near the steps to the side entrance, I had a conversation that changed my life.

I stood listening as one of the parents talked about missions and serving. As she spoke with a smile, I had a sudden revelation that these were ordinary people. God used this woman, whom I now call my friend, to show me that I could be a missionary; that these are not some special category of persons that are born with a supernatural talent. Rather, they are just plain folk who love God, hear a calling, and desire more than anything to be obedient to that call.

It is popular now to say that all Christians are missionaries. I can’t agree. While everyone is called to bear witness and bear fruit, not everyone is called to “go” and “going” is what being a “sent one” means. We all evangelize, disciple, give, serve, teach or whatever our gifting is; at least I hope we do. But moving to a new place, far away, among a people who are not like you, may not like you, and probably don’t speak your language, is a different animal altogether. Like any vocational ministry, it must be done with sincere prayer, with support from a body of believers, with appropriate training and education, and a call from the Lord you serve.

A whim and a plane ticket can get you there; but there are times when only a calling will keep you there. “If it bugs you in America, it will elephant you in Africa,” was a truth I would learn at a later time.

Before we ever arrived in Kenya that summer of ’96, I had been wrestling with this calling. I couldn’t see how it could work, how I could be ‘that person’. But while having a simple conversation with another woman, I suddenly saw God’s possibilities for my life flung wide open and I knew I could answer ‘yes’ to His command. God bless Kenya and God bless my friend for helping me to understand His ways.

I will never be the same again.

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Shop Once, Eat 270 Times

trying to live sustainably during our time in kenya

Tending our small garden plot in Kenya.

When I tell people I used to live 8 hours from a grocery store and shopped every 8-12 weeks, they usually reflect on how they could NEVER do that. “I wouldn’t know how to plan or what to buy,” they exclaim. I didn’t either, at first. In the beginning, I planned out my menus and bought groceries according to whatever specific recipes I planned to cook.  We did buy things like tea, sugar, flour, margarine, shortening, and a few vegetables in town. And we had chickens, cows, and goats.

Our mama goat with twin kids.

Our mama goat with twin kids.

But I did buy all of our meat and canned goods, pasta, beans, rice, condiments, grains, etc. on these infrequent shopping trips. Enough to to fill 3 to 5 foot lockers and 2 ice chests.

Living in a remote location in rural Africa, there was a lot of cooking going on. Three months = 90 days x 3 meals/day = 270 meals to plan and cook. We had no restaurants to run to for back up; no convenience foods on which to rely. Needless to say, every meal was from home and from scratch. Consequently, I learned how to cook everything from scratch, and how to save time and money doing it. I learned to make my own “convenience” foods by canning, freezing, and doing as much advance prep work as possible. It is my desire to empower others to cook fresh food, from scratch. You can do it!

When you know that there is no other place to get food other than what you have in your own kitchen right now, you begin to make planning a priority. Proper planning doesn’t sound very exciting, but neither is panicking at the last minute when everyone says they’re hungry (and the cook is tired). Having a few key items on hand became an important part of my routine.

In another post I’ll share my standard grocery shopping list that I developed. It will show you all the things I kept in my pantry. Even though I am now in the land-of-plenty USA, I still stick pretty closely to this basic list. I just don’t need to buy as many of each item now that I grocery shop more frequently than 6 times a year!

Missionary Hauntings

samburu-woman My memories are haunting me

I fear they will abandon me

Like ghosts who come to taunt, then flee

My memories are haunting me.

 

I lie here in the dark with them

Recalling them, harassing them.

The freedom that was mine back then.

I lie here in the dark with them.

 

My path is not my own, I know

It’s His – He takes me where I go

But Africa, I miss you so

My path is not my own, I know.

 

The tears may form and fall, at will

I’ve no control of memories, still

The spring calls, like the whippoorwill

The tears may form and fall, at will.

 

A future lies ahead for me –

New days, new dawns, a legacy –

Uncertain as the days may be

A future lies ahead for me.

 

So take me – body, mind, and soul

For any purpose, path, or goal

That you will set. Just tell me, tho –

And use me – body, mind, and soul.

 

Mama Saitun’s Sorrow

samburu-babyAs I took the hand of the grieving young mother, the first words she spoke were “Ninakosa Saitun,”-(I miss Saitun). The seven-year-old boy had passed away in the hospital two nights ago. What could I possibly say in response? “Najua, pole sana,”-(I know, very sorry). I knew that nothing I could say would ease her sorrow. I communicated with a few phrases in Swahili just to let her know my sympathy.

Life is hard and surely the passing of a child marks the worst of times. Few words were exchanged while preparations continued around us.

The service itself was peaceful and reverent, with the exception of the token drunk, crazy woman. It seems no matter where you go in Africa, there must always be one person who is out of their mind and disruptive. Thankfully, no one paid much attention to her and she kept her outbursts at a manageable level.

As is customary in Samburu culture, the men and women stood in separate groups. Baba Saitun did not stand with his wife. Two good women stood beside her; I now stood closely behind. I was ready to catch her at any minute, should she collapse. But the Samburu are a stoic people and prefer to avoid displays of emotion.

A few tears fell silently down her cheeks, and I noticed she stood with her left foot slightly behind and her right foot in front, as if to brace herself.

While the pastor spoke, I looked at the small wooden coffin and tried to control my inquisitive mind. What was the actual cause of death? What if he had been in a different hospital with better facilities, medicines, and staff? Did he really have malaria or pneumonia as they said? Could a strong antibiotic have cured him? Why did they only give him quinine? I suppose it doesn’t matter now, and it is painful quandary on which to dwell.

This is the part of living in Africa that is so difficult. To wonder time and again, “Could this tragedy have been prevented? Why does this continue to happen? Doesn’t the government care about their own people?”

The family had no trouble raising money for the funeral expenses. Friends and relatives were quick to respond, and within two days the funds were collected. The hospital, the mortuary, the casket maker, the grave diggers…all must all be paid. Plus, visiting mourners in this culture expect to be fed.

The ceremony was drawing to a close. Someone produced a rope, and men began to loop it through the handles of the rustic, handmade box. Fervent warnings were given to – “be careful and go slowly.” I panicked to think that the cover might not be nailed properly; what awful thing might happen if they made a mistake.

Once they were in position and the six men lowered Saitun into the earth, his little sister began to cry. It was horrible. Although she couldn’t be more than six years old, she sobbed at the sight of him leaving her forever. Mama drew her close and sheltered her under the covering of her kanga, a colorful African shawl.

Family members walked forward to throw  handfuls of dirt into the grave. Women began to sing traditional songs and hymns while shovelfuls of earth quickly filled the hole. Others walked to a nearby bush and tore off small leafy branches. The two eldest women seemed particularly insistent about this tradition. I supposed this specific species of plant was cultivated in the cemetery for this very purpose. They placed them on top of the mound, and we prayed one last time.

Mama Saitun will not see her son on this earth again. As words of comfort, all I could manage was, “Anakusubiri kwenu Shumataa”- (He waits for you in Heaven). God is truly good, but life indeed, is very hard.