Friday, 27 December 2013

The weight of the thin line

Kenya is a wonderful place. There's no denying it.

Maybe you've been here, maybe you haven't, but you know it's true. You've got a TV, right? You've seen the mass migration of wildebeest as they attempt to dodge the hungry crocs inhabiting the Mara River. You've heard about the endless beaches complemented by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean. You may even have heard of the legendary hospitality of the people here.

But, in the background, there is a thin line, that permeates from the shores of Lake Victoria to the Coast. What is this 'line' I speak of? The thin line between life and death. Westerners make the thin line as thick as we possibly can, we hide the line, we do all we can to avoid the line, but it is always there, and has always been thin.

Still reading? You're braver than most.

You cannot hide from the thin line in Kenya. In my first ten years of teaching in England I can remember the deaths of two parents of children from the school; but in Kenya, I can think of three similar deaths at my school in just one term. In the North of Kenya people die from so many different things: malaria, yellow fever, snake bites, scorpion stings, hyena attacks and yes, even from a lack of food and water. I don't know anyone in England who has died from any of these things. Some roads are best avoided. Travelling on the infamous Nairobi-Mombasa Highway, I was aware that it had a bad reputation, but, on arriving in Kwale, I discovered that about 600 people have died on it in the last two years - on one road! On the 24th December 18 people lost their lives when two buses collided head-on.

Surely the Coast is safe though? We haven't travelled far, but of the areas that I've been to in the last 3 weeks, one retired white guy was sadistically murdered in his apartment, two different men were gunned-down by the road and there was a failed attempt to throw a grenade into a tourist vehicle.

And then the thin line really got under my skin... I hate terrorism. I hate it even more now that it has taken a life of a girl I knew. Fatuma was something of a star in Korr, embarking on a career in singing, whilst studying. I'd asked her all kinds of dumb questions when she sat next to me at Raphael's house - she grinned and was gracious. She had gone through the school system in Korr and had so many options ahead of her. Until she got on a bus in Nairobi on 14th December. We never know it's going to be the wrong bus. I never thought that I'd shaken her hand for the last time.

I think Kenyans understand the thin line better than most westerners. Many in my country might say: "Life is short; make the most of it." Here in Kenya people are more likely to say: "Life is short; trust God with it."

I feel the weight of the thin line, like never before. I cannot think of anyone who answers my questions about the thin line better than Jesus Christ. He was executed, buried, but came back to life. And what does He say about the thin line?

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me."(John 14)

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The secret of happiness...

The Kenyan school year ends in November and restarts in January, so that's quite a slice of time.

What to do?

Thankfully, I have been given the opportunity to shadow an older American couple, Wayne and Joyce Raychard, throughout December. They work as missionaries with the Digo people in the impressive hills around Kwale.


The Raychards have committed their lives to telling people about Jesus in Africa. They are one of the happiest couples I have ever met. Even though Joyce only has vision out of one eye, she has adapted and always points out that God is her strength. Wayne seems to have a brain the size of a small planet (okay, he's going to hate that I said that). I'm sure that he could have had a high-powered job back in The States, but he chooses to work amongst the marginalised and the poor. It's such a privilege to learn from these guys.

Kwale sure is different from where I teach in Korr. Stuff actually grows here!! Fruity stuff! If you are what you eat, then I am about to turn into a large pineapple. There seem to be more coconut palms than people. (Can you imagine if ALL your neighbours have gardens packed with palm trees?) I was genuinely impressed as this local guy shunted up a twenty metre palm tree and began hacking away at the harvest. No safety harness; just skill and muscle. I'm thinking that it's going to be too late for me to start a tree-climbing career. Shame.

My days are mostly spent walking with Wayne to various villages. With the high humidity levels, it's just one sweaty t-shirt after another. Yum! Wayne regularly heads out to local houses to explain the Bible to people who request his help. Over the course of 25 years he has become ridiculously fluent in the local languages of Swahili and Chidigo, so he conducts any studies in the 'heart language' of the people he works with. You should see the faces of the people he visits: when they see Wayne their faces light up and there is an intensity to their bible study, like a thirsty man who has found a well. Or, as Jesus said:

"But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life." (John 4:14)