Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A life in tension

“It smelled like bad cotton candy ... I mean cottage cheese,” Grace explained. We visited the church one of the night guards attends. The church property was quite nice, but Grace was commenting on the walk from our house to Kibera.

Between 800,000 to a million people from all over Kenya live in Kibera. The houses are shacks dug into the ground with a small amount of corrugated tin making up the walls and roof. Their is a mafia that controls who lives where, collects rent, and is the ruling authority for most of what goes on ... Oh and I have heard they call themselves the taliban ... i think it is supposedly a strange joke.

Francis took us down the walkway from our neighborhood into the slum. All along the way were stalls with various items for sale. A delivery truck was trying to maneuver its way out along the same walk way we were on.

Then we followed railroad tracks for ten minutes, again with more stalls. A left turn down a narrower path, with much less traffic, and ditch running down the middle. The smell was quite strong. This opened up to a large soccer field, the only one in Kibera. It was amazing to stumble into this much space. Next to us was a two story building, the AMREF hospital, made of brick and completely different from the shacks around.

A right turn on another walk way past a satellite dish over a shack that said video arena. A boy swinging on a piece of rope looped down below a  cross member stick of where a shack was or was being built. Then we came to the gate: Kibera Church of God.

It was like being in a village in the middle of a city of millions. A crowded village with electricity but no water.

Everyone was very friendly. We saw the mud walled school rooms and were told about the plans to put a second story on them: “We are going to reinforce the walls!” We were shown the orphanage. It is a home to 12 kids. We met with one of the girls. We were shown the church and Compassion's offices for caring for the youth. A lot went on there. We also met some visiting retired missionaries from ... Council Grove, Kansas. It felt weird and very nice to be here meeting them!

A youth named Boniface was talking to me about how he loves to reach out the youth and wants them to become compassionate leaders. “Africa needs leaders.” he said enthusiastically. Kids in Kibera are always trying to find something to do, so they flock to any activities they have going on. He wants to become a pilot, and I believe he meant a missionary pilot. Church started after 45 minutes and we walked in.

Grace was surrounded by kids the whole time, which was tolerable most of the time for her. We let our kids play outside with the rest of the kids during church. Church wasn't in English, and I doubted it was going to be something they would understand.
An  interesting sign at the front of the church
We were welcomed in church and gave our greetings to everyone from the church in America. They sang some very enthusiastic and beautiful songs, followed by a long time of giving offerings and more talking. Then a guest evangelist from Nigeria came. He was dressed in a suit with a white tie, white shoes, a ring with a dollar sign on it, and distant stare at everyone. He was introduced as Apostle Great (not Gregg) somebody.

“Genesis 8!” he began. I turned there ready for a sermon on the flood.
“And God remembered Noah!” That was as far as he got. He wanted us to know that God remembers us. We told our neighbor God remembers us.

Interesting, and a good reminder. However, after 30 minutes, I began to see he was promising a life of wealth for everyone because God remembers them. This kind of message is very popular in a place like Kibera. People were eating it up. I sat down and started reading through the bible while people jumped up and shouted.

“Put your left leg out and yell 'Hallelujah'!”

I thought about what I would say if he looked at me and asked “Brother why aren’t you excited? Why aren’t you shouting with us?”

I read while Apostle Great jumped up and down on my bench, about a foot away.
I only could think of Jesus. Surely God remembered Him. Especially Him, yet He never had the three cars the evangelist spoke of. He was God’s Son, and He didn’t even have a home. Yet He changed the world forever, and He changed me.
What the evangelist said was true: God does remember us. But I believe he stopped short on what that means for us, and ultimately why we are here.
So, I picked up the kids drawing books, Breanna’s purse, and my Bible and walked out while Apostle Great explained how one day his car finally came.

I really loved being there, but now I felt confused. James, a friend, came out and asked if he could escort us back home. Months earlier he had trained us to use the matatus in the city, and he was so excited to see us here!

“I don’t think this speaker will be done soon!” he said with a smile.

“Yes. He promised to drop the mic in 15 minutes, but his watch must be different from mine!”

James talked with us on our way back home. I wanted to pick his brain about this evangelist, and give him my thoughts, but I knew I was his guest, and I should wait. There is a tremendous amount of respect for a message in church, and no one here feels comfortable critiquing what is spoken.

It was 2pm, and we had made a critical error. We forgot to bring a water bottle. I guess because we were in the city, we forgot this necessity. So we were tired, hungry and thirsty when we got home.

This afternoon we made chocolate banana smoothies at home as an experiment. It worked OK. Then we cleaned up the house, and went to eat some Ethiopian food.

These are the extremes we live in here. A place with no water, to a place where food is served to you. It feels like a life in tension, of not ever fitting in. Sometimes people see us as an opportunity for wealth, a boss, a mark for a scam, or a manifestation of the man trying to keep them down.

The words of Peter and John keep ringing in my brain. To put my spin on them: “We can’t give you enough money, instead we want you to know life, and have it to the full.”

A guard at the neighborhood gate asked if we prayed for him at church. I said we prayed for all of Nairobi, but I would remember to pray for the guards. These past few weeks have been hard for them because of a string of car-jackings. Beyond that, my prayer is that they would truly know God’s son more than they already do.

And we both hope the future holds a chance for us to serve a church like Kibera Church of God.


Ardell said...

living in the tension between the victory of God and the suffering of this evil age.... a tough place to be, but it is were we are called.

Great pictures btw

Mark Sherman said...

I am enjoying reading of your ministry in Kenya. This reminded me of when I spent a summer with AIM Air. I forget the name of the church, but it was a small offshoot of Calvary of Kebera where I got to preach. After the service I was thanked for not preaching like the evangelist you described. The pastor said that it is too often they get those types of preachersin Kibera and he was so thankful for some Bible teaching.

LeesOnTheGo said...

I stumbled upon your blog when I was looking on-line for photos of the Nairobi waterpark. What a great find! I appreciate all of the terrific pictures you've posted and the perspective you share in your blog.

We are moving to Nairobi this July with the US State Department. Perhaps our paths will cross somewhere down the road. For now, I'm going to check in every now and again for a good read.

Thanks for posting!
Naoma Lee

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, great posts. I love reading them and can totally relate to both of the last two! I find it totally interesting and disgusting that Nigerians are propogating the prosperity gospel so energetically. We get a lot of it here. And I can also totally relate to the issue of not knowing who you can trust. Wycliffe sounds like a one-of-a-kind!

Hillary said...

AH! I SO loved going to the the Kibera church of God! I only went there once, but I DEFINITELY want to get there again before I go home! And I'm jealous you have a photo of that sign! I wanted to take one, but I was too shy! AND you have a pic of James from Mayfield! He's so fabulous. He's always so quiet at the desk, that I was SHOCKED to see him jumping and dancing and yelling at church! I loved it!

THanks for the post! Praying for you!