Into Africa

A few weeks ago we flew into Kenya. The start of whole series of adventures that aren’t over yet. For the first 12 days, we visited Bungoma, off the beaten path in the NW of Kenya. Our diocese are linked, and in my sending parish, I set up a parish/parish link. We flew in with the current link secretary, to cement this link with some face/face time. Over the course of 12 days we saw 6 schools and 7 churches. All of them bowled us over with their warmth and welcome. We were plunged in the deep end from the start.  Expected to stand up and speak/preach  with no preparation or notice. Even expected to lead a day’s seminar for church leaders. It sharpen’s one’s dependency on the Holy Spirit like little else… “I need some words, Lord, and I need them NOW!” Scary as hell, but eventually quite liberating.

We bumped about the diocese in a land rover that had seen better days 30 years ago. Roads were a bone jolting series of ruts and potholes.  However, even the bikes overtook us going uphill!  They fed us everywhere. “Do take tea.” and then a table groaning with food. Rice and ugali ( maize meal) to feed a multitude and the inevitable ‘cuckoo’ – chicken. Being veggie I escaped the latter and especially the gizzard, especially reserved for honoured guests. Their bountiful and generous hospitality was the more moving because we knew it was sacrificial. They had very little, but they gave us the best they had.

The children were equally enthusiastic to see us. 100+ to a small classroom, 3 or 4 to a bench, with mud floors and walls and dark airless classrooms lit by a hundred smiles as wide as the sea. Keen to learn, they do wonders with next to no resources. They put in a long day, without being fed, and often have to walk several kilometers to school and back. A very high number of them were orphaned by the scourge of Aids. They danced and sang for us, and were highly delighted when we joined in. We spoke to them all under the shade of a large tree and afterwards were overwhelmed by upwards of a thousand small hands wanting to shake ours.

The churches had little or nothing materially, but were bursting with spiritual life and enthusiasm. Services went on for hours.. the longest was over 4 with 21 baptisms! We were made honourary godparents to all of them. Neither they, nor we had any choice in the matter. It was a noisy, jubilant occasion, with a great deal of dancing.

I had the unenviable task of being asked to teach on stewardship. Something I have done before, but this had a very different feel and context. Watching the offerings being taken was a very moving moment. Sometimes all they could give was a sack of beans- but it was offered as wholeheartedly as anything else and given to the glory of God. It brought a lump to the throat, a not uncommon experience.

I am not sure what we gave them, but we took away precious memories and friendships. A deep sense of unity with these brothers and sisters, despite our very different worlds. We continue to hold them in our hearts and prayers, as I know, they certainly do with us.

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