A plaque in the Nairobi airport exclaims “welcome home,” alluding to the theory of East African common human origin. At least initially, this reads as an touristy appeal to European romancers but the following days proved to reinforce a feeling that a journey to Kenya is really a journey into something, subconsciously…home.
The feeling resonates throughout interpersonal interactions with locals. Kenyan’s seem genuinely comfortable sharing the natural beauty of their land with foreigners. I like to think this attitude is less about money than generosity but money IS a nice bonus! (2016, 9.8% of GDP to be precise). The scenery’s beauty, despite being entirely tinted by a sepia-tone layer of dust, hits the center of your imagination. It begs to be explored, nurtured, and enjoyed.
Our sleep deprived daze through Nairobi consisted of a visit to a giraffe reserve and baby elephant orphanage. Both places places were massively over-crowded with humans which did not at all detract from the splendor of seeing these animals happy, cared for, and appreciated. Our early-afternoon car ride to Naivasha (host’s home) exposed us to dirt, vehicle exhaust, roadside garbage, beggars, decrepit infrastructure, and world class Rift Valley vistas. Guess which made the biggest impression.
Our host’s home, Eagles Wings, which they have named after God’s promise in Isaiah 40, is more striking than I had imagined from their pictures and more than I can sufficiently describe here. Not only is their structure a feat of primitive engineering but their view simultaneously allows rare wildlife, part of lake Naivasha, mountains, and an expansive forest. Arriving for the last rays of sunset, we found it hard to unpack the cars until the show was over.
Lying down to sleep under the stars that night on a soft bed, under clean warm blankets, showered, and full of a home-cooked meal was itself worth the prior 40 hours of travel. The blessings continued in the morning after coffee, breakfast, and a haphazard motorcycle ride to St. Andrews school in nearby Kasarani. Giggly high school students stood at attention for their monthly assembly which happened to coincide with our arrival. We were each allowed a moment to give a sentence about who we were and what we brought for them, usually followed by snickers and hushed whispers from our energetic audience.
Though sad we couldn’t stay, Peter, Greg and I set off for Africa Theological Seminary, Kitale. 5 hours, hundreds of miles, thousands of feet in elevation, and one equator crossing later, we arrived at our two-week home. It’s a typical campus, not unlike the layout of a summer camp in the US. That likening blanketed me with comfort as we settled into our arrangement; for me to learn and assist, for Peter to teach and guide. I wanted to fully engage my African spiritual contemporaries immediately. Often I leave on these travels with the intention of teaching but come home having learned much more.
The course I took with 1 Ugandan and 7 Kenyan classmates was about methods of Pastoral care. Although most concepts translated well into East African Christian tradition, there were some new considerations for the unfamiliar teacher. These included arranging plans for the marriage dowry, different power dynamics in church leadership, and new meanings for engaging worship.
Our most “authentic” taste of Kenyan culture was made necessary by an inspection of an NACCC sponsored church group in a rural Pokot Region village. Aside from the challenge of driving a road that looks worse than the Appalachian Trail, we captured an overwhelmingly positive glance of rural worship. The “need” in this place is impossible to describe by comparison. Regardless of their situation, Sunday worship was brimming with smiles, jumping, singing, dancing, preaching, encouraging, and testifying. I am entirely encouraged by Pokot people who God has blessed much differently than us. I am touched to have met them and sojourned briefly in their lives.
Returning from a developing country is no easy thing. Despite the promise of clean clothes, soft beds, and “normal” food, there sits a reminder on the front of my cranium that these promises are a huge material privilege not afforded by my counterparts. Even more bitter, though, is the simple pain of leaving new friends. I always say a sincere farewell and give best assurances of continued contact; this time was no different. Kenya has blemished my soul in a beautiful way. More noteworthy than the deep absence of wealth of my new friends in this country, was the deep appetite for God. I’ve come to realize this peculiarity is no coincidence.