Archive for July, 2012
Kenya 2012 – Days 6 & 7
A quick update on our past couple of days…
We spent Sunday morning with the incredible people of the Karen Vineyard. This church was the first Vineyard church in Kenya and has helped, directly or indirectly, to plant over 70 churches throughout the country. Doug and Sue Brown, the pastors of the Karen Vineyard, are some of the most welcoming people you will ever meet. Doug is the son of missionaries – American-born, but raised in the Congo (DRC) – which gives him really valuable insight into African culture and western culture and how to bridge the gap between the two.
The Karen Vineyard reflects that desire. It is what is called an international church – a church that is more like churches in the western world, rather than traditional Kenyan church. In this church, you’ll find people from every continent, in every line of work and from every denominational background. In addition to the international members and attenders, Karen Vineyard has a growing population of native Kenyans who, having been educated in British or American-led schools, are often culturally more in-tune with western lifestyles than with African ones. For these Kenyans, a church like Karen Vineyard is a breath of fresh air. It is the desire of the Vineyard leaders in Kenya that every major city in the nation would have an international church along with several “local” churches in an effort to truly reach all people groups. To that, I say, “How can we help!”
Driving to Nakuru
The drive from Nairobi, the nation’s capital, up to Nakuru, the fastest growing city in Kenya, is relatively smooth in Kenyan terms. The highway was completed a few years ago and, in spite of some questionable quality issues, is one of the better roads in the country. On a Sunday afternoon, however, it is home to visitors returning from Safari, locals returning from the coast and a whole host of trucks delivering cargo from the port in Mombasa to the northern parts of the country. Add to that the fact that the terrain is mountainous and that we encountered rain about half way in and you can imagine that our trip was considerably slowed. What should have taken two hours ended up taking about four – not all that unusual around here.
Upon arrival in Nakuru, we were greeted by our hosts for the evening at Abbey Resort (that is “resort” in the Kenyan sense, not in the American sense). Gary, who I knew from previous visits, greeted us with a smile as always, and helped us carry our stuff to our rooms. Then Boniface, the manager of the hotel and the pastor of the Nakuru Vineyard, came over and spent some time with us before we retired for the evening. Boniface is an incredible leader, a successful manager and a humble pastor – a combination that has earned him incredible respect in this community.
Much of our Monday morning was spent with leaders from the Nakuru Vineyard, discussing the incredible work that God is doing there, along with some of the challenges facing their leadership. The church is located in a slum area of Nakuru and most of the members struggle to feed their families. And yet, they have an incredible heart to help their community.
One of the more interesting conversations we had was regarding bride prices. A practice that is completely foreign to Americans, but is practiced throughout the world, the bride price is a price paid by a groom to the bride’s family in order to receive the blessing of the bride’s parents. This typically will include goats and other livestock, along with cash. Understand, this is not a case of “purchasing a wife”. It is a tradition of saying thank you to the family for allowing their daughter to marry. It also makes the marriage “official”.
For many couples here, they have been married years, but having not paid the bride prices, their marriages aren’t recognized by the family. In an effort to make these marriages official, the men of the Nakuru Vineyard are joining together to help each other pay their bride prices. Their goal, through combining resources, is to help two men from the church each year to pay their bride price. So, every six months, one man will be able to pay his bride price with the help of his church community. These are the kinds of challenges that can only really be recognized and addressed by a local church, active in the community.
Start with One
After a brief time with Trena Ivy and her newly-arrived staff, the Thomas family, we were taken over to our home for the next few days. We will be staying in the home of Bill Cobble, who is the director of an organization called Start with One. One of the main projects of Bill and his team is to provide clean water to people in need. They distribute simple water filters to rural villages, IDP camps and slums which will provide clean water for entire families. They also hold medical clinics, build churches and help the locals understand that all of this is done because Jesus loves them.
In addition to all of the work that Start with One is doing to help Kenyans, they are also incredible hosts to people like us – “short-termers” as we are called. They go out of their way to be hospitable, they serve great food and, in a country where you have to be in by dark, they provide great conversation late into the night. (Last night’s entertainment was Olympic power lifting, which provided quite a bit of fodder for conversation.)
For anyone considering long-term missions work, a group like this is invaluable. Stories shared over a cup of coffee or a much-coveted Pop Tart can be the difference between “making it” or “burning out”. These small communities of foreigners provide the kind of support that is required for people to really make it long-term. They are pretty important for us short-termers as well!
The prophecy against Egypt in Isaiah 19 is an interesting one. In many ways, it is similar to the kind of prophecies you see elsewhere about Israel. Particularly interesting are the verses leading up to verse 22 (which serves to summarize the idea well):
The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. (Isaiah 19:22)
He will strike them, then he will heal them. I have mentioned before that we only seem to respond to God when he punishes us. This was obviously true for the Egyptians, too. After going through a huge list of the ways Egypt was going to be punished for their arrogance and pride, God says that they will turn to him and be healed.
I can imagine that this was a really interesting prophecy for the people of Israel. The country that enslaved them would eventually turn to God (at least a portion of them would). Not only that, but another superpower, Assyria, would do the same. In doing so, they too would become part of God’s people.
It’s interesting to note that in the first century A.D., there was a lot of debate over whether or not Gentiles (non-Jews) could be followers of Jesus. In fact, many believed that only the people of Israel could be God’s people. And yet, right here in Isaiah’s prophecy, we are told otherwise:
The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:25)
It’s worth noting that these aren’t words of differentiation between the three nations (people, handiwork and inheritance). They are words of similarity. In fact, all three are words that are used in other passages to describe the people of Israel. What God is saying through Isaiah (though it appears few would notice) is that “God’s people” are not those born into a certain family line or those who are residents of a particular country. Instead, “God’s people” are those who follow him – those from Israel, Egypt, Assyria or even countries that weren’t yet formed, like the United States of America.
This is good news for us!
Isaiah’s prophecy is an interesting one. Not only does he tell the people of Israel that they will be punished before ultimately being restored to God. He also tells them that some of their greatest enemies will be punished. It’s as if God wanted to make sure that the people of Israel understood that he wasn’t just being hard on them – that he knew what those other nations were up to.
You see, that has been the accusation against God since almost the beginning of time: that he lets all the bad people get away with stuff while punishing us for this thing and that. But through the prophet Isaiah, God is letting his people know that he isn’t asleep at the wheel. Instead, he has been using some of these wicked people to accomplish what needed to be accomplished here on earth.
But a time was coming soon when God would judge their actions and would move quickly to bring justice. For the Babylonians, Philistines, Moabites and the people of Damascus (Damascans?), these words really wouldn’t have carried any weight. It would be like someone coming up to you and telling you that the moon god Zur had announced through his prophet Rob that he was going to destroy the USA. It carries no weight for those who don’t believe.
But for the people of Israel – people who knew God even if they didn’t act like it most of the time – these words were huge. They provided hope – something to wait for. But, more than that, they provided perspective. They caused people to think outside of their own little lives – to think out into the future and to ponder more than just today’s meal or religious ceremony. God wanted his people to go on a journey with him – one of understanding. He wanted them to understand the grandness of his creation, his work in it and, ultimately, his love for it (and us).
The words of Isaiah not only provided hope for the people at that time, but for hundreds of years until the birth of Jesus. And now, 2000 years later, they still give us hope – hope of the fullness of God’s Kingdom that hasn’t yet been fully realized, but which will be in the end. That’s a reason to get your hopes up!
The words of a prophet spoken over a wicked people. God would bring his judgement and it would be swift and fierce and seemingly unrelenting. But there was something else. God had placed another vision on Isaiah’s heart – one that he revealed in the midst of this word of God’s judgement.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Not only was God going to eventually end his punishment of the people of Israel, but he was going to send someone special. He was going to send someone to defeat the enemies of his people, to establish a throne and to uphold it with justice and righteousness. This, for the people of Israel in Isaiah’s time and even among present-day Jews, was a promise that they would hold near and dear. God was going to fix it!
And he did…but not in the way that most expected. Eventually God would send Jesus to earth, announced by angels who quoted this very passage of scripture. And though he would establish the Kingdom of God, he pretty much left the earthly kingdoms alone, much to the dismay of his Israelite onlookers. You see, Jesus didn’t come to just fix what is broken – he doesn’t want to super-glue together some old clay pot. He wants to re-create! And so, we can only see dim glimpses of the Kingdom that Isaiah spoke of, and yet, just grasping that which we can see makes us wonder how a God could be so great, so powerful and so loving.
Who wouldn’t be excited to have a king like that?
Kenya 2012 – Day 5
Today was one of the days I most looked forward to on this trip. It was the day I got to return to Ilbissel and visit once again with our Maasai friends from the four Vineyard churches in that region. To truly understand my excitement, you have to understand a little about the Maasai. Here’s a visual for you:
This is a typical Maasai family on a typical Maasai homestead. While not approved by the church, polygamy is still widely practiced among traditional Maasai. This means large families and large homesteads, with each wife inhabiting a hut like you see in this picture. This particular property belongs to the cousin of one of the Vineyard pastors here (all of the pastors have only one wife, which is very hard for the rest of the community to understand.)
On this property, there is one man, his five wives and 50+ kids ranging from adult to infant. Along with the humans, there are 150 goats and 60 cows. This man is one of the wealthier residents of this community. The homes like you see in the picture are made of sticks, interwoven with vines and covered with cow dung. They take around 3 months to build and last about 3 years. You can see the outline of the foundation for a new home in the lower portion of the picture.
The Maasai are traditionally a warrior tribe – trained to fight and hunt from a very early age. A Maasai can kill a lion with a spear or thrown club and is revered even by fellow Africans. The land on which they live is inhabited by all kinds of wild beasts including (in the area where we were today) lions and other big cats, elephants, ostriches, wild boar and others. This, I remember thinking on my first visit, is real Africa.
But once again, we weren’t out to simply take some pictures and document people. We wanted to get to know them. In Massai culture, and indeed, in most of Africa, you do so by sharing a meal or tea. And that is what made this day so special. You see, this was supposed to be a day like many others we’ve had here. We were to meet with church leaders, have a time of worship, a word from “the visitor” (that’s me) and pray together. But in this world, things rarely go as planned. Two of the groups that were coming had gone in search of water this morning and were nowhere to be found when we arrived. So, in an effort to kill some time, I asked one of the pastors, Eric, if we could possibly visit a Maasai home.
I had made a quick visit to a home when I was here 18 months ago, so I kind of knew what to expect, but I didn’t expect the treat we got. Upon arriving at the property, we were greeted warmly by the women and children (the men drive the herds out each day for water and food and then return home in the late afternoon). We talked to them about their life, the number of kids in the family and their livestock. Then, one of the women invited us into her home.
After ducking under the 4 ft high entry and squeezing around the corner, we found ourselves in a very dark (it took a while for my eyes to adjust) and smokey room – smokey because there was an open fire in the middle of it. On each end of the hut were beds made of sticks covered in cow hide. The only openings in the house besides the protected L-shaped entryway (which didn’t let in much light) were three small round “windows” which served more to allow the smoke to draft out of the house than they did to let any light in.
But as we sat in this house, with our hostess preparing to make tea, I was reminded of what an honor this was. Not only was it an honor for us, it was an honor for her. The fact that she got to make tea for a mazungu (white person) and that we actually drank it, will likely be the big story in this family for the next week. It is strange to be so well-respected just because of the color of your skin, but I can truly say that I feel even more honored by these people than they do by me.
After tea, we returned to the church building – a wood and tin structure that looks like it could fall over if you leaned against it – and, since the other groups still hadn’t arrived, we went ahead and ate lunch. Again, we were sharing a meal, which meant we were getting to know these people. Lunch consisted of roasted goat (the head of which we had gotten a look at earlier), goat and potato stew and chapati, a traditional African bread similar to a thick tortilla (and one of my favorite Kenyan foods). This is the same meal that I was served the first time I visited this land, though it is not what Maasai typically eat. A feast like this is reserved only for the most special of occasions – like when a mazungu comes to visit. Again, I was struck by receiving the royal treatment.
As the day progressed, it became more apparent that the rest of the group was not going to arrive. No one knew what had held them up – whether it was a minor setback or something major – but around here, things happen and you have to go on. So on we went.
We worshiped together, I shared from 2 John a very timely word for the women of this community, we prayed together and God was there. This is the second time I have been to this church and the third time I have gotten to worship with many of these people and each time, the presence of God was palpable. Regardless of the fact that we live completely different lives, thousands of miles away from each other, we worship the same God. And coming together to do just that is one of the most special experiences in my life.
As I sit at my hotel, where my 1 person room is the size of 4 or 5 Maasai huts, I have to wonder how I am so lucky. Not only do I have an incredible family and great church community, but I also get to fly half way around the world and have tea with a woman who is living a lifestyle that dates back to biblical times. And even stranger, God is using me to encourage them. Of course, he is also using them to encourage me.
They remind me of the importance of family and community, of faith at all times and of hope for the future, even when the future is so uncertain. They remind me that the role I get to play in the life of our church is a privilege and that no matter what my stresses are, there are so many who have much more difficult circumstances to deal with. But most of all, they remind me of the incredible reach of God – one who can speak to every tribe and tongue and nation and encourage us to move and act as one to help change his world.
So, to my Massai friends, I will say again, the only Maasai word I know, “Ashe”…many thanks!