As you probably know by now, I’m a sucker for a good African story – especially one that inspires hope in the future. In this talk, economist Charles Robertson explains how Africa could be on the verge of the kind of explosive growth seen in India and Asia over the past century. His theory is that we are seeing the birth of a new boom in Africa that will change the economy of the entire continent and even of the world.
Having witnessed a dramatic shift in even the past few years in the cities of Nairobi and Nakuru, Kenya, I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Robertson. The growing middle class in Kenya is propelling innovation in the country. Education rates are up, mortality rates are down and the entrepreneurial spirit of the African people is strong. As one economist told me last week, “Kenyans see business not as risk, but as stability – and businesses here rarely fail.”
As my family begins our journey eastward toward Kenya, it’s amazing to think that 10 or 20 years from now, we could be telling stories about the “old” Africa – the poor, third world, developing continent. Here’s to hoping that in a generation or two, that version of Africa will be a distant memory.
Sunday was a busy day here in Nairobi. We had the opportunity to visit two great churches, each with their own distinct expression of God’s kingdom in action. Our first visit was to Karen Vineyard Church, a diverse international church community made up people from over 40 different nations. The culture at KVC is very familiar, the worship style similar to our church back home and the entire service is in our native English, led by Americans, Brits, Kiwis and Kenyans. This is the kind of church that would be easy for me to call home.
Our second church visit of the morning was the Dagoretti Corner Vineyard Church, led by pastor John Gitau. The church is a rock in the community and is filled with some of the most loving and God-fearing people you will ever meet. The culture is very Kenyan, the worship songs in Swahili and the message given in English (for our benefit) and translated into Swahili. In the small room are Kenyans from a variety of socio-economic levels, all worshiping in a way that seems warm and familiar to them, but is completely foreign to me. This is a church where God is doing a great work, but I find myself (as do many international visitors) more of an observer due to the cultural and language differences.
These are only some of the dynamics at work here in Kenya. Churches like the one in Karen and churches like the one at Dagoretti Corner have coexisted here for a long time – each reaching out to the population of people who culturally connect to their church. Rarely, however, do these types of congregations work together or partner in God’s work. The communities tend to stay fairly isolated from each other and independent in their efforts to reach out to the city.
Within the Vineyard churches, however, this could not be further from the truth. One of the things that excites me most about partnering with the Association of Vineyard Churches in Kenya is that we have an opportunity to truly become part of the family. Noah Gitau, the National Director of AVC Kenya, will effectively be my boss. I will serve under his leadership and authority. Our church, along with the two other international (culturally western) churches in Kenya will be on equal footing with the 70+ indigenous (culturally Kenyan and Kenyan-led) churches. We are brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.
While our experiences at these two churches highlighted some of the cultural differences between Kenya and the west, they also served as a reminder that Kenyans and internationals all bring something unique to the mix that, in the context of this large, diverse family, strengthens the faith of the people and broadens the work of the kingdom of God in Kenya. Are we excited to be part of this great big Vineyard family? You bet.
Sitting out on the patio on another beautiful Kenyan morning, it’s hard to take in all the events that have brought me here. In fact, my whole life has led up to this point. Now, that may seem overstated, but rest assured, wherever you are right now, your whole life has led up to this point, too. That’s the way life works. It takes us forward, with each moment adding to our experience.
For me, though, I’m particularly aware of how little of my life has gone according to my plan, but how it has nonetheless worked out the way God designed. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes:
…we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
It’s interesting to me that the onus is completely on God. He is the one who makes us worthy. His power brings to fruition our goodness and our deeds. And, implied, is that not only does he bring these things to fruition, but that he plants those desires in us in the first place. So he is the one planting, the one tending and the one harvesting. We’re just the dirt.
As I sit here on the leading edge of what is certain to be a wild ride for me and my family, I’m reminded that I didn’t get myself here and I won’t get myself through. The onus is completely on God. Sure, I have responsibilities, but in the end, those responsibilities just amount to me being good dirt and receiving what God is planting in me. Then he can do the tending and harvesting. I’ll just be the dirt.
As I sit here on what I would call my first “real” morning in Kenya (I don’t include the jet-lagged, neverending day that began in Houston on Tuesday and ended here last night), one thought comes flooding to my mind: I love this place. And no, I don’t mean I love it because I’m in the affluent Karen neighborhood, sitting on the Brown’s back patio, drinking Ethiopian coffee and listening to the birds chirp. I do love all those things and readily admit that, other than the birds, this particular pocket of Nairobi is very different from the rest of Kenya. But I love it all (almost)!
Sure, there are things that aren’t desirable – the poverty, crime, brokenness and hopelessness – but this country, it’s diverse population, varied landscapes, cultural distinctives and colorful characters is a place where God’s kingdom is on display and where his creativity is evident every day. I am fortunate to have experienced this land even once in my life, let alone to have come on multiple trips and now to be in preparations for making Kenya our home.
Over the next week, I’ll have numerous conversations with some true heroes – people who are making a difference here on micro and macro levels. Some have even agreed to sit down in front of the camera and talk about their life, their work and their experience. These are people who have the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them, revealing himself in miraculous, creative, powerful ways. That I can call so many of them friends is nothing short of amazing.
So yeah, as I sit here drinking my coffee on a somewhat chilly Kenyan morning, I’m reminded just how much I love this place, how much I love God’s calling in our lives and how I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds for all of us.
Rose George doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would be preoccupied with poop, and yet, she has made the discussion of human feces her life’s work. Her questions and subsequent research tell the tale of a subject that is so taboo that we would rather let millions of people die than to discuss it.
On a recent trip to Kenya, I was told that many of the people you see walking around every day, from educated professionals to the poorest of the poor, suffer from diarrhea every single day. As you can imagine, such a chronic intestinal issue not only causes major health problems, but also causes other issues like fatigue, loss of appetite and even psychological and emotional disorders – issues that immediately handicap developing nations as they struggle to compete in our global economy.
Yes, poop is an economic driver, a social driver and a killer. Fortunately, we can do something about it, if only we will become more willing to talk about it.