Saturday, March 28, 2020

KISII ORPHANAGE - PRAYERS TO HITLER

This series of Kisii Orphanage posts is a recollection of entries from my journal when I visited the Log Church and Orphanage of Kenya for the first time.
To retain the continuity of the journal, please scroll down to the entry entitled How it All Began, and work your way up, reading each post that begins with Kisii Orphanage.
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Journal Entry – November 17, 2017

This morning I spoke to Joel on the phone. Tomorrow he will be making the seven hour plus trip to Nairobi. The plan is that tomorrow after he arrives, we will go together to Kisii. He tells me that the church is actually not located in the city itself, but about a half an hour out of town in a tea growing region.

These are some of the tea gardens near the orphanage
I took this photo later
The tea growing region sounds nice. I should feel right at home.

Today was a very quiet one for me. I took another walk around the area of the hotel and got lost once, but managed to find my way back. I was looking for some kind of market, but there is apparently none within walking distance—at least none that I could find.

I did spend some more time at the park that I mentioned yesterday. It is an unkempt area with the grass unmowed and the benches broken, but it is nice nonetheless. There is a wooded area with a well-worn path through it.

I met many students on the path, all carrying books and who seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to get someplace. I did not speak to any of them, but most smiled and nodded when I met them as we passed. My assumption is that they were off to class someplace.

In the wooded area there was a little creek banked by tall trees and vines—and monkeys, many monkeys. I am not a great lover of monkeys due to several disagreeable experiences with them when I was living in India. But these seemed quite cute, at least as viewed from a distance.

I stood on the bridge and watched them play like small children in the creek. They chased each other around through the water and up the bank, then scurry up a tree, jump to a vine and back to the creek. Cute, but I still don’t trust them. 


Prayers to Hitler

Last night in the outside dining area at the hotel I was having a coffee when two westerners sat down at the table next to me. The tables are small and quite close to one another, so after friendly greetings, we began having light conversation.


One of the men was from Scotland, and the other was English. Both seemed to be about my age. They were mountaineers. They had come to climb Mount Kenya. The mountain is located more toward central part of the country, and is Kenya’s highest peak is at 17,057 ft. It is one of Africa’s highest mountains, second only to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

I am not a mountaineer in the same sense as were these men, but I have climbed many mountain pathways in various mountain ranges. Perhaps I should use the word “hike” instead of “climb.” The difference is my type of ascent does not require any ropes, carabineers, crampons or ice axes. I do not go to those extreme heights or trails of difficulty. The only gear that I prefer to carry are a couple of water bottles and maybe a sandwich or two.

Nevertheless, despite the different intensities of our mountain ascents, we all had been to enough similar places that we were having a good chat about our common interest. I was even learning something about real mountaineering.

As our conversation turned, they soon asked me the reason that I had come to Kenya. I quickly related to them about the contact I had been having with the church out in Kisii and the orphanage there. They learned that I had worked with Christian pastors in various countries my entire adult life, and that I was also a pastor. I did not press it or go deeply into any of it. I frankly was not interested in talking about myself much at that point.

It was then that the Scotsman spoke up with a statement that actually was a bit shocking to me: “Every day I say a prayer of gratitude to Adolf Hitler,” he said bluntly in his unperturbable Scottish accent.

He then went on to explain.

“Before the war, my father planned on attending a seminary and becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. But when the war started, he enlisted in the army. By the time the war was over, his plans had changed. He never did attend seminary and he never did become a pastor.”

The Scotsman then concluded with this statement to tie it all together: “Every day I say a little prayer of thanks to Hitler for beginning the war. If he did not, I probably would have ended up being the son of a pastor.”

He may have not meant this literally, but only spoke in such a definitive way for impact. If so, at least in that he was successful. The statement was a shocking one.

As he said these words to me, there was no malice in his voice, no hint that he wanted to start an argument. But even on the face of it, he obviously considered me a fool for expending my life in the way that I did.

At that point, I was not in the mood for a debate about values or about what is important in life. But also in like manner, I considered him a fool for making that statement, even if he may have not meant it literally (And of course, I did not actually know him. So perhaps he even did mean his words).

Not wanting to start a long discussion, I did not say what was on my mind. What was on my mind was that his words had to be the most self-centered and egotistical statement I had ever heard.

What also came to my mind was the millions, nay, tens of millions who died as a result of Hitler’s actions. What also came to my mind was that this fellow, who at first was a very likeable Scotsman, turned out to be perhaps the most narcissistic person whom I had ever met.

What was on my mind was, “Here is a man who thought nothing of the fact, and actually is thankful that Hitler sacrificed tens of millions of lives so that he did not have to grow up as a pastor’s son, which apparently in his thinking, gave him the freedom to climb mountains (as if the two were mutually exclusive).

All of these thoughts came to me instantly. Under other conditions, I may have entered into conversation about them, but I frankly did not feel like it at that time. I thought it would not be beneficial at the moment. Besides that, we could not even begin to cover the subject even if we stayed up late into the night.

For me, these were not “I should have said” thoughts. They were all ones that I thought of saying even at the moment, but purposefully decided not to say.

I simply shook my head in disbelief and said something like, “That is one of the most outlandish things that I have ever heard.”

Fortunately, at that moment the Englishman spoke up and asked me how I was to get to Kisii.

“By automobile,” I answered him.

“Oh, that should be nice. You will be driving through the Great Rift Valley. You may see some wildlife.”

It was shortly after that the two mountain climbers made some statement about needing to rise very early in the morning. They should be off to bed, they said. The men rose from the table, excused themselves, and returned to their room.

Indeed, before I came out this morning, they had been up, breakfasted, and were off to climb Mount Kenya. 

But the conversation has stayed with me throughout this day. The sum of my thoughts as I considered his words can be reduced to defining the word fool. Both the Scotsman and I thought (and probably still do think) the other a fool, and because of the same reason.

Without trying to sound too philosophical or existential, the reason we think each other a fool actually does center on questions of existence. What is the purpose of our existence?

Perhaps few would put it in terms so straightforwardly as the Scotsman, but I would say that what he expressed actually is the prevailing philosophy of the majority of people. Most people think that if life is to have meaning and fulfillment, then we must find that fulfillment now. We seek new adventures. We work to fill our bucket lists.

My first thought in hearing what the Scotsman had to say was that my view was the one of “higher moral ground” (as they put it in politics). Inwardly, I reacted self-righteously to what he said, feeling that my position of servanthood was by far superior to his selfishness.

But what if he is right? What if any meaning we can find in our existence must be realized now in these years that we have on this earth?

If one were to enter into a debate about these priorities based solely upon what we can experience and know, it would not be an argument that we could win. I know this to be true because men have been debating it as long as there has been such a thing as discussions among men.

Actually the argument is older even than that. It was essentially the reasoning that Satan first used in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. He managed to get them to question the judgment of God and convince them that they could instantly have complete fulfillment in the present. He maneuvered them to the point of disbelieving the words of God.

And that is what it really comes down to—belief in the eternal, versus disbelief. Jesus Christ, by his words and his actions, taught us that there is nothing in this present life that can give us complete and lasting fulfillment, but if we follow his example and his words, we will eventually gain that lasting fulfillment in another life.

“Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

“Is not life more than about the food that we eat and the clothes that we wear (in other words, seeking present fulfillment)? Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you.”

Our view of the meaning of our own existence really is no more than choosing to believe Jesus or not. Our natural inclination is to not believe him. We would rather seek fulfillment now rather than a promised fulfillment at some future date.

So ingrained is this into our thinking and cultures that we have an entire host of idioms warning us against believing in some distant and future promise. Many of these are so archaic in their origins that we may not even know what they mean literally, but we still understand that they are telling us to be careful about unseen promises.

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Certainly my Scottish friend would have understood, “Don’t buy a pig in a poke,” since I am told that in Scotland they still use the word poke for a bag.

In the end, I have chosen to believe Jesus. It is that simple. I am not against doing new and interesting things in this life to gain a new experience, but I also realize that these things will never give meaning to life.

Again, I have chosen to believe the words of Jesus when he said, “I am the Way (I believe in following his example), I am the Truth (I believe in his words), and I am the Life (I believe in his fulfillment).” 

Tomorrow: Kisii

But questions of foolishness do not involve only eternity. They also involve present circumstances. I have chosen also to believe Pastor Joel without seeing any hard evidence of what he tells me is true.

Nevertheless, it was not actually his words that have made me believe. It was what I think that Jesus was telling me to do.

Was I right? Tomorrow I shall find out, since Joel should be here about noon to bring me to Kisii.

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