Sunday, April 5, 2020

KISII ORPHANAGE - FEELING KINSHIP IN A FOREIGN LAND

After a couple of posts to relate to you the current state of the orphanage in Kenya, in this following post, I bring you back again in time to the year 2017


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, 2017

Last night (or I should say early this morning at about 3:00 AM), I was awakened by a small ding from my phone, telling me that I had a text message. Because I thought the message could only be one coming from home, instead of turning over and going back to sleep, I picked up my phone to read it.

“¡Saludos amigo Donald!” the text read. “¡Soy Augusto!”


Augusto is a friend of mine from Venezuela. Unknown to me, he had been following the blogs of my trip and suddenly decided to send me a message. I don’t know if time difference between us occurred to him. It was only about 8:00 in the evening where he was.

I was still getting used to the time change in Kenya, and frankly, I had just fallen asleep when I was awakened by the phone. Nevertheless, I did not want to dismiss the contact from my old friend. I actually had not heard from him for several years.

I texted back. “¡Saludos a ti amigo vecino! Estoy en Kenia!”

Augusto said yes, he knew, and began to ask me how my family was, plus a few questions about my trip.

Understand that it is 3:00 in the morning in Kenya, my sleep is still being compromised by the jet lag, and I am texting in Spanish. Frustrating to me is that the auto-correct on my phone keeps trying to turn my Spanish into English. But although I was sleepy in my eyes and in my mind, I chatted for a few minutes with my friend. It was good to reconnect.

As I write this, it is now about 8:00 AM here in Kenya. I am sitting in the restaurant at the hotel having breakfast with my morning coffee. I did fall back to sleep after my chat with Augusto, so I feel somewhat rested. I am anticipating the day and wondering what it will be like.

I am a little apprehensive about what the day will bring and what will be expected of me, but after my very positive experience yesterday in church, most of my concerns are very much abated. I am actually struck by how much of a kinship I already feel with these people.

After my short conversation with Augusto and thinking about my years living in Venezuela, I remember when I began to feel more like a Venezuelan than an American. It was the same when I lived in India many years ago.  It was less so in the other places we have lived, but to a varying degree, in each place I began to experience a definite kinship with the nationals while living among them.

But that kinship did not happen immediately. It took time, and it took a sharing of common experiences. I have gone through this process enough to know what to expect, at least to some degree. It has been six foreign countries where I have lived through the years, having set up households and settling in to live in each of these places. I always expect that it will take time and a sharing of experiences with the people before I feel completely "at home" with them.

What I have experienced so far even in these first days here in Kenya has been an acceleration of that process. With this people so different in race and culture than myself, I am a bit amazed at how much at home I already feel here. Not completely comfortable mind you, but much more than I would expect only a few days into my time here in this country. 
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I would like to speak a little about the children, because it is
largely because of them that I have come to Kenya. There are so many of them in the church! I am astounded how well they sit all throughout the three or four hour services. It is true with all the activity that goes on in the worship, the time in the services goes very quickly. It holds your attention.

Still…these are kids! The seating in the church are benches. These are simple wooden benches. No back rests—just a hard board. Way in the back of the church, there are several of those ubiquitous plastic lawn chairs found all over the world. We as pastors also have the same plastic chairs in front, so it is fine for my old back.

But those kids! When they are not singing and dancing down the aisle, they are sitting like little cherubs on their bench. With their wide and bright eyes, they are as cute as baby owls sitting on a stump.

Perhaps I should explain the seating arrangement in the church. When my friends from Kenya read this, they may think that I giving too much attention to such a small detail, but when something is new, everything is so interesting.

The children are on the front benches—the youngest children on the very front bench. Seated on the benches behind them, the ages of the children seem to progressively become higher until they become the adolescents, then young adults, and finally the adults in the back—the women first, and then the men way in the back. The back of the church seems to be the preference of men all over the world.

I did not try to count the people in the church, nor do I think I will be doing that at the conference that begins today, but I would not be surprised that in yesterday’s four hour church service, there were 150 people present. The small church was packed!

We as the pastors are seated, not in the front facing the congregation, but in chairs along one of the sides next to were the people come forward to recite verses, sing, dance, or do other things. We have a small table in front of us where we can place our things like our Bibles, and in my case, my lessons and my camera. There is also a pitcher of water on the table.

From my vantage point, I can observe the children who are sitting in the front benches very well, and I do not deny that their quiet attention, and their wide and attentive eyes observing everything, often completely captivates me.

Most of the children are orphans. Pastor Joel has a special heart for the orphans, as do all the people of the church. These are children who had been abandoned to live on the street. The parents may have died from HIV/AIDS, highland malaria, or some of the children had simply been abandoned by their parents, who cannot be found.

The church has taken them in. There is no outside help for this work. Despite the fact that it is a poor area and I think that all who attend the church must be quite poor themselves, they have opened their hearts to take these children in. They have given themselves to feed the orphans, to clothe them, to give them schooling, and to provide for them a place to sleep.

The places where they sleep are unbelievably small. There are eleven girls and ten boys (or maybe it was the other way around). The girls have a room in the house of the pastor, where the pastor’s wife is the matron of the girls—she is the one that takes care of their needs.

All these girls sleep on a set of bunk beds in a room that is perhaps measures ten feet by twelve feet. Well…not all the girls sleep on the beds. Since there is not room for everyone, they also spread a cloth on the dirt floor and a couple of the girls sleep there.

The boys have a similar situation in a separate building. They have two cots in an area that may be a little larger, but since they do not have a bunk bed, that extra space is filled with the second cot. There is a young man who is the patron of these boys.

When writing about the needs of people, I always try to guard against appealing to the emotions of those who read what I write. Appealing to emotion is the easy way, and it apparently works. That is why we see all the photos of wide-eyed small children with the caption, “Please help me.”

I am not doing that nor am I even asking for donations. My intentions are different. I know that there are many who are reading these words who will be asking me what I have found on my trip to Kenya, and this is what I have found.

I had to come to verify for myself that this pastor who contacted me more than one year ago to thank me for the sermons that I posted on my blog page, and with whom my relationship has grown over the months. I had to verify for myself if what he was telling me was true.

Every word that he wrote to me was not only true, but he has even downplayed the actual condition of the lives of the orphans. When he wrote to me that the children had to go to bed with nothing to eat for the entire day, he was not telling me anything but fact. What he did not mention was that I am sure that he and his own family went to bed that night in the same situation.

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