Journal Entry – Tuesday, November 21, 2017 (Evening)
If you count the Sunday service as the opening day, this was now the third day of the conference. After Sunday, I expected that the format for the conference would change slightly, but it actually has stayed mostly the same as our Sunday worship service was—except longer.
It is not only I who teach a session, which could actually be called a sermon, but each of the pastors also take turns at some point during the day to preach their own sermon. There is always a lot of singing and dancing as well at various times during the day. The children recite memory verses. Always there is much prayer.
I never have any idea what to expect next, and simply wait to see what is happening. I figure that when they want me to do something, they will tell me.
The days have been long in hours, but they actually have passed quite quickly for me. I suppose this is largely due to the fact that this is the first African culture with which I have become personally involved—and as you would expect, much different than any South American or Pacific Island culture.
Nevertheless, I constantly find myself thinking thoughts like, “this is much like it was in Venezuela,” or “this is a little how they do it in Fiji.”
But it was not only I who want to learn about a people with whom I before had no contact. The people here have never before had an American or any westerner visit them, and they are eager to learn about me and about how things are in America.
So far in our daily routine at the conference, we take a lengthy break during the midday to have a lunch. I expect this to be the way it will be every day now, since we have done it for each of the first three days.
During this midday break, I accompany the various pastors who are attending the conference, and we walk the short trail to Pastor Joel’s house to eat together.
In the house, there are two or three low and long tables, like long coffee tables, set up as a line between two rows of wooden sofas with pads on them. This all takes up about half of the pastor’s house. As I had mentioned on another day, another quite large percent of the pastor’s house is taken up with the room for the orphan girls.
If the question is coming into your mind, “With such a small house, where does the pastor and his wife live?”—and that is a good question. They also have two small daughters, one of them perhaps ten years old and the other maybe four.
The entire building is about 20ft X 20ft, or maybe slightly larger. The room where we are sitting and eating takes up one entire side and is perhaps 10 feet wide. The girl’s room is about 10 X 12, leaving the pastor and his wife, along with their two little daughters, a small room of 8 X 10.
I asked Pastor Joel about this and he told me that they are praying that they could construct a separate building for the orphaned girls, similar to what the boys have. In fact, at this present time, this is the most important project for them.
But to get back to our lunchtime seated by the long and low coffee tables. Our noon break is a time for eating a lunch, but in addition to that, it is predominantly a time when the pastors eagerly ask me all sorts of questions. This how most of our hour or so together is occupied.
I am amazed at the high level of English comprehension and speech that most of the men have. There is definitely an accent of course, and it is the Queen’s English and not American, but it is no effort for me to understand.
Especially amusing to me is that occasionally when someone prepares to ask me a question, they preface it by the phrase, “I say…” just as one might expect in a causal conversation on the streets of London. So far no one has called me “old chap” however.
The questions that the pastors ask may be theological, they maybe doctrinal, or they may concern church practices: “What is the correct form and frequency of taking communion?” “Who should be allowed to take communion?” “What about baptism?” “Who should be baptized and which is the correct form?”
I tell them straightaway that I was ordained to the ministry in a Baptist denomination, and I still mostly hold to those views as my own preference. But I also quickly tell them that in my years of ministry, I have worked with many different denominations in many countries and with many various cultures. Through those experiences, I have also come to appreciate some of the perspectives of other churches. Some of my formerly more strict Baptist views have been modified.
We talk through each of the questions and we especially had a good discussion concerning communion and baptism. I hope what I left them with is that in general, we as a church (speaking of the world-wide aspect of the church), have done a very poor job in teaching these two most important ordinances.
Jesus instituted these practices to demonstrate our unity in the body of Christ, despite the many other social and cultural differences we may have. But by what we have done with our different practices in the various denominations has been to turn the intention of Jesus completely on its head.
Instead of these ordinances demonstrating our unity in Christ, we in the church have used them to bring division in the body of Christ. This has long been my lament and I have written much about it before, so I will not do that here.
But the fun questions are the cultural ones:
“I have heard that if you feed your dog table scraps in America, you will be arrested. The only food that they are allowed to eat is the food that you buy special from the shops.”
“I have heard that it is against the law to walk on the roads in the US.”
“I have heard that if anyone is hungry in America, they can go to a centre where they hand out food to anyone for free.”
One fellow asked me about the keeping of animals. He had heard that it was against the law in the US to have a farm animal like a cow or a goat unless you had an actual farm.
I told him that in the rural areas there are no restrictions on having a cow or a goat, and even in many towns allow you to keep a few chickens. But when I told him that it was true that most cities and towns had rules against the keeping of animals, it set off quite a big discussion.
This they could not understand, especially since the house lots in many US neighborhoods are actually larger than the area of land that most of them have as their farms.
After a while the topic of our conversation changed with another question, but I noticed that the original questioner about farm animals began talking with the man next to him. I was already talking with someone else, and the two men were having their conversation in the local language, so I did not know what they were saying, but I could hear that they were having quite a discussion about my answer.
Some minutes later, the two men reached what they thought must be the reason for this strange law of not being allowed to keep an animal on your land.
The questioner grabbed my forearm to get my attention. “Is it because they do not want the neighbors to be jealous of you if you have a cow and they do not?”
It was the only reason that they could come to for this silly law that even if you have enough land to pasture a cow by your house, you are not allowed to do it.
We may smile at this idea, but I have also been amazed at some ideas that we, as Americans have of the customs and the cultures of other countries. Before I left for Kenya, for instance, more than one person who I spoke with did not actually know where Kenya was. One man asked me if Kenya was a city in the country of Africa.
I think that we would all benefit from some dinner table questioning. Tomorrow my cultural studies will continue. I actually am looking forward to it.
Well, it is time once again to retire to my “bed fort” and see if I have adjusted to the new time zone for sleep to come to me. I feel tired enough.
The Risk for the One Bearing Gifts
Journal Entry – November 22, 2017
Today we gave the gifts of shoes, clothing and school supplies that the people of the Log Church of Wisconsin sent for the children of the Log Church of Kenya. I was actually not looking forward to this time, since contrary to what we would hope to be the case, receiving gifts often brings out the worst of our human personalities.
Shortly before I left Wisconsin to come here, a friend of mine, who has worked in clean-up operations in some of our natural disasters, told me of an incident that he experienced after the hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
As part of the disaster relief effort headed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a large trailer of a semi-truck emptied its contents in the center of a big parking lot in one of the more poor areas of the city.
In the truck were the donated items given by people from other parts of the country. These items included things like clothing, blankets, imperishable foods, some tools such as shovels and rakes, brooms and other items—things that could be used to clean up the homes and properties. There was even a wheelbarrow.
Once the workers for the government had organized the contents that had been delivered by the truck, they opened the gates to let in the people who had lost so much during the hurricane.
The first items to go were whatever candy there was and any containers of soft drink. The people also quickly tore through the clothing and shoes, but if these did not have some kind of designer label, they were left in the parking lot.
Not many of the hurricane victims were interested in the blankets, nor the tools. Some took an item or two, but these were largely left on the tables. No one took the wheelbarrow.
A week or so later, the company my friend worked for sent him to gather the remaining items to put into his truck to haul to the landfill. He told me he gathered up probably seventy-five percent of the original contents of the semi-trailer, and brought it all to be disposed.
He said that it broke his heart. He especially noted the wheelbarrow, since he would have liked to bring that home, but he was not allowed to do this since he was not one of the residents of the city. In fact, there were several things he said that he could have used at his own home, but he was not allowed to take anything. Into the landfill it all went.
I have had similar experiences in some third-world countries, though on a much smaller scale. It is for this reason that I am so hesitant about asking people to donate to a cause until I know for certain that it will be appreciated and it will be well used. People give with such good intentions, and they sometimes give sacrificially, only to have what they have given wasted or brought to ruin. Like my friend, my heart has also been broken.
That is also why I needed to come to Kenya myself to see the situation here. Previous to this trip, I had already acted contrary to my normal practice. Even before this time and without knowing for certain the true conditions here, I earlier had already sent some money to the pastor.
However, what Pastor Joel had written to me sounded very critical. It also was true by the time that he had written to me about their collapsed latrine, I had already begun to have some confidence in what he was telling me. He also sent me some photos.
All of that was true. Nevertheless, I had not seen with my eyes the condition in which the children were living, and I had not actually met any of the people. For me to give, I need to know the people. I need to know their hearts. I do not have so much myself that I can give only to have my gifts wasted or squandered, or stolen.
But neither did I feel that I should come empty-handed. The people of our church had sent with me a number of gifts—two large suitcases worth of gifts. None of us actually knew what would be appropriate to send, since none of us knew anything about the children in Kenya.
Some time before I came here I had written to ask Pastor Joel for some guidance. He told me of the need for school supplies such as tablets and pencils, since they are trying to provide some sort of informal education for the children on site at the church. There is no money to send them to an official government school.
But as far as shoes and clothing, we only had our guesses. The people of our church picked up some children’s clothing in the stores of various sizes. They also sent some shoes.
One lady wanted to send boots, but I actually did not know if the people in the area of the orphanage wore boots. I knew so little about where I was going that I did not know if it ever got muddy. Now, even after a couple of days of being here, I can see that boots would have been a very good thing to include in the suitcases.
Nevertheless, as ignorant as I was in deciding what items to include, once I arrived and saw the living conditions of the orphans, I immediately knew that the gifts that I brought with me from the people of our home church would not be treated as those that my friend told me about with Katrina.
I could see that in the case at the orphanage in the Log Church of Kisii, each one of these items would be used and cherished. Seldom have I seen people who are living in such need. Theirs truly is a day-by-day, hand-to-mouth, existence.
Still, it is in distribution events where the worst of our personalities can come out. This morning, as I sat in the church looking at the rows of children with their wide eyes of some cute baby owls sitting on the benches, I wondered what I would see at midday, after we had our lunch. It was then when they were to receive the gifts.
For the moment, I will have to put off writing about the giving of the gifts until tomorrow. I really need to get to bed right now. It has been a long day and I am dead tired. I will have no time to write in the morning, but tomorrow evening I will try and describe how it went to hand out the gifts.
An Early Christmas
Journal Entry – Thursday, November 23, 2017
At some time during this day it dawned on me that it is Thanksgiving Day back in America. I miss my family today. I think that all of our boys are home with their families.
It is a bit ironic, I would say, that today is Thanksgiving day and I ended yesterday’s journal saying that today I would write about giving the gifts to the children, and to see if they would be truly thankful for what they received.
As I described a couple of days ago, several of us men, including visiting pastors, retire to Pastor Joel’s house for the noon-time lunch. Yesterday as we emerged, I saw my little children sitting in rows on the ground. It amused me to see that the seating arrangement was much like it had been inside the church—the littlest children first with the age increasing as you move back in the rows.
I did not know until I saw the children sitting there with the two suitcases that I had brought with me on a table in front of them that this time had been planned for giving the gifts.
The pastors and workers who knew each orphan had at some time during the previous evening separated the items to decide which child would receive what item. There would not be enough for each to receive a piece of clothing or shoes, but the leaders wanted to be sure that all would receive something.
I did not want to be the one who passed out the gift items. Of course I realize that the kids would know that it was I who brought them, but in any way that I could, I wanted to separate myself from the gifts. These were to be gifts given by the Lord.
The two bags I brought with me on the plane were set in front of the children. The pastors had labeled the items, so they knew which child should receive each gift. The clothing and the shoes were first. They were given to the children whom they fit. In all of this, the children all sat quietly. When someone received a pair of shoes or a shirt, they all clapped.
Then it was the note books. The older children received more than one, since they had greater need in the classes that they were studying. The people of our church had also sent many pencils and pens, and these were handed out one by one.
Our people had also sent perhaps ten boxes of crayons, I think that they must have been sets of 16 or 24—something like that. I assumed that these would be given out to selected children as sets. But these the pastors handed out crayon by crayon.
One lady from our church sent two bags of balloons. When the pastor saw these, he said that the children would really like them. In my mind I pictured a party of some kind with balloons hung on the walls and from the ceiling of the church. But again, these were handed out one-by-one.
Every child received something, although not all a clothing item or shoes. And despite my overweight suitcases, there were not enough tablets for everyone. At the end, I saw a couple of the littlest boys holding in their hands a pencil and three crayons. That is what they had received—only those. They were so excited.
I have to say that the whole event was pretty emotional for me. I was afraid that I would start to tear up, but I managed not to.
In my years in working in these types of situations, I have found these times the most emotional when I first have come from the United States, where the kids complain if they cannot get the video game that they want.
Here at Kisii, when I saw these little children, each a face the color of a freshly roasted coffee bean and shining with delight while grasping in their hands a pencil and three crayons...well, I think you see my point. It can cause one’s emotions to take over.
This all becomes less difficult the longer one is away from America. The longer you are gone, the more that you identify with the people themselves and are given the privilege of simply sharing their delight. You can be happy for them without feeling so much pity. That is so much easier and actually the correct way to feel.
Later, Pastor Joel, Pastor Vincent and I went into the town to buy items for the children who still had need of school items. I guess I will have to wait for tomorrow to describe this event to you.
A Party for the Orphans
Journal Entry – Friday, November 24, 2017
As I mentioned yesterday, each child received something from the two suitcases that I had brought with me on the airplane, even if it was just a couple of color crayons and a pencil. But of course what I brought was far from adequate for them to have enough supplies for school. We had especially come up short of tablets. There were also a few other items as well that we thought should be added.
In addition to this, we wanted to buy a treat for the children. We wanted to do something fun for them. We wanted to have a little party. As I saw when we passed out the items from the suitcases, it takes very little to bring out wide smiles in their faces.Things used for play are some of these things that bring out the smiles. There are two places on the grounds where the staff has set up swings. These are the only items that I could identify as being for play. All the kids use them—from the youngest to the oldest. Whenever someone is swinging, it is not only the one swinging who is delightfully screaming, but the six or ten children who are watching are also enjoying the time.
One day, one of the boys approached me, and after shaking my hand and telling me his name, he said to me, “Sir, we would like a ball that we could kick.”
I later asked Joel about this. “Don’t the children have a ball?” I could not imagine a group of school children without even one ball.
“No, they have no ball. They had one, but it became worn out.”
Even the swings never last long. They only use some nylon ropes about a half an inch in diameter to hold the seat. These they could get for free. But like the well-used ball, the ropes also quickly wear out and break.
As a matter of fact, there is very little for play items that I could see for this group of about 30 kids—and I think that I have seen everything. Most of the kids are orphans, and there are also a few other children associated with the church. It seemed incredible to me that in this group of kids whose ages range from about 3 to 13 or so, not to have any play things. Not even a ball that they can kick!
What I had in mind to buy when Pastors Joel and Vincent and I went to town was a soccer ball so that they would have a ball to kick, and some chain that could replace the nylon chords on the swings.
I will not say that it is necessary for kids to have toys. A stick is sometimes the very best toy. But the complete lack of play items for so many children was striking to me.
Going to the store with Pastors Joel and Vincent was a good experience for me. We went to a large department store sort of place in Kisii town. As we shopped, I watched these two men as they bought with great care the items that we needed.
We all picked out the football (soccer ball). I actually was surprised at the price of the best one. It was the equivalent of more than $50 US! I had already seen that food was more expensive here than I would have expected, but this was my first sticker shock experience with Kenyan prices. I could not believe that it could cost that much! We did not get it, but we found a very good one for about $25.
We found the tablets, and Joel picked up a jug of a kind of orange flavored drink. The jug was about two gallons at the most, and I questioned him if it would be enough. It was to be not only for the children, but for all who would be in the church service.
“We will dilute it so that there will be enough for each one,” he told me.
We also went to the candy aisle. They wanted to buy a treat for the children. The two pastors looked at the number of pieces in each bag and talked with one another, wondering if they should get one or two bags.
“Should we buy one or two?” Joel asked me.
They were not paying. It was understood that I would be paying for what we bought. I told them that they know what they need and they should get what they need. But I did not try to convince them to buy more.
I simply answered them, “If you think you should get two—get two.”
The two men continued to talk about it. I actually went into the next aisle to look at something as the two pastors deliberated far longer than I thought this decision should take. They ended up putting one of the bags back.
“We will get biscuits (cookies) also. So it will be enough,” Joel told me.
The bag of candy that they had put back on the shelf cost about $1.95 US.
We also stayed a long time in the cookie aisle, looking at the boxes to see how many cookies each contained and comparing the prices. We ended up buying two boxes at about three dollars per box. Each box contained sixty small packages of a vanilla cookie. It would be enough for 120 people to have treat. I tasted them and they were quite good.
By the time we finished buying the party items, besides the other supplies that we were shopping for, the day was getting late. We had no time to look for some chain for the swings.
When we returned to the church, we had a bit of a program and I had a sermon, but I tried to cut it short. The kids knew we brought treats. They could see the bag in the front of the church.
After the service, Vincent called for the helpers to bring in two pails of “clean water” to mix with the drink that we had brought, and he and some others began to pass out the cookie packages. All the children were so excited.
They formed themselves into a line from the front to the rear of the church to receive, one by one, each a piece of candy and a biscuit. More kids were present for the party than the pastors had counted on when we were buying the candy, since other children from the village had come. As the kids came through the line, the candy did not reach to the end.
I saw some disappointed looks on the faces of the children who did not receive a piece of candy, but there were no words of complaint spoken. No child screamed, “It's not fair!“
Then, to the great cheers of the kids, Vincent produced the football. It will be well-used.
The receiving gifts often brings out the worst in people, but it can also bring out their best. A gift, after all, is not something given to us as payment for a service rendered or for an item we have sold. That is called a payment of a debt.
A gift is a token of grace. It is not something that is earned, nor should we assume that it is something that we will be given. Neither are we to receive a gift as something that we deserve, but something that is given as an expression of love. We are to receive it with grace, and know that it is given as an act of grace.
I think that I mentioned that when I was sitting in the church for the first time how I was learning so much from the children in the service. Now, at the distribution of these gifts, I have learned more about how to receive a gift.
For these kids, it was not, “He got more than me.”
It was, “It is so kind of you to give me this crayon, since I have done nothing to deserve it.”
In addition, it was not only the one receiving the gift who was thankful. When one of the children received a pair of shoes or a tablet, everyone clapped. They all rejoiced along with the recipient of the gift.
“Always pursue what is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance.” That is what Paul the apostle wrote.
In the end, it is all about grace. We must all become recipients of grace. With humble spirits, we must learn to accept the gifts of God. “Every gift that is good and perfect, is from above, having its inception and coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).
And as the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be filled with gratitude, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28 BSB).