I am continuing with the story of how and why I became involved with beginning the orphanage in Kisii, Kenya. Last week I spoke of my arrival for the first time in Kenya, and then told you about how God made the cancerous growth on my arm vanish in about three days.
So now I return to my journal I wrote at the time. I am at the hotel in Nairobi…
Prayers to Hitler
The tea growing region sounds nice. Tea is grown in the same type of mountainous climates as is coffee. I should feel right at home because I have lived before in these types of regions. The climate is beautiful in those places.
Today was a very quiet one for me. I took another walk around the area of the hotel. I 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 all 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.
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—also a walking staff.
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 they called it.
As our conversation continued, they soon asked me the reason that I had come to Kenya. I briefly related to them about the contact I had been having with the church out in Kisii and the plans on beginning an orphanage there. They learned that I had previous experiences in working with Christian pastors in various countries, 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 or my reasons for being in Kenya.
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 imperturbable 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.
What I Did Not Say
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 were 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 self-absorbed 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 our completely different views on what is important, but I frankly did not feel like it at that time. Neither did I think that it would 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 seek excitement. 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. I felt that my position of servanthood to God and that our true rewards in living will be realized beyond this present day 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 I could win. I know that I could not 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 convinced 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 in an existence after death. If there is nothing after we die, then I would have to say that the Scotsman was wise in his assessment of what to seek in life.
But 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. However, he taught us that 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 that we have an entire host of idioms warning us against believing in some distant and future promise for which we have little physical evidence. 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.
But this precisely is one of the reasons that Jesus came to earth. When here, the miracles and healings that he performed had more than one purpose. It was because of his compassion that he helped people, but his miracles were also meant to be taken as an evidence as what he was telling the people was true. They were “signs,” as he called them, to direct the people to believe in the eternal life that he explained.
Unlike the Scotsman mountaineer, 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. 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).
But the larger questions of foolishness do not involve eternity only. They also involve present circumstances. I, for instance, have chosen also to believe Pastor Joel without seeing any hard evidence of what he tells me is true. Many would consider this foolish, and even now sitting in a hotel in Kenya waiting for this man’s arrival, at times I myself still wonder if I am on a fool’s errand.
Nevertheless, it was not actually Joel’s words that have made me believe. It was what I think that Jesus was telling me to do.
And amazingly so, part of the reason that I have chosen to follow what I believe Jesus has told me about coming to Kenya is based on an actual and very personal sign that he gave to me—the healing and the vanishing of my cancer almost before my very eyes.
Was I right? Tomorrow I shall find out, since Joel should be here about noon to bring me to Kisii.
Journal Entry – November 18, 2017
This morning I am at the hotel and awaiting the arrival of Pastor Joel. I am fairly certain that he will come, because since my arrival in Kenya, I have talked with him a few times on the phone.
Nevertheless, I cannot seem to progress beyond the feeling that this entire trip is all one big journey of folly. What man in his right mind would go off and do such a thing as I am doing at this present moment?
If I had been seeking an adventure like the men from the UK—then perhaps.
If some mission organization had first made a study of the area and its needs, and then had asked me to go—perhaps also then.
But calls to adventure will not carry one far, and as my past experiences with mission organizations has shown me, neither are they infallible. I have had a couple of them fail me quite seriously in the preparational groundwork that they had conducted prior to getting me involved.
As it is, I am going solely on what I believe the Lord is telling me to do.
Vivian is supportive of me in this endeavor to Kenya, but I think few others actually think that this is a sensible thing to do. People want to be kind of course. They do not tell me this. Also, it is true that they know that I am not a naïve high school or college-aged kid chasing a dream. I do have a history of doing things in the past that first raised many eyebrows, but in which God has shown himself always to be faithful.
It is that faithfulness of God that I am counting on right now, since my own faith in this endeavor is found wanting.
This morning I have been thinking about the words that Moses said to Joshua when Joshua was about to lead the legions of Israelites over the Jordan River and into Canaan:
“The Lord himself goes before you. He will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.”
Certainly I do not compare what I am doing with what Joshua had been called to do. I think what must have weighed upon Joshua was the enormous responsibility of what he was about to undertake.
But what I have in common with Joshua at this point is that he was also at the beginning of something that was by-in-large unknown to him. That is where I am. Both Joshua and I are setting about our tasks based upon little more than God’s word to us.
I wonder how certain Joshua was concerning the direction of God in what he was about to do. In reading the account in the Bible, it would seem that Joshua had few doubts as to what God’s will was. God’s words to him were definite and very clear.
In reading the Scripture it is as if God spoke in an audible voice to Joshua. “The Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, ‘Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore arise, you and all these people, and cross over the Jordan into the land that I am giving to the children of Israel.’”
But in reality, I do not know if God’s words were audible. God also spoke to me about coming to Kenya, but if someone were standing next to me when I received that word, they would have heard nothing. And there were not even any actual “words.” This was not a voice inside my head.
It was more a feeling inside my heart. No… feeling is the wrong word. It was more an impression or a perception that I had to take action.
Joshua’s doubts, if there were any, probably came from his own sense of inadequacy and from the immensity of the campaign that he was about to undertake.
My own doubts come from both sources. I also have doubts concerning my adequacy for this task. I do not know Africa. I do not know anything about running an orphanage. I do not know the culture of Kenya, much less the people of Kisii. I have not even a foggy notion of the requirements involved.
In addition, I still find myself questioning God’s leading in this. I am acting based on a belief that God has spoken to me on this matter, and I do have some confirmations, but I am still far from certain of my actions.
But Paul has written that since we live by the Spirit, we must also walk in step with the Spirit.
At the end of it all, I am here in Kenya. My own steps and my own preferences did not lead me here. I am walking in what I believe are in the steps of the Spirit of God.
I pray to God that I am correct.
In Kisii Town
Journal Entry – November 19, 2017 (morning)
It is Sunday. I am waking up this morning in a different hotel, this one in the town of Kisii. Many events have occurred since my previous post written yesterday morning in Nairobi, so I will try and catch you up.
Pastor Joel showed up at the hotel in Nairobi yesterday in the morning. I expected him closer to noon, but they had driven through most of the night to reach the city earlier in the day.
I say “they” because he and the driver, plus three others from the church came to the hotel to meet me. I again was sitting in the dining area when they walked in. I will not deny that it was in some ways a relief to see them. After all of my questioning and doubting over the months about their very existence, it was good to see them physically and in bodily form. Strange that I should feel that way.
I bought them all a little breakfast at the hotel. They had eaten nothing all night. I am a little surprised how much food costs here in Kenya. Compared with the Latin American countries where I did most of my work, to have a cup of coffee and a small breakfast here for six people made more than a small dent in my pocket.
But it was good. The men were hungry, and it gave us a chance to begin to get to know one another. After we ate, we then all six men piled into the midsize sedan for what I thought was to be a seven-hour ride to Kisii.
I was comfortable—they gave me the front seat, but I can imagine it was not the same for the four guys in the back seat. Happily however, two of them had come to Nairobi for work, so they stayed behind. It ended up only four of us to make the rest of the journey.
The Great Rift Valley
What the Englishman told me a couple of evenings before was correct. Our route was to take us through Great Rift Valley. This longest valley in the world is about 3,700 miles long, beginning in Lebanon, running down through the Dead Sea of Israel, along the bottom of the entire length of the Red Sea, into the curious and even bizarre region of Afar in northern Ethiopia, down through that country and into Kenya, Tanzania, and finally ending up in Mozambique in southeastern Africa.
As the three men from the church in Kisii and I continued on in our sedan, we were to drive through the part of this great geological feature of our planet that runs through Kenya.
The broad valley was very beautiful as we began the descent, but the bottom of the valley is a wide, flat and treeless plain. It is also almost waterless; at least it seemed so to me. But I think that making living there is a little difficult. Many of the people that do live there I believe are nomadic goat herders.
In places we also see many cattle, and I think that these must be in the regions of the Maasai tribe. There are at total of forty-two tribes in Kenya, the Maasai being one of these and the Kisii another.
The Maasai are probably the most widely known of these tribes, since they have resisted modernization forces from the outside and have retained their traditional ways, both in dress and in customs, more than any other tribe. They are known also for their large cattle herds.
But the Englishman at the hotel was mistaken in his assessment that I might see wildlife in this area—at least mostly mistaken. We saw no lions, elephants or giraffes. The only wildlife that we saw were baboons, of which I have a similar opinion as do I of monkeys.
I did notice however, several safari outfitter and guiding resorts along the way. I assume these are the places most westerners go to get their rides in Land Rovers through the area to see the lions, elephants and giraffes.
My Arrival in Kisii
After driving for hours across this almost barren plain, ahead in the far distance we finally saw the green hills of our destination. It was the province of Kisii. The dry flatlands soon gave way to fields growing with almost every type of agricultural crop, including coffee and tea. The tea hills looked to me like well-manicured gardens, which in a sense they are.
Glad to finally be near my destination after the long journey from home in Wisconsin, I was not the only one who was dead tired from lack of sleep. The other men in the car had driven through the night and now through the day.
But weariness be hanged, we went first to the church, where the people were waiting for us. As we walked off the dirt roadway down the hill to where the church is located, I could hear the people while we were still quite far from the church.
I did not know that they had planned a welcoming service for us even that day. We were about two hours later than what had been arranged the previous morning, but no one had gone home. They remained at the church to await our arrival, but they had not been simply waiting around looking at the time and getting impatient. When we arrived, they were singing and had their own worship service well underway.
As we walked into the church, everyone burst out in every form of emotion. There were shouts of joy, there was clapping, some began to sing, many were dancing.
There is one lady at church, quite elderly, whose expression of high emotion is to make a very distinctive sound that is unlike any other. I have heard this sound many times before as I have watched the news on TV. It is the sound that the women of the Middle East make when they are learning of the death of their loved sons in a war. The term for the sound that they make is called ululation.
Ululation is a vocal expression that is somewhere between the sound of singing and one of screaming. It is made by emitting a scream (of sorts), while at the same time rapidly moving the tongue back and forth, touching in succession both of the inner sides of the teeth.
It is a piercing sound, and if you have ever heard it, you know exactly what I mean. If you have not heard it, then there is no way to describe it. For the war widows and mothers of the Middle East, it was a lamentation. For this lady as we entered the church, it was an expression of great joy.
Someone else called out, “Our daddy has come!”