Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kenya Team Reflection

Today's reflection is from Kenya team member Eileen Phelps.


On Sunday morning our team split in two and went to two different Christian (non-Catholic) churches. The service I attended was in a small building about 20’x20’. It had some non-glass windows filled with wide-spaced wire. Had I stuck my hand out the window I could have touched the avocado trees growing inches from the building.

There was an older pastor and a younger man who was a pastor-in-training. There was LOTS of singing and lots of praying quietly out loud. (That sounds like an oxymoron.) Naturally, the five of us had sat together. Seeing this, the pastor, asked his congregants to move around and have us join their families which served to make us feel more welcomed.

Petronilla, our 410 Bridge assistant, who was also visiting, was invited to the front to share. Mark from our group shared a rousing testimonial. Our whole group was invited to the front to introduce ourselves and to share a song. (This was embarrassing because the villagers were singers and between the five of us we couldn’t come up with an appropriate song to which we all knew the words.) We muddled through Amazing Grace with the help of the congregation. (Apparently that’s a universal song.)

While the service was mostly in Kikuyu, the pastor and pastor-in-training alternated translating into English. The whole service was warm and welcoming and joyous and full of praise. While others in my group felt that this Christian service was very different from the Catholic mass to which they were accustomed, I did not agree. I felt the Kawiran service was not unlike Catholic masses I’ve attended at St. Bernardine and St. Matthew parishes where the congregants are mostly African-American. The differences we noticed in this service as compared to what we’re accustomed to at Nativity are more cultural (African versus Anglo) than denominational (Catholic versus Christian).

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kenya Team Reflection

Today's reflection is from Kenya team members Mark and Elizabeth Scheuerman


When we arrived into the village of Kawira and stepped off of our bus, we were immediately greeted with hugs, kisses, song, and dance. It was beautiful, powerful, and joyful. Oh the JOY! There was so much joy in those few minutes that spilled into the rest of our week (and hopefully the rest of our lives). The people in Kawira are filled with an incredible faith and confidence in a wonderful God who provides, protects, and loves. We pray for the same confidence and trust in our Father.  Because they have so little materially to depend on, their dependence on Jesus is so desperate and so real. We are all called to be that desperate for God and utterly dependent on Him. That is where we find peace, love, and joy.
The people we met were so uninhibited in their expression of love, joy, and faith. What we saw was beautiful and kind, a true reflection of their hearts. The adults were genuinely interested in our lives and cared about what we said. They loved us instantly not because of what we could give them, but because we came all the way to Kenya to visit them and brought with us hope and love. They were so excited to share with us their land, food, tea, sugar cane, music, community, culture and love. The children were precious. The moment we stepped off the bus each day, they sprinted to each of us, trying to be the first one to hold our hand. The sweetest sight was a child’s delicate hand covered in dirt wrapped in our own. A lovely reminder of Jesus’ words to “Let the little children come to me.” The kids simply stole our heart with their BIG hearts and BIG smiles. Despite having virtually nothing materially, the children were filled with A LOT of joy and A LOT of love. They love God and KNOW that He loves them. What a blessing! Some of our favorite moments were surrounded around dozens and dozens of children singing and dancing to Jesus.

After our trip to Kenya, we will never be the same.  We learned so much about life, faith, love, community and relationships.  We learned people are more important than things.  We learned relationships will outlast things; things are just tools, and nothing more.  Use them, don’t let them consume you.  We learned building relationships builds community, and a community looks out for its members.  We learned community is better than self-preservation.  We learned if you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with someone else.  If you want to go furthest, go with God.  We learned complete trust in God requires complete surrender.  We learned the value of hard work, to work as if our life depends on it.  Not to accumulate riches, but so we can afford to be extravagantly generous with our time and money.  We learned God made us to give of ourselves and resources, not to receive.  We learned communication is eighty percent non-verbal and to meet with people, and give the gift of presence.  We learned to meet with people whenever possible, if necessary, make phone calls. We were reminded that stuff does not make you happy.  Love does.  We learned to pray over, and pray with people.  Give the Father’s blessing at every opportunity.  We learned not to do for another what they can do for themselves.  Do with them, in order to uphold their precious dignity.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kenya Team Reflection

Today's reflection is from Kenya team member Frank Batavick


I fully expected to find a developing or third world society in Kawira and was not disappointed.  On almost every level--housing, educational and employment opportunities, access to clean water, electricity, hygiene and health care, dietary variety, shops and markets--there was a stark contrast between the world we enjoy each day and the life of the average Kawiran. However, the Kawirans excelled in the facets of life that deep down really matter--a strong Christian faith, love of family, a sense of community, and concern for the betterment of society through education and improved health care. This fact taught me the universality of human existence. No matter what the environment, all humans are God’s creatures and we strive for the same things.

I can think of three special moments. One was the privilege of giving the message at the Sunday Service at Christ Ambassadors Church. I used Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13: 6-9) as the core of my talk since most of the people in the village are farmers. They appeared to enjoy it.  

The second special moment was when we went on a prayer walk through the village on Wednesday. As we stopped at each house or cluster of houses, we’d ask the villagers what they would like us to pray for. Answers ranged from long health for some of the senior members, to helping a little store improve its business, to asking God to bless those in the grips of alcoholism- an ongoing problem in Kawira where some villagers make their own corn whiskey.  

The third special moment was when I introduced some of the older boys to American football. They laughed at the shape of the ball and when I threw it to them, they tried to parry it with their knees, as in soccer. When I showed one of the taller boys how to grip the ball on the laces and cock your throwing arm behind your ear, he threw a perfect spiral pass. I smiled and was quite impressed.

What I took away from my experience in Kawira is that regardless of the miles separating us and the difference in our socio-economic status, the Kawirans and we are very similar in our physical and psychic needs and in our hopes and dreams.  Where the Kawirans can teach us a lesson is in the value they place in community.  Even though they may lack Facebook and Twitter, there is a connectedness to each other in that village that we would have a hard time rivalling in our  communities of mostly anonymous souls.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kenya Team Reflection

Today's reflection is from Kenya team member Holly Battaglia


"Oh Happy Day"

Not a day goes by that I am not humming one of these tunes in my head since my return from Kawira. From the moment we stepped off the bus at the school yard in Kawira, we were immediately pulled into a joyful group of community members singing, dancing, and worshiping. We were welcomed by several different groups of women, teens, and school children... all presenting their favorite song, dance, and worship. Sunday we attended two local churches that once again praised God primarily through song. Our days at the school were often filled with more favorites that the children loved to teach us. We even tried to teach them a few of our favorites! The final day was a beautiful prayer walk that was primarily women, again praising and worshiping through song and chant. The community of Kawira is filled with beautiful, joyful people and the songs of their home will forever ring in my heart!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kenya Team Reflection

Today's reflection is from Kenya team member Dori Batavick.


In Kenya I expected to see breathtaking landscapes and villages that transcended time. I expected to meet people whom I would never forget. I was not disappointed.

I am teacher. I have had many interesting and challenging experiences as a teacher, but leading a class with 98 four and five year-olds was daunting. After carefully writing numerous lesson plans before the trip involving colors, shapes and numbers, I quickly realized when we walked into the classroom at the Kawira Primary School that adaptations were needed – to say the least. Once I held my hands up in an attempt to quiet the class and get their attention. They noticed, but to my surprise and delight, the whole class burst into song!  The song has motions that begin with hands held above the head.  “Higher, higher, higher, higher, higher, Jesus takes us higher.”  Our team learned a new song that we would love to sing at Nativity someday.

Church on Sunday! The joyful music from voices and homemade instruments praised the Lord from the dirt floor of the small church to the heavens. Cyprian, age 14, led a few of the songs of worship and proclaimed Jesus as his personal savior with commitment and delight. I was taken with his young fervor and will never forget how he made me feel. 

After church I went up to a sweet chubby faced baby and smiled and fussed over him. When he looked at me I saw horror in his eyes! Who was this strange woman? he must have thought. I could not console him, and his wailing got louder. I slipped out of church with a brief apology to everyone.   But, everyone else in church was very friendly.  (Poor baby.)

We made chapati! Cooking these pancake-like breads on an open fire with women of Kawira was wonderful. I am comfortable in the kitchen and rolled the dough like a Kawiran. Jeff, Eileen and I sat and drank chai and ate our bread and chatted with family and friends. We felt at home. 

Painting nails – This seems like a small, insignificant act, but it was bonding; not threatening, and fun. It was a gentle reminder that life is beautiful. I painted the fingernails of old women and the toenails of young mothers.  It was up close and personal. For me it was also humbling.

In Kawira we walked in a small band through the chocolate -red dirt streets of the village. Our team and the faith-filled villagers could have been strolling on roads like those that Jesus walked. We held hands or were arm-in-arm as we stopped to pray along the way. We prayed with the sick, for the crops, the businesses, for those who had no relationship with God, for the well-being of the entire village, and we prayed for each other. Walking and praying together, living our faith together was being in the company of God.

Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The people of Kawira, whose language I understood very little, whose culture and way of life was foreign to me, made me feel welcomed, joyous, full of grace and full of the love of God.  It radiated from their souls.   I want to leave people with this feeling.  I want to live my life to the fullest each day. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kenya Team Reflection

Today's reflection is from Kenya team member Jeff Eller.


Our bus driver slammed on her brakes to swerve around a man on a motorcycle carrying sticks of wood piled five foot high.  The motorcyclist balanced the wood like a tight rope walker balances his pole, careful not to lean too far in any direction.  I’m surprised he didn’t fall over just from people like us passing by him in a big bus. We are traveling from our lodge in Kenya to our host village of Kawira, about forty-five minutes away. We are a mission team of nine people, from Church of the Nativity near Baltimore, traveling in our blue and white bus. 

All around us are the sights of thousands of people selling their wares.  Most have makeshift stalls or simply blankets to display their goods.  The blankets are yellow, white, pink, red, dark blue, and many shades of green.   Perhaps the many colors represent the dozens of tribes that have come to live in this urbanized part of Kenya.  The men and women are selling mangoes, avocados, sweet potatoes, bananas, and the most beautiful flowers and plants.

There are stores as well, with names like:

“Success Hair Salon.”

“Blessings Butchery”

“Clean Shelf Supermarket”

“Sparkling Fresh Milk”

Ah, Sparkling Fresh Milk – that’s how the Kenyans greeted me this morning at our lodge:  Sparkling, Fresh, Smiling.  The Kenyans I am meeting, greet me with sparkling eyes and smiling faces.  They make me feel good about myself and about them.
As our bus bumps through the marketplaces, I see hundreds of little churches interspersed among the buildings.  One of them calls itself, “New Dominion Church, A Home for Winners!” I’m thinking, “I don’t know if I’m winning or losing or what to expect in Kenya, but I’m hoping for a life-changing event, something truly miraculous.  Wouldn’t that be great?”  Since my father died, I have been burdened with the care of my invalid mother and the legal troubles of my brother. These issues don’t make me feel like I’m winning.

“How Not to Give” 

Before the trip to Kenya, we were thoroughly instructed about charity giving.  We studied the book, “Toxic Charity,” which describes how well-intentioned charitable giving backfires most of the time. Our purpose in Kenya, we are told, is to create and build relationships with people in Kawira, not to give them money or possessions.

We were also told that we would be tested on giving.  We would be asked to give, or tempted to give because of their lack of things, and that would be an important part of the trip.

When we first arrive at the school, we are welcomed by the village women, who break out into song.  Now, that’s never happened to me in America.  They are singing in African rhythms, and dancing in a big circle. When we get to the circle, a woman takes each of us by the hand, begins to dance with us and brings us into the circle.  In this way we are brought into their family circle. 

That afternoon, we play soccer with the kids.  Frank (a member of our team) and I are throwing a ball with three boys about, seven to nine years old.  One little boy, about five, joins us.  He’s a fighter, thinks he can do anything, full of spirit.  I can’t believe how much these kids like playing with the soccer balls. I’ve coached soccer for years, but these kids will play forever.  I realized, when it came time to pick up the balls and return them to our bus, that they did not have any other balls.  One reason, they wouldn’t stop playing was because they were treasuring just having the balls for a short while.

On the way back to our lodge for the night, I felt guilty for leaving the balls at the school.  Why not leave the balls there?  “My son has more soccer balls than this whole school does,” I thought.  At our nightly wrap-up I spoke about my wanting to give the kids the soccer balls. I was roundly opposed by the group.  I was called paternalistic, accused of toxic charity!  I was in the dog-house.

Over the next few days, the men in our group, made cement, shoveled cement, spread cement, and tamped down cement.  We were building new floors for the school. I had lots of time to reflect and wrestle about my motivations for giving soccer balls. All the while, we were being embraced by the community of Kawira.  And we were being guided by our Kenyan leaders, Alex and Kate.  Both of them know very well the poverty and needs of the village.  In their talks to us they dealt with problems one at a time, very deliberately, yet with compassion.  When we talked about lack of health care, they spoke with a centeredness and a timelessness that made the problem less urgent.  They were so relationship focused and God centered, that even the gravest of problems were faceable. Alex and Kate brought up problems that other people preferred to avoid:  Like helping teenage girls with personal hygiene, like telling kids directly what was hindering their success in school.  And they addressed these problems with great compassion, so that we wanted to help.

In the afternoons we went on prayer walks with the women and prayed and talked with villagers on the streets.  The streets are not urbanized; they are more like streets in a small town in the south a hundred years ago, where every small house is also a small farm.  Kawira farms are full of fruit trees and lush growth; food and foliage are in abundance.

My favorite moment was on one of these walks. walked We would walk along the red clay streets with no name and visit homes where there was an elderly or sick person.  At one point we met the oldest man in the village, who was a hundred years old.  We stopped and prayed at a little country store where the drinking men sat.  The men just looked at us, broken and listless.  We prayed with an old woman who was sick but greeted us happily. We saw children from the school, playing in front of their houses, with their siblings and mothers.  As we walked back to the school, the women started chanting and dancing to a rhythmic beat.  It was easy to follow the beat with my feet and be right in the middle of their parade.  Yes, it was a parade of happiness, and family, all one, with the Holy Spirit at the center. As we got to the school we were met by another group of chanting women and we all converged on the school where we were surrounded by the school children, who were so excited to be with us. I felt like, “this is it, this is everything, this is God’s love.” 

These spirit-filled times with the villagers and with Kate and Alex, helped me realize that they had a lot going for them.  That I had to trust the timeless rhythm of their village and the wisdom of their ways. I realized that I did not have the authority to give these kids soccer balls.  Only the leadership council of the village has the authority to do that.  Just because I have the means to provide them with balls does not mean I have the authority.  It was in that moment that I realized I had been assuming authority for other inappropriate giving in my life.  For example, I had been assuming authority (responsibility) over my brother’s and mother’s feelings.  I had been doing this so long that I felt like it was my duty.  How had I been given this authority over my family’s feelings and resentments?  Regardless of how it came about, I realized that I had often taken on authority and responsibility that wasn’t mine. Even more, I felt that I could relinquish this false authority and not feel guilty about it. The trip leaders always told me, “you are here to build relationships, not to do or give things.”  In that instruction there is no guilt for not giving things.

“Sparkling Fresh Milk”

Toward the end of the trip I asked Kate, our Kenyan leader, what effect we actually were having on Kawira.  How much did we “matter,” to use a Nativity word.  Kate said, “oh, you are having a huge effect.  The effect will be seen in the next generation of this community.” 
“Next generation,” I thought.  “Wow, such a long-term basis.”  She helped me see that good relationships can have a powerful long-term effect.  The trip helped me re-orient my thinking from “what can I do for this person(s)” to “let me relate to this person and the doing will come in its time.”  If I look at each person the way Kawirans look at me, like “Sparkling Fresh Milk,” then I can have a long-term loving relationship.  The trip taught me to be God dependent and to teach those I would help to be God dependent rather than to be USA dependent.  I will always be working on this because by nature I am self-willed, but having this experience of being God dependent I will always treasure.  And don’t forget to enjoy some sparkling, fresh milk today!