Thursday, September 26, 2013

What is the price of freedom? What is the cost of faith?

“Freedom has always been an expensive thing.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Security wands have become common--place in Kenya. It’s rare that you walk into a public establishment without being “waned.” So how is it that our security is so fragile? How is it that terrorists can walk into a mall in Nairobi and open fire and take hostages?  How is it that a four-day stand off ensues? How is that 61 people die and more than 150 are injured including 6 members of the security forces?
It turns out those security wands aren’t magic. Terrorists are fatalists and not particularly discriminating. They sprayed bullets first and then starting asking those left standing one question, “Are you Muslim?”  The answer, by the way, didn’t matter. Some people who answered in the affirmative were shot anyway.
The attack at Westgate mall wasn’t about religion. The attack, like any violent act, was about power and in this case revenge. So the terrorist might have been better served to ask, “Do you support Kenyan army operations in Somalia?” That question however would not get good headlines and maybe some blank looks, because really, unless you are directly involved in the issue, it’s not something you’ve probably given a lot of thought to. You were more caught up with your children and your work and what you were going to eat for dinner. Until of course some terrorist interrupts your Saturday at the mall and puts a gun to your head.
Fanatics kill innocent people for the wrong reasons. It’s all so senseless.
But let me make this about religion for a moment.
What if it was you and you just happened to be a Christian?
My pastor said the following in his sermon the day after the Westgate siege began, “Faith is meant to cost you something.”
I’m quite sure he didn’t change his sermon Saturday night. So the impact of that line resonated with me as we prayed for the victims and the hostages in church less than 24 hours after the tragedy began.
Would I have said, No, I’m a Christian? I hope I would have.
Terrorists may have a twisted and wrong-headed view of Islam, but they defend their misconceptions to the death. Would I defend what I believe, even in the face of death? I hope I would. I also hope my faith will never have to stand that test under such circumstances.
Which takes me back to freedom. Cases of grenade attacks and violence have increased since Kenya sent troops into Somalia. Is our freedom, our way of life, our security at risk?
I suppose one could look at it that way, but here is what I know, God is in control and he will provide safe passage for Kenya and one day soon peace and prosperity for our neighbor Somalia.
The Kenyan people are fighting against the evil invading its borders with the weapons of love and unity, which are far stronger than any evil. Outpourings of support, both during and after the Westgate siege, have been truly inspiring. Well over 11,000 pints of blood were donated, millions of shillings given and people living close to the mall even provided food and water for the security forces and media personnel who spent long hours on duty.
By definition to have freedom and/or faith you must give up a certain amount of security.
However, security without freedom is imprisonment and security without faith is a lie.
May God heal and bless my adopted country, Kenya.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Maralal Training

When God says, “Jump.” Our response should be, “How high?”
But what if God asks you to do something you don’t know how to do?
Do you punt? Run away? Hide?
Or do you ask, “Why me, God? Couldn’t you find someone more qualified for this than me?”
I don’t know why God called me to minister to youth living with HIV. I am not the most qualified. In fact, when God put this ministry on my heart, I was pretty sure he’d gotten the wrong heart.
And then I was bombarded over the period of about a week in different ways with the message, “when God calls you to serve him, you already have in you what he needs to complete his work…whatever else you need he will provide.”
So I stopped fussing and started following and God has been providing exactly what I need every step of the way!
At the end of August he provided me with a way to get more education on HIV/AIDS from a world-renowned expert.
I found HIV Hope International online and communicated with Duane Crumb, the founder and director that I wanted to know more about his organization. He wrote back and said there was a seminar in Kenya and I could contact the organizer to see if it was possible to attend. Long story short, I was accepted and last week made the 10+ hour journey to Maralal, Kenya. (See Maralal Journey blog for details of the trip).
Duane travels around the world facilitating seminars like the one I attended to equip and empower people to develop their own strategies, materials and programs to effectively address the issues involved in HIV in their local cultures and meet the needs of those living with the disease.
Maralal is the county seat so it is a fairly big town. It has a good power supply; a few cyber cafes and I even found a shop that sold a few Western food items…but sadly not a passable road in site!
The hotel we stayed in was sparse but comfortable. The shower was hot (most of the time) and the mattress was firm! We ate most of our meals in the hotel dining room.

Because it’s always a good idea to travel light, I had decided to wear the same outfit coming and going, so I washed the clothes that I wore on the trip to Maralal. This is the color of the water when I was finished!

The seminar itself was held at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Maralal. We arrived on Saturday night and attended church there on Sunday. A local missionary family who hail from Finland picked us up and drove us to church. They have three small children. Their daughter and I bonded over our and shared our eyewear!

The church service was small. No more than 15 people but probably twice that amount of children. Pastor Silas was very welcoming and also took part in the seminar so we got to know him well.
A group of seminar participants traveling from north of Maralal didn’t make it for the first day of the seminar because there was fighting between the Samburu and the Turkana in a town on their path so they had to wait and travel when things cooled down. My girls sms'd me all worried because they heard the news that there was fighting in Maralal. But really the injured had been taken to the hospital in Maralal, the fighting was not in town.
The seminar participants were primarily Samburu, there were also four wazungus (foreigners), and a man from Turkana. There were 7 Samburu women. We couldn’t communicate much, but by the end of the seminar we were good friends. 

The seminar was translated into Samburu and Kiswahili. We ran a generator to run the projector, but that was as high tech as we got. Some ladies from the church cooked our lunch over a three stone fire. We met Monday thru Thursday from 9 to about 3:30 p.m. On Friday we only met in the morning.

The ELC Maralal church is about a kilometer outside of the city. The views from the church were beautiful.

The first day we talked about how the church should be involved in HIV/AIDS, the goals for training, and received in depth information about transmission of HIV/AIDS. We then discussed the concepts our audience had to understand, the barriers they might have to understanding the information and what tools we needed for teaching.
On Tuesday, the first question was “Is HIV a judgment sent from God? In the “pre-test” we were given before we started the seminar the same question was asked and 70 percent of the participants responded that yes they believed HIV was a judgment from God.
The answer is NO by the way! We are all sinners. If anyone deserves this disease, we all do. One of the participants answered this way. “God loves us as a father, the same way we love our children. Loving us is giving us free will. We make choices that have consequences.” HIV is a natural consequence of sin.
On day two we also talked about the myth that HIV is a curse. Another topic was testing and we made lists about why people have sex outside or marriage. Lastly we discussed behavior change versus influencing behavior and how to encourage people living with HIV/AIDS.
On Wednesday we discussed stigma and discrimination. It took awhile to get into the discussion because there is not a word for stigma in Samburu! A lot of this was culturally based and very interesting to listen to the Samburu discuss their culture.
Then we discussed ARVs and how they work. This could have been a very complicated topic but Duane made it easily understandable and culturally relevant. We also had two bible translators at the seminar and they agreed to translate this chapter from Duane’s book, “HIV Hope for the Nations” into Samburu for their final project. 

On Thursday, we talked about our role as educators and how to interact with our audience. After lunch we started to present the projects that we had been working on. 
The lone Turkana man in the group gave a poem.
Duane requires that each participant present a song, poem, game, skit, etc. that they would use to teach about HIV.
I agonized over what to present. At first I thought I would make up an educational game…but I’m not much on game theory, so I prayed and got more anxious. And then Wednesday afternoon I had an idea. Ephesians 6 popped into my head. It talks about putting on the armor of God. Putting on the armor of God means sacrificing the things of this world. So I used the word SACRIFICE to come up with the main parts of the armor of positive living.
Breast Plate
Self- Acceptance
Adherence to ARVs and clinic instructions
Choices – Make good Choices
Relationship – Have a personal relationship with God
Information – Get the correct information
Faithfulness to partner/wait for sex until marriage
Rear Guard
Identify family and friends in Christ to support you
Condoms – Use Them!
Everyone is at risk. I am not alone. I can speak out and help others.

I also drew (not well mind you) a picture of what the armor of positive living would look like. 

God’s inspiration and timing couldn’t have been better! My presentation went great and was well received by my fellow participants.
It was also well received this week in a meeting with AIC Pastors about Maarifa, the psychosocial support ministry I am starting for youth living with HIV. We decided to use it as a framework for the materials we will create to use with the youth.
You know you are following God’s plan for your life when there is no mistaking His hand in the work that you are doing. I’m so glad I listened to God’s call even though didn’t feel qualified or ready. Now a short month and a half later I have made the leap into the unknown and have found the path was there beneath my feet all along.
Step out and faith and watch what God can do!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Maralal Safari

After 12 years of traveling around Kenya, the lack of infrastructure still overwhelms me. So does the way the entrepreneurial spirit finds ways to take advantage of impassable roads.
Potholes are moneymakers. Young men carry stones to the road and crush them into the potholes and then stand at the side of the road and “encourage” you to throw them change as you pass by. During rainy season if there is an especially muddy, impassable but heavily traveled section of road you will often find young men lurking about to offer “push and pay” service.
But on the way to Maralal, Kenya, last week I found yet another way to earn money, this one had much more job security. A certain section of the road to Maralal is legendary. It becomes more like a river than a road for about a kilometer. 

The matatu drivers have to drive through minus the passengers. So the passengers have to make their way to the side of the road and walk. The local entrepreneurs have fashioned a bridge across the mud/water back to the road and block the other side of the bridge and charge 10 Kenya shillings (about 15 cents) to every person who crosses the bridge. They also help the mutate drivers push their vehicles out when they get stuck, for which they earn about 100 Kenya shillings per vehicle (about $1.20 USD). 

I went to Maralal to participate in an HIV Educator training through the organization HIV Hope. Its founder Duane Crumb told us that we were his 50th seminar. He has held them all over the world. I will tell you more about the seminar in another blog.

On the day we traveled to Maralal, we got a late start. At the Nairobi stage we bought tickets to Nyahururu, where we would have to switch buses to go to Maralal. The government decided to hold “Road Court” that day and was stopping all the public vehicles to make sure they were up to code. (Which is a bit of a farce…another story for another day). So the vehicles were late, which actually worked in our favor, because normally vehicles stop running from Nyahururu to Maralal at 2 p.m. We arrived in Nyahururu at 3:30 p.m. and were still able to get another vehicle to Maralal.
As we left Nyahururu at 4p.m. I overheard a Kenyan woman on the bus say she would be in Maralal by 10 or 11pm. Luckily, even with our ½ hour drudge through the mud and over the trolls bridge – we still arrived by 8:30 p.m. 
On the way, we saw some wildlife. Zebra, antelope, guinea fowl, dik dik, and one huge majestic looking elephant, quite close to the fence...unfortunately my camera was in my bag and the matatu driver was not inspired enough by my excited squeals to even slow down.
If you think that sounds like fun…you will really enjoy my journey home. I traveled to Maralal with 4 other people. I traveled home alone.
The bus returning to Nyahururu and then Nairobi leave Maralal at 3 a.m. I had set my alarm for 1:45 a.m. to have the taxi pick me up at 2 a.m. The taxi driver called me at 1:32 a.m. and asked if I was ready. I was still in bed. He asked how soon I could be ready. Ten minutes? I was to walk around the corner and meet the taxi at a shop called Pama. However when I got to the corner, the bus to Nyahururu was pulling up. The bus by the way doesn’t say Nyahururu, it say Real Madrid. The inside is plastered with Real Madrid posters. They are also outfitted with 5 seats across rather than 4, which means you either need to be the size of a small child or an ultra thin model to sit comfortably. I was shown to the seat behind the wall that separates the cab from the rest of the bus, next to the window. It had rained most of the evening and was chilly and wet. Naomi, the Kenyan woman who sat next to me, would not be described as small. So before we even left town an hour and 15 minutes later I was already in sardine mode.
For an hour we criss-crossed Maralal picking up passengers. The driver was constantly on his cell phone. I’m not sure how the pick up system works, but it seemed to be very efficient. About 2:30 a.m. we parked at what I assume was the bus stage. 

Then I felt the vehicle being jacked up and a tire was rolled past my window around the front of the vehicle to change the driver’s side front tire. (This couldn’t have been done before?) I needn’t have been concerned. These guys could rival a Daytona pit crew! We were on our way at 3 a.m., the appointed departure time.
The trip from Maralal to Nyahururu is bone jarring. And then there’s the river section. I was praying long before we got to the river section. The driver was making good progress through the soupy muck, around other vehicles - lorries and matatus thoroughly stuck. And then it happened. The tout ordered us all off the bus, even the mom’s with babies! It’s about 4:30 a.m. pitch black. I’m alone. I wasn’t scared, just freaked about not having someone’s hand to hold. I’m not good in the dark. In all my years in Africa, I have not developed African eyes. I swear most Africans have infrared vision! I do however have a flashlight in my cell phone! We all piled out and started making our way through the muck. We had to cross the road to walk on hard mud. I was wearing sandals and socks…I know, serious fashion statement! Needlesstosay, my socks were wet and muddy by the time I got to the other side of the road. We weaved are way around stuck vehicles and thorn bushes and watched and cheered as our bus slipped and slid by us and eventually we all climbed back on and made our way out. No bridge in the middle of the night!
At sunrise, we finally came to the hour’s worth of decent pavement before arriving in Nyahururu and the BBC English Service blasting over the bus radio was playing gospel music. Life doesn’t get much better…sunrise and pavement and gospel music! Go God!
I had planned to make my way over to the matatus we had come on to get back to Nairobi, but there was an earnest young man who helped me with my bag and then told me his matatus were 150 shillings less than the one I had come on…I’m nothing if not thrifty!
Halfway back I remembered that I could cut through Kikuyu instead of going all the way to Nairobi. Which would cut about 1 and a half hours off my trip. When I got out of the matatu at Kikuyu the driver took my bag out of the back – it was covered with dust. He didn’t even attempt to wipe it off…it was that bad!
I got on the bus at 1:45 a.m. and walked into my house at 12:30 p.m. My back pain was minimal and my girls were all smiles. I cuddled my grandbaby and all the sudden the mud and hours over rough roads were a distant memory. Safari Njema!