What did we learn in Kenya?
On our recent trip to Kisumu we learnt much about the privilege and blessings we have in the west, but as you may expect we also saw God working throughout the hardships and difficulties of life without the abundance we enjoy. It’s important to consider for a moment the picture we have of people and countries less fortunate then ourselves, do we conjure up pictures like those we’ve seen in Comic Relief? Do we paint a picture of a people and a nature with a single brush, in one single bleak colour of grey?
The reality of life in Kenya is one of colour and an abundance of life. Everywhere we went people were pleased to see us and welcome us. Simply walking down the street provoked a small group of children to follow after us in an attempt to just say ‘hello’. People in shops, strangers on the street, everywhere people wanted to say ‘How are you’. A cynic might imagine this is because of how much we stood out – we were after all a rare sight on the streets of Kisumu. The cynic might suggest there was a vague hope we might have money for them, and truly one or two people did ask. But a cynic can’t help but be overcome and impressed by the desire of the average Kenyan to treat you with a warm and respectful welcome.
Certainly all that colour and life was despite the challenges and grey realities of Kenyan life. In our time in Kisumu we met a cross section of society. We met kenyans carving a modest income for themselves through business or enterprise, there were many who had accessed university education (although not a guarantor of employment as Kenya has poor employment rates), and we met the lost and the broken.
This takes us to Nigel. Not his actual name, but for the record the names of Kenyan children ranged from the unusually frequent ‘Brian’ to being named for famous Christians ‘Wycliffe’ or name sakes of modern heroes; It was a surprise to meet ‘Nelson Mandela’ at one youth event. Nigel was 15/16 years old and awaiting trial in the remand home in Kisumu, he was placed there partly for his own protection as his village and family had turned on him and partly because of the seriousness of the accusations against him. He was currently in charge of one of the ‘dorms’ holding 20 boys in bunkbeds, a prefect of sorts. He had a long healed scar on his face and a far away expression – a story of brokenness, shame and loneliness written across his face. He answered questions in quiet single words, or with a solitary nod of his head. Jakob the pastor working with Route 61, who was attempting to mentor the young man said ‘He has been accused of murder’.
We didn’t seek the details, or whether it was true. It was enough to see this young lad completely torn from his life and the permanent look of shame and hurt to know it didn’t matter. He was the kind of lad Jesus came to die for. We asked if we could pray for him and spent some time speaking some words of encouragement and truth about the gospel of Jesus – there was a crack in that stoney face, when asked ‘do you want to know God as your father?’ – he nodded and we prayed the Holy Spirit would come.
What happens now to Nigel is he gets mentored by Jakob, eventually found guilty and sent to a youth prison, or innocent and sent back to a village who may or may not believe his innocence. From there he may end up back on the streets, with nobody to call family. Unless someone like Route 61 and pastor Jakob can intervene and by the grace of God bring reconciliation to his family.
Jakob is no stranger to the hand of God. When he was a child he had conflict with his father, and his mother did little to protect him. He felt worthless, and unloved. Seeing no alternative Jakob went out to his garden with a rope, moments from sealing his fate he heard a voice from the overgrowth. “I love you.” it said. Upon inspection of the bushes he found no-one, but those words resounded in his heart and although at the time he did not know the one who called out to him, soon he would find out and grow into a man after God’s own heart.
Fatherlessness is a spirit, and a reality for many children in Kisumu. Another pastor, Byron said “When I was a child the father would come home from work, and you knew to make yourself scarce.” There was no talking to your father about your worries or fears; he was among them. For a country lacking fathers, the name of God is everywhere, children are given good Christian names, shops have Biblical names, and nearly every supermarket has worship playing over the tannoy. “People think it’s like a good luck token” another pastor told us. “They think if they call it something Christian and play Christian music God will bless it.” “They see big churches and rich pastors and think that is a symbol of blessing and God being with them…Kenya is over evangelised”. Everybody knows about God this pastor told me, but not many really know him personally. They live thinking they must earn a position in heaven and knowing about God, believing in God, but not knowing Him. And those that do know Him are still immature – “We’re a nation of immature Christians” he confesses. True discipleship seems hard to come by – it reminded me a lot of home.
I bemoan the secular society we live in. Doors into schools, the public square and government are becoming harder and harder for Christians to get through. Our nation’s attitude is hostile to the gospel. Our culture is in antithesis to the message of sin, repentance, reconciliation and the fatherhood of God. But what I learnt in Kenya, is that it doesn’t matter. Which culture is more opposed to the Gospel? One that actively denies it and preaches against it. Or one that believes in God’s existence but twists faith and has Him all wrong?
I would contend that the issue of people being estranged from our God as Father is as alive in Britain as much as it is in Kenya. We often walk as the Almighty’s orphans, not His children. We are often estranged from our human fathers as much as our heavenly one. We suffer from having such a wealth of information available to us, resources to grow us in faith, but we often remain immature in faith. For our hundreds of years of Church activity, robust discipleship still seems far away. And preaching the gospel and sharing the good news feels terrifyingly difficult because of our culture. If only that were different we might be tempted to think.
In the warm sun of Africa I realised the opposition to the gospel is universal, whist it might take different shapes and forms, as long as people still live in darkness Christ’s message will be opposed. We already possess the full arsenal required to reach the lost, and it starts at home. I learnt in Kenya I must deal with the orphaned spirit inside, grow up in my salvation and help disciple others to do the same. Then we can share this great hope of ours, regardless of the opposition.
– Dave Hadley