Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Humility (Part 2)

~ by Rachel Shumacher, Agriculture Intern

There is great humility to be learned in being a "foreigner."

To be a foreigner is to be dependent. You are dependent upon those around you to open their lives and hearts to you, to welcome you into their midst, into their communities, into their circles of friends, into their families. You depend on these people to be bridges of understanding to their culture and traditions. You are dependent upon their willingness to be teachers of their languages and patient as you stumble about in your journey of learning. You depend on them for a great many things like these, and then, as you have started on that path to becoming one with them.

I stress WITH them and not one of them. To be one OF them simply isn't possible. Nor should you seek it, as that would mean losing those things that make you who you are, largely coming from culture, from how you were raised, the education you received, etc. God has made you who you are for a reason and a purpose, and it is not for us to divorce from ourselves that which God has molded and shaped us into being as a result of our own unique backgrounds.

However, it is so sooo important to engage in being ONE WITH THEM. This is being their sister, being their brother, walking in their shoes, eating their food, speaking their language...), you begin to depend on them for other things... Things like love and acceptance... like the extended family that the body of Christ is able to offer, because when it really comes down to it, we're all foreigners.

You depend on these people who you are building relationships with, friendships with, to be your mother to comfort you when you're sick (because your own mom isn't there to make you chicken soup or ginger tea). :) You depend on them to encourage you when you're having a rough day, laugh with you as your joy shared is doubled, and cry with you to bear some of the burden of whatever pain you are going through.

To be dependent is to know humility - a humility that is sweet to taste, full of love, and abounding in grace.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Humility (Part 1)

~by Rachel Shumacher, ELI Agriculture Intern

The other day I was asked the question: "What is God teaching you here?"

Perhaps I might have responded "What isn't God teaching me here?" (grins) But I didn't. ;) Because he IS teaching me some specific things, one being humility (I'll share more of the others later), which is also completely inexhaustable as far as coming to know it. It's a lifelong learning. So anyway, to the details.


The first part of humility I'm learning I expressed to a friend through e-mail, so I'm going to include some of it here, and hopefully clarify it a bit better. (The second part of humility will come the next time I blog.) :)

Perhaps as it goes in many or most traditional cultures (including our own not so long ago), women lack voice. And I'm not talking about the kind of voice that stands up at a podium to demand rights. I'm talking more of being shut out or shut down from sharing thoughts, ideas,
emotions, feelings, wisdom, using the gifts and creativity and intelligence God has blessed them with. With women to women there is freedom. But women and men sharing together on equal footing has yet to come to full life, and most especially (and sadly) in marriage.

Within marriage, in a quiet but firm way, they are oppressed and treated injustly. Someone told me that once a woman enters into marriage she begins to self-destruct. She loses her voice, her ability to make decisions, her freedom to express thoughts and feelings... In
traditional Nandi (the local tribe here) marriages, the men are trained beforehand - a kind of marriage counseling ceremony of sorts for men - and one of the things that they are told is that their wife is their "closest enemy", so build a wall against her and don't be vulnerable or share anything on your heart with her because she may turn against you. How horrible is that! So instead of marriage bringing a man and woman even closer together, it separates them. (Not exactly the picture of marriage we read of between Christ and the Church.)

Where the man will perhaps share all on his heart to his girlfriend or fiance before they're married, afterwards he stops sharing with her and she is not allowed to share her thoughts and
feelings and desires with him. She becomes simply an object of pleasure and a bearer of his children. With intimacy in marriages, women can never approach men or express their love or feelings of attraction to their husband. It's only when their husbands have the desire to be with them. And even if they theoretically can approach their husbands, they don't for fear of being beaten (regardless of whether or not their husband actually would). I'm not saying that that
happens in ALL marriages (there might be the exception here or there), but it's definitely in the greater majority. Women are blocked out physically and emotionally and intellectually.

So now you can perhaps see why it was said that they self-destruct. Even before marriage, women aren't given equal footing with men (intellectually, in leadership, etc). I maybe happen to be an exception here, simply because I'm a mzungu (white person), so I can access conversations that African women can't or are less likely to. And it is in this sense of gender oppression and injustice that I've been learning a lot about humility. And I was thinking... that even though humility is always a good thing... the source of that humility, or what causes the humbling experience can be a pretty aweful thing.

I guess that's not a new concept... arrogance is bad and so the humbling is good (put simply), but before now I'd never thought of humility and the cause of it as being systematic. The "system" is culture. The culture says that "the way it has always been is the way it should
always be". And so you find a culture of injustice and oppression against women (and again, especially in marriage). But it is this system, this culture, that is causing humility in me, because I've taken equality for granted from growing up in it. My hearts rebels against being put in a box with no voice... when I know that a man, ANY man, looks at me and sees first that I'm a woman and so I'm on less footing from the beginning.

Before we've even begun we're on unequal ground. And then, because I have white skin, I land just ahead of my black sisters because they have black skin. I'm somehow special because of a DNA code, a difference in pigment. And so I hurt twice - in hurting for being a woman, and hurting for the injustice against black women because even though I've started off on uneven ground, my ground is higher than theirs. And if you try and share these things with the majority of men of this culture, they don't see the pain that women experience because they are the ones that are benefiting from the system. How brave are the people that work for change even if it means losing some of the status and benefits (even though injustly gained) they possess!

But even if you look at the so-called "benefits" and "status" and such, men have NO idea what they are missing in isolating women and their wives from themselves, chaining them to
tradition because "things are the way they've always been". Where would ALL of us be if that was how we lived?? So, as I wrote my friend: "A burdenshared is a burden halved... A joy shared is a joy doubled..." (something like that). (grins)

So, I'm learning humility - how to be humble - in this culture, while at the same time in my own small ways humbly challenging the powers that be. The humility I'm learning isn't from the source of pride, and it isn't a humbling who's source is something ill inside of me. The source is bigger than me, bigger than women, bigger than men, and really, bigger than culture.
Who is the corruptor of all that God made good? Satan and his "principalities and powers". These are what we are ultimately fighting. And who is the only one that can fight Satan but Jesus Christ. Yet we have been given His power through the shedding of his blood. We have been given his name. And we have been given his Word and the Holy Spirit who gives us his words to speak.

Before I end I want to assert that Nandi (and Kenyan) men aren't evil. (You may laugh, but I'm serious.) I have met so many wonderful Christian men here who sincerely love the Lord and desire to do his will, and I'm friends with ALL of the students, and we all hang out together and joke and laugh and talk together and there's not so much the sense of "you can't participate because you're a woman". I do want to share these things with you, however, SO THAT YOU CAN PRAY. Not only the women need prayer as they deal with their experiences of oppression, but the Nandi (and Kenyan) men need prayer as well - that our Mighty loving God would soften their hardened hearts... that the power of the hand of Jesus Christ would touch their eyes so that they can really see the intense pain and chasms of separation that their cultural norms are placing between them and their women and their wives... that the Holy Spirit would whisper in their ears, giving Christian men a voice to speak out against their culture of injustice
against women and instead uplift them before God, before their families, and before their communities. Christian men NEED to be different from what their world tells them is "right to do".

Christ came to make disciples of both men AND women, and both were found at his feet. He fulfills those attributes in cultures that are godly, and he turns the tables on those that are not. Pray that men will be Christ in their culture. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give them the
vision, the insight, and the courage to break cultural norms and defend the oppressed. Pray that they would see the value of their women, that they would see them as indeed being made - male and female - in the image of GOD. Cast out what ill feelings you may have against them and PRAY for them because they are being greatly deceived by the Deceiver. And pray that the Lord might even send men - foreigners or other Kenyans - who can teach them what they do not know, and that they would have ears to hear and hearts that receive.

Siki berurin mising' ! (Kinandi: Be blessed so much!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hope Walks - Fundraiser for ELI Congo

~ Kierra Higgins, ELI Staff
~ photos (c) Micah Albert | ELI 2007

This past weekend, friends of ELI in the Sacramento area, with the help of some other organizations, put on a huge walk-a-thon for orphans and vulnerable children. The focus of the walk was to provide a way for kids in America to walk for kids in Africa. A lot of the proceeds from this walk were going towards our school in D.R. Congo.

The day was amazing! I think we had about 800 people walk (a mile and a half) and I know that a lot of hearts and eyes were opened. On the back of each walker’s number was a name and profile for one of our kids in Congo. It made it really personal for the people to walk and pray for a specific child as they walked. And after the walk, we had a letter writing station where they could write a letter to that child.

ELI's Micah Albert made a 30-minute video showing the kids and ministry in D.R. Congo and the seats in front of that screen were continually packed.

Micah, his wife Lindsay and an ELI board member's Bible-study group did an amazing job at creating ways for kids to experience what life is like in Africa. They had a tent that showed the difference between the bedroom of an American kid verses a house for a child in Africa. We also had a simulation classroom like the classrooms in Congo so that kids could experience what it might be like to go to school there. My mom even made ugali for them to try!

Among other exhibits, participants got to see an X-Box sitting next to 30 bags of rice and learn that the cost of one X-Box could feed a child in the Congo for 10 years! It was so fun to watch the kids and their parents experience all these stations and really have their eyes and perspectives expanded.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"A bit of life at Kipkaren"

FULL is a great way to describe life here.

What am I doing and learning?

I'll start with the people. I am #35 of the students here, and one of the oldest as well (most are between the ages of 20 - 23, a couple are mid-20s, and fewer still around 29-30). I spend most of my time with the students and teachers, who have also welcomed me as one of them.

I do morning chores: Twice a week I get up before 5am to help milk the 2 cows and learn more about sustainable dairy farming in Kenya, I water my popo mti - Kiswahili for papaya tree - that I planted last week, and I often help some of the students water and weed their gardens. Our daily breakfast of chai and bread and butter sandwiches is at 7am, and then we have our morning meeting/chapel time which we start off by singing a few songs in Kiswahili acapella (one of my favorites times of day), and then one of the students reads a few verses or a passage of scripture and talks a little about it.

Following our morning meeting we usually have a morning practical - a different one every day. Some of what we've done in the past 2 weeks is shelling, drying, and bagging maize (to be ground into coarse flour for ugali), building a chicken coup, digging a ditch for water pipes (to supply water to the kitchen and garden - especially the garden, as students spend A LOT of time hauling water in buckets and water cans from the river up to their plots), moving young trees to a nursery bed to be transplanted, planting our papaya trees, etc.

After our morning practical we wash up and head to class - the first one starting at 10am, and then 2 more following that, each an hour long. At 1pm we all have lunch together, followed by 2 classes after lunch. When classes finish we have our late afternoon practical which can include continuing the work that we weren't able to finish in the morning, harvesting our produce and preparing it for supper, planting or transplanting crops, building compost piles (3x3x3 meters), learning how to make organic fertilizers, etc.

When we're finished with whatever we're doing, we hang out and talk and joke and maybe chew on sugar cane :) , or wander around, water the gardens, study, or do whatever else needs to get done. The bells for supper calls us around 7pm, and the dining hall is filled with people talking and laughing and smells of ugali and whatever vegetables/legumes have been cooked for the evening meal. We finish the day with evening meeting/chapel, and then either watch an educational movie (like organic farming techniques in Kenya or bee-keeping, historical documentary or one with some kind of spiritual lesson) or study or go to bed.

I have learned SO MUCH in the classes and practicals we've had. I'm filling my notebooks and am looking forward to reading through them and studying them when I return home, and then in the future being able to put into practice the knowledge I've gained here.

What have I learned about Kenyan culture?

You greet people with a FIRM handshake (and I mean FIRM) whenever you meet them. If you are close friends, especially with women, you touch cheeks on the right side of your friends' face and then the left. You might greet them in Kiswahili with HABARI (literally "news" but kind of translates to how are you) or HABARI YAKO ("your news") or HABARI ZENU (how are you all). Or in Kalenjin (the mother language of most of the people here and the surrounding people of this area) you might say CHAM'GE or YAMONE (equivalent to the Kiswahili).

Most people are pretty soft spoken. Everyone loves to sing, and we almost always sing acapella (which I LOVE) with all sorts of beautiful harmonies. Everyone is pretty relaxed, taking their time, however in class the WALIMU (teachers) are teaching the students about good time management and the importance and benefits of diligent and perseverant work.

It's culturally appropriate for women to wear skirts below the knees, although that's very slowly beginning to change as women gain more equality of opportunities (you CAN wear pants or long shorts - below the knees - if you're playing sports and the like).

If you see 2 women or 2 men holding hands it means that they are good friends or like sisters or brothers - this is culturally appropriate. However, you'll never see a man and a woman holding hands.

Chai is essential for life, and especially for beginning your day. (Seriously. Some people won't go to work if they don't have chai.)

One of the neatest cultural experiences I've taken part in here is the harambe. A harambe is when people come together and team-up to contribute financially for the need of a member of their community or church. The harambe is held for this person. It's community-oriented, and often also acts as an accountability check for that person. For example, if your community or church hold a harambe for you to help raise money so that you can go to college or further your education, you're expected to come back and bless you community with what you've learned. You give back to the community in other ways what you were given. So our class did exactly that for our friend Temayo, who wants to continue on with her education after she finishes this program.

There are lots of other observations I've made, and some I'm forgetting, but at least I've given you a taste of what I've been experiencing. :)

What has the Lord been teaching me during my time here so far...?

Many things. :) One which stands out the most is God's great faithfulness. It's been a period of about 2 years (while I was teaching in Japan) from when I first decided that international sustainable agricultural was the direction that the Lord was calling me into - and the calling not a quiet one, but more like he was shouting it at the top of his lungs in my heart.

So between then and now I've been learning about WAITING. What is active waiting and what is passive waiting? How could I be active in my waiting and WHY should I be? One morning in Japan, while I was reading my Bible and journaling and praying and contemplating these questions, the Spirit posed me and said, "Rachel. THE WAITING is just as important as THE ARRIVAL of that which you're waiting for. Don't waste a moment, because you will need all the experiences and the things that you are learning during the waiting for that time when you arrive at what you're waiting for. If you're passive in your waiting (and for each person that waiting looks different) you won't be prepared for when you arrive, and you may not arrive at all."

And so, after 2 yrs of actively waiting, I have begun my arrival. :) Here in Kipkaren I have found what my heart has so passionately been seeking, and it's more than I could have ever asked for or imagined. Day by day my joy is being made complete.

~ by Rachel Shumacher
Intern: Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development Program
Kipkaren River Training and Development Center

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Gap

~ by Juli McGowan, ELI missionary

It wasn't even 7 am yet, but the line of people outside of my house reminded me of the gap between what is and what should be. One man introduced himself and explained he had walked several miles to meet with me. He shared of struggles in his family and his challenge to pay his children's school fees. Another told of a sick person needing treatment who was unable to afford it. The third explained that he needed advice in how to deal with some challenges. As I walked away, I began to pray. Rather than allow the burdens to overwhelm me, I asked God for His perspective. I didn't have the answers or solutions to these problems, but I knew that God was present. So, I asked Him to show me how to live this day, to love with a love that is greater than myself.

Later this morning, I arrived to the training center and began to tabulate the results from our Tumaini na Afya (Hope & Health) AIDS Awareness Campaign that was held on Saturday. It was an amazing day. A couple thousand people attended and just over 800 people learned their HIV status. Although a majority of the people who tested were men, 95% of those who tested positive were young women. This revealing, once again, not that women are more promiscuous than men but simply more vulnerable. Yesterday I visited a young 20 year old widow of two weeks named Emily whose story represents this so clearly. She married her husband only a year ago. He had worked as a truck driver along the trans-African highway. His first wife had died in 2002 leaving behind two children. Emily learned that she was HIV+ several months ago while she was pregnant. Unfortunately, she did not receive treatment and breastfed her baby. As I sat and listened to her share her story, I was deeply saddened. HIV has stolen and destroyed the lives of too many in this young family. Once more, I didn't know how to comfort this grieving lady; but I prayed to the only One who is able to restore hope to the hopeless.

Things are not as they were meant to be. I know this quite well. But I also know that God is with us. These lyrics, written by Tommy Walker, that say "Sweet Jesus come. Sweet Jesus come. Sweet Jesus come to me. Come set my spirit free so I can worship thee. I want to sense your power and love at work in me. Sweet Jesus come" have so often been my prayer. Today Jesus did come and present himself in the form of a hungry man. He came as a father who doesn't know how to provide school fees for his children. He was in the widow who feels alone and in her baby who is struggling to live. He was in the crippled man sitting outside my window repairing our children's shoes. Jesus has come right to where He said He would be. With an open invitation for us to draw near to Him, we enter the gap between what is and what should be.