Monday, January 17, 2011

Latest letter to our supporters . . .

Dear Friends,

Kijabe Mission Station is the largest collection of Americans in Kenya. This is driven by the presence of Rift Valley Academy, an American boarding school for missionary children from all over east and central Africa. Kijabe Hospital has a mix of western and Kenyan leadership. I am one of eleven non-Kenyan full-time physicians, and there are many people frequently coming and going. However, I am blessed to work with predominately Kenyan colleagues, and recently have found myself in several situations in which I was the only white face for many miles.

“Daktari, unataka kuja na kuhubiri?” It was an invitation to come and talk, even preach! On a rainy, muddy day, I had gathered in a one-room schoolhouse with approximately 150 HIV-infected Kenyans to celebrate World AIDS Day 2010. I relished the opportunity to come and show my support for the daily fight against HIV/AIDS, and I enjoyed the singing and dancing and general celebrations to mark the occasion. But I had not planned on speaking. I would have been privileged to accept had an invitation been extended, but one had not until the microphone was being held in my direction with an expectant audience.

Now let me preface this by saying that I have great wonder and admiration for skilled communicators who can stand before an audience and eloquently express themselves, and I lament that this is not a talent that I possess. But here was the microphone, and a room full of dark eyes was on me. So, I prayed a soft prayer, and I stood up.

While seated, God had laid an image on my heart. I was looking at a room full of HIV infected men, women, and children who had walked long distances in the rain and mud to celebrate life. Ten years ago, all of these people would be dead or dying without hope, but God had provided a way where there was no way. So, I talked about a disease from which there is no escape, no cure, no hope, and once infected the inevitable result is death. Our sin is like that, but in Jesus Christ, God has provided a way where there was no way. So we have reason to celebrate. We can stand in life’s rainstorms and travel along life’s muddy paths with joy and celebration because we who were once dead in sin are now alive in Christ.

On the morning of December 24, Christmas Eve, I loaded in the back of an ambulance with my Kenyan colleagues to travel around the region and bring some small gifts of clothes and food to destitute patients in our area. The first stop was to a one-room wooden structure with a dirt floor where a grandmother alone cared for 9 grandchildren. The number had recently been eight, but her fifteen year-old granddaughter had recently delivered a child that was the result of hiring herself to an older man for 100 kenyan shillings (about $1.30). Seeing this child in this home, my thought was not how she could think so little of herself, but how valuable even 100 shillings was in their extreme poverty. It is hard to know how to help such situations (of which there are countless), but as Christians our wealth should not ever be considered a blessing to ourselves, it is meant to be a blessing to others.

That same day I met a man who graciously invited me into his home and proudly extended his hand to me and said, “my name is John and I have been HIV positive for eight years.” Thinking that this was a strange way to introduce yourself, I took his hand and said, “my name is Rhett and I have been HIV negative for 32 years.” Humor is always risky here because you never know how it is going to translate across languages and cultures. Fortunately, this occasion was met with laughter all around.

Most recently, I just returned from a curriculum development work retreat for our HIV training program. I was again the only mzungu (white person) in the bunch, and had a productive time with my Kenyan friends and colleagues. We accomplished much toward our goal of providing excellent training for HIV care providers throughout Kenya. However, the highlight of my week, was when one friend looked at me and said, “your not like other wazungu, you are one of us.” It doesn’t get better than that in cross-cultural ministry, and I praise God that He has put me in positions to serve Him, and given me the grace to do so.

While I am having dynamic cross-cultural experiences, Megan has played a difficult and invaluable supportive role to make our ministry possible. She has been a steady force for our three children; playing the role of teacher, birthday party planner, counselor, cook, and on and on. She continues to admirably perform the thankless job of organizing hospitality for the many visitors that are crucial to the success of Kijabe Hospital. I am endlessly thankful for her tremendous, and oft unrecognized efforts. Claire has turned 5, and we are infinitely proud of the little person that she has become. Ford and Gus spend their days running around barefoot and getting dirt in the most unlikely places. They are becoming close friends. We eagerly anticipate my parents’ first visit to Africa next week, and are excited to spend time together as a family.

With Great Love,

Rhett, Megan, Claire, Ford and Gus

Friday, January 07, 2011

Recent recap

It's been a while once again so here is a recap of all that has been going on in our part of the world.

We spend most of every day outside enjoying the fantastic weather that this time of year brings. The kids eat lunch outside every day and generally end up so dirty by mid day I have to hose them off. They ride bikes, climb trees, put on plays, make mud pies, play in our play house . . . for hours. It is wonderful.

In mid December I helped on the hospital staff Christmas party committee. Being the only non-Kenyan involved in the planning process was quite a cultural experience. I was delegated decorations and asked to be at the party site at 8am the day of the party to decorate the tents for the party that started at 10am. I arrived to find a few guys attempting to unload 4 huge tents and several hundred chairs from a truck. Not much for me to decorate at that point. I finally tracked someone down and asked where the decorations were so I could see what I had to work with. She pulled a small shopping sack out from under her desk with two bags of balloons and two spools of ribbon. I realized I now had about an hour and a half to blow up about a hundred balloons and make several dozen bows. I enlisted some help in the business office and somehow made it happen. Luckily for me nothing here starts remotely on time so we did eventually finish the decorations which looked more like a pep rally than a Christmas party but it worked.

The dance contest was the most interesting part of the all day event. The only mzungu who entered won. The dancing is as bad as it looks. I cringed the whole time.

What is a party without food?? There was plenty to go around even with this loong line! Word to the wise - be very cautious of large quantities of food prepared in a developing world situation. Everyone you see in this picture had diarrhea the next day. We just ate rice and chipatis and thus were spared.

Because it doesn't exactly "feel" like a North American Christmas I have found I have to be very intentional with "Christmas" things. It is very nice to be away from some of the commercialization and busyness of the Christmas season at home but at the same time some of those special things that happen only once a year are cultural clues that help build anticipation of the big day. Christmas here is definitely different. It is simple and pure and lovely in a lot of ways. But it isn't very Christmasy. We did make cookies several times and luckily I have finally figured out how to bake at this altitude so they were actually good this year.

One of the highlights of this Christmas season was having the entire AIDS Relief Program over to our house for a Christmas party. I worked for two days preparing food and getting everything ready. We had sent out invitations that invited everyone over at 1pm on this day (typical Kenyan lunch time). I had times everything perfectly and had everything hot and on the table, Christmas music playing and waited anxiously for the first guests to arrived. 1:10. 1:15. 1:35. 1:50. No one. At this point I am stewing and Rhett is giving me a lecture on culture and how I shouldn't have expected anyone to actually show up at the stated time. To which I am replying in my very self centered American way that they should realize I am an American and when I say 1pm I mean it! 2:00. Still no one. The food is cold. Finally about 2:10 people start coming in. Lesson learned. I should have put 11:30 on the invitation :)

It was simply wonderful opening our home to all of Rhett colleagues (he is the only mzungu in the department). I am so thankful for the amazing friendships and relationships that Rhett has made with these people over the past 14 months. When talking with some of his friends he learned that none of them had ever been invited into a missionary home before in fact they all thought that we (missionaries) had been told not to socialize with them (Kenyans). This really upset Rhett because we are here to make relationships and encourage them in the work they do here. This party could not have been more timely to demonstrate our appreciation and commitment to them and our friendship.

Our kids could not have been more excited about this party. We are SO grateful for the impact it is having on our children to see us using our home as a place of ministry and home that is open to all people of all colors and backgrounds. I think about how a lot of well intentioned white Americans teach their children about equality and yet never have a person of color around their dinner table.

After lunch everyone took to the basketball court and it kind of turned into field day!

Then we all gathered in our driveway where everyone started impromptu singing then came time for "appreciation". Each person who, in general comes across as reserved and stoic in this culture, began profusely thanking us not only for our efforts for the party and hosting them in our home but for coming to Kenya and being here with them. They said some of the nicest things I could ever imagine being said about anyone to Rhett. They were very clear how much he meant to them, how different and special his friendship was and how much they appreciated his work with them. We were taken aback. We had invited them to show them how much we appreciate THEM and here they were all one by one going around and thanking us. I told them all how much I appreciated their sacrifices and how it was a privilege for us to come along side them and help them in ministry to their people. These are people who have given up better pay and benefits to work at a Mission hospital caring for the people in their country suffering from HIV/AIDS in the context of the gospel. They are heroes in my mind. They will never receive much more recognition than they received that day but they are certainly to be admired.

It was a really important moment for me as well. In most ways I don't really get to see or experience what Rhett does on a daily basis which is basically why we are here. My days are spent mostly in our house and yard feeding children, reading to children, cleaning up messes made by children, disciplining children and otherwise loving my children. Which is the best job in the world and the one I've wanted my whole life but sometimes it seems like my whole life takes place in the space of our yard and I forget why we are here which is so that Rhett can come along side these incredible people and help train them and mentor them and encourage them in their ministry in addition to the mercy and care that he provides for the patients in the hospital. As I sat and listened to everyone talk about how much Daktari Rhett meant to them personally it helped me find a balance in my mind and heart as I really saw for the first time the impact we have had here.

I didn't expect this update to go quite this long more later.