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