While Anna's team in Tanzania is finishing up their last few days before heading back to the States, my sister-in-law and her husband are starting the last part of their trip. They spent their first week in Kenya at an orphan ministry, The Challenge Farm, before heading to a pastor training center. Deidra has this to say as she reflects on what she's experienced so far:
This is Africa --- By Deidra MacLellan Gammill
Earlier this week, I lay looking up at a night sky that was as unfamiliar yet as breathtaking to me as the landscape of this new country. It was as if the Almighty had taken handfuls of silver, crystal, and ice and scattered them across a boundless sea of inky darkness. Familiar Orion was missing but in his place the Milky Way, wrapping twin celestial arms around constellations I could not name.
Perhaps I caught a glimpse of the majesty that must have inspired the words, "O Lord my God. When I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. And there proclaim, My God, how great Thou art."
I have spent much of my first week in Kenya in varying states of awe and wonder. The beauty of the land is immense. As Mount Elgon rises from the morning mist, more bird species than I've seen outside an aviary flit and swoop around the porch where we sit, drinking coffee, soaking in the kind of tranquility that can't be bottled, prescribed, or purchased. It is simply a gift from God. There is a heartbeat thrumming from somewhere deep inside this land; if you are still, you can almost feel it. According to Biblical history, God populated Africa first. Perhaps the richness here is what remains of Eden.
My first day in Kenya was full of extremes; juxtaposed images of beauty and poverty that left me unsettled. In many ways that hasn't changed, but my perspective has shifted in unexpected ways and I find that I am unable to look at anything with my former eyes. I have seen that there are beautiful sides to Kenyan villages and towns, just as there are slums and trash piles, and that beauty can be found in unexpected forms. In a Kenyan town, a piece of trash may be dropped. There is no department of public sanitation to come and take it away, so there it sits. In America, a piece of trash is dropped in a plastic can and taken away to be dumped in the earth or in the ocean. The result is the same; in America I just don't have to live with the trash I produce. I walk through the girl's dormitory here and see a home, a place that provides safety from the terrors of the streets, warmth, security, and a place to call home. In America, I would look at this building with critical eyes; I would focus on the holes in the walls, the peeling paint, the uneven floors. But here, I find it a place of beauty, a place I am honored to be invited to enter. I've not felt such honor anywhere else.
While cleaning and kitchen work are chores I gladly avoid at home, I've sought out opportunities to do them here, much to the surprise of the Kenyans (and even myself). I may not know a great deal about Kenyan culture, but some kinds of work aren't defined by borders. Emily, one of the teachers at Challenge Farm, was scrubbing sinks Saturday morning before the big party. These three sinks are set in concrete and are situated outside the dining hall. Three times a day, dishes and spoons for about 125 children are washed here, in cold water. The ground all around the sinks is red, Kenyan soil. I asked if I could help. She put her hands on her hips and looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "You'll get dirty," she says. "I'll wash," says I. And so began a really pleasant, rather muddy (for inexperienced me) hour. We talked of the children, the classrooms, her family. I learned that her husband is also a teacher, but he works far away in another town. They do not see one another often because travel is expensive. Her mother helps her with their two children, aged 7 and 18 months. This is just how it must be. Jobs are difficult to find. This is Africa.
Later that evening, after the festivities, I happened upon Mary who was cleaning beans in a large outside sieve for the evening meal and began helping her. After some time, she carried a bucket full into the kitchen where she poured them on a stone counter. The kitchen was warm but filled with other girls, laughing and chatting, mostly in Swahili. Some where chopping greens, others tending the ugali, cooking on the stoves. Mary and I began the final inspection of the beans before they were cooked. It was an peaceful time, working quietly with the girls before dinner. Then Elizabeth began singing "God will make a way, where there seems to be no way, He works in ways, we cannot see, He will make a way for me." A lump formed in my throat as this a powerful testimony coming from the lips of a girl living at Challenge Farm. Then Mary began softly singing "Here I Am to Worship" and for inexplicable reasons, as I am a terrible singer and self-conscious to boot, I felt free to quietly join in.
How it is that my heart is to serve and yet I feel that I am the one who is being constantly served I cannot fully explain. Perhaps this is part of what it means to be in Africa. I only know that I have more questions now than answers; I question my God constantly, seeking to understand His purposes in bringing me here. There has been nothing of what I planned or imagined. Everything has been more vivid, more stirring, more painful, more extreme. For an English teacher, this experience has been the greatest oxymoron- exquisite agony.
Today is my last day at Challenge Farm. Tomorrow we leave for KMTI (Kenya Ministry Training Institute), the leg of our journey that is more for Michael than for me. I will teach my last class; I never worked to teach teachers as I thought I would, rather I had the unique privilege of teaching English and Christian Education to a group of level 7 students on several occasions. I will meet once more with the Challenge Farm teachers to collect the last of their articles and to take pictures; God has allowed me the opportunity to help them realize a dream- creating a school magazine. I'll work on putting together the first issue while we are at KMTI and bring it to them (Lord willing) before we return to the states. Today I'll spend my last few hours playing with the children and holding little Brittney in my lap. Saying good-bye to her is perhaps the hardest part of the whole day. I cannot explain, even to myself, the love I have for this child. There are many precious children here, and I have loved my time and my laughter with them. I thank God for the gift of meeting them and the richness they have brought to my life, and I am already fervently praying that He will allow me to return to Kenya, soon. Yet, this one child, this one precious child, has taken hold of me. I weep as I write this, knowing that somehow it's all part of God's big inexplicable, wonderful plan for our lives. Michael told me last night ( as I was weeping) that God was showing me just a glimpse of how much He loves each one of these children.
As has always been, I do not know what tomorrow holds. Only now, I see that I do not know. I see beauty in what I would have once scorned, and I feel a pain and joy that are so tightly interwoven that I do not know if one could exist without the other. Perhaps I am getting just a small glimpse of our Father's love for His people. This is Africa.
To read more of Deidra's writings, visit her blog: http://30daysofgracechallange.blogspot.com/