Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day One: Riruta United Methodist Church

SUNDAY December 5, 2010


First full day in Kenya! I feel like I’m a wide-eyed child trying to take in everything. There is so much that is so new but yet so much the same. The billboards are in English, much of the music playing in the “matatus” (a VW bus filled to the brim with people) is American, and there are so many faces that look so much like my friends at home! A few times I’ve even thought I recognized a familiar face before realizing that I wasn’t home but thousands of miles away in Nairobi.

The first really amazing and forever memorable moment of the day was walking into church this morning and seeing all of the children’s faces filled with joy and excitement…. Just because WE were there! We had the most gracious welcome; full of song, dance, hugs, and smiles. During the service the kids sang for us and it was my first really emotional moment here. Their voices were amazing, their energy and light was almost blinding. I was truly overwhelmed with happiness, yet still wide-eyed. When we left Riruta and waited for what seemed like forever for a matatu was when the second and incredibly once in a lifetime moment occurred. A huge mattress truck (open in the back with cage like walls) pulled up. We joked with our guide that we would ride back in that and he ran to the driver and made a deal! So yes, we all hopped in and rode in the back of a mattress truck. Now I haven’t talked at all about the traffic here so hmmm…how to describe it? Maybe no rules, no lights, no stop signs, no real sides of the road for anyone, people walking, babies crossing, oh and tons of cars on the bumpiest roads, all of this at the same time!!! So imagine sitting in the back of this cage like mattress truck bumping our way through Nairobi! IT WAS AMAZING such an experience (don’t worry we all have pictures).

I feel like I could go on and on. There is so much more to be said but I am going to close with this: I’m in AFRICA! And I LOVE it! :-)

A warm welcome from our Riruta UMC friends
This morning, our first in Nairobi, I rose early. After lying in bed for a short time, then reading in bed for a longer one, I left the room Benita and I share at 7:00 a.m. I ate in the cafeteria of the Methodist Guest House, where we are staying. At 7:30, I walked to the back of the guest house, to read in the warm sun by the pool.

To the smell of chlorine, and the calming sound of the pool’s water jets, I finished reading a novel tracing an interracial relationship in the U.S. The book opens in the mid-60’s and concludes in the mid-90’s. The themes of race relations, family strife, and the mysterious ties that bind the human heart feel particularly fitting to many aspects of my ongoing African journey.

While looking out at the water, otherwise placid but for the even stream the jets pushed out, I noticed a sign embedded in the wall on one side of the pool. It read, “SHALLOW END.”

After digitally capturing the “shallow end” sign, I resolved to dedicate a substantial part of my reflection on this journey to pulling myself out of the shallow, ever-present abyss that has marked my year. While I’ve created enormously meaningful experiences, and worked hard to reclaim the joy that previously operated in me by instinct, I have felt stagnant and unstudiously atheistic this year. Try as I have, I’ve found it an overwhelming task to swim toward the depths that I know my life holds.

So on this Glide/Ray of Hope return to Nairobi, I will scan my daily environments for joy, as our pastor Karen encouraged us all to do, and as she reminded us will be fairly effortless, among our gracious and relentlessly grateful Kenyan family members.

I found the deep end on our matatu ride to Riruta, a progressive United Methodist church with whom we partner, located in Nairobi’s Ngong slum. As our team rode with Barasa, our faithful Ray of Hope liaison, my heart leapt out of my chest several times. I was buoyant with recognition of geographic markers, and the anticipation of seeing our Kenyan friends from last summer.

Anne Baraza and John Makohka, leaders of Riruta Methodist Church, greeted us warmly and well when we arrived. After services, we waited almost an hour for a matatu that would hold our entire group. After several overcrowded vehicles passed us by, Barasa flagged down a gigantic mattress truck, whose ceiling could easily graze the bottom of a low-hanging billboard.

Craig in the mattress truck
 With our trusty leader Karen riding shotgun in the cab of the truck, the rest of us sat in the top-open bed. Had we been allowed to stand and grip the cage-like top part of the walls, it would have felt like the best float in the greatest parade ever – but the driver could have been arrested for carrying us, so we ducked by sitting against the lower part of the walls. There, staring up at billboard bottoms and warm, cloudy skies, I experienced joy again.

Karibu Kenya.


While my friends were hiding low in the mattress truck, I saw the most amazing sight. We driving on a busy road, and over in the far right lane was a Bedouin with his two camels! Wow! I wasn’t expecting to see that!

Rev. John Makokha and Anne Baraza
 It was great worshipping at the Riruta United Methodist Church and seeing Rev. John Makokha, his wife Anne, and staff members and friends once again. I am so moved by John and Anne’s ministry, particularly as they provide an oasis of welcome and justice to Kenya’s glbti community. Just last week, the Kenyan prime minister called for the arrest of gay and lesbian persons. John was interviewed by the media to provide a counterpoint to the prime minister’s stance. As a result of his witness, John has had increased threats made against him. I am so moved by his commitment to justice. He and Anne vividly demonstrate the cost of discipleship—being faithful to the Gospel is risky business.

We arrived in Nairobi last night after 28 hours of flying and airports, and were happily greeted by Barasa (from Ray of Hope) and Junior, travel guide and driver extraordinaire. Kenyans love visitors and treat them with open arms and tremendous hospitality. It is good to be back in Kenya. The weather is pleasantly balmy, with the October/November rainy season at its end. The roads through town to the Methodist Guest House were busy with people out for Saturday evening- the drive took about 30 minutes. After checking in, we were offered dinner but we declined and met for a short devotion and then headed to bed.

As we were leaving for church this morning, Ruben, who is working on behalf of Ray of Hope, met us so that we could turn over the laptops and computer network equipment we brought for the computer lab that will be set up while we are here. Luckily Ruben seemed to understand what all of the different equipment was for, since it was pretty foreign to many of us. He took everything to the Learning Center so that he could start loading software on the computers and getting the network set up. We’re still looking for additional educational software, particularly for the kids in the 4th-6th grade range- donations would be greatly appreciated!

The roads were even busier today than last night , and it was quite an effort to get a matatu to Riruta for our worship at Riruta Methodist Church. Many Kenyans were walking in their Sunday best, and others were out either to go to the markets or to visit with friends and family. Pastor John Makoka met us at the road as we arrived at our stop, and walked us down the dirt road into the Riruta community. Singing had already begun as we entered into the small sanctuary, and the church’s welcome was absolutely wonderful! We’ll work with John and his team on a number of occasions over the next 8 days.

The kids here come up to us Mazugus (white people) with smiles on their faces, ready to make friends. It’s going to be a lot of fun working with the kids at the Learning Center over the next five days.


Even with jet lag, today was remarkable. It was so good to see old friends: Barasa nd Junior of Ray of Hope, John Makokha, Anne Baraza and a special treat Peter from Children of Africa Hope Mission. They were so joyful at our reunions. I am so happy to be back and deepen our friendships.

After a rousing church service in which Karen preached about sleeping (not good when we're this tired!) we waited and waited and waited on the hot, dusty main road for a matatu that could accommodate us all, when a mattress truck pulled over and was emptied of its load. Before it could leave, Barasa asked if we could have a ride--what fun! Climbing up into a huge truck bed with our dresses on and bouncing around on a very bumpy road. We laughed and laughed.

Can't wait for our first day at Ray of Hope tomorrow!

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