Gotta tell ya’, seems like old times!

The obligatory team photo at the airport on the day of departure!


I’m not pictured, of course, ’cause someone had to snap the shot.

The long flight seemed very familiar, although we went a different route, through Dubai.  It is an interesting note that the flight from DFW to Dubai is 14.5 hours long….and the return flight from Dubai to Seattle will be 14.25 hours long.  Shorter, I guess, going over the north pole, or at least closer to it.

The layover is not so bad, however, as it is only four hours, and takes about two to transfer gates.

And then the flight from Dubai to Nairobi is only 6.5 hours; much shorter than we are used to.

It also seems like old times to be sorting through luggage at the Maua Basin Hotel.


What seems strange is to not have our former home to go to for the things we forget.  Suddenly we are back to living out of a suitcase and making do without the things we forgot…just like normal folk.

The drive up-country was very familiar.  Peter, my driver, kept asking me if I remembered where we were – what town, what region, etc.  Of course I remembered.

There are more speed bumps, however, and traffic is worse than it was; many more motor bikes.  We did stop at the Trout Tree, however, and that was fun – eating trout at the base of Mt. Kenya in a treehouse.  What’s not to like?

So there is a familiarity to it all – a greeting from Stanley, and a tearful hug from Frida – it all seems so “old time-ish!

More tomorrow, as we will have finished our Medical Camp and first day at the house build.  But for now, just this reminder of the amazing people of Kenya, and what a joy it is to spend this brief time with them.



All is good….except for the time zone lag……zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz







Or something!  But whatever clever name you come up with, it is a wonderful blending of two annual conferences.

We are 13 strong.

Bishop Mike Lowry, Randy Wild, Katy Wild, Jim Monroe, Sue Owen, Lisa Nesloney, Thom Larson, Jim McClurg, Jim Frisbie, Rinya Frisbie, Dawne Phillips, Frank Briggs, and Dave Beckett.  (No offense to naming Dave last, but his journey to date is the most harrowing!  His flight from Redmond was cancelled, and he had to weather an extra day of snow and travel to get here just in time!  Had to get here, because we brought his luggage with the rest of us from Portland to Ft. Worth, and if he wanted clean clothes…..well……)

We got to our first meet and greet and day-long training as a team this morning at the Central Texas Conference headquarters, across the street from Texas Wesleyan University, and what should greet us?????  Snow.  And ice.  Hmmmm…….Ft. Worthians drive in a bit of snow about as well as Portlandians…not that much difference between us after all!

Part of the day was spent just getting to know each other…part of it was spent going over the obligatory do’s and don’t’s of our upcoming time together in Kenya.  A lot of it was spent in worship and laughter.  All of it was spent in Christian community and fellowship.

Oh…and we tossed yarn at each other.  We named our hopes and our fears, and wove a web of community.  Must have worked, because if you look again at the names above, and if you did not know any of us, you would not know who is Texas and who is Oregon and Idaho.

And if you look at our pictures below, then the same truth holds…we all blend beautifully!




Dave Beckett and Bishop Mike Lowry were not tangled up with the rest of us, but sure will be as of tomorrow.

For those of us from the Pacific Northwest, it will be a new route….14 hours from Dallas-Ft. Worth to Dubai, a four hour layover, and then another 6 hours to Nairobi.  We will leave tomorrow (Saturday) at 11ish, and arrive in Nairobi Sunday evening around 9ish.  Monday it will be on to Maua, and the work there will begin on Tuesday with a Medical Camp and school children deworming.  Wednesday will see the start of the AIDS Orphan home and, for a couple of us, the clergy training sessions in Meru, about an hour away from Maua.

It will be an interesting experience for Sue and me – returning to our home of three years without the house and the sense of permanence.  We suspect we will be flooded with good friends and washed with warm memories.  We are excited, even if a bit apprehensive.  I was raised with a strong ethic of not going back; not returning to former parishes.  So this tests me a bit, but it is a test worth taking.  Hopefully it will be a homecoming, even if just for a few days.

Bishop Mike is going to speak to the gathered MCK (Methodist Church in Kenya) clergy about exegesis and the study of scripture from a historical as well as faith perspective, and I am going to speak to issues of communication and preaching.  Probably Bishop Mike will hold them spellbound and I will put them to sleep….would be consistent with my topic……

We are hosted by Bishop Joseph Ntombura, the presiding bishop of the MCK.  I have experienced his leadership during our time in Maua, and always felt his support when I was CEO of the hospital.  He insists on transparency of finances, and on excellence in leadership.  He is a gift to the church and a brother in Christ.  His wife, Pauline, is, in effect, the “Mum” (Mom) of the MCK, and has her own business exporting fine art, which supports, in turn, women and children in Kenya.

You may not hear from us for a couple of days, but then all we will be doing is waiting in line, sitting in our seats, watching old movies and, hopefully, sleeping.  But y’all will not be far from our thoughts!

Baraka – Blessings!

Jim et all the ORTEX’s




KENYA 2017

Every journey has a beginning.

This journey is no different, and our beginning is cold, cold, cold!

Sue and I are helping lead a team from Oregon and Central Texas that is heading to Maua in two days to work at Maua Methodist Hospital, and to lead two, two-day seminars for clergy – on in Meru and one in Nairobi.

It is summer in Kenya, which is a good thing, because our beginning here in Oregon is anything but summer.

We woke up this morning in Sisters, Oregon, to 6-8″ of new snow.  The car was buried, the driveway was buried, the neighborhood road was buried, Central Oregon was buried – when I first saw the car I sighed, broke out the broom, the scraper, gloves, my snow boots and a heavy coat.


Out to the car I went.  I brushed.  I scraped.  I shoveled.  I shivered.  And then I drove the car around the loop of the driveway about six times – kind of a poor person’s plow.

I went inside, took a shower, had a cup of coffee, and looked out at the car…another 6″ of snow on it.  So I brushed…scraped…shoveled…shivered…drove the loop, and then we loaded it up and blasted out of the neighborhood.

We got 500 yards or so and then Sue asked, “Did you remember to bring……?”  Obvious answer?  “No…”  So back we went to the house, plowed a bit more and finally hit the road.

Our number one route was closed because of an avalanche (Santiam).  So we took the long route.  Not good either.


This is what we encountered as we drove up the highway and started up the flanks of Mt. Hood.  The weather finally broke near the highest part of the pass and we went from white-out to:


Bottom line on all this is that we made it to Oregon City, just outside of Portland, and are spending the night with our kids.  We packed six duffles this afternoon of various school and medical supplies, and will leave early tomorrow for Ft. Worth, where we will pick up the rest of the team.

Over the next few weeks we will be in Kenya, and I will try to give you a day by day blow on our joys, sorrows, travails, and work.  So many of you have supported us through supplies, financial support and prayers – we could not do this without you!

So read the posts, note God at work, and email if you have questions or comments.  All are welcomed!

We will be gone until the 21st of January, and will return with stories and witnesses to how God is changing the world through the efforts of our team members!

Baraka – Blessings!





The Nose Knows…

It is good to be back home again.  My nose knows we have arrived.

I am referring to our return home to Kenya, but it could also be said about our return home to Oregon a month earlier.

The nose knows.

It is hard to think of America as having an unique odor about it, but it does.  Years ago as a young college student I lived in Japan.  I remember sneaking up behind a friend, hoping to surprise him.  Shinichi greeted me by name without looking just as I was about to tap him on the shoulder.  When I asked him how he knew I was right behind him, he answered, “I smelled you coming.”  Turns out he was right.  Americans have a distinct odor about them, as does our country.  This time of year it is the smell of cinnamon, evergreens, and mulled cider.  The rest of the year?  I was told in Japan that our protein rich diet gives us an unmistakable odor.  Not a pleasant thing to think about, but there you go!

No hiding the fact that the sense of smell is a strong trigger of memories and emotions…just cut into a fresh baked loaf of bread and feel yourself transported to a different, hopefully warm and tingly time.

Coming home to Kenya brings its own set of smells.  The triggers here are strong.  Driving down the roads I smell the rich smell of dirt and cultivation as we pass the rice and maize fields.  In the villages I smell the acrid scent of charcoal. In the schools and homes I smell ugali (corn meal mush), githeri (a mixture of maize and beans) and the occasional pot of stew.  A nation of predominately pit toilets and open sewers adds to the zest, and the occasional road-killed dog, goat or even donkey brings its own unwelcome addition.  The press of bodies, the diesel exhaust – it all gives Kenya an aroma of its own




I have been thinking about smells a lot this Christmas season.  When the kids were growing up I would bake gingerbread cookies that we would hang on the tree.  I always dosed them (the cookies, not the kids) with extra ginger.  And the smell of spritz, a Swedish sugar cookie of my childhood, always brings memories flooding back into my consciousness.  Our Christmas dinner was almost always a standing rib roast with Yorkshire pudding.  And while I cannot abide mincemeat pie, it was always on my grandmother’s table.  I like the smell even if I detest the taste!  Peppermint, evergreens, vanilla, chocolate chip cookies fresh baked for Santa – they all bring back Christmases-Past.

Christmas-Present will bring the aromas of Kenya, mingled with the banana bread Sue is baking for Christmas presents and the bread I am baking for Christmas dinner.  (I feel like Gene Wilder, in Young Frankenstein, as I yell “Rise!  Rise!!  RISE!!!” at the mass of dough in the bowl…just before Sue asks me if I remembered to add the yeast…).  The smells this year will be of half chickens rubbed with sage and rosemary – as close as I can get to Cornish game hens (standing rib over here being out of the question).  And there will be the odors from the flowers surrounding our home and the busy life of Kenyans in the streets behind us.  They will all mingle and imprint an indelible memory in my heart and soul.

And next year, these odors, too, will be the aromas of Christmases-past.

It is good to be home, whether here or there, or there or here.  The nose always knows when I find home…and the memories sustain me even as I add new memories for years to come.

May your days be merry and bright….and may all your Christmases, smell might(y)…


Another day…another adventure!

Thought I would share a several weeks old big adventure with you…not everything that happens here, after all, has to do with medical issues!  The first thing you have to know about Kenya is that everything that happens is, more likely than not, unexpected.  Even for Kenyans!  But especially for people like me who have been part of a totally different culture most of our lives.

But, when all is said and done, unexpected can be fun!  Take yesterday for example!

Mary and Stanley invited me to the wedding of Mary’s nephew.  Sounded like fun.  What time?  I asked.  8:00 AM, Mary answered. OK, I thought, sounds early, but figured with Kenya time that meant it wouldn’t start until 10, and I’d be home by 1 or 2.  Well, I was ready to go at 8, but the procession started at 10, which meant sitting in my car for the better part of two hours.  The procession turned out to be a line of motorbikes, cars, matatus (taxis), and busses heading towards Machungulu, about 10 km away.  We processed all the way from the hospital to the local Pluto gas station –  about .3 km away.  And there we were decorated!  If you ever want to have an abundance of fun, try driving on the wrong side of the road with balloons flopping on your side view mirror, and a giant pair of ribbons and bows blocking your line of sight.  Exciting does not begin to cover it!  Here was my car, although the balloons had already popped (more on that in a minute!)  Remember the steering wheel is on your left as you face the car!


Six people piled into my car and we drove to the bride’s house.  On the way, Mary shared that our car would be taking the bride to the wedding.  All right, then!  About twenty minutes and two wrong turns later we got to the goat path that led to the house.  I went as far as I could, and then was asked if I would mind backing out 500 yards or so (no turn around, and a huge tree in the middle of the path) and then back-in again so that when the bride got in the car we would face the correct way.  This is where the balloons popped on the tree in the middle of the road, although I did not dent anything.

We walked a muddy (it is rainy season, after all) 200 yards to the house, washed our hands (a Kenyan custom) and were handed a bowl of food!  It was a little early for lunch, but it tasted pretty good!

Then, about an hour later, here came the bride and the groom and the attendants and junior attendants.  It was quite a parade, and the bride had an 8-10 foot train that everyone was trying to keep out of the mud.  Mary is walking the bride and holding the umbrella (did I mention rainy season?). 


We got the bride into the car, and the 200 or so people who were gathered all piled into matatu’s (taxis) a couple of rented school buses and a whole bunch of private vehicles.  Everyone got into one of the vehicles except 8 individuals of varying ages who piled in with me, Mary and the bride.  Yes, the 1997 RAV 4 had 11 people in it.  Haven’t done that since college, where we held the record for mooning everyone on I-5 from UW to UPS.  Proud moment.  This time, though, everyone had their finest on…even the four stuffed in the back in the “boot”.  

Oh.  And if you are wondering, yes, the bride is in a motherly way.  She is actually 9.25 months along, and I was very glad Mary was with us (she’s a nurse).  When we got to the church, Mary whispered to me that she half expected the bride to break her water while in the car, and was relieved it had not happened.  Yeah, me too….

So it was 20 minutes to the church in a long procession (met a funeral procession coming the other way), and then everyone out and into a church that has a capacity of about 50 people.  I found out that wedding processions have various colors of ribbons and balloons festooning them, and funeral processions all have red ribbons and balloons.  Now you know!

About 600 people, maybe a few more, were in attendance, and half of them jammed into the tiny church – especially when the heavens opened.  My job was to hold an umbrella over the bride as best I could (her baby bump kept protruding, but thanks to my skills that was the only part of her that got wet!), and she headed in as well.  I was then grabbed and shoved towards the front of the church.  They had saved a seat next to Mary for me…second row back.  Seat is a metaphor for a wooden bench six inches by eight feet.

The ceremony was a bit different than ours – took a couple of hours or so.  A lot of singing.  After the hour long wedding ceremony itself, the preaching began.  And then the speeches…there are always speeches in Kenya.  After about an hour and  forty five minutes, I had to move, so excused myself and stepped outside with about 475 of the other guests.  I saw Mary and asked her what was next.  She said, “Now we go to the reception!”  OK. cool…who wouldn’t want cake.  I asked where the reception was and she named a village between Meru and Nanyuki….about an hour and a half drive – more with traffic (took two hours).  I started to excuse myself, but saw the look of panic in Mary’s eyes.  I would no longer be in charge of transporting the bride, but the aunts were a different matter entirely.  

About that time the bride and groom came out – just in time for more speeches.  I don’t know if it is a tradition, or one way to keep the train out of the mud (which were both ample), but the groom wrapped himself in the dress’ train.  It was clear who he was with!


So off to the reception.  I’ll blame the ribbon blocking my view, but I missed three speed bumps (out of 30 or 40 or 50 or so).  The aunties only gasped five or six times, however.  When we got to the turn off to the reception, Mary explained to me it was where she grew up with her brothers and sisters.  She also explained that it was on a dirt road, and with the rain and all, we would find out how bad the road was…and how muddy.  

Answer?  Bad.  And muddy.  We slipped and slid…and at one point Mary said, “I thought this was four wheel drive…”  No, no it’s not!  But sturdy…it is sturdy, and we finally made it to our final destination. We all agreed that we needed to be back on the road at five, in order to get back to Maua before dark.  It was three when we agreed to that.  Two hours?  Plenty of time to cut the cake.  No problem!

Problem.  It took 1 1/2 hours for the bride and groom to show.  Turns out they had a special spot for photos, and it took them a while.  Then the crowd, by now double the size of those invited – also very Kenyan – was hungry and waiting to escort the bride and groom from their car, which could not make it up the muddy hill, to the reception, in Mary’s old home’s back yard…complete with tents, cake and and food.  Lots of food!  So the time was not wasted while we waited.  We ate.  The menu was the same as earlier, except now there was also irio (mashed potatoes, banana and beans or peas) and chapati (kind of a plump tortilla). It was pretty cool.  There were very hungry people there, and the family had planned to feed whoever wanted to eat, both invited and uninvited guests, of which there were more than a few.   As I ate I saw all levels of poverty and wealth.  All were fed.  I remembered carefully parsing the guest lists at our daughters’ weddings, trying to keep the costs “appropriate”.  Here everyone ate and everyone was welcomed, invited or not!  As we heard the horns honking, signaling the arrival of the nuptial couple (plus one soon to be), we all gathered to sing and dance them up the hill.  I stood behind a group of older women and got this shot of their head wraps.


Two hours later, they cut the cake, but Mary felt it was time to leave.  No cake for us.  Stanley also drove, so we walked out to the cars and took off the ribbons.  When we left, it was a little after 6 – which meant driving through Meru and all the way back to Maua (another hour) in the dark.  This time I did not hit a speed bump inappropriately, because they are easier to see when it is dark.  The headlights reflect back off of them.  

The problem with night driving over here, other than the elephants on the road (seriously) is that, well, Kenyans are black.  If they wear dark clothes they are almost impossible to see.  And drunk pedestrians in populated areas are common – often in the middle of the road stumbling down the path of least resistance.  They were out, but I avoided to miss them.  The other big issue at night is that Kenyans prefer to drive with their brights on at all times, and also like to use the center-line kind of like a homing beacon as they center their cars on it.  It is why we almost never drive at night.  The drive home reinforced that practice…

But I made it with only seven or eight gasps from the four women in the car with me!  I got back home just a few moments past 7:45 PM.  Then I sighed that Sue was not there to giggle about the whole thing with me.  Sleep was only interrupted seven or eight times by the heavy rains last night…I would not want to try the roads today!

Adventures abound.  ANd the passages of life are the same all over the world, no matter how they are “packaged”!



So What Really Matters?

Sue sent me a romantic card a few weeks back…she is still in the U.S., and a month or so away from returning home to Maua.  I, conversely, am in Maua, and a few months away from venturing back to the U.S.  It is the longest we have ever been apart, and we are feeling the emptiness.

So she told me on a recent phone call that she had sent a card.  And have I ever been waiting for it!  Friday the Maua Methodist Hospital receptionist greeted me with the news, “You have mail!”   Here in Maua, mail is not a common occurrence, and it usually means a power bill or bank statement.  But I had gotten those the day before so I was excited that Sue’s card was here at long last.  (Not an accomplishment to take lightly – a birthday card sent by a daughter for my 2012 birthday has still not arrived.)  The letter was a parcel, and I snatched it out of the receptionist’s hand, amazed that Sue would send such a thick card, not even looking at the label or the return address.  I rushed to my office, closed the door against intruders and opened…..The Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Journal, Volume One.  Huh?  Not much romance there – although there are a lot of policies regarding clergy sexual misconduct….basically saying “don’t do it!”


For those who are not active in The United Methodist Church, a Conference Journal is the annual printing of policies, rules, addresses, salaries, leadership lists, history, who is serving what church….all sorts of nuggets that are vital if you are involved in the day-to-day life of the church.

For 38 years I received my annual journal in the mail and could not wait to tear open the packaging and read it through.  I would look for my name, the names of friends – who was serving which church, and who was on what committee.  I would pour over the pages, taking it all in.  It was an essential part of life….for 38 years.  For a lot of those years I was so ensconced in the leadership of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference that very little on those pages was new to me when it came in the mail.  I read not so much for information as for confirmation.

Now, in 2013, my 40th year since being ordained, I sat and looked at what was supposed to be a love letter, and had turned into a tome of church administration.  In my frustration I had nothing else to read, and was not yet ready to open the office door and expose my disappointment to the world, so I took the Journal and started looking….for my name and the names of my friends.  The only place I found my name was in the clergy directory, with a notation that I was a retired Elder of the church.  I knew that – guess I am still reading for confirmation rather than illumination…

As I read, it struck me that often over the years my name had been here and there throughout the thing, but how, in 2013, I was almost nowhere to be found.  For just a moment I felt like all my years of being “somebody” were now like…well, to be biblical, like withered grass.  What was it Peggy Lee sang?  “Is That All There Is?”

But that feeling was fleeting.  It was replaced by amusement at my self and my ego.

When I was involved in the day-to-day administration of the United Methodist churches in Oregon and Idaho, I felt like I made a difference; sometimes even a good difference.  I always believed that what I did was part of keeping the church moving forward.  Now, as I read the names of those in the slots I used to fill, I thought Good for them.  I hope they are making a difference, too.

As I set the Journal down, ready to face the world of Kenya again, I had to admit that I have never felt as alive in my ministry as I do now, serving a population much of the world has forgotten.

It would be a mistake to think that I am either patting myself on the back or dissing church administrative tasks.  Neither assumption could be further from the truth.  I have always believed that administration is a form of ministry.  Done well it does great good, and done poorly it does great harm.  I respect and honor those in such a ministry.   And as for patting myself on my back, I know I am accomplishing only a fraction here in Maua of what many, many Kenyans, volunteers and missionaries have achieved over the years in this amazing place.  Kenya, if anything, is a profoundly humbling.

Life changes.  And our call to ministry and service changes with it.  I could not, and should not be doing what I once did.  And I would not have been able to do then what I am doing now.  The call to service is a life long calling.  The call to serve in a set place doing a set task?  Well, that is more temporal.  Service really is a journey on a path with many a twist and turn.

What I have discovered late in life is that what is most important is serving as faithfully as possible in the moment and setting in which we find ourselves.  I had a friend who once lamented that he felt like he was born in the wrong time – really felt like he should have been a mountain man.  When he said that I remember thinking three things – he should see the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” and see if he feels the same; what about the removal of his appendix a few months earlier; and, how sad to be born in the wrong time.

As I reflect on the 2013 Journal, and ponder what once was and what now is, I am convinced more than ever that we are all born in exactly the right time.  The challenge and call is to recognize that fact and live as faithfully as we know how…whether it is serving on a church committee, shuttling beans to a school full of starving children, or trapping beaver in a Rocky Mountain stream, flintlock in hand, and an arrow on the way!

There is no “wrong time”.  There is only God’s time.  And for us, that time is now.

Still waiting for that card, though……..





Two of the things Kenya has taught me are timing and patience.  I am constantly amazed at how each have their place here in Maua.

Take the case of this lily.  I do not know its official name, but I call it the Once-In-A-Year lily.  I took this shot one year ago.Image

I first came across it down near the Meru National Park, about 15 km from where we live.  It is a very dry area, and this beautiful splash of color caught my eye.  In a sea of brown, the red and white and green made a statement about life and the power of life – even in a desert.

So I found one and transplanted it in the hopes it would come to life in our garden in Maua.  For a year it sputtered and wilted and revived….until one day last week I went outside to feed the cats and saw that it had bloomed.  Wow! I thought, I am truly a green thumb!

I planned on rushing back inside and getting my camera, but my phone rang and I moved on to something else.  When I returned home later in the day I saw it again, admired it, and started to get my camera.  But it had been a long day, and when I sat down and started taking the camera out of its pouch, I figured it would wait until the next morning.  It just felt so good to sit!

The next morning I went out, fed the cats, and took this photo.


Seems that not only does this lily bloom but once a year…its bloom only lasts a day or so.  My patience paid off, but my timing was sorely out of whack!

“Patience is a virtue!”  “Timing is everything!”  I hear those old sayings run through my mind as I reflect upon this flower.  And who can argue?

When we were in church a week ago, at St. Joseph’s, raising money to finish the building and improvements that were originally planned over a decade ago, one of the pastors pointed out to the congregation that for a decade the church had waited for exactly the moment we now experienced…that now was the time…that this day would be the day to fulfill the years of waiting.  And it was.  It truly was.  We raised the money that was needed; reached our goal!  I do not know if we would have raised the same amount a week earlier or a week later, but that day and that moment was “the time”…and worth waiting for.

Patience and timing….patience and timing…neither have ever been my long suit.

When I first visited Kenya, in 2006, I remember looking at all the ruins of buildings, and sharing with our driver – now a good friend – how sad I was to see so many buildings falling to ruin.  David looked at me rather puzzled and asked where I saw such a ruin.  I pointed the next one out to him, and he laughed and explained that it was not a ruin, it was in the process of being built, and that the owners were simply waiting until they had more money available to build once again.  What I thought was tumbling down was building up.  I learned that while in the U.S. we obtain financing and then build, in Kenya they build until they run out of money, and then wait until they get more money and build another little bit, repeating the process until the building is up.  It may take years, but their buildings are almost always debt free.  I have preached here in churches that took 20 years to finish in that way.  Patience and timing…patience and timing…each are gifts Kenyans hold in abundance.

Kenya is teaching me to be patient…not exactly an American cultural value…and Kenya is teaching me to be willing to move when God tells me “move”.  Both take an inordinate amount of faith and trust.  But you know what?  While my history is littered with lost opportunities, Kenyans seem to faithfully find fulfilled opportunities….no matter how long it takes.

I’m learning…slowly, but learning.  And now I am waiting yet another year for my lily to bloom once again.  I am learning the patience to wait.  I am trusting that I will also learn the timing needed to honor the patience!  You can bet I will have my camera waiting.





Things are different here…

Food is different; smells are different; sounds are different; culture is different:  Things are different here in Maua, Kenya.

Starting with this edition, I am beginning a blog that talks about such differences – and yet the profound similarities that bind our two cultures together (Pacific Northwest/USA and North Central Kenya).  For all their differences, our cultures have many more similarities that escape first notice, but begin to emerge as observation skills and life’s experience begin to broaden.  Thus, what at first glance appears to be a collision of cultures becomes, upon  further reflection, more a collusion of cultures.  In this human family of ours we are much more alike than different – a reality that no amount of dogma and cultural narcissism can change.

Take, for example, what happened in church yesterday – at St. Joseph’s MCK (Methodist Church of Kenya), where Sue and I regularly worship.

St. Joseph’s is a pretty fair sized congregation, one of the largest MCK’s in Kenya.  It worships close to a thousand people per week in three different services: English, ki-Swahili, and ki-Meru.  The “ki” means “language”.  It also, like many of its American counterparts, has old debt to pay on past capital improvements, and new debt to incur on dreams, visions, and improvements.  Yesterday was the final of three Sundays to raise 4,000,000 Kenyan shillings (ksh or /=) to retire old debt and pay for planned improvements.  It is easy to quantify 4 million /= into USD ($$$); at 85 /= to the $, it works out to a little over $47,000.  But to compare it to raising $47,000, say, in Portland, is a much different matter.  The closest I can come is to imagine a US church of 1000 members wanting to raise $40,000,000 in three Sundays.   I base that on the fact that US incomes are well in excess of 10 X’s equivalent household incomes in Kenya – probably more like 100 X’s in many cases, but $400,000,000 seemed like a figure that would make you quit reading!  In any regard, it is a boat load of money.  Maybe your church would find that a snap to raise, but I have never served a church like that in my ministry.  And when I heard about St. Joseph’s plans I smiled politely.

They raise funds here a bit differently than we do in the US.  Honored guests are invited to the fund raising Sundays, and the top honored guest’s friends all contribute to make their friend feel honored.  Harambee (hah-rahm’-bay) is a word that means “to pull together”, and fund raisers here are truly harambees!  Everyone pulls together.  Yesterday was a beautiful example of exactly that!

At the conclusion of the worship service, everyone in church is divided into groups – guests, community leaders, church members, etc.  And each is invited forward as a specific group.  The first group up yesterday was guests and a collection of folks who were believed to be the major potential donors.  It is an interesting process.  Members of the group stood up and formed a line from the back of the sanctuary to the front.  Sitting in front and facing the line were the honored guest, her guests, the clergy staff, and church dignitaries.  Then each person stepped to the front, handed an envelope to a person with a microphone and whispered something into  his or her inclined ear.  The receiver of the envelop and the whispered word then said aloud into the microphone the name of the donor and how much each was donating.  Try that in your home church some Sunday!  Following the announcement, the donor placed the money in a basket, and the congregation would applaud.

So picture the line, the announcements, the clapping – “Mr.XXX gives…(pause) 50,000 /=” (yay!!!! clap! clap! clap!)  Mrs. YYY gives….15,000 /= (applause)….” and so on and so forth.  About half-way through the procession of this line – may 30 people long, a very elderly, older woman stood.  Horribly bent and stooped from years of carrying heavy loads, and wearing her Sunday best, which looked very tattered torn, she made her way to the front of the line.  Several people tried to call quietly out to her that it was not yet her group, but she could not see and could not hear well enough to heed their whispers.  This was her turn, and she would not be denied.

She hobbled up to the front of the line.  The person next in line stepped back gracefully, although I suspect she did not even see him.  And with a gnarled, shaking hand she dropped some coins in on top the envelopes.  I think I heard her few coins clatter on each other in the basket.  The man with the mike had to stoop down further than was comfortable to hear her give her name and her amount.  He stood up an, in the same volume he had used with every other gift, proclaim her name, and said…”100 shillings!”  That is a little under $1.20.  The place, which had been whisper-quiet, erupted with cheers, applause and that wonderful Kenyan trill!  This she heard.  She looked up, tried to see the crowd through smudged, thick glasses, and smiled a smile that would, and did, light the room.  Then she returned to her seat and sat patiently through a service that lasted over seven hours.

She was honored.  Her gift was honored.  She is a stakeholder in the future of the church.  As I sat back, sighed and felt the moistness in my eyes I pondered what Sue and I had given a little bit earlier.  I was not embarrassed nor ashamed, mind you, but I was reminded in a meaningful way of the true power of the story of The Widow’s Mite.  I never quite got it as clearly as I did at that moment.

The lines moved on; the flights continued; and finally the grand total was announced.  I was just a shade over 4,000,000 /=.  Wish I could say it was 100 /= over, but it was actually more like 500 or 600 /= over their goal.

Every time someone talks about “those poor people” in Kenya, I think I shall be reminded of that solitary soul giving her tithe. As wealthy as we are, we have much to learn and gain………..