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REFLECTIONS FROM KENYA – A COLLUSION OF CULTURES

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………..

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