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Monthly Archives: June 2012

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Of the experiences from my time in Kenya meeting refugees has been the most significant.  I love to share our stories.  You have already met Fera and today I want to introduce you to Janet and Evans.

Janet left Rwanda when she was four, she’s now 22.  She left with both her parents two brothers and sisters under threat of death.  They spent fourteen years at the Kakuma refugee camp before being transferred to Dadaab. To this day she asks her parents when they can leave but there’s still no answer.  She has witnessed some ugly incidents that leave her with questions about Christianity.  When in a catholic school at around Sixteen she witnessed girls being hidden in trunks (she says they were willing) and being transferred over to the monastery for clandestine meetings with monks.  She also knows people who have seen and suffered unspeakable horrors and struggles.  She listens carefully when shown the law, and seems eager to repent and put her faith and trust in Jesus (I think she may have done already).  There are language barriers so it’s not always easy to tell how she’s getting on, but isn’t that the case for all of us? 

Anyhow, she loves to hear about Great Britain. She was fascinated to learn that there are no crocodiles in the rivers and sea and that we could go swimming. She struggled to get her head around the idea that people can survive living with snow.  I explained insulated houses, fur coats and how we keep fires for warmth.  She was horrified at facing the dangers of crossing the twenty plus miles of ocean to reach France and wondered if people had more than eight or ten children.  She was also keen to learn if I thought it was sinful to have too many children.  I have the impression that she has sadly received some western influenced teaching against big families. She thought it very funny that it might still be light at nine in the evening and perplexed how that comes about.

Learning that Evans was eighteen, the same age as our second born, was really heart warming.  I love to hear what it’s like for someone who has lived through just the same era as my son.  Evans doesn’t remember his father, who died when he was four, he has since been brought up by his mum; she is HIV Positive.  He has two brothers, a full and a half sister.  Evans’s English is passable but we struggle to communicate easily.  They left Burundi two years ago and while he has asked why, he’s not sure, though he knows that there were death threats.  Life in the camps has been tough.  He was chased out of school last year by pupils from another nation and hasn’t returned.  He hasn’t had much schooling since his father died and his hope is to find some way of paying for school.

He is now the only wage earner for his family. He gets 4500 KES, about 36 pounds per month, which is used to maintain the home.  Imagine for a moment dear reader; he’s eighteen, desperate to learn, and has no way of escaping the drudgery of a kitchen cleaning job, save a miracle.  His attitude?  He thanks God he is alive, his mother is alive and he has his family.  He was ‘really pleased’ to get a Bible and now I need to try and get him a Kiswahili/English dictionary to help him read it.  Making friends with Evans comes with a burden for I can’t help but think he harbours a hope that somehow I, a mzungu, has the means to answer his prayers for school funding.

I wrestle with my motives for building these relationships.  I hate to raise expectations.  They may help me see how profoundly different our lives are, I may appreciate my situation better but aren’t these selfish motives?  I don’t know.  For my friends the chances of escape seem remote.  Their countries are volatile, they don’t know how they may be welcomed and are not prepared to jeopardise the limited security and comforts they enjoy now.  There is no going forward.  Working as an illegal alien in Kenya or her neighbouring countries is fraught with difficulty, not least of all the risk of sexual exploitation (think of your daughter or niece) and the chances of being settled in a donor country is remote at best.  This is why plans do not feature.

Life is a daily grind, but nevertheless they see the days as a gift to be enjoyed.  Both display dark humour.  They tolerate daily discourtesy from managers and NGOs, in Janet’s case, I have even witnessed, what I shall describe as unpleasant proposals. Resigned determination sums up tough daily lives. The camps are dangerous places to live with violence, intimidation, and sexual exploitation.  This morning’s meeting covering main events of the last week included one rape, perpetrator arrested, one killing of a shop owner in a robbery, a violent theft of a car and attempted robbery.  When I returned to Bristol in May I was astonished at how orderly and secure the place felt.  We can by taking care step out at night with confidence that we will not be victims of crime and if we are, know that there is a system of justice that tends to work.  There are no such luxuries in the refugee camps surrounding Dadaab.

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In the movie Highlander, the mean guy took the hand of a priest, said, “forgive me father I am a worm” and gave it a big slurpy lick. What an awesome witness opportunity. Did the fella grab the chance to tell him he was right but there was someone better and more powerful than him? nope just commented about dying for our sins and the movie moved on.  Of course was the priest likely a christian given that he was sworn to celibacy and had been taught that Mary didn’t consumate her marriage with Joseph, remaining a virgin despite having more kids? Not likely. But wasn’t Kurgan refreshingly honest, someone who actually admited he was not really all that good?  I bet Hitler got up, stood before the shaving mirror, and said, “I am a pretty good guy.”  He gave the German people autobahns, took back the industrial lands from the thieving French (at least in the German view), gave them army and raced up the popularity stakes with thoroughly entertaining mass rallies.  He was one high achieving Austrian, at least to his mind.

I’ve got this thing going on where I take the opportunity to point out to people, that includes you dear reader, that there is nothing intrinsically good about you, or me, or any other member of mankind.  You’ll not be surprised to learn that the approach doesn’t draw in Nuremburg scale support.  In fact most are quite hostile to the notion. Still I am in no mind to compromise because my wife’s cousin commited suicide last week. She was a beautiful woman, I mean a genuine head turning looker (to borrow the vernacular). She died at 34 leaving a bereft husband, who had previously loyally served his country for 10 years as a member of the Household Guards, she also left two young daughters.

You see Lou believed the standard she had to achieve was the world’s standard, and she could see that she could never be good enough; the depression took her to her death.  She was bombarded by society, culture, and the media with a standard of looks, dress, material wealth, parenting achievment and behaviour that she never could have achieved.  I suspect the shrinks told her that all she needed was positive thought for her self esteem to return and she could make a rapid recovery, after all look at all those who are less fortunate than you etc  Whatever their approach it failed for as we say in the army she threw smoke, I’ll spare you the aweful details.  We loved her and will miss her.

Have you ever wondered why prescription medicines for depression are number one in the USA and on the rapid increase in the UK?  We have at least two women, that I know of, in our close family who keep taking the pills.  This tragic death has brought it home to Jo and me that we must stop worrying about other people’s feelings and care more for their lives (if that comment frustrates you I cover the truth issue further along the page).  I do not want to find myself on judgement day looking in the eyes of someone I claim to care for only to be asked why I didn’t tell them just who they were up against?

There’s is one standard, it’s perfection and non of us measure up.  You’ll like this, it’s the announcement I have devised for when I am in a lift with a crowd or any other place for that matter:

“Could I have your attention please, I have a short announcement, thank you:  Lies are real, they are attractive and convincing which is why we so often believe them.  There is also a truth but that tends to upset those who don’t believe it but truth there is.  The good news is that heaven is real, the bad news, so is hell.  Good news, some are going to heaven to spend eternity with the creator God, bad news, many will be going to hell.  The best news is God sent his son, Christ Jesus, to take our punishment on the cross so we don’t have to be punished.  The gift is offered freely, you just take it, admit your a sinner, stop it, and put your faith and trust in him and you’ll be safe.  Thanks for listening I’ll be available for questions after the lift stops.”

“We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The point of saying this is to make clear that our problem is not just in what we do but in what we are. Apart from new birth, I am my problem. You are not my main problem. My parents were not my main problem. My enemies are not my main problem. I am my main problem. Not my deeds, and not my circumstances, and not the people in my life, but my nature is my deepest personal problem. I did not first have a good nature and then do bad things and get a bad nature. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). This is who I am. My nature is selfish and self-centered and demanding and very skilled in making you feel like the problem. And if your first response to that statement is I know people like that, you may be totally blind to the deceitfulness of your own heart. Our first response should not be finger-pointing. That’s part of the problem. Our first response should be contrition.

Brothers with a different mother: