Monday, August 17, 2009

Three days on the ground

Dear friends,

These last three days in Maseno, I have been to three different sites: the Mothers’ Union feeding program for AIDS orphans, the Maseno Mission Hospital, and St Philip’s Theological College. I’ve been hearing about these places for the last three years, ever since my involvement with the broader Episcopal Church in Massachusetts started in earnest. The stories I’d heard both prepared me and didn’t.

Gladys, the saintly (and gorgeous) grandmother who runs the feeding program, told us right off that they don’t think of themselves as working with orphans. They work with children, period—God’s children, who happen to need a decent meal. More than anything, our Saturday with the children reminded me of the Vacation Bible Schools I attended as a child and worked at as a youth. You had a group of about 120 kids, from five years up through twelve, that you had to keep organized and engaged. They were gorgeous children, every last one, even in the midst of their often obvious diseases and hunger. Simply blowing bubbles for them was sheer joy, helped along by the incredibly sugary Kenyan tea they’d been plied with. We shared their meal of beans and corn, which was a little dull but very filling. This paragraph feels far too short to describe all I felt and saw that day, so ask me more when I’m back in Boston.

I was first struck, on visiting the hospital, that the grounds were outdoors. You don’t go through corridors to reach a different ward. You walk outside. The weather allows that, of course, but let that stand in for the many differences between a rural Kenyan hospital and the ones I’m used to stateside. Three people there remain especially in my prayers, besides the saintly staff. An eight-year-old girl named Sophie showed us her coloring, which was exquisite. She has both AIDS and tuberculosis, and it’s not at all clear how long she has to live—but she’s perhaps the happiest child I’ve seen in Kenya, and they are a happy bunch. I also happened to walk into the maternity ward right as a woman, who couldn’t have been more than thirty-five, was about to give birth to her fifth child. It was the first birth I’d ever seen, and the easiest that my midwife-in-training teammate from Church of the Advent, Megan Sloat, had ever seen. (The baby crowned and was out in a single push, if you can believe it.) He was a very chill baby, and his mom was a champion. I didn’t get to learn either of their names, but I don’t think I’ll forget them soon.

This afternoon, I got to sit in on a set of lectures by a professor at St Philip’s. All this week, lay leaders from throughout western Kenya are being trained for ministry in an intense week of study—half a day for pastoral care, half a day for evangelism, half a day for stewardship, and so on. I heard the half day for Biblical theology, which was a fascinating glimpse into the prayer and thought life of a church both like and unlike those I’ve been part of all my life. These leaders are, in most cases, going to be the main people in charge of their congregations: A single priest may be in charge of eleven different sites, so lay people have to take on responsibility for preaching, administration, and everything else. I hope to hear more of these sessions, because I believe we in the States could learn a great deal about lay leadership from our sisters and brothers (mostly sisters, to judge from the room today) who have taken on this challenge from simple scarcity.

It has rained every night in Maseno since I got here, so your prayers are working. Keep them up!

Peace love & backyard bananas,

Chris

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