The Journey – Tamika Montgomery

Today we embarked upon the monumental task of learning about Kenya politics and economy.  Kenya has been a sovereign nation since 1963 and it has been a journey, thus the title of this posting.  Kenya government embraced the free market society.  Along the way, the people of Kenya have learned the benefits and detriments of a free market society.  Nevertheless, people from Kenya continue to be resilient in their efforts to formulate a government and an economy that is inclusive of all and one which protects the least among them.  Have they arrived at this point yet?  No they have not and if I am to be honest, and I am, I can admit that we, as USA North Americans, have not yet realized this reality either; within our own free market society.

Despite the challenges, the people of Kenya push forward.  Today, I met Pamela.  Pamela is a social worker for a children’s orphanage home.  Pamela and her team are passionate about the care they provide for their children.  This orphanage is a private orphanage operated through a church ministry.  The orphanage generates income through the clinic, school, and retreat house located on its premises.  It may be refreshing to know that the orphanage also receives some funding from benefactors in the USA.  This is not the only connection the orphanage has to the USA as we also met Mr. Obama today.  He is a three year old young man that resides at the home.  Imagine if you will, four strangers walking on the premises, engaged in conversation.  Obama, standing on the side of the trail at the margins, starts to walk towards four adults with an extended hand to greet us with a handshake.  Before I learned his name, I said this young man will be a president one day.  Imagine my surprise when I learned his name.

I believe it takes moxy, guts, and a risk to extend one’s hand to greet strangers who are not their to see you.  Yet, this young three year old Obama did it effortlessly.  This is the same moxy and determination Pamela and her team exude everyday when they embark upon the task to meet and care for the needs of 72 children each and everyday.  I believe Obama, Pamela and the team at the orphanage embody this refusal to give up and a determination to see a better way.  They appear to be representative of the people of Kenya I have met this week.  I am certain that the people of Kenya, who are loving, warm, kind, and hospitable, as well as intelligent, passionate, and resilient will continue to move forward until they arrive at their desired end.

Tonight is the conclusion of our trip in Kenya.  Early tomorrow, we will gather our things and head for the airport to embark upon our 20 hour trip and some 10,000 miles back to the United States of America.  It is my prayer and my hope that we as a family of seminarians use this experience as a rite of passage (transformation) for ourselves and for the ministries God has called us to serve.  May we be forever changed to live out the community of God in our personal lives our ministries and the world; realizing that what we do as people, churches, and nations locally, has an effect on the people of the world, globally.

May God bless us with safe travels to return to the arms of our loved ones and may we hit the ground running to serve all of humanity and all of creation. 

Kwaheri (good-bye)…until we meet again.

Jambo from Kenya!

Today is the second day of our Introductory course on African Cultures and Religion. We sat down to listen to a lecture by one of Africa’s best-known Catholic theologians, Laurenti Magesa. Excellent lecturer and very interesting subject matter! His agenda is for the recognition of African Religion as one of the World Religions. Unfortunately, African Religion, for the longest time (and only up until recently) was only considered to be nothing more than a collection of superstitions, a form of paganism/animism or a primitive belief system not worthy of mainstream theological reflections and scholarly attention. Sadly, despite the rise of scholarship on African Religion, many still do.

Magesa argues that the reasons for this lack of respect for African Religion are: 1) Sheer prejudice and ignorance, 2) its lack of Scripture (though he contends that in all of these world religions-their Scriptures came much later), and 3) African Religion has no interest in aggressive proselytizing. He then advances the notion that African Religion meets all the criteria for what constitutes “religion.” And these are: 1) It has a system of beliefs, 2) It has a code of behavior (called “taboos”), and 3) it has a system of rituals. He also notes that African Religion is “widespread” and not confined in Africa. To prove, one can see the rituals of African Religion in the diaspora (in countries like Brazil, Surinam and Haiti) and in the religion of Santeria.

With regards to its lack of Scripture, I agree with his contentions, but also think that perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that the African Religion does not have a Scripture. Many of the world religions (if not all) have used their Scriptures to systematically oppress women, the poor, orphans, gays, aliens and anybody who may constitute “the other.” They have become a tool, not for human transformation and thriving, but for its destruction. That is the curse of having a Scripture (and Christianity is notorious for this).

But I do understand the importance of having one-it is an effective way of preserving the narratives, traditions and memory of a community of faith. It is good to know that (according to Magesa) a movement to start recollecting the stories of faith, taboos and rituals indigenous to Africa, and collecting and preserving these by putting them into writing has already began. Can’t wait to read it when it’s completed.

~Russell Cortez

Mungu Akubariki (“God bless you”) — Clare Gromoll

“Daktari (Dr.) Sara” (Masai herbalist)

"Mungu Akubariki" (God bless you)

“Mungu Akubariki” (God bless you)

“Martha” (Clare’s Field Assistant), Clare, “Daktari Sara” (Masai herbalist), Daktari Sara’s co-wife

Today, we began a 3-day course, an “Introduction to African Cultures and Religion,” through Maryknoll Institute of African Studies of Saint Mary’s University of MN/USA and Tangaza College, Nairobi, Kenya.  We receive a lecture each morning and do field research each afternoon.  Today, we dipped into major themes and domains (events/rituals/activities/attitudes) that span the approximately 2,000 unique African cultures (42 of which are located within the borders of present-day Kenya that were constructed by outside superpowers for political purposes).  Each of us was paired with a field assistant (a Kenyan university graduate) who led us on a to a visit to an herbalist or diviner.  I went with my field assistant “Martha” to visit “Daktari (Dr.) Sara” in a rural area outside Nairobi.  My assignment was to ask Daktari Sara questions in order to learn about her work as an herbalist (a doctor of traditional Masai medicine), while Martha translated for us.  I felt myself on sacred ground as Daktari Sara shared her story with me.  During her childhood, several of her family members became sick with malaria and measles.  Her mother went out to the woods to find herbs with which to treat the family.  Soon, members of the community began to bring their sick to Sara’s mother to be healed.  When dying, her mother took Sara out to the woods to learn herbalism.  Then, the whole family (aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, mother, Sara) gathered at an uncle’s home for a rite of passage that would initiate Sara into her specialization as an herbalist.  A goat and a cow were slaughtered so that the healing powers of their blood would transfer to Sara.  Family members prayed, blessed Sara by spitting and sprinkling milk on her hands, and she received her ceremonial clothing (which you can see in the photos).  Daktari Sara described feeling “chapai” (happy) that day.  She opened the stand where you see us seated in the photos, and people began coming to her immediately.  This, too, made her “chapai,” as have many return visits from healed customers.  Before I left, I asked to purchase some of her beautiful beadwork (bracelets, earrings, and a necklace).  She happily sold them to me at a very fair price she offered.  In her spirit of extravagant hospitality, she put an extra bracelet on my wrist as a gift.  From my privileged social location, I felt tempted to offer to purchase it.  Thank God, I held back.  As daktari and as my elder, it was her place to offer me a gift and my role to receive it with gratitude.  Finally, I told her that I felt healing simply through her touch on my shoulder.  Her response was to lay hands on my head and bless me.  “Mungu akubariki,” she said.  “God bless you.”  God bless you, Daktari Sara — today and every day.

Dancing with the Spirit – Douglass Anne Cartwright

The Spirit was alive and dancing in the journey of this day, our fourth in Kenya!  After breakfast, our group traveled to Kangemi, in Nairobi, to worship with the African Divine Church of that village.  Although we found out later that, when learning of our visit, they called together all twenty of the assemblies of that region to come worship with us!  What a blessing it was to be given such an extravagant karibu (welcome) and introduction to this church!  We were also invited to participate in the opening processional.  All of us had participated in a church processional before, but I don’t think any of us have participated in one with such joy and stamina as this one.  The procession began at the road that led into the village then proceeded through the village, winding through the streets, calling everyone in the village to worship with sung calls and responses and dancing to the exuberant rhythms of African drums.  The whole processional – from the moment the drums, dancing, and singing began to when everyone was seated in the church structure – lasted for about an hour!  Then, we listened as a few people gave testimonies of God moving in their lives, two Scriptures were read, a woman called Evangelist Rose preached about the faithfulness of giving, and we participated in the abundance of music and dancing.  Our experience in worship was greatly enhanced by our guide, Rev. John Gichimu, who translated all of this for us from Swahili! 
We were also invited to share the sermon for the day.  It was mentioned to us at dinner yesterday evening that we might be asked to do this, so we had decided that each of us would speak, introducing ourselves and our theological institutions as well as offering our own brief testimony of an experience of the Holy Spirit while in school.  Listening to each member of our group speak was such a wonderful experience.  After spending so much time together these last six days, we have shared stories and much laughter, but we had not experienced each other as the preachers we each have the opportunity to be at school, church, and as chaplains.  Each individual brings such a unique perspective and such wonderful gifts to share and it was a joy to be able to share these with our brothers and sisters of the African Divine Church. When we left the church, quite a bit later than we expected :), we were charged to tae this congregation with us as we traveled home, remembering them in our prayers, in sharing the story of our experience worshipping with them, and especially in the invitation to come back to visit!
After an incredible lunch at an Indian Restaurant, we went to meet with Rev. Dr. Johnson Mbillah, the General Advisor to the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA).  Dr. Mbillah is one of the leading theologians in interfaith studies and it was an honor to be given the opportunity to sit down with him, listen to him explain PROCMURA, and ask questions about his work.  Our conversation ranged from the basic emphases of PROCMURA, the Christian theologies of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism, the foundations for commonality for Christians and Muslims, and the efforts of PROCMURA in African countries where relations between Christians and Muslims is especially hostile.  We could have listened to Dr. Mbillah for hours, but our time was limited because of our travel to our home for the next four nights – the Carmelite Community in an area called Karen. 
For many of us, each day spent in Kenya is better than the last, and that was certainly true of today.  We are hoping that this trend will continue as we attend the first of three days of school at the MIASUM Maryknoll Institute of African Studies.  Tonight, we are hoping to get a lot of rest to prepare for being back in school tomorrow!

Asanti sana (thank you very much) to all of you for your prayers and support!!

 

African Safari-Ginny Heimer

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We woke up this morning in a completely different atmosphere-a very posh and extravagant tourist resort: Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge at Lake Nakura National Park, a few hours from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. We were all wondering why this trip would include such a touristy experience. Mary explained that Rev. Phyllis Byrd-our Global Ministries Partner, who planned our itinerary, wanted us to experience the polar opposites of Kenya. When I told people I was traveling to Kenya on this trip-I received many reactions such as these: “Why would you want to go there? It’s full of poverty and disease and it’s a dangerous place.” Westerners frequently have a distorted view of Kenya and Africa in general.
Of course Kenya has many major problems, as do other countries but what people do not realize is the amazing beauty found in Kenya. Lake Nakura National Park is a place where we met God in all of God’s glory…in the magnificence of God’s creation. Early Christian saints spoke of the two books of God’s revelation-the Bible and the book of creation. Saint Anthony, one of the desert fathers, when asked how he could live a devout life in the desert far from access to holy books said: “My book is the nature of created things; whenever I want to read the Word of God, it is there before me.”
We heard the Word of God today in the beautiful voices of the many songbirds in the park, we saw the Word of God in the breathtakingly gorgeous scenery and on our safari, we experienced God’s creation in beautifully striped zebras, strong and proud water buffalo, graceful Impala deer and families of communal baboons who taught us about unity and community as we watched them care for their young, caress and clean each other and playfully entertain us with their almost human-like behavior. Watching God’s creatures; being welcomed into their homes was an amazing experience that can never be duplicated and as we stood by, we could not help but realize that we were standing on holy ground.
“But ask the animals and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of God has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” (Job 12: 7-10)

Impressions during the drive from Nairobi to East Kajiado County to Nakuru – Larry Garcia

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Many people walking
Many people standing
Many people waiting
Many people talking, laughing and not talking

Many people with somewhere to be
Many people with nowhere to be
Goats and cows oblivious to the morning rush

Much greenery
Much trash
Much construction
Much the same, much different

Many flowers
Many churches
Many trucks
Passing each other on narrow roads

Many people selling
Many young men on motorcycles just sitting
Many unfinished buildings
Some being worked on, some apparently abandoned

Flights of Expectation – Daniel Meyers

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We are a group of eight, seven seminarians and our leader from Global Ministries, Mary Schaller Blaufuss.  Some of us graduated just days or even hours before catching a flight to meet in NYC.  Some of us have more time at seminary still to come.  But we are all theologically trained and interested in the partnerships that Global Ministries has formed around the world.  We are traveling to Kenya to strengthen the relationships with our partners there.  We are traveling to Kenya to be enriched for our own ministries.  We are traveling to Kenya to understand more of God’s Kindom on the vast but ever shrinking earth.
Our first day was spent in the air.  I often think of flights as liminal space, where time and geography seems to stand still.  The plane moves in real time, but somehow my experience as a passenger feels much more like how I imagine a wormhole would feel.  After a series of hours, you awake to a whole new world.  We spent 15 hours in our first cocoon, wrapped up in our own thoughts and expectations as we traversed the Atlantic, landing in Johannesburg.  Tired but energized to be on the continent of Africa, we navigated the airport and boarded our second metal cocoon of the day.  Moving north across the continent, we landing four hours later in Nairobi.  We had reached our destination.

For me, my time on the flights was spent being excited for the beauty I hope to find in the land.  I am also hopeful for the special gift that a new, even if brief, relationship can bring.  Cross-cultural conversation has the potential to change me if I am open to it.  I can learn and I can share – a gift exchange that I often feel trades in human experience.  I am hopeful to have me breath taken away in the natural beauty and given back to me in new conversation.

Once in Nairobi, we met our hosts, traveled to our guest house, and had a lovely first non-airplane food meal.  We welcomed our beds after a long day of traveling in the cocoons of liminal worm hole tubes we call international flights.  Spit out on the other side, we are in Kenya and full of expectation.