Interesting and humorous experiences are common when visiting other cultures. Here is a sampling from our recent journey:
THE FLYING CAR
The final Sunday in Kenya I preached and ministered at the Spiritual Life Center in rural Khambiri. When we were finished with prayers, Pastors George and Mary drove me back to town. The route is an agricultural dirt track used by tractors to transport sugar cane from the fields to a nearby mill. The ‘road’ is uneven and extremely rough–hardly suitable for a passenger vehicle.
But this is the only way to town and all George had to drive was a 25-year old Toyota Camry with a kazillion kilometers on the dial. As we banged along at a perilous top speed of 25 mph, the ride became so violent that the tape deck fell out of the dash. (Fortunately I caught it.)
“Yes,” George declared, “this road is very rough. Last week I was late to an out-door meeting so I was driving 50 mph along this stretch…”
“Not possible,” I thought.
“…and my car began to fly!”
“Yes, I was talking on my cell phone while also adjusting the tape deck and suddenly my car was flying. You can see where it landed.” He pointed across a deep ditch to an indention in the dense sugar cane.
“Your car jumped the ditch and landed in that cane field?” I was incredulous.
“Ndiyo. Yes. Immediately 300 people surrounded my car. They thought I must be dead. But I was not injured and my car was not damaged.”
“So how did you get the car out of the field?”
“Well, about twenty men picked the car up, carried it over the ditch and set it back on the road. So I went on to the meeting.”
You got’a love it.
REALLY FRESH FOOD
One of the nice things about visiting western Kenya is the nutrition. Menus are somewhat limited and the meals repetitive. But the chickens are free-range. Nearly everything is fresh from the market. Fruits and vegetables are grown in rich volcanic soil. After two weeks in the area, one feels health flowing into one’s body.
And the food tastes…REALLY good.
The freshness of the food was illustrated one morning as we were leaving the hotel on the way to the day’s meeting. We walked past the hotel service entrance where I spied a peddler unloading the trunk of his car before heading for the kitchen. Dangling from each of his hands were six clucking chickens (feet tied together).
It dawned on me, “That’s our supper.”
Doesn’t get any fresher than that.
EXPECTING THE MIRACULOUS
In many religious situations in America the miraculous is little more that something to read about in the Bible or to wonder about while listening to exotic stories from far away mission fields.
So much so, that prayer in the States with a miraculous outcome may actually provoke a serious debate over (1) whether anything supernatural really happened? and/or (2) whether the source of the supposed miracle was divine or demonic? and/or (3) does God even do that stuff anymore?
Not so among God’s People in East Africa. Those who live with Jesus on the cutting-edge of life (evangelizing publicly, sheltering orphans, feeding the poor, etc.) depend on God’s regular intervention in their lives to survive and to ‘stay in the fight’.
So I was not particularly surprised at a prayer request from one of the students in the Bible School. He is from an area in Tanzania where English is little spoken, so his English proficiency was much lower than that of his Kenyan counterparts who had learned fluent English in public school.
“Can you ask God to supernaturally increase my English-proficiency so that the scope of my ministry can immediately broaden?”
Now you might think that to be an absurd request, but I know two ministers in Kenya who grew up on the streets without formal education who did not speak English at the time they got saved. Both were called to ministry early on and both faced serious limitations in training and ministry because of their inability to read and speak English.
In each case, they pleaded their case with God.
In each case, they awoke the next morning speaking basic English, and fluency came quickly thereafter. Today you would never suspect – talking with either of them – that they had not been fully educated in English.
All things are possible with God, it would seem….
So, with that understanding, we prayed.
The Holy Spirit came powerfully on the student. He shook and wept for several minutes as he knelt on the concrete floor with upraised hands. Afterward, he reported that something powerful had moved through him while we prayed.
I saw him two weeks later. I asked about the effect of the prayer.
He reported that there had been an immediate improvement in his English speech and there had been a daily increase in fluency since.
I’m praying for similar help for my ears and tongue (which are linguistically retarded) so that I may better ‘hear’ and ‘speak’ Swahili beyond my current limitations.
All things are possible with God, it would seem
CUSTOMER SERVICE…AFRICAN STYLE
Africa is a blend of the modern and the primitive. Hotels often illustrate this contradiction.
In Eldoret we stay at the same hotel each time. The manager and staff have more or less adopted us after multiple visits. We are welcomed enthusiastically upon arrival.
We know several of the staff by name and we have shared the Gospel or prayed for more than a few. All that to say, the folks truly do their best to assist us during our stay.
So on Sunday night when I checked into my room, I was delighted to see a new vinyl floor had been laid since my January visit—you know–the smooth high tech flooring with faux wood-grain. This was good. I could enjoy the room without having to wear my shoes all the time.
The bathroom was another matter. The elderly terrazzo floor evidenced years of un-scrubbed use.
And the toilet lacked a seat. Ah, no seat.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never much liked parking my tush on a bare porcelain toilet, even under the most sanitary conditions—and this wasn’t that.
So, I hiked down to the front desk and explained to the girls that I needed a toilet seat. This provoked quite a discussion until the translation from American English into English English was made, “Oh, you need a toilet COVER.”
So, the order went forth.
On Monday evening we returned from teaching. No toilet ‘cover’.
So I hiked down to the front desk. We went through the discussion again—with the addition of an assistant manager. New order placed.
Tuesday evening. Still no toilet ‘cover’.
So I hiked down to the front desk. We went through the discussion again—adding a manager to the mix. He informed me that their search had determined the hotel did not possess a replacement ‘cover’ that would fit my toilet. Ah, ha.
Our missions motto is, BE FELXIBLE AND ADAPTABLE. So I adapted.
Knowing they had a number of empty rooms, I suggested the manager have a ‘cover’ taken off a similar toilet in an un-occupied room and put on my toilet. He seemed confused by this suggestion (though I offered to make the switch myself if he would give me a second room key and a pair of pliers).
“If I give you a ‘cover’ from another room then I won’t be able to let (rent) the other room.”
True, I agreed, but I reminded him he wouldn’t be able to ‘let’ my room either when I checked out.
“Wouldn’t it be easier for you to pack up and move to another room?” he countered.
I thought not.
“Why don’t you do this: send one of your guys to the store tomorrow and BUY a new ‘cover’ of the correct size? — which you are eventually going to have to do anyway, right?”
We left it at that.
Wednesday evening. No toilet ‘cover’.
So I hiked down to the front desk. We went through the discussion again—with the addition of the maintenance supervisor. I was assured that every effort was being made to purchase a new ‘cover’.
The order was re-affirmed.
Thursday evening. Was I surprised? No toilet ‘cover’.
Then I spied three maintenance men coming down the darkened hallway (lights being kept off much of the time to conserve energy—they’re SO Green in Africa). One had a ‘cover’ hanging around his neck. One carried a handful of tools. And one…one just was.
Anyway, after supper I became the proud renter of my very own, never-used, spotlessly clean, properly-sized, correctly-installed toilet ‘cover’.
However, in the process, the bathroom light had burned out. Of course the maintenance men did not replace it since that required a second maintenance order.
So I hiked down to the front desk and we started the second application process. “Did I know why the light was not working?” they inquired.
“Yes,” I was happy to tell them, “the florescent bulb is trying to light, but the ballast is burned out.” (I knew by the burning electrical smell.)
Friday night. Still no light.
So I hiked down to the front desk. We went through the discussion again—with the addition of an assistant manager who assured me the light would be repaired on Saturday.
After lunch on Saturday I came back to the room to find a ‘fundi’ (technician) sitting in my bathroom with the entire florescent light fixture torn from the wall and disassembled into two dozen pieces scattered around the bathroom. The fundi was peering intently at a wire.
So I hiked down to the front desk to report this unexpected turn of events.
“You really only need to replace the ballast,” I told them. “If you have the part, I can put it in for you—after you reassemble and reattached the three-foot-long light fixture to the wall, of course.”
Not to worry. By the time I would return from supper, the supervisor promised me, I would surely have light.
I returned to my room after supper Saturday night and there was light! A single, uncovered incandescent light bulb sticking out of the hole in the wall.
So I had a new toilet ‘cover’ and a new light bulb just in time to check out of the hotel and head for the meeting in Kakamega.
The hotel staff was quite pleased that they had successfully responded to my needs during the week. I was quite pleased that I had persevered with politeness through both maintenance processes. (Thank you God for emotional healing.)
In the end, the staff still viewed me as a Christian. And in the end, that is what really mattered.
MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE
Most of western Kenya is a high plateau. Eldoret sits at 6900 feet. Moiben–where we had meetings last year–sits at 10,000 feet. Other areas where we have visited range between 5000 and 7000 feet.
So the climate is more temperate than the tropical heat of the Kenya coast. But there is more rain in the west, and therefore many mosquitoes. Along with the mosquitoes come malaria and other serious—even fatal—diseases.
So we make every effort to avoid those parasitic infections. We use OFF when indicated–do not sit outdoors in infested areas–take anti-malarial drugs–and most importantly, do our best to avoid bites while sleeping. Those leisurely attacks are the most deadly.
The hotel windows do not have screens, so the guest has a choice: sleep under a mosquito net or keep the doors and windows closed at all times.
Sleeping under a net is not a great solution. The net prevents ventilation which does not aid restful sleep. And unless you have to discipline to sleep absolutely in the center of the bed, the mosquitoes will bite your arms and legs anyway when they rest against the net during the night.
In Eldoret the rooms are mosquito-free if the room is kept closed. But one’s room will get uncomfortably stuffy during the night which affects one’s rest.
So this time I went prepared. I took along a small fan I purchased at Wal-mart years ago for $8. Unfortunately, I forgot that my small AC converter that changes 240v. to 110v. was burned out. So I couldn’t use the fan when I got there.
Richard had a transformer with him to run his office suite of gadgets he had brought along, so I gave him the fan to use.
So I hiked down to the front desk and asked the girls if they could get me a fan to use during my stay? They looked at me like I had asked to borrow an ostrich for the week. So although an order for a fan was submitted, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see it before Y3K.
What to do?
A solution presented itself a couple of days later. Mary Bahati graciously offered to loan me one of their large fans for the duration of the trip. She couldn’t understand my desire for a fan (since everyone else in Eldoret was running around in coats and sweaters in the rain), but I assured her it was for a necessary and righteous purpose. So I took it.
The rest of the week was restful under the large oscillating fan atop the four-foot pole-stand. I kept the room closed and only encountered a few mosquitoes which I dispatched to the insect Pit.
I checked out of the hotel at the end of the week carrying the fan: the motor and blade portion in one hand and the four-foot stand in the other. The staff was quite amused that I was hand-carrying a large fan through Africa.
Mock me they might, but in Kakamega the hotel came with mosquitoes assigned to each room and no windows could be opened. In fact, more would be required than simply keeping the doors and windows closed.
So I hiked down to the front desk and asked the girls if I could have a can of DOOM? DOOM is the Kenya-manufactured bug spray that really works. It’s made from local pyrethium (however you spell that).
The ladies were offended by my request. I don’t know if my offense was adding to their overhead by using DOOM, or because I was obviously trying to avoid sleeping under the net like everyone else, or because I was rudely suggesting their hotel had bugs.
Anyway, I eventually got the DOOM, sprayed the room, hunted down the survivors, cranked up the fan, and slept well without the net on the rock-hard bed .
Wherever we went others helped with our bags, but I myself—taking full responsibility for Mary’s fan—carried the disassembled unit in my own two hands. This provided continual amusement for our African team members and hotel staffers.
But in the end I prevailed. I slept well. Stayed awake while I was teaching. Sent the fan back to Mary without incident. And made it home without fever.
Next time I’ll probably just carry a transformer.
MORE THAN TOURISTS
Short-term mission trips encourage the people who are visited and can be spiritually transformative for participants. But something more sustained is required to accomplish deep, lasting transformation in lives and cultures.
In our case, while we are not residents of the countries we visit, I have ministered in Kenya for more than 31 years (Richard for 24). That has given God the time to develop a message that communicates clearly and goes deep. Transformation of individuals and church cultures occur regularity where we visit.
So, we felt complemented when one leader (during the meeting in Mumias) blurted out to the assembled pastors, “These guys are not tourists!”
In another location a bishop declared, “You are truly Apostles from God!”
When I asked why he thought that to be so, he said, “Because you have worked early to late everyday in Kenya without going to the game park even once!” I can only imagine what the Apostle Paul might think about that definition of apostleship….
Betty and I originally went to Kenya (instead of to S.E. Asia) in 1980 after I had two ‘prophetic’ dreams.
In the first dream I found myself in Mombasa (I would later discover on the very spot where we would plant our first new church in 1982). In the dream I was talking to an old woman (whom our team would lead to Jesus two years later and deliver from demons on that very spot).
She asked me why I had come to Africa? I told her of my desire to share the Gospel with people in Kenya. She agreed that this was a good reason and then offered me some advice.
“Wazungus (Europeans and Americans) come and go in Africa. If you want to make a lasting contribution, it will take time and continuity. Don’t get in a hurry. Stay around for awhile.” I awoke and we moved to Mombasa for three years.
We have since maintained and developed even more relationships in Kenya. We‘ve made a number of ministry trips to train hundreds of church leaders. And we’ve hosted and resourced a number of leaders during their travels to the States.
It takes time in Africa to build continuity, establish credibility, develop relationships and refine God’s message so that it connects and transforms.
And that might be true here are home, too.
There is a national forest preserve near Kambiri which we did not have time to visit. Richard remarked that had we done so–and had that become general knowledge–we would have been downgraded from ‘Apostles’ to ‘Prophets’. So it was just as well.
One of our hosts suggested we stay at the Forest Lodge on our next visit. “There are many unusual animals to see in the preserve. Especially snakes.”
“Oh yes, the area is completely full of snakes. The Rangers will take you on a nature walk through the snake forest and you will see every kind of snake.”
That sounded rather hazardous since Kenya has a couple of dozen species of venomous snakes and several of them are quite aggressive. “Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked.
“Not really. The Rangers will give you a strong-smelling ointment to smear over your body. The snakes don’t like the smell, so they will avoid you.”
I didn’t remember snakes being particularly repelled by smell. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Just don’t stay outdoors more than thirty minutes.”
“Why is that?”
“The smell wears off pretty quickly and then the snakes will rush you.”
I think I’ll stick to the hotel in town….
IT TAKES A TEAM
The Christian faith begins as a personal encounter with God. It develops into meaningful relationship with that same God. It opens to way for participation on one of God’s teams.
We are not in this alone. We can’t get there from here alone.
I think of all the believing family, Christian friends-coworkers-fellow students, teachers, writers, worship leaders and so many others who have spoken God’s truth and life into our lives over the decades. I couldn’t begin to remember and list them all.
I think of the many People of God in Africa who have welcomed us through the years, befriended us, watched out for us, taught us, counseled us, prepared for us, translated for us, transported us, loved us and put up with us. What a team they have been and are becoming.
I think about the many people here in the States who—over the years—have prayed for us, encouraged us, financed us, counseled us and on occasion even participated with us. A God-crew to be sure.
As Darkness comes over our world, we can be confident that God KNOWS who belongs to him. We can certainly KNOW that he is hovering over each one of us.
And just as surely, at the human level, we should KNOW that more than ever, we are going to need the encouragement, support and protection of our team.
Now is a good time to press deeply into devotion to and intimacy with Jesus. Now is a good time to get in tight with those whom God has put on your team.
From here to The End, we’re going to need a strong, effective, courageous TEAM–which includes divine and human members—surrounding us and enabling us to finish strong.
And finishing strong is the goal.