Lots of people have written asking how they can help the school for orphans where I’m currently serving in Kenya. For $12 you can feed 120 orphans breakfast and lunch for a day. Please give what you can so these kids can be well, think well and learn well!
Today is my 4th day in Kenya. So far it’s been a great experience….very friendly people, a kind host family, fun kids and a very responsive staff.
And yet, it has certainly been a stretching experience. I’ve only seen two other white people on the island so far. Francis said they’re with the Peace Corps, and they’ve been here for a few years.
I haven’t had coffee since I got here because in this region, it isn’t a “thing.” You can’t even find it at the grocery store. Everyone here drinks black tea, water or Coca-Cola.
Every time I walk through the streets, the children yell, “Mzungu!” Which is the local dialect (Kiswahili) for “White Person.” And, just like the children in Togo did, they run to me and try to touch me to see if anything magical or disastrous happens
On the ferry ride from the mainland to the island, Francis, the social worker who runs the school for orphans on Rusinga Island in western Kenya, told me more about his story.
Rusinga Island is on Lake Victoria, which is the largest lake in Africa, measuring 28,000 square miles. It has 3,000 miles of shoreline, shared by Ugananda, Kenya and Tanzania. Because of the the size of the lake and the extent of the shoreline, the main occupation here is fishing.
When we got to the waterfront where we were to catch the ferry, I saw all these wooden fishing boats bobbing gently in the water, and it reminded me of the Sea of Galilee in Israel where I visited last summer — the place where Jesus found Peter and Andrew and told them to leave their nets and come be fishers of men.
Once we were on the ferry, Francis told me the story of the orphanage and school he started.
I’m blogging from a small internet cafe on Rusinga Island, in Lake Victoria in western Kenya. I arrived here after two days of traveling….from Newark airport to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Kisumu.
When I arrived in Kisumu, the orphanage social worker Francis picked me up at the airport with his 10-year-old son Paul, who had made me a greeting sign.
They don’t own a car, so we took public transportation from Kisumu to Rusinga Island (about a 3 hour drive by car.) We took a taxi from the airport to the bus station, where we waited for about an hour before our small bus was ready to leave.
Yesterday, I checked out of my hotel in downtown Chicago. I had a few hours before I needed to catch a train to my parents’ place in Bloomington, so I sat at a table in the lobby with my laptop and decided to get some work done.
There was a white man in his early 40’s at a table next to mine, and he struck up a conversation with me.
After asking where I was from and how I liked Chicago, he asked what I did for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“What do you write about?” he asked.
“I wrote a book about a Somali refugee family who lives in the U.S. now,” I said, referencing The Invisible Girls.
“Oh, so you write about terrorists,” he said with an inauthentic grin on his face.
I thought I misheard him. I thought he could not possibly have said what I thought he just said.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I said, it sounds like you write about terrorists.”
“No,” I said, my voice low and firm. “I write about refugees.”
Contrary to what you may have thought when you read the title of this blog post, this is not a post about me having a romantic relationship or falling in “that kind” of love.
This is not a post about dating or getting engaged or planning to get married.
This is a post about when I was so deeply, kindly, gently loved by an entire group of people over the past month that I not only smiled, hugged and handshaked…..but I embraced them and said, “I love you.”
I’ve spent the past month as the author-in-residence at a church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Right after my book launched, they booked me to come to a one-day event. So I flew in, stayed at a hotel, spoke on a Sunday morning and then again that evening. After the evening event, the pastor said, “I can take you to a restaurant for dinner, or you can come have dinner with me and my family.”
I don’t usually go to people’s homes when I’m on the road, but the thought of having a home-cooked meal was enticing, so I said, “I’ll come home with you.”
His wife, who co-pastors the church with him, was indeed cooking up a storm. I came to their place, sat around the dinner table with the pastors and their two children, and felt for the first time in a long time (because I’d been on the road traveling and speaking so much) that I belonged somewhere.
Well, today’s the day. I had my taxes done last week, and today’s the day that thousands of dollars get withdrawn from my account because, even though I live near the poverty level, I owe thousands of dollars because of a killer self-employment tax.
When I came home from my accountant’s office last week, I sat down on the floor and held my head in my hands. Never have I worked so hard and had so little to show for it.
I started doing the math on my life. Last year, between speaking engagements, being the author-in-residence, and serving at a hospital in Togo, I traveled to 22 states, 9 countries and 5 continents.
The math continued.
Number of nights I slept at home?
Number of weeks I’ve attended the same church?
Number of dates I’ve been on?
Amount I’ve contributed to a 401(k)?
Zero. In that math, my life literally added up to zero.
It’s a few days after the resurrection and, as Jesus is walking down the road to Emmaus, he catches up with two men who are walking together, discussing the recent events in Jerusalem, asking questions about the Messiah.
Jesus walks with them, enters into their conversation, and answers their questions. They invite him to dinner. And when he stands and blesses the bread and then breaks it — they recognize him. And then he disappears.
They recognize Jesus not because of his resurrected, indestructible body. Not because he has the answers to all of their questions. They recognize him in the breaking.
There’s something about the resurrection that shines through the brokenness and the men see Jesus in a way they couldn’t see him before.
I thought about this in Togo, when I was touching brokenness — metaphorically and literally. I was in the least happy country in the world, witnessing a broken political system, a broken infrastructure, a broken economy. And I was literally touching broken bodies — bleeding wounds, broken bones, cracked teeth and nails and skin.
And somehow in that darkness, in the “least-happy”-ness and in the pain, Jesus showed up there in a way I had never seen Jesus before.
Somehow, in the rooms of the dying, as I held their hands and witnessed their last breaths, there was a Presence in the room I had never felt before.
Every Easter weekend, people repeat that saying, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” as if to say that your dreams or desires or hopes are dead, but just hold still in the nothingness of Friday night and all day Saturday, and then at dawn on Sunday everything wakes up and you’re suddenly alive again.
I don’t know about you — but I have experienced very few “resurrection” moments like that in my life. Most things in my life improve by subtle, slow, small steps, which are often punctuated by significant struggles. Most joys in life make me crack a smile, but they don’t send me over the moon.
How is it possible, I ask God, that you raised Jesus from the dead, and yet some days I can’t even get out of bed? What happened to all that power? I don’t see instant resurrection in my life — does that mean I’m doing this wrong?
As I’ve walked with God, I’ve come to believe that maybe resurrection isn’t sudden. Maybe all of life is like Saturday.
Maybe it’s the space between the death of our fallen world, and everlasting life. And maybe in that space, resurrection is happening.
Maybe Jesus’ body didn’t come alive in a split second; maybe it took all of Saturday for life to creep back in to his lifeless form. Slowly, in darkness and deafening silence, a cell wakes up. It starts metabolizing oxygen and weaving strands of DNA again. And then another cell wakes up. And then another one.
Last night I went to a Maundy Thursday service. It’s only the second one I’ve been to in my lifetime (the churches I grew up with and have attended since then have only celebrated Good Friday service.)
There was a small orchestra and a choir and candles, celebrating and also grieving the last night of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion. We reflected on the night Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, wrestling with the Father until he sweat drops of blood, until he said the words, “Not my will but yours.”
I came back to my apartment and sat on the couch and thought about the past week, where I have been duking it out with God over a heart-wrenching problem that’s made it hard for me to get out of bed or, at times, even to breathe.
There are two closets in my room — one has a bar with clothes hangers and the other has two waist-level shelves for linens.
A week ago, in the bottom of the linen closet, I put a pillow, a blanket, my Bible and several candles and most nights for the past week, I’ve sat in that closet, cross-legged, candles lit, and told God that I would stay until one of three things happened: God and I had a breakthrough, my bladder was about to explode, or I fell asleep.