Tea Time

Twice a day at 11AM and 4PM, all of us at the conference enjoy “tea time.”  We break from our meetings and all go outside where tables of cookies, coffee, and tea are served.  It’s a time to stretch, talk, laugh, and drink. 

Kenya was once under British rule, and even after they gained their independence in the 1960’s, tea time remained.  Another reason why tea time is still observed here is because Kenya is full of tea fields.  As a matter of fact, the conference center I am at is surrounded by miles and miles of tea fields.  The fields are cared for by workers who live in very humble “homes” on the plantations.  As you can see from the picture I took today, the plantation home is nice, but the workers’ accomodations are not. 

The fields are intersected by a maze of walking paths, and so for the sake of photography, my friend and I walked in.  After while, we realized that we didn’t know how to get back to the conference center.  We were lost (sort of) – I mean is a man ever really lost? Anyway, we found our way to a gate, thinking it might be a back gate to the conference center, but the guard who answered said that it was a private residence.  He did, however, tell us how to get back, and the only thing we missed of the conference was lunch.

My friend and I spent the rest of the day talking about the work he and his wife are doing in North Africa.  The work is hard and results are few, but I reaffirmed our church’s commitment to them and to the work, and he reaffirmed their calling and commitment to the work as well.  Please continue to pray for them.  Pray that the Lord will encourage them to press-on as they do a work that is tiring and tough.

Shaken to the Core

I just sat through one of the most powerful and moving times of prayer I’ve ever experienced.  The second and bigger of the two conferences began this afternoon, and after all 100 of us (mostly North Africans) introduced ourselves, the leader of the organization addressed us.  He took us on a fascinating journey of the history of the North African country we are targeting, and at the end of his presentation, he gave a challenge that cut to the core of all in attendance.  He said that if the gospel is going to break through in this very volatile country, then – among other things – we all must be committed to fervent prayer.  For those on the ground (both foeriegn workers and nationals) the challenge was for greater boldness and for a willingness to pay the price of persecution, imprisonment, and maybe even death.  He acknowledged that some in the room already had paid a steep price for their faith.

What happened next shook me to the core.  The leader finished his address by instructing us to pray individually – by  kneeling, getting up and walking around, or just sitting in our seats.  As he did, men began weeping and crying out to the Lord.  I walked out and found a spot just outside the door to pray, and one man rushed out weeping uncontrollably for his country.  When I went back in, I saw men in suits spread out face down on the concrete floor, crying out to the Lord.  One man began singing a song to the Lord in his native tongue, and men and women all over the room joined in, some with arms raised high in full surrender to the Lord.  Through their tears, the people worshiped and praised the Lord through song, desperately crying out for God to move among their people.  When the song ended, nearly all in attendance were in tears as random men read out Scripture verses full of encouragement and hope.

A man who now lives and works in the target country but is from another country – a country that has been guilty of oppressing the target country for hundreds and hundreds of years – got up to ask for forgiveness for the actions of his country.  As he spoke, he wept.  Immediately, men from the target country moved from their places to embrace the man, many speaking out in thick African accents, “We forgive you, brother!”

I watched all of this from the back of the room, and was moved to tears myself.  To stand for Christ and spread the good news will continue to put their lives and families in peril.  Perhaps more now than ever before.  Today, they were challenged again to count the cost, and I watched as they responded in faith to press on – through tears, prayers, and songs of commitment and praise.

I will never understand their plight.  I will never understand what it feels like to have to choose between safety and my faith in Christ.  I will never know all that these people face every single day because they have chosen to follow Jesus.  I will, however, pray for them.  Will you join me?

Communion, AK-47s, and a Flat Tire

The first of two conferences here in Kenya has come to an end.  For three days, I joined 30 other workers as we prayed and strategized how best to help and engage a people-group in North Africa who are marginalized by the world around them and unreached by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I mostly listened but was able to lead the group – along with a South African pastor (pictured with me and his wife) – in a sweet time of communion and prayer at the conclusion of the conference.

When the conference concluded, the worker I’m here with and I called a taxi and headed down the mountain into Nairobi for dinner together.  It was a good time to debrief the first conference and prepare for the second one – which will be much larger as the focus is on a broader group of unreached people.  Some 100 workers are expected to attend.

Nairobi is known as being a very dangerous city – one of the most dangerous in all of Africa, especially at night.  We knew that the market we went to for dinner would be safe, however, because it is guarded and patrolled by men carrying AK-47s.  My friend and I asked two of the guards if we could get our pictures taken with them, but they said that they could not allow it as it was “not legal.”  So, much to my delight (as you can see from the picture), my friend told the guards that he would just take my picture by the elephant, but I could tell that he was aiming at the guards as well!  We fought the law…and we won!

On the way back to the conference center, we had a brush with the frightening Nairobi night life.  The roads inside and outside Nairobi are atrocious – potholes everywhere.  We had just passed a township full of people roaming the streets, some of whom looked shifty – seeking opportunities to steal from foreigners like me and my friend!  The rain was falling and the road once again became dark as we left the lights of the township.  As our driver sped up, trying to avoid the deep potholes, he accidently struck one, and our back tire popped.  We were forced to pull over and replace the flat tire with the undependable spare from the trunk.  It was pitch black, and the driver and my friend both expressed concern for our safety.  As we were digging through the trunk for the spare, two large men from a nearby compound approached us.  I wanted to yell, “Friend or foe?!” before they got close so I would know whether or not I needed to jump back into the car…but I refrained!

We were relieved when the men identified themselves as night guards and helped us by giving us light from their flashlights.  Once we got back in the car for the final 10 minute drive to the conference center, my friend told me that upon pulling over, he had taken his wallet out and put it in his shoe.  He lives in Africa and knows how these things go down, and he thought for sure that we were being set up.  Thank God the flat was legitimate and the guards were helpful!

More and more people are arriving and the second conference is about to begin.  My friend and I will not be venturing into Nai-robbery – I mean Nairobi – until Saturday, so the AK-47 and robbery-threat level is low until then.  Please keep praying for us!

Luggage, Michael Jackson, and Donkeys

I am a changed man, literally.  After three days, I finally got my luggage and was able to change my clothes.  I am so happy, and so too is everyone around me, I’m sure.

The round-trip to the Nairobi airport took four hours in a taxi with a young man who didn’t speak English very well.  I tried to talk to him, but our conversation was strained.  However, he was listening to a radio station that plays American “smooth hits” from the 80’s and 90’s, and we were able to connect through song.  We sang and laughed as songs like “Red, Red Wine” by UB-40 and “The Girl Is Mine” by Michael Jackson came on.  He patiently waited while I had to go through customs twice, so when I came back out, I bought both of us cold Cokes, and we ventured back into the craziness of Nairobi traffic.  The road back to the retreat center was closed, so he took me another way – a way that took me through the town he lives in.  It’s a poverty-stricken town where most young men his age work long, hot hours in the tea fields.   He told me that he has been driving taxis for six years and feels blessed to work in a car rather than in the fields.

Below are pictures of why it takes so long to get anywhere in Nairobi and the surrounding area.

Round-abouts trip up drivers as do faulty traffic lights and daring walkers.
Sometimes these carts are pulled by donkeys, by men, or just broken down in the road.
Donkeys and goats are everywhere along the road, and sometimes they decide to cross.
Donkey and goats are everywhere along the road, and sometimes they decide to cross.

Bag-less in Nairobi

I arrived Friday afternoon in Nairobi, Kenya after a 39 hour trip, tired but awestruck by all of the sights and sounds of a country and continent I have never visited before.  Upon arrival in Ethiopia, my final stop before Kenya, I learned that my luggage didn’t come with me to Africa.  Instead, it decided to stay in Germany for a bit longer.  Here it is Sunday night, and I STILL don’t have my luggage.  Evidently, it did make the trek from Frankfurt to Kenya last night, but I have yet to receive them where I am.  Thank God I packed an extra outfit, but if you do the math, you’ll realize that the extra outfit is beginning to wear out its welcome.  Please pray that my luggage arrives soon.

On a brighter note, after a crazy taxi ride from a former Kenyan national soccer player with stories galore, I arrived at the residence of Dr. Barry Cockar (Shaila Shodean’s dad for those of you from Foothills).  He welcomed me to his beautiful home and treated me wonderfully for the two days I was with him.  He allowed me time and space to sleep, and took me to two great restaurants both nights for dinner.  He provided me a great place to rid myself of jet lag, and I am grateful.

Dr. Cockar drove me to the conference center 30 miles from his home this morning as today was the first day of the conference I’m here for.  The conference center is a beautiful high-elevation “island” of peace and serenity amidst the tea fields outside Nairobi.  The conference is being attended by workers from eight countries who are all focused on very important work being done in North Africa.  I am not at liberty to share much about the conference as was re-emphasized at the onset by all participants being instructed to sign a confidentiality/security agreement.  However, what I can say is that all 30 people in attendance are passionate about the work they are doing, and all are sacrificing much in order to play their part in the work.  Some who are here are workers who have been involved in the work for 30 years.  They are the trailblazers on whose shoulders a new wave of workers are now standing.  I’m honored to be sitting among such a special group of God’s people.

I look forward to the days ahead as I learn more about this work and how my church (and possibly others) can better support it.  I’m also enjoying the sweet time of fellowship and laughter with one of the North African workers from our church who flew here for the conference.  We have much to discuss, and I look forward to the week with him.

In the meantime, I will continue to await the arrival of my luggage, as will the other conferees the longer I go without…if you get my drift (pun intended)!

12 Hours I’ll Never Forget

My son, Taylor, is doing a project on Germany right now.  So, after my day in Germany, I helped him write the following report.  The pictures are ones I took.

On Thursday, February 17, 2011, my dad got to do something he’s been waiting over 20 years to do.  He got to spend a day in Germany!  From 1985-1990, my dad studied German in high school and college, but he never got to go there.  However, my dad had to take a trip to Africa, and when he heard that he would have a 12-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, he was very excited.  His day began at 10AM Germany time when my dad’s plane landed after an 8-hour flight from Chicago.  My dad got only a few hours of sleep, but he was awake and ready to see Frankfurt when the plane landed.  After going through customs, my dad changed some money into Euros, bought an all day train ticket, and headed for the heart of the city.  Once there, he began exploring the different sights.  A friend of his (Sofija Burton) who grew up in Frankfurt told him what to look for, so my dad was prepared.

His goal was to see the major landmarks, take as many pictures as he could, and eat as much German food as he could.  The first place my dad went was a place called Romerberg.  This is the central, old part of the downtown.  It features various buildings and a church from the 14th century.  Most of the buildings were badly damaged during World War II and had to be repaired or rebuilt.  This part of town gets its name from the ancient Roman settlement that now lies in ruins.  It has been preserved and lies directly behind a row of old buildings that now serve as cafes and shops.  My dad said that even though the weather was very cold the day he was there, the Romerberg area was packed with people walking, riding their bikes, shopping, and eating.

One of the main attractions of the city is the Eiserner Steg (Iron Bridge) that crosses over the Main River, which runs right through the city.  My dad said he went across the bridge three different times during the day in order to take pictures at different times of the day.  He said that his favorite time was his last time as night was falling and the city skyline was lighting up over the river.  The bridge is for pedestrians only, and many people use it each day to go from the old part of the city to the new part.

My dad’s day in Frankfurt ended with an authentic German meal at a 100 year old restaurant called, Steinernes Haus.  It also was a building that had to be rebuilt after World War II because the inside of it was destroyed by fire.  Frankfurt is known for its apple wine, so my dad ordered a glass of that.  He also order pork schnitzel with fried potatoes.  Even though my dad wasn’t that hungry because he had eaten a bratwurst earlier in the day, he ate almost everything on his plate because it was so delicious!  Eight hours and 200 pictures later, my dad headed back to the airport for his next flight.  His day in Germany is a day he will never forget.

On My Way to Africa

From 1985-90, I immersed myself in German – not Germany – just German.  I spent 6 years in the classroom learning the language, but until today, I had never visited the country I studied for so long.  Today, though, I am sitting in the heart of Frankfurt enjoying the sights and sounds of a culture I only experienced in text books.  What a great day!

I’m in Germany on a 12 hour layover on my way to Africa.  In a few hours, I will board another plane for Ethiopia, spend just a few hours there, and then make my way to Nairobi, Kenya – my final destination.  It’s there that I will meet up with a good friend and “worker” from another North African country.  He and I will then attend two very important and strategic meetings with other “workers” who are working to reach the unreached in that country.

I won’t be able to share great detail about the meetings in this blog, but I will share as much of my experience as I can with you.  For now, though, I must continue with my Germany adventure.  The city center is hopping today in spite of the very cold temperatures.  Pictures need to be taken, German cuisine must be sampled, and apple wine (a specialty of Frankfurt) must be sipped.  Until next time…guten tag!