Monday, 31 December 2012

The Terrible Woman!

In a far distant land……many stories would start…..there lived one notorious boy ….I guess this was aimed at me but also intended to serve as a warning to anyone else who might dare similar adventures.
Life in the village was ‘divided’ into two compartments so to say, day and night, during the day it was all about work. Everyone was expected to give a helping hand in the daily household chores. In almost every family and especially where I came from, cooking was a girl’s designated assignment while jobs like looking after animals was left for the boys.  I should say that, this was the common pattern but it was bound to change from one family to another depending on their situations.
Having been raised in a farming community it would be during the twilight window that we would start heading home for the evening. Boys would bring the animals from the field to be milked while men would be seen gathering their farm tools in preparation for heading home. Girls and women would be gathering firewood and fetching water in readiness for the night. This was one of the most dramatic hour of the day as everything that needed done before the end of the day was to be done in a crucible of immediacy for one obvious reason---the window between sunset and darkness is pretty small. Those children who left their work till the last minute found it really rough for the rest of the night.
As the darkness engulfed the earth the once vibrant village came to standstill as people headed back to their houses ushering deep silence throughout a vast region. Any shout made on one end of the village would travel far and wide. Families gathered around the fire as members caught up with each others on their daily activities. If by any chance children failed to finish their delegated work and their parents happen to be in bad moods then hell would break loose. At certain nights, the cries of children coming from different homes as their parents administered discipline in their best ways possible would be like an orchestrated music performed spontaneously from different locations. Ooooooiiiii, ng’iiiii,acha acha all adding to different effects to the music.
 African culture is largely oral in nature and stories intended for history, entertainment or for a particular lesson would be relayed when families gathered together.  It is a culture that is very rich in proverbs, riddles, fables, legends, myths, figures of speech dealing with nature, agriculture and such. Depending on the subject matter parents would retell, create imaginary stories or coin the already existing ones to suit their motive. More significantly, the stories are intended to stress on  the consequences of a certain behaviour. What an excellent time to share them than a time when food was simmering in the pots or sufurias as we used to call them as everyone waited eagerly  for the meal.  This was the place and time that the African child would get extra coaching after school like mannerism in terms of how girls ought to seat, eat, respect for the elders among others would be taught and where necessary demonstrated.
Among many stories lies one that captured my young mind and stayed there till today---I guess it served the intended purpose. I have never bothered to investigate the origin of the story or whether it was a mere fabrication by our mum and dad.  They told us this story at different times and location and coincidentally whenever they did so one of them would be absent.  Whether that was a ploy employed to make us believe it was true, am yet to establish or should I say too late to do so.
The story goes that there lived a mysterious woman who roamed about during the night. Her name was Wambui Kihuruti. In terms of her physique she held features close to an ogre; one eye on the forehead and two on the back and had three fingers on each hand. She spoke in a woman’s voice but her body was manly built. She breathed fire from her mouth and nostrils and would only be seen at night. Those who had an encounter with her said that she carried strange paraphernalia wherever she went but two items were identified by every victim who happened to have been caught up in the ordeal—a fork and a spoon.
It is said that her work was to catch rebellious children and especially those that walked during the night. First if she got hold of such children she would let out a shriek accompanied by fire and out she would reach for her operational tools and performed her activity in a very methodical process. With her spoon she would crudely scoop out her victim’s teeth to the last bit. Next she would get out her fork with a grin on her face and using her three fingers she would gouge the eyes out one after the other. Having accomplished her mission she would leave to her mysterious village.
Having heard this same story again and again I had vowed within myself that I will avoid night outs. To this day I still fear darkness and more so watching films that are horror in nature which was as a result of being subjected to them in form of stories at very tender age!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Could iServe Africa be the saviour to African most-awaited leadership salvation?

I wonder whether this would be a necessary question to ask on the fourth day of Christmas. Probably I should be keeping myself busy with four dill pickles, three chocolate shakes, two apple pies and a one big fatty cheeseburger! To make matters worse I am not just asking the question but also trying to answer it while holding the blasphemous works of Richard Dawkins in the background.  Well, what other time would deem more appropriate for me to scrutinise his works which is full of profanity than now when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Richard Dawkins a renowned atheist in his book God Delusion argues that religion is to the most evil thing that has ever happened to mankind.  In one of his many stories he tells of himself being in Ireland and while addressing Catholic child abuse scandal he says and I quote…...”horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing up the child catholic in the first place.” According to him bringing up children in any form of religion is the worst child abuse ever! Though very coherent in his arguments, his works do not move me even an inch but what led me to read his works was some very interesting statements made by his fellow atheist and countryman, Matthew Parris.
I wonder whether Matthew Parris, a journalist and former conservative politician knows something that Richard Dawkins does not.   Having spent most if not all his formative life outside Britain and a huge proportion being Global South like South Africa, Harare, Swaziland and Kingston further thoughts pushes me to ask more questions. Whether according to him does being atheist have anything to do with location?
 Richard Dawkins while arguing that religion is the most evil thing to have happened offers a remedy—science—which according to him is the answers to our suffering. Matthew Parris after his experience in Africa write to The Times 2008 taking a radical shift on this with very profound words unlikely to come from atheist quarters………“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts,” ….“These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do.” He does not stop there but continues with unbelievable  statements , “In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
Some weeks ago, preceding Christmas I received a quarterly newsletter from iServe Africa communication desk, a young Christian organisation spearheaded by Africans for African people. With an intention of raising and inspiring young Africans to take up leadership role whether in Churches or in the corporate world, iServe Africa focuses on young graduates from colleges as they take a gap year after graduation.  I have read their newsletter sent to me over and over and am definitely sure it is going to pop up on my reading list again soon.
One of the stories that capture my heart is from one young fresh graduate, Hilda Polle turned apprentice serving among children.  The following extracts from her own reflections are just but  fabulous ……….
”Just before I graduated from Kenyatta University(Nairobi)  in June this year, I already had my life figured out; I knew where and when and how my life would be. ... Next in mind was how I would spend the fat salary that would soon be coming my way. …….. My list of priorities were all about me and getting the best out of life. Just like any other young fresh graduate, I was ready to get into the rat race of getting everything I could at the slightest opportunity available…... I finally found myself making up my mind to join ministry and serve the Lord for a year. …….One of my biggest concerns in service has been to be faithful, even so when it comes to gospel ministry. This is one of those things that attracted me to iServe Africa, their focus on faithful-ness. ……It saddens me to see on television the many people being deceived by prosperity preachers and self seeking men and women in the name of God. This makes me want to play my part in serving faithfully.” Hilda sums up her reflections with a wonderful tone.  “I am learning as well to completely trust the Lord in everything and for everything. This far He is Ebenezer.”
Like Matthew Parris, I am convinced without an iota of doubt that Christianity and especially Christian mission in Africa is the solution to African problems and more so the tremendous efforts witnessed from groups like iServe Africa in reshaping the concept of leadership in our continent.
I will have Richard Dawkins, an imperialist and rationalist know that these wonderful stories and others that are mushrooming from every part of the continent would form a credible datasheet in his science lab that could INDEED change his radical views into acknowledging that CHRISTIANITY IS THE ONLY WAY FORWARD!!!!  LONG LIVE iSERVE AFRICA!!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Everyone has a story and here goes mine!

As I woke up this morning I could not help but rush downstairs to put the kettle on for a cup of tea, a common phenomenal that I have perfected way too well as an adaptive measure against cold here in ‘Greenland’. As I sat down on my couch and started sipping the steaming tea and flowing down my throat warming my whole body I could not escape the experience of a serene atmosphere.  All of a sudden I found myself reciting the poem of Henry Timrod, a son of a bookbinder and amateur poet from South Carolina…….
Today’s most trivial act may hold the seed
of future fruitfulness, or future dearth; …..
and before I could move on to the third line, I stopped and my mind started unwinding to my past perhaps in the search of whether my past has anything to do with my present.
I was taken on a flight back into the village where I was born in the rural section of Kenya. Growing up in a family of six with meagre resources in a community that struggled to meet its’ own life-basic needs was my first stop giving me a very nice panoramic view of my past.  As I stood there I remembered how on rainy seasons we had to wade through swollen rivers to make it to school. On several occasions we would miss school and hope the following day the water levels would subside to allow safe passage across the valley.

We were blessed to have classrooms with a roof but not lucky enough to have windows installed and some of us would find it easier to use them as either entry or exit points depending on the location of your seat. One advantage to this was that there was fresh air flowing into the classroom through those open sections of the building but it became quite chilly during wet and windy seasons.
As I sat there I could vividly remember how learning materials and equipments were not adequate for all, an example of that being the recommended books that would be shared among several households. What a community it was, one that was concerned about the predicament of each other. A book would be passed on from the eldest in the family to the youngest which means in certain families it would change hands 3-5 times which would then be donated to another family in need. This meant economical use of every available resource.

 Proper lighting in my house was an impediment to my reading and doing homework at night, because we shared one kerosene lamp which would be kept on up to a specific time so as to save the oil for the following day.
I remembered how mobile communications, internet access, frequency modulation radios as well as access to television was a preserve of very few if not a luxury to all. However, this did not dampen my eagerness to explore and learn different things. At a very tender age I had discovered Short-wave radios which offered me the only option I had in learning about the outside world. I would listen to Voice of America (Karibu msikilizaji hii ni idhaa ya VOA tukitangaza kutoka Washington DC), Deutsch welle Radio  in Germany, John Nene on BBC World Service among others.  
My boyhood devious behaviours were refreshed as well. I could remember digging into my father’s collections of old magazines like the government banned-The Weekly Review-where I had learnt about our fallen heroes like Dr Robert Ouko and J.M. Kariuki.  From radios I had learnt about Christian Democratic Union of Germany under Roman Herzog,  the struggle for freedom and independence in Cambodia under Tamil Tigers, our brothers struggle in South Africa under the leadership of His excellency Nelson Mandela as well as lovely message of forgiveness from Gordon Wilson in Enniskillen….’I bear no ill will’  a message that was broadcast around world after the bombing on Remembrance Sunday .
At this stage I could see how this background had formed a big desire within me to one day explore the rest of the world. I remembered vividly while growing up as a little child some of the songs that we used to sing about aeroplanes----Ndege wathii utume marua,wire baba angurire,uniformu yakwa ninduiku, ituikite maguru-ini. Na ndukariganirwo ni waigua! –translated to mean—(Aeroplane when you go please send my dad a letter and tell him I need a pair of new uniform because the one that I have is torn at the hem. Please DO NOT FORGET!)  The idea of a heavy metal ‘bird’ flying over the air used to intrigue me and would always dream of flying in them some day. I remember one of the stories being told of a specific plane that used to fly over our land at 11pm every night. It was commonly believed that it carried Kenyan milk to distant lands. A story I would later learn, was only meant to provoke our imaginations.
In a flicker of a second my mind travelled back to my couch where I was seated and deeper reflections of what it meant for me being away from home for three years came into play. What a life changing experience it has been after coming to where the aeroplane ‘took our Kenyan milk’,(-I was involved in this soliloquy for few seconds-), a land I had always equated with peace, freedom and justice. For me it has been almost, for lack of better terms, baptism by fire. From a fairly conservative society which is very communal in nature to an independent but also a ‘bedroom peeping ‘society has offered me a test of all time. From a community whose concept of time is event-based and time at least by majority always rounded up to the nearest one or two hours, to a more time-based system whose adherents would be ready to go on riot for a meal served twenty minutes late than scheduled has not been easy. How well would anyone describe the movement from an awfully excellent weather to a brilliantly horrible weather if not- baptism by fire?
I liked the way up to this point my mind was playing these life changing experiences in form of slides and clips ….Being away from home has helped me a great deal in thinking and reflecting of things that I would not have thought of in my homeland. Issues like being black in white spaces have offered me incredible lessons that will stay in me for the rest of my life. I know in the past different people have asked the question whether our differences are irreconcilable while others have explored the beauty of diversity.

For me it has been a turn around! Things I held dear to my heart have been challenged, my perspectives put to a more clear focus and understanding of God and His care for humanity and His creation becoming clearer and clearer each day. Before I could unpack more of my experiences I woke up from my short slumber with my cup still warm in my hands .  I could only but remember  the next two lines in the first stanza of Henry Timrod wonderful  Poem dubbed THE PAST which ends………….
Oh, cherish always every word and deed!
The simplest record of thyself hath worth!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

What does it mean to be contented?

The profound words found in the hymn, ‘It is well with my soul’, a song written by Horatio Spafford at the height of his financial and professional success, and a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy, offers us a pure contrast to the worldly understanding of what it  means to be contented. “When sorrows like sea billows roll,”... the hymn continues….” It is well with my soul”. It is in the words of His wife Anna that the message is further captured, "It's easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God."
We live in a world of economic uncertainty, in a generation that puts money and financial security as the epitome of humanity. Our social and economic status and how society sees us matters to us while money or lack of it becomes the reader on the meter of our contentment. Throughout the Scriptures it is evident that our attitude towards money determines our affections towards God. It becomes the mirror of our relationship with the King of kings.
Jeremiah Burroughs -- a Puritan preacher in the 17th century -- in one of his sermons addressing the subject of contentment from Paul to Philippians (Phil 4:11), argues that contentment is a great art, a spiritual mystery; it is to be learned, and to be learned as a mystery. He calls it a rare Christian jewel. How then do I develop this great virtue by disciplining my desires for wanting more in a society that places possessions at its core of existence?  How can I escape from this dreadful monster?  Richard Foster calls money, sex and power the three most sought after things that need a Christian response. He poses the question as to how we develop ethical living around these issues?
Over centuries, the response to possessions and accumulation of the same which has been considered by many as the root of all human evil has been vigorous and diverse. Early monasticism responded to this issue by renunciations of homeland, wealth, pleasures, marriage and instead instilled in their lives disciplines of fasting, vigils and manual labour. Young says that renunciation meant a vigorous fight against desire and temptation, with a resultant force of detachment from possessions. Later, according to Richard, Puritan response to the same issue was seen in their stress upon industry. They completely rejected the idea of sacred versus secular. They believed that rewards of work were both spiritual and moral because they glorified God and benefited man. This belief in work as stewardship opened a whole idea of what it means to be contented. Borrowing from these two responses what does this mean for you and me today?
O Lord bless our substance. Enable us to use it for thy glory. Help us to keep worldly things in their proper places, and never may our savings endanger the saving of our souls---Charles Spurgeon------Proverbs 30:8b-9