Wednesday, July 12, 2017

So Many Stories

Carole and Courtney - Sunrise at Mara West
This trip to Kenya, a year in the planning, provided me with more stories in three weeks of experience and listening than I had in the previous ten years.

After spending nearly a week in Eldoret, visiting Hands of Hope Academy each day, we headed into Safari country. I was very excited! I have always loved Africa’s animals and longed to see them in the wild. We were heading to Masai Mara - the national park that becomes the Serengeti when it crosses the Tanzania border.

Driving to Mara West, where we would be staying in Narok county, took a full day. Even though it was less that 300 kilometres, the many bends in the road and various people walking along it’s sides - or in the middle, if they wished! - slowed us down. And that was only the first 200 kms. The final 80 took nearly half the day as it was a dirt road with potholes the size of small cars. Weaving around them or navigating through their depths was a constant choice that slowed us down to just a few kilometres an hour.

We arrived just before dark and were shown to our beautiful tents. The camp host generously upgraded us to tent-cabins. They were luxurious with running water, power and hot showers! The water was heated by a fire under a boiler shared between two cabins.

As we slept, Zebras, Baboons and Giraffes wandered through our camp. The next morning we got up early and boarded our Safari vehicle - a four-wheel-drive setup with seats rising up out of the back and a tarped roof over our heads. It was brilliant! Courtney and I spent the next two days taking pictures and posting them online. It was a once in a lifetime experience!

On those two days of safari, we saw all of the big five - lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. We also saw giraffe, cheetah, meerkat, baboon, crocodile, hyena and more.

One adventure turned into a deep and meaningful conversation. After we watched as a young  male lion stalked and failed to catch a topi, we followed him to a distant waterhole. The guide realised a herd of wildebeest were coming to drink and parked in a prime viewing spot.

“You are going to see a kill!” Our guide said, “I promise you!”

But as we watched the lion hunker down above the waterhole and the wildebeest approach from the other side, a belligerent water buffalo stormed out of the water and drove the lion away.

Moments later, the dejected lion walked right past our safari vehicle, just a few metres away from us - a lion that nearly killed twice.

Courtney and Carole started discussing the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is just like that water buffalo!” Courtney said, “He sees the Devil stalking us and drives evil away, sometimes before we even see it coming.”

“And He knew I didn’t want to see anything die!” Carole added.

And that got me thinking, brooding silently, about all we had seen in Kenya. What about when it doesn’t happen this way?

We had seen a lot of this in Kenya - bad stuff happening to good people. Happening to children. Joseph and Nestor reach into the darkness where these children live and offer them a pathway that leads to the Light. But what about the others.

I heard story after story. Girls, as young as 9 years old, taken away from the village and forced to undergo circumcision in preparation for marriage. Illegal in Africa, this is an age-old tradition that has now moved underground in many communities.

I heard stories of boys who were unwanted, beaten by their fathers, grandfathers and other men in their lives and fled. Boys who were driven by desperation into a life of crime and gang activity.

I heard so many stories. More than I can recount in this book. There are some that I haven’t told in detail because the content is too shocking. Others I haven’t told because their story is yet another retelling of one already told in these pages. Rael, Christine, Dorcas, Duncan, Grace, Mary - these are but a few of the stories that I learned but have not told.

Hearing the stories of others empowers us to make a difference. By hearing we are called to care. By caring we are called to action. And in action, based on the story of need we have heard, we begin to change lives.

But, facing these stories can leave you soul-numb. Overwhelmed, by the cast of broken characters a million children deep, we begin to wonder, “Can I really make a difference?” Like the old man walking along a beach covered in thousands of stranded starfish, throwing one starfish at a time back into the sea, we lift our eyes to the horizon and see an impossible eternity of broken children in need of rescue. And like the young man who says, “What are you doing? There’s thousands! You can’t make a difference!” we challenge our own sanity and effort.

Yet wisdom’s answer calls us to act on behalf of the one, rather than in some misguided belief that we can change the many. “It mattered to that one!” we say as we pick up one more starfish and launch it into the water of life.

Each act of kindness matters in many ways. It matters to the one we help - changing their life. It matters to us - reinforcing our own nature within our heart. And it matters to those who hear our story - inviting them to become a person who cares enough to join people who make a difference, people who save the world one child at a time.

There is something that happens to your heart when you recognise yourself in those you are saving. Hear your own name in the life of another and you are humbled. One day in Kapune, Carole, Courney and I were having lunch when there was a knock on the door. It was Joseph. “Lekini and his uncle are here to see Carole.” You can read the rest of Lekini’s story in January 3’s journal entry. There is just one bit I left out until now because it has been a redefining story in my life.

We listened to the story of seven men hacking Lekini and his brother to death, and Lekini living despite the odds. We saw the scars. A huge cut across his forearm. Angry scars across the top, side and back of his skull. Lekini had lived through hell. And now he was going to a Christian school to become, he hoped, a lawyer.

“You need to choose an English name,” Carole said to the uncle through Joseph’s interpretation skills. “The school requires it.” Lekini and his uncle had been present for the morning meeting. I had talked about God’s love for us. Lekini’s uncle looked at me and his eyes filled with tears.

“David.” Joseph said, “He wishes that Lekini be called David so that one day he may speak of God as you did today.” Joseph paused as my eyes filled with tears. “This is a great honour,” Joseph said. I nodded my head and said, “I’m happy for Lekini to have my name.”

It mattered to that one. Every orphan in Africa - each child saved by Joseph and Nestor - is another Lekini. Another David. Another me. It matters to this one.

The conversation about the waterhole continued a couple days later. We were in the car. The Safari finished. On our way to Nairobi, we had a long drive and plenty of time to talk.

Carole voiced what we had all thought many times over the past few weeks. “If the Devil is defeated at the cross, why are there still such horrible things happening?”

We were riding in the back of the land-cruiser, Carole and I, able to have a deep conversation. “God’s followers have a habit of getting things wrong.” I said, “Jesus’ disciples misread the prophets and were looking for a deliverer who would rule with an iron rod, a warrior king. Today, we’ve been sold a wrong idea about God, and we tell it to our children. We tell them that God’s defining attribute is power. If this is true, the all that happens on Earth is ultimately God’s fault - because God is in control - he controls everything with His divine power. This is not God’s wish - not the way he wants to be seen, or the way he actually is.”

“God is love.” Carole said, “Love. I know that is God’s main characteristic. But, doesn’t love save those who suffer?”

“Within the bounds of God’s perfect love, His power lives.” I said, “But the ultimate revelation of God’s love is freedom. The perfect love of God allows choices to be made and then honors those choices. But ultimately, Love will win.”

God’s love is perfect. It is patient. Long-suffering.

Jesus said, “God is Love.” The apostles, empowered by Jesus, repeated, “God is Love.” It is the love of God that compels the heart and mind of true believers in every generation. And that love is seen most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s how God demonstrates His love and frames His power.

Jesus came to this earth to demonstrate the Love of God. He came to our waterhole, so to speak. Before Jesus took the cross of Calvary upon Himself, his disciples had the wrong idea about Jesus.

When the disciples came to the waterhole with Jesus, they knew him well. And they knew the powers that stood against him. They knew about the Devil and his angels. They knew about the lion and the crocodiles. But they thought Jesus’ power would dominate. They thought the Messiah, the warrior-king, would walk unscathed through this world. Like an elephant at the waterhole, Jesus would be unable to be touched and he would set up his Kingdom.

And so, they looked for power in the life of Jesus. And they saw it! But what they didn’t realise is that Jesus’ power is confined within a greater reality - God’s Love. They watched what they thought was an elephant walking through the streets of Jerusalem and wondered how anyone could miss it! And they asked, “When? When will Jesus demonstrate his power?”

They were looking for the wrong animal at the waterhole. Jesus hadn’t come to show power but love. He hadn’t come to fulfill the wishes of the disciples but to reveal the nature of His Father.

He hadn’t come to the waterhole as an elephant, stomping his way to victory.

He hadn’t come as a buffalo, sniffing out evil and driving it away.

Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” He hadn’t come to show God’s power but God’s love.

Jesus showed God’s love by entering the waterhole as a wildebeest.

Like many others before Him, Jesus was lifted up and nailed to a cross. Rome had crucified thousands. Even on that day, there were three.

Jesus entered our waterhole like any of the millions before him.

The roaring lion, looking for someone to devour, leapt upon Jesus – driving his clawed nails into hands and feet.

The crocodile, leviathan, roused from despairs depths - took hold of his side – and beginning the death roll, pulled Jesus under - into murky darkness.

And Jesus died.

“If you’ve seen me,” Jesus said, “you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

“I give you a new command:” Jesus said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

After a long drive and discussion on the nature of God and the world, Carole said, “So we just love these kids – and that’s enough?”

“Yes,” I said. “But there is something else we give them. You talk about it all the time.”

“Hope.” Carole said, “We give hope to the children we save. Because we are teaching them about Jesus. That gives them a hope for a future beyond this world of pain and death.”


Carole continued, a bit excited now, “And we are giving them an education which will provide a chance at a happier life than they would have had on this earth. I just wish we could help more. Save more. Change the lives of more children.”

“You are.” I said, “And you’re doing it God’s way.”

“We are?” Carole said.

“Yes.” I said, “God doesn’t see time like we do. When He rescued the children of Israel, He waited 400 years before mounting his rescue effort. And when he did rescue them, He took 40 years to complete it. When changing lives of many, God works on a generational time scale rather than performing quick fixes.”

“How is that like what we are doing?” Carole said.

“You are educating these kids.” I said, “When they are grown and married, they will teach their children what they have learned. You are taking entire families out of poverty. One child becomes one generation becomes - in time – one nation, Kenya. You are changing the world, Carole. God’s way.”

There are thousands of children - like wildebeest heading into the waterhole. It is a rare person who can live among them like Jesus, or Joseph or Nestor. This is a very special calling. Very few of us are Saviours. But all of us are disciples.

And like the disciple Peter, we are still alive because – now that we understand it – we have accepted the rescue Jesus offered on the cross and the eternal life He promised by conquering the grave. We have hope because we know the rest of the story. May we make this hope of a better life a reality for as many of God’s children as possible.

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