Picking up where I left off…
We led the youth leadership conference from Monday – Friday in Illmamen. “Youth” in Kenya is loosely defined as anyone between the ages of about 18 and 45, so it covers a very large age group. Some of the conference participants were youth leaders at their churches, some were pastors, and some were youth who had some other role in their churches. I taught one session about Worship on Tuesday, and then after that, I got to relax a little more and enjoy others’ teachings. I enjoyed seeing everyone’s different teaching styles, especially since I normally only get to observe the teaching of other teachers I work with, as opposed to friends from church. We had some good discussions and spent some time in small groups. Other sessions, besides mine, included small groups, Bible exposition on 1 John, Evangelism, HIV/AIDS, Role of Youth in the Church, Christian Leadership, and some others. We tried to apply most of what we talked about specifically to youth/youth leadership.
One of the things that I found most interesting was that, although at first glance some of the major cultural differences between the U.S. and Kenya were very apparent, as we began to dig deeper to understand the real issues going on in Kenyan churches, they were pretty much the same issues that we deal with in the U.S. I don’t know why I found this surprising, considering that humanity is humanity and the Bible, written in such a different time and culture, is still completely relevant to present-day America.
We had a tea break and a lunch break each day during the conference, which gave us a little time to talk with the participants. One day I even saw the goat being slaughtered that ended up being served for lunch. Talk about fresh food, wow! Quite an experience. Many of the people in the conference were pretty soft-spoken, in general, which I guess must be a cultural thing. It made me feel like we must seem like the loud, obnoxious Americans. I felt a little self-conscious about that and wondered how they perceived us. The women were especially quiet, except during the session on Youth Sexuality, when we split the men and women up for separate discussions. I so enjoyed hearing the women speak up and voice their concerns, ideas, and challenges during this session. I wished that we could have had more time with just the women so we could have gotten to know them better.
The ALARM organization we were partnering with works with groups of women for the purpose of helping with econonic empowerment (helping them make and sell products, for example). A lady from one of the groups they work with died shortly before we arrived in Ilmamen, so we all went together to her funeral one afternoon after ending the conference a little early for the day. Seeing a Maasai (the tribe of many of the people of Ilmamen) funeral was very interesting. We stood out like sore thumbs… or maybe more like aliens, we were so different than everyone else there. We were the only white people and had to walk in front of some of the hundreds of Maasai people in attendance, many of them dressed in their traditional Maasai clothing, to get to the area where we were invited to sit as guests. We stood out even more when we, as guests, were seated in chairs under a shaded area with the Maasai men, while the local women sat on the ground in the sun. We did our best to be as inconspicuous as possible, but given the circumstances, it was pretty difficult.
When we arrived at the funeral, a children’s choir was singing, and then some of the men led everyone in singing. I noticed an odd contrast between the men, who were singing and even dancing and clapping a little, and the women, some of whom were wailing with grief. Some of the family members gave speeches using an interpreter so that the speeches were given in both the Maasai language and in Swahili. I found it so interesting that interpreters are such a necessary, normal part of life for people coming from the same country and even the same area of the country. Many of the people at the conference spoke English, and I believe they all spoke Swahili, which is what our interpreters used. If I can digress a little, we had some good laughs during the conference as we watched the interpreter, who did an excellent job of mimicking the voice inflection and gestures of whomever was speaking (see photo below of Bobby teaching with the interpreter). Also forgot to mention that one of the ways people at the conference greeted each other as Christians was “Bwana asifiwe!” [praise the Lord!], to which everyone replied, “Amen!”
The speeches went on for several hours, and then came the time for the burial. People came up a big mound of earth leading to the grave, took a handful of dirt, and threw it into the open grave. The ALARM people led us up to the top of the grave so we could see what was happening, but we did our best not to interfere with the ceremony or to draw too much attention to ourselves.
The next evening, after the conference, the pastor we were staying with took us to visit the family of the woman who died. This was a very humbling experience. We sat in chairs in a circle outside of the family’s tiny mud-hut home with members of the family and extended family. Bobby, the pastor, and Erick (from ALARM) took turns reading scriptures, praying, offering words of encouragement to the family. Afterward, they served us hot tea, which was nice as the night air was getting chilly. I felt so humbled to be served by the grieving family, who accepted and welcomed us so graciously. Another odd contrast to the somber occasion was the few children who were running around and playing near-by. They were fascinated by us, presumably because of our skin color, and kept coming up behind us, touching us, and giggling. I loved getting to see the children but wasn’t sure how to remain appropriately somber while still giving attention to the children.
After we met together and had tea, we were invited to enter the tiny hut, one at a time, to offer our condolences to some of the grieving women of the family. Again, I was very humbled to be invited into the home of a family who was going through such a difficult time. I felt very moved and want to make sure to remember to pray for the husband and chilren of the woman who passed away. Comforting those who are mourning the death of a loved one is uncomfortable enough when it’s someone in our own country, so I felt a bit unsure and self-conscious about how to act in a way that would be perceived as being respectful and appropriate for this family from a culture so different than mine.
I will conclude part 2 with some relevant pictures:
Conference participants singing a praise song at the conference