A walk in the woods

We went for a short hike today and held “home church” in the forest nearby. The 30 minute hike itself, of course, was a very good analogy of typical everyday life here for us. We started down the rough road, full of mud and cow pies, picking our way carefully and feeling quite awkward doing it. When would we ever feel comfortable doing things like this? Well, at least we were feeling more comfortable now than we did a year ago! Anyway, we really had no idea where we were going. We had some vague directions that we found in our cottage, but we had no idea how old those were.

Within the first five minutes we came upon a cow. It was a regular African cow (which means bony), but its bony rear end was sticking into the road because its head was stuck in the fence. All the other cows were in the meadow on the other side of the fence, but somehow this guy had gotten into the road and stuck his head into the barbed wire. The fence was made of big sticks, some still with bark on them, spaced about a foot apart, held together with several strands of barbed wire, also spaced about a foot apart. So, this cow’s head was stuck in one of the spaces, and his big horns were keeping him from pulling his head out. We looked at him as we walked by, but none of us intended to get very close to him, as we’re not very cow-savvy and didn’t know what he might do to us.

We continued walking. There was a real-live traditional mud hut on the right hand side of the road. Very cool. Then on the left, (the same side as the cow), were some more huts, but these were made of wood or mabati (corrugated sheet metal). There was a rather high planked fence shielding these from the road. I could see between the planks and looked for signs of life. It was pretty barren there, as it was church time, but I finally caught a glimpse of a little girl wearing lavender. She saw me and I said “hello.” (Giggle). I decided that I should tell her about the cow so that someone could rescue the poor thing. So, I attempted to tell her about it in my broken Kiswahili. “Ngombe wako (your cow) hapo (there). ?” I pointed and she looked in that direction but then just looked back at me a giggled. “Ngombe? Kichwa ni mbaya (head is bad). Hapo! Barabara (road) hapo!” (Giggle). Time to give up. “Kwaheri (good bye)!”

So, on we went. Soon, we came to two children in the road. We greeted them, shook hands, asked names, etc. But, I have to admit, that I had a sinking feeling as we tried to continue on our way and they began following us. I turned and smiled. “Kwaheri,” I said, knowing that a better missionary would invite them along to join us in our little home church service. Why did I have feel that we had the right to privacy? As we turned off the road onto a path, I was fighting within myself. This is why I came here: to love these people! But when opportunities present themselves, I’m selfish. Just wanting to be left alone. Why can’t the opportunities present themselves when we’re “ready” to minister and not in what we have deemed to be “family time?” This is the dilemma of many missionaries, the inner battle we each must fight. Especially those who live in bush or village settings.

So, Cynthia and Beatrice followed us. They really were cute. The little one, Beatrice, didn’t have on shoes. The older one, Cynthia, spoke English quite well, but humored me and answered me in Kiswahili when I spoke to her. “Umeenda kanisani?” (You have just gone to church?), I asked. “Ndiyo (yes).” Most girls in rural settings here have their heads shaved. This is often a requirement of the schools they attend. We assume it is to cut down on lice and such. Anyway, I thought Cynthia was a boy because she was dressed in worn-out athletic pants and a t-shirt. Based on her name, though, I figured it out!

We began picking our way down a trail until we came to a stream. This seemed to follow the directions we had, so we crossed it and continued on. We were looking for a waterfall at the end of the hike. I guess we could have just asked the girls to show us the way. But, again, that inner battle was raging and I couldn’t bring myself to ask and thus invite them on the entire journey. We eventually came to a point where we realized that we must have missed a turn or something. We had come upon a main road and there were quite a few people traveling on it and heading our way. Beatrice and Cynthia went to talk to friends and we turned around trying to retrace our steps. Some other children followed us, but they weren’t as friendly as the others and kept on going when we turned onto yet another path.

We finally decided that we were completely wrong and would probably never find the waterfall. We sat down in the grass, careful to not sit on or near any “safari ants” as the boys call them, (they’re really big ants that bite). We pulled out a family devotional book and the Bible and talked/prayed for about 10 minutes. While the idea to do church outside on the hike was nice, I was creeped out by the bugs, Sydney refused to sit on the ground, and Robbie was sure there were leopards and baboons in the forest. We got up and headed back.

We retraced our steps and this time were able to enjoy the view. On the right there was a huge meadow completely framed in by forests and flowers. On the left were scattered huts and animals. Some sheep were grazing by the fence. We were coming up to the cow again. Two boys popped their heads up over the fence and I tried to ask about the cow. “Yes,” they said when I asked if it was their cow. “No,” they said when I asked if they could help it. After a few more random “yes’s” and “no’s” I gave up, walked past the cow and said “pole (sorry).”

We could hear the sounds of a church service somewhere nearby. Joyful music, peoples’ voices raised to their Lord. My heart was feeling a mixture of peacefulness and discontentedness. We definitely feel at home here in Kenya now. We have learned to live here, to work here, to drive here, to cook here, to vacation here. But there is always a feeling of awkwardness, a feeling of being a bit out of place or like an outsider. Always a disconnect in the communication. Always the sense of being on display. But, even as I sit here writing this, I am reminded in my heart that this is how we as Christ-followers will always feel here on this earth. This is not our home, we are simply passing through. We do our work here, as God has given us to do, but we are strangers. Praise God that even in Africa I can feel just at home as I do anywhere, for as long as I am with Him, I am as much at home as I ever will be this side of heaven. May I keep that hope always at the forefront of my mind – in Africa, America, or wherever He leads me.

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