Tag Archives: nairobi

(Wishing I Could) Run Like a Kenyan

Kenyan RunKenyans are clearly the best distance runners on the planet. And I am clearly not. But I do love running, and I do love Kenyans, and if flights cooperate as planned I will be in Nairobi trying to figure out a way to go for a run when this update posts on Monday.

When I first visited Kenya two years ago, my friends, Dusty and Cecily, got up early with me one morning to go for a run with Paul, a wonderful young man and ultra-talented runner (pictured above). He took it easy on me, which provided the unforgettable experience of matching a Kenyan runner stride for stride, but when we approached the home stretch on a short run in the tiny village of Kamulu he challenged me to turn up the speed. Unfortunately, my speed was already turned up, so I told him to go for it. He did and left me smiling in the dust.

My wife and I decided on that trip that we would return and targeted two summers down the road. We are fortunate that our plan came to fruition in a church-related trip with six other good friends. So the blog will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks as we spend time in Nairobi and on safari—and if God keeps smiling on me, as I go for another run in this special place.  Stay tuned.

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Refuse to Be Overwhelmed

Jody1

Some days it feels like my wife and I should move to Nairobi to be with the children we met there who live on the hard streets.  On others I consider Delhi where I learned that young girls are vulnerable to sex traffickers.  On still others I remember the poor Brazilians we saw living in the favelas of Rio.  But today, I live in California.

And then some days I drive down L.A.’s “skid row” and wonder how I can live in Malibu instead of with those in absolute squalor just a few miles away.  And then I open my eyes to Malibu and see homeless and un/under-employed friends looking for work at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange.

The needs are simply everywhere.

How does one live in this old world?  I have worked for several causes, from at-risk children to poverty housing to disaster relief to homelessness to day laborers…  

And then I see those heart-wrenching images of Syrian children on television.  And then churches in Egypt are bombed while celebrating Palm Sunday.

The needs are everywhere, and they are overwhelming.

My personal belief system leads to public policy opinions that seems to place me at odds with all presidents, not to mention most of my friends, but it also leads me to devote (some but far) less energy to public policy discussions and more to being with the sufferers.  Knowing names.  Sharing hugs.  Sharing tears.  

But there are so many.

So here is my plan: 

I will not let such overwhelming need harden my heart so that I give up on caring.  I refuse the temptation to apathy.

I will not allow the impossibility of being everywhere at once immobilize me so that I give up on trying.  I refuse the temptation to quit.

And I will encourage others to make similar commitments.  I refuse the temptation to think that it is all up to me.

May the privileged few share with the underprivileged masses.  Everywhere.  Together.  Today.

from international rescue committee

Syrian Refugee Children (via the International Rescue Committee)

 

Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house.  That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner.  It was wonderful.  The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked.  We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.

All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country.  And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.

Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums.  It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.

I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers.  The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all.  They were neighbors after all.  Miraculously, no one was killed.

Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it.  One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.

I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief.  If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly.  Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.

Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence.  Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all.  I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things.  This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.

Jeremiah’s Joy

My daughter, Hillary, is in the middle of a summer photojournalism internship in Kenya and recently published her first blog post and set of photographs.  First off, she didn’t have to show up her dad by out-blogging him on the very first post, but what can you do with these millennials?  And second, her photographs are simply stunning.

With no actual reason, I immediately set out to narrow the 150 pictures to my favorite one.  This proved impossible.  There are several that feature little kiddos that are just too awesome.  Like, for instance…

MITS 3

But my quest continued, and I succeeded in identifying two photographs that go together in my opinion to tell a powerful story.

As its website explains, “[t]he mission of Made in the Streets is rescuing children from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs, loving them fully, equipping them to earn a living and sending them out to a new life.”  It is a beautiful thing to observe firsthand, and what is full of beauty are the children.

Now don’t be mistaken.  This is not some make-believe world where staff members ride in on unicorns and pick up innocent children off puffy clouds and ride off on rainbows while angels sing.  No, it is messy work, and these children have seen and done and had done to them terrible things.  But what is striking when hanging out with these rescued kids are their good hearts in spite of such a painful past.  Their smiles are contagious.  Their basic human dignity is unmistakable.

Which is why I narrowed down my daughter’s works of art to two particular photographs.  The first is of a young man still living on the streets, and I love this particular picture because his smile betrays that good heart although he remains in the frightful streets of Nairobi.

MITS 1

But there is a second picture that in my mind completes the story.  It is Jeremiah, the first student I met on my trip earlier this summer.  Jeremiah is a big boy, close to my height and twenty times stronger.  He could be intimidating, but he is just the opposite—a kind, thoughtful, funny, tender young man.  Jeremiah sits in the front row of his classes and is an eager learner.  He likes to act in drama productions.  He is a good friend to many.

Hillary took a picture of Jeremiah being silly, and I absolutely love it because at one point Jeremiah was that young man in the other photograph, living in abject poverty but with a smile that betrayed his good heart I’m sure.  And the “after” photograph powerfully shows Jeremiah’s joy.

MITS 2

(And, I can’t help but say it given the title of my entire blog, I love that he is looking up.)

Kenya Believe It?

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I woke up in the East African village of Kamulu under a mosquito net listening to a rooster that apparently got something stuck in his throat while learning to yodel; in other words, not in Malibu.  Appropriately, a man named Moses led our team’s exodus from the Nairobi airport the night before, but when the morning light replaced the darkness, I was surprised by my surroundings despite multiple reports from previous church trips, including my own family.  It was simultaneously more primitive and wonderful than I had anticipated.

Why did I travel to Kenya?  It isn’t wrong to say that my wife insisted but probably more accurate to say that I needed to see for myself what had stolen her heart. Well, mission accomplished.

Because so many friends have been to Made in the Streets (“MITS”) before me, it would be silly to recount the same observations, like the yummy-ness of chapati, the joy-filled singing of liberated street children, the endless skies on the Maasai Mara, and the beautiful kids jumping streams of raw sewage in the Mathare Valley slums.  Instead, I’ll just share a few personally unforgettable moments:

  1. Meeting Vincent, an impressive seventeen-year-old young man, covered with mud, living in the mud, high as a kite to stave off hunger and cold and yet still able to carry on an intelligent, respectful conversation. I liked him immediately yet left him in such terrible circumstances with a fist bump and will never see him again in person.  But he will never leave my mind.
  2. A sunrise run through Kamulu on a crisp morning with Paul (pictured above), a MITS graduate who has become a part of our family since my wife practically adopted him, and for a moment, matching him stride for stride while imagining what it is like to “run like a Kenyan”—and then watching him effortlessly leave me in the dust down the home stretch.
  3. Traveling with Jackton and Millie to meet four MITS graduates now working in Nairobi: (i) listening to reggae music and enjoying a vanilla milkshake at the American-themed Java House with George; (ii) eating scrumptious mandazi prepared by Chef Brian in his apartment; and (iii) sharing in an impromptu Bible study with the two Marys. Four glowing successes.
  4. Standing with my wife in the darkness outside our safari tent and looking up at the African sky to discover more stars than I had ever imagined one sky could hold.
  5. Sitting under the ceiling fans at church in Kamulu and listening to rescued street kids sing Amazing Grace, particularly the verse that proclaims: Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come / ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

If I’m honest, I think I went to Kenya to check it off my list.  Instead, it did a number on my heart, too.  Kenya believe it?