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Unexpected Generosity in the Kenyan Bush

By Amanda M.

It’s probably good that none of us knew what to expect when we tied up our mosquito nets and rolled up our grass mats that morning. Benson, our coordinator and the Turkana version of the apostle Paul, had been promising our REACH team in general and me specifically that he would take us out to one of “his” villages during our stay in Lodwar. Essentially, all of the North of Kenya is the desert and the bush, but I had been looking forward to a trip sometime out to what I affectionately call the “bush-y bush.” My love for adventure had had me yearning to accompany Benson on one of his nomadic pastoring treks ever since I met him four years ago on my first REACH team. I envisioned walking next to the Desert Boy across an endless expanse of desert kilometers, him hanging onto his indispensable walking stick and me hanging onto his infinite and embellished stories. We were finally taking a weekend trip! Yet today turned out to be not exactly what I had been envisioning.

For one, I had obviously been envisioning Benson being with us. Even though through many learning experiences I had become aware that holding expectations was dangerous, I still couldn’t believe it when he told us that he was just going to drop us off with two men from church at the home of a friend. Reality sunk in when his tan pick-up truck disappeared from view. Food, water, phone service, and transportation were all in pretty short supply in Kerio, and here we were basically until Benson decided to drive back over the non-road to come and get us.

This was our first morning, and all we knew is that Calystus and Francis were going to guide us to the even more remote village of Nadoto. Our predicted schedule of events involved leaving at 8:00, walking for six hours, and arriving by noon. In reality, it only took us two and a half hours to reach the pastor’s house, having amused ourselves during the trek by learning Turkana songs, asking each other questions about favorite foods, and looking at sand. We all welcomed the chance to rest afforded by the pastor welcoming us into his tiny mud hut, unbeknownst to us that we’d be sitting or sprawled there on the grass mats for several hours, waiting.

I like walking, but the mental energy it takes for me to be a team leader and sit and do nothing with absolutely no way to anticipate what’s coming next is a lot more tiring. I also knew that we “planned” to leave by 2:00 so as to get back to Kerio in decent time so we could prepare supper before dark, and then being given chai at 3:00 and still not having gone to church yet (the point of our coming) grated on my organized Western mindset. Not to mention we were all sweating to death, tired of the rumble in our stomachs, thirsty, and not necessarily looking fondly at the return 10-15 mile trek. Our attitudes were neither helpful nor commendable.

“And then everything changed for me. Maybe not suddenly, but God starting speaking to me, and that always changes things”
And then everything changed for me. Maybe not suddenly, but God starting speaking to me, and that always changes things. The pastor showed us the way to the church, which turned out to be a tree. A wobbly bench or two showed up out of nowhere, as did the few people who started congregating around us on the sand. By the time we started to sing, about fifteen very traditionally dressed women of indiscernible ages with a medley of semi-clothed children heartily joined their sincere voices to the chorus. We started a few English songs, they started a few Turkana, and we worshiped together; the God who made us all understood us all. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude that this awkward bunch of exhausted Americans in hiking sandals and t-shirts and this life-worn group of sandy Turkanas in bare feet and layers of necklaces were truly members of one family. I don’t think our lives could have been more contrasting, but the one thing we had in common was One who superseded all of the insignificant dissimilarities. Wow. Francis translated as I “gave a word” on the same idea of us being a family together, still overwhelmed by the depth of what could sound cheesy but in reality just makes me stop in amazement. Soon the meeting was over and we were leaving, but I felt like the women and I were somehow true friends.

Back at the pastor’s hut, we glanced at the sun’s downward trajectory and waited some more. Eventually, the pastor’s wife brought us one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten in my life. While we had been lounging in the shade of the house for hours, she had been out literally toiling away to prepare truly her very best for her honored guests that she hadn’t even known were coming. I’m sure she had already been up and working for hours before we got there, what with several young children to feed, but behind the scenes she began focusing on us right away. The river was several kilometers away, yet she never said a word of complaint as she had to lug a 20-liter container on her head back and forth so that she could cook and we would have water.

There was not a hint of a begrudging spirit as she liberally poured water to wash our hands and watched us guzzle her hard work on the spot. The chai she prepared was not only a labor-intensive process of fetching water and getting the charcoal “stove” ready, but it was milky and sweet, which I’m sure were resources more hard to get in the depth of the desert than we can understand. Apparently while we were still lounging around, she and her husband had butchered one of their most prized possessions, a rare and previously healthy rooster. The meat had been stewing in the most savory broth for hours; I’m sure the children could barely stand the tantalizing aroma escaping from the pot. As if this weren’t enough generosity, she also prepared chapati, a tedious tortilla-style bread. When she handed each of us our chipped-paint tin plate of steaming food, she was truly handing us her very best. The broth-soaked chapati strips and few chunks of bone-in meat and fat did actually taste wonderful, not just because we were quite hungry by then, but that’s not what made the meal unforgettably delicious.

“I’ve never had a more memorable meal because I’ve never been so humbled by being so honored”
I’ve never had a more memorable meal because I’ve never been so humbled by being so honored. I will never forget Rebecca, and I will never forget the way she prayed over the meal and lived out Jesus. No wonder Jesus was so touched by the widow’s two coins, because ridiculous and excessive selflessness proves real love. It was incredibly hard to sit there and eat what I knew took all day and more energy than I understand to prepare, to see the children peering in through the doorway when they’ve probably never eaten such a feast and I can’t give them any, to know this family gave not out of their excess but out of their blatant lack.

I’m not sure you can get much more out in the middle of nowhere than the village of Nadoto. Their theological training and religious knowledge come from a few meetings by a traveling pastor under a tree. Their clothes are scraps, their skin is weathered and dirty, their bodies are thin and worn. But they have Jesus. Their relationship with Him is obvious as joy and generosity are as natural to them as thirst and 115° days. As we said goodbye and walked the hours back to Kerio, my stomach still wasn’t necessarily satiated but my heart was overflowing. I have never felt so full in all my life. The white light of the moon lit our last few kilometers as I walked in silence, thanking my Father for generosity so genuine that it hurts. This is how He calls us to live, and I’ll always be grateful for the woman that exemplified this for me in the middle of the Kenyan desert.

Amanda lives with her husband Brian in Hutchinson, Kansas, where the sun and dust are pleasant reminders of the desert. She still loves speaking Swahili, walking in her Chacos, and drinking chai. As part of her attempt to stay connected with her family in Kenya, Amanda is selling handbags sewn by the women of the internal refugee congregation she and her team became a part of during their REACH experience. For more information, visit sharetheloadkenya.blogspot.com.