Spirit Alive: Lessons from Kenya-- When the Spirit Crosses the Threshold of Our World
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
August 7, 2018
With Heart, Soul, and Mind:
Connect Relationally...Celebrate Life...and Respond to Daily Difficulties with a Sense of Calm and Grace
In July, I spent three weeks in Kenya as a part of a Volunteers in Mission team. It was a remarkable, grace-filled time.
In the recently released World Happiness Index rating, the United States rated #18 in 2018, down four slots. And as US News and World Report notes: "The US, it appears, is getting richer, but not happier." It also appears that countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia have something to teach us about overall happiness. Check here to learn more about the World Happiness Report.
Kenya ranks much lower than the United States in terms of the World Happiness Index, ranking at #124 out of 158 nations. In fact, African countries generally rank near the bottom of the scale, which might also indicate something about the cultural bias involved in what determines true happiness, but that's another story in itself. However, if you are interested in thinking about this matter further, there is an fascinating analysis of this that you can pursue further by clicking here to see what someone else has to say about the nature of happiness as a whole. It is an interesting read.
But back to my main point...after spending three short weeks Kenya, I am convinced that we have a lot to learn about spiritual well-being, community life, connectionalism, and yes, even "happiness" from our Kenyan brothers and sisters.
Here are three lessons I learned about connectionalism while I was in Kenya:
1. It is Critical to Connect Personally and Develop Relationships with Others
Time and time again, I was deeply moved by how the Kenyan people...both young and old...went out of their way to connect with our group in personal ways.
site to get our instructions from the construction site leader. When we returned, our backpacks were all hanging on a wall, where nails had been freshly put up so that our personal belongings would be off the ground. It wasn't a big deal, just a simple gesture that made us feel welcomed and included.
And there was Sarah as well, at the Kingdom Builder's orphanage in Nyandarua, who connected the very first day by teaching me how to use sign language for the expression "Have a good night." She too wanted to communicate across our language and cultural differences in order to make a connection.
2. Celebrating Life Builds an Amazing Sense of Community Among People
The Kenyans also taught me a great deal about how to celebrate life.
But then on another occasion we went to Freda's house, a woman who owns a small shop near our hotel, in order for her to show us the progress she had made on building it. It was located in a hilly area on the outskirts of Maua. It was a simple place for her to live with her family of three generations, but it was also clearly "holy ground." And as her family gathered for the blessing from a local pastor, we all sang the hymn Holy Ground as a way of commemorating the day. And...it was a very special time.
3. How We Respond to Daily Difficulties Makes a Great Deal of Difference to Our Collective Happiness
Finally, I found the Kenyan ability to overcome the daily difficulties of life something that helped me re-frame my own sense of things. Whether it was in their ability to navigate the horrendous traffic...and constant near misses while driving...without expressing any sense of "road rage," or their willingness to look for alternatives to the simple challenges of going to a well in the rural community to find water, or finding a solution to a workplace problem, or walking by foot for miles in order to get to a medical clinic...it was clear that we have much to learn from the Kenyans about patience, perseverance, and problem solving.
While I was in Kenya, these three lists of characteristics continued to grow. And as time passed, I found myself simply being moved by the accumulation of kindness, generosity, determination, and grace. It made me think about Mother Teresa's famous statement: "We don't do great things. We do small things with great love." I want to be part of a world in which those around me want to live in such a way.
But when all was said and done, each of us received back so much more spiritually than we were able to give materially. And this is what made this experience such a powerful reminder of what the church is called to be.
Are there problems in Kenya? Absolutely. There are too many people dependent on growing the drug miraa to sustain themselves economically. Many of the roads are the worst I've ever seen...or ridden on! And yes...Kenya is rated 124th on the World Happiness Inventory.
But there is much more to observe and receive from this place as well.
Mind you, life is complex, and it is easy to make generalizations, but it is also true that when people connect personally and develop relationships with each other, when life is celebrated and cynicism gives way to hope, and when anger and fear are replaced by kindness and understanding.... life is enriched and we become better as a community. These are among the memories of my time in Kenya, which leads me to conclude with some simple questions for you to ponder:
- Are you taking time to cultivate relationships with those around you? What simple steps can you take to connect more deeply with others?
- Are you finding ways to celebrate life? What is worthy of a simple "thank you" or a "praise God" from the past week?
- Are you able to let go of little slights and grudges...and even the temptations of "road rage"? How do you move from frustration to perseverance?
I wish you well in these ventures....Your responses may not increase your material well-being or even improve our nation's overall "happiness" ranking, but I guarantee you that how you respond to these questions will change your sense of spiritual well-being and bring a greater sense of inner peace to your life.
Note: For more information and photos of our 2018 Volunteers in Mission trip to Kenya in July click here.
Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.