I’m home from Kenya (after a billion hours on planes) and all I can think about is: perspective.
Being out of the country during, arguably, one of the most controversial political seasons and inaugurations of our lifetime, really put things in perspective. For the most part, our team was completely oblivious to what was happening back home in the United States. We had very little internet so we only were able to check in periodically and we were largely off social media. Not being entrenched in social media, not having access to American news channels or newspapers, and frankly, just being busy the whole time we were gone, kept our team focused on things outside of American politics.
And honestly? It was such a blessing. As I sat on the plane to come home, I dreaded the thought of going back to that reality. Please hear my heart on this… not because I don’t love our country (I do! Red blooded American right here!), and not because I don’t love my family (because oh MAN did I miss them so much!)… but because being in another country during this particular time in our own country’s history put some things into perspective for me.
While Americans were watching Trump being inaugurated, I watched street boys walk up to our van sniffing glue out of a Sprite bottle to cover the pain of hunger. One street boy, no older than 7 or 8, threw his bottle of glue at our bus, mad that we wouldn’t give him money.
While Americans were fighting over whether or not they loved Trump’s inauguration speech or were totally offended by it, I walked past a baby, no older than Amos, sitting naked and crying in the streets of the slums. The look on this sweet baby’s face was a face of hunger, despair, and so much pain.
While protestors in DC burned trash cans and broke windows of banks and Starbucks, two million Kenyans were facing starvation because of an ongoing severe drought. This is on top of the millions of Kenyans who are already resorting to picking food from the dump in order to eat. In fact, our church and the community didn’t even have any water on Sunday because of town rationing. Yet, they still worshipped and they still praised the Lord.
While men and women were deciding whether or not to march on Saturday, I saw beautiful young girls and women stand on the streets of downtown Thika feeling as if they had no other option but to sell themselves in order to meet basic needs like paying rent and feeding themselves and their families.
While friends and families argued in social media threads over topics where no one can win, our team sat down with mothers who were sacrificing, literally everything just to be able to send their children to school. The Kenyan government issued a mandate that schools need to integrate technology in the classrooms. While, in theory, this sounds great… the fact is, the infrastructure isn’t there yet. Schools in poor and rural areas don’t have electricity, let alone the funds to build a computer lab and provide computers for kids. So, because of this, many schools literally doubled the school fees this year. That is crippling for these families. In some cases, we spoke with mothers who had to pick which one of their children they could afford to send to school because they couldn’t afford to send all of them. These women were taking a gamble on their own babies.
While American parents argue over how long to rear-face or forward-face their kids in a carseat, I watched a Kenyan mother, HOLDING A BABY, riding on the back of a boda boda (a motorcycle taxi). And no, they weren’t wearing helmets. (I realize this particular point isn’t political, but it just goes to show how different our “problems” are that we choose to argue over).
The political climate in Kenya right now is so corrupt and so disruptive, it makes our political climate look like a high school student government election. In 2007, when the current Kenyan president was elected, thousands of people were killed because of so much violence, protesting, and tribal backlash. Kenyans fear greatly that the same thing will happen during the election in August of this year. We would see and hear cars driving down the streets with loudspeakers attached to them, the driver literally yelling out political propaganda, putting an ever increasing amount of fear and anxiety in people.
There is so much darkness, so much spiritual warfare, so many challenges, and so much pain in Kenya. It is truly heartbreaking. But, in direct contrast, Kenya is also more beautiful than I can even begin to explain. Between the natural landscape, the incredible animals, and some of the most joyful, gifted, and humble men, women, and children you will ever meet… Kenya is filled with so much beauty. So much beauty.
There are people there who are truly doing some of the most amazing work for the Kingdom of God. We have a church family there with a staff that is humble, selfless, and on the ground fighting every day for the good and for the least of these in their communities.
I’m not saying our country doesn’t have problems. It does. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the tough, important conversations about our political landscape. We should. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be active or engaged in our communities and our political system. We absolutely need to be.
What I am saying is, we could all use a little perspective. We could all afford to show a lot more grace to one another. We all need to stop bickering and fighting and come together as communities, cities, counties, states, and a country and work together to make change happen. Change isn’t going to come from the White House. Change is going to come from you and I doing the hard work in our own backyards. It’s getting off of Facebook and getting outside and doing something about the change we want to see. It’s asking our neighbors how we can help. It’s simple acts of kindness. It’s sitting down with one another and getting to know someone who is different from us. It’s having respectful conversations and learning from others who share a different point of view. It’s picking up the metaphorical shovel and getting to work.
It’s not going to happen overnight, that’s for sure. But we can start now.