Reflections on Kenya Mission 2015 by Brenda Ross

This Sunday I want to share during the sermon time about the Kenya Mission – past, present, and future. I hope to share video pictures as well as share from my heart. Because it will be impossible to share everything in one service, I am offering people the chance to read Brenda’s reflections from our 2015 mission trip. Allow yourselves to be transported to Kenya as you ponder on these reflections.-Pastor Phil

Reflections on Kenya Mission 2015 by Brenda Ross

Phil asked me to convey some of my impressions and experiences of our recent trip to Kenya and especially our work in the village of Gaitu.  First of all, I’ve decided that aging definitely makes a difference on international travel.   Physically it was tough….long plane rides, eating different foods that sometimes have some very adverse effects, and jet lag.  But even with all the difficulties, the blessings we received were worth it.

Upon arrival we were able to spend a few days in Nairobi.  Our friend Solomon volunteered to be our driver and host.  Phil wanted me to see and do things he had done in his two prior visits.  We visited the National Museum and learned about the country’s history, as well as its present.  Our safari through the National Park allowed us to see animals up close in their natural environment…AMAZING!   Ask Phil about our encounter with the water buffalo…lol.

We worshipped with a congregation of over 600, with Phil preaching at the English service at the Ruaraka Methodist Church. During worship services it’s not unusual for the toddlers to wander throughout the sanctuary.  One little guy stopped in front of Phil, then reached up his arms to be picked up.  He ran his hand through Phil’s beard, mesmerized by the look and feel of it.  Then satisfied, he hopped down and went on his way.

I visited with some of the children in their Sunday school classes, where a 3-year-old girl kept staring at my lipstick.
She reached up and ran her finger over my lips…then I rubbed her finger over her lip to put the lipstick on her.  She did this several times, totally fascinated.  One little guy was sobbing because his dad had dropped him off for class.  I pulled him onto my lap and did the “ride a little horsey” a few times with him, till he was giggling and forgot about being afraid.

One thing that was difficult for us to get used to was “Kenya time”…as the people refer to their attitude to keeping a
schedule.  A meeting or worship time may actually start an hour or more later than the stated time. If you know Phil and his theory that “on time” actually means getting somewhere 30 minutes early, this was tough.   But we had to learn to adjust.

Okay, a quick list of impressions…

•People driving not only on the left side of the road, but steering wheels on the right side of the vehicle!  Frequent roundabouts…all reflective of the British influence

• huge traffic bumps every few minutes along the streets and  highways; drivers who create four driving lanes out of two actual lanes (otherwise known as a heart attack waiting to happen; potholes that can swallow a Volkswagen

• trash fires everywhere

• donkeys and oxen-pulled carts…livestock grazing freely along streets

• pedestrians  (many people walk miles which is the only affordable transportation for them

•motorcycles everywhere (a cheap transportation…they are used as taxis and for hauling…carrying as many as 4 people and even a dresser)

•there are 42 tribes in Kenya, each with their own native language; Swahili is the national language; English is taught in all schools.

• Several people have asked about food we ate.   Here goes:

Fresh fruit (pineapple and watermelon were my favorites, and all are grown year round… even tried watermelon juice …not so great), papaya, pawpaw, arrow root, casaba (a tree root), mangos and bananas were abundant, and a melon that was like our honeydew.

Vegetable gardens are also grown year round…maize ( field corn) is a staple for them,; potatoes (roasted or boiled and combined with other veggies and mashed together and served at almost all meals; when I found out they also add diced intestines to it … well, that was the end of mashed potatoes for me!); their peas are green peas that grow on tall plants that have beautiful red blooms and produce tough peas; they grow a lot of the same vegetables we do, though I couldn’t find celery.

Meats were actually the most difficult for us.   It’s home-raised, usually boiled with bones and skin included, tougher than we’re used to.   They refer to the breast meat of the chicken as chest meat.  One day a woman came by the house in Gaitu and presented Phil with a live rooster, with legs bound.  He thanked her and asked what he should do
with it.  She pointed to me and said “She will cook it for you.”   I said, “I don’t think so!”  So Eric, the caretaker of the
house, took it outside.  Later I learned that the rooster was boiling in a pot in the kitchen.   It broke my heart…I thought he had taken it outside to run free and enjoy life.

Tea:  No iced tea here!  It’s hot tea, usually served with lots of milk in it.  In fact, all of their liquids are served hot or room temperature. They thought we were strange that we drank cold things, and you should have heard them when they saw Phil crunching his ice cubes.


Showers: After taking cold showers the first two mornings, we learned that their faucets work differently than ours. You have to flip a switch to turn on the water heater, then barely turn on the handle to get warm water.  Also one evening Phil yelled for Eric to help him catch a baby squirrel that was in the bathroom (Eric fed it to his cat…poor thing)….and another day we tried to catch a 3-inch cockroach in the shower (it escaped).

Weather:   This is summer for them, with temperatures in the 90’s, dry, dusty. But being a warm weather person it was really nice. Of course, there were lots of mosquitos!   There was always a strong breeze which helped cool things and keep some mosquitos at bay. Thank goodness for mosquito nets over the beds. The last couple of days were the worst days for those buggers…I came back with several itchy bites, but the malaria pills I continue to take for a couple of weeks will prevent any problems.

Markets:  Everywhere!  Along the highways and main thoroughfares….crudely built lean-tos or simply a cloth or plastic laid on the ground, in any available space, right up to the roads, selling fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, as well as clothes and household items.

Modern vs primitive:  Nairobi was a combination of modern buildings, lots of new construction (much funded by the Chinese) vs slums, resulting from people who can’t afford proper housing or from the extremely high rate of unemployment (40%), and modest homes vs homes of the privileged.

Money:  Shillings are the national currency. We had to exchange our US dollars for them, usually at a rate of 91.2
schillings for our dollar. We could use a credit card there, although we got a better rate using their currency.

Christianity: Over 82% of the country are Christians and that number continues to grow. Worship is lively and joyful. When someone introduces themselves, they follow their name by saying “I’m a born again Christian” or “I’m redeemed” or similar declaration.

The most rewarding part of our trip was our work at the boarding school in Gaitu.  Phil has been providing assistance to them since his first visit there with Professor Timothy Kiogora of Eastern Kentucky University.  Timothy grew up in this village and dreamed of making it better for the people.   His plan was to retire there one day, but
passed away a couple of years ago.   We stayed in his home while we were there.  The first day we walked to the school we could hear the children clapping and chanting “Welcome, Pastor Phil…welcome Brenda Ross (pronounced Ruse).”  All 315 children, along with teachers and staff lined both sides of the entryway and fell in behind us, still chanting, as we walked down the pathway inside the compound. I couldn’t keep the tears back. And everywhere we went there in subsequent days, it was as if we were the Pied Pipers, with children gathering around us, wanting to touch, shake hands,   and just be near us. Throughout the week as Phil met with school and church officials regarding continuing work, I got to play with the children. I had brought along puppets to use with each class…3-year-olds through 8th grade (they refer to grade level as “standard”). “Hugs & Kisses” Elmo was fun, even for the big ones…they all wanted Elmo to hug and kiss them. The puppets were all left behind for them, except for my “Rocky Squirrel” puppet that is so realistic that they were scared to death when I made it move. One girl screamed and jumped back so much that she knocked her seat partner in the floor. But they all got a chance to actually work the puppet which helped them realize it was okay. Rocky was by far their favorite.     Eric went to assist me 3 days, teaching the 4th through 8th graders to make paper airplanes and have contests to see whose design worked best. The students were curious about our lifestyles in the US and asked lots of good questions. To help them with research we are working on arranging internet access to use with the computers. We were able to buy ten more computers, bringing the total to 32. These are used by the students as well as adults in the afternoon who are seeking to receive certification.

Aside from providing computers, other projects that have been completed or are still ongoing are:

Installation of showers for student dormitories; installation of flush toilets and laundry area (students have to do their own laundry by hand); hand-hewn paving stones placed on dirt walkways; providing clean drinking water for school and community use; providing water storage tanks; labor costs for completion of dining facility (students currently eat outside or in classrooms); and 14 student sponsorships for those in the community who cannot afford to attend school).

On Friday at the school there was a prize award celebration, where academic excellence was recognized and awards given to students. Families and dignitaries were present and everyone was served lunch.  A part of the day was also an appreciation to us for our support of the school. WHAT A PARTY! A group of dancers dressed in native costuming led us in, dancing and singing in their native language a traditional chant. One guy would frequently
let out this bloodcurdling scream that about caused me to have a stroke!  They then presented us with our own native costume, along with spear, sword, and club, headdress of ostrich feathers, skirt made of cow hide & hair and grass. They also gave me my Kenyan name “Cio Marete” (pronounced Show), meaning “Wife of Marete”….Marete was the name given to Phil on his first visit. Then each grade level sang and danced for us (we got to dance with them too). Following this came lots of speeches given by various dignitaries of the local and state government and universities. The whole thing lasted over 3 hours! That’s not at all unusual, as all their get-togethers last a REALLY LONG time.

On Sunday Phil preached at both the English and the Kimiiru (local language… had an interpreter for that one) services. The last service lasted about 3 hours, with lots of singing and dancing prior to the sermon. I was so glad I got to experience the tradition of how the offering is done in Kenya. Baskets or other containers are placed at the front of the church. Worshippers come forward and place their closed hands into the basket and release their offering…no one can tell what the person has placed in it.  Even those who have no money can offer themselves as their gift.  After all have come forward, items such as fruits, vegetables, milk, etc. are brought to the front of the church.  These have been given by people who have no money but have given what they have. These items are auctioned off and the monies put in the baskets. One item in particular remains in my mind….a single brown egg. What a simple gift, but I think our Lord was most especially pleased by that precious offering.  It made the schillings I had given seem small in comparison.

Before we knew it, it was time to board the plane for our return flight. Two weeks isn’t nearly enough time to see and do all we wanted. But responsibilities awaited back home.  We don’t know if we’ll get to go back one day, but we are committed to continue the work there in some capacity. Phil and I have learned that traveling and working in foreign countries not only broadens our understanding of other cultures, but it connects our hearts to others in ways that can’t be done any other way.

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