About 10 years ago I was at a leadership conference and one of the speakers talked about the importance of transferring leadership to the next generation. I remember thinking that I was not ready to pass the baton just yet – actually I wasn’t even sure that I even had the baton! It seemed like I had just begun to have a tiny bit of influence and it seemed a little premature to be thinking of sitting on the sidelines.
As I thought about an analogy, I thought of relay races and about the timing for a smooth transition of the baton from one runner to the next. See, the thing is, both runners should be near maximum speed when the baton is transferred. The runner who is going to receive it has begun to run long before the baton reaches their hand and the runner who is passing off has to maintain speed right through the pass.
From the outset (over a year ago) I knew that the “SSU goes to Kenya” team was going to be a great team to travel with – and it was! Granted, everything went as smoothly as it could possibly go – no illness, no accidents, no major adjustments to the schedule, no events that even tested our ability to work together under pressure. But beyond that, this team has been incredible. I have learned with and from them and I have gotten to know them far better than I ever could in the classroom.
As I think back over the varied events and people that we’ve encountered over the last couple of weeks I’m so incredibly thankful for this time of intense learning and pretty idyllic opportunity to live in community. I notice that my emotions have been very close to the surface and at numerous points I’ve struggled to contain tears of appreciation for the baton moments. Moments like:
- Standing in the shade of an open courtyard in Eastleigh – a Somali shanty town in Nairobi – and watching the guys on the team engage in an impromptu soccer game with a bunch of young Somali boys at the school. On the surface, it was just soccer, but for me it was SSU students enjoying an opportunity to communicate across cultures, faiths, and age, to interact with kids who so need positive male role models (I know that probably sounds a bit arrogant and maybe a bit culturally insensitive, but that’s the way I saw it after hearing about the number of single mothers in Eastleigh whose husbands are absent for long periods of time)…
- Sitting in the open veranda of a friend of Tim’s- a guy who is now in his 70s and facing health issues that are making it necessary for him to pass his own baton and return to the U.S.A – who has a deep and profound passion for lions. I had this incredible sense that we had entered into holy space as he talked about the African lions and the impact of urbanization on their territory and as he talked with great humility and respect about the land and the lions. It wasn’t even on our original itinerary – it was one of those serendipitous moments and it was rich on so many levels…
- Singing old gospel hymns out of small hymnals in the teacher’s room with assorted youth volunteers at a school for the physically disabled in Machakos at 6:30am on a Saturday morning as we waited for buses to arrive and take 180 or so disabled kids into Nairobi for a fun day. As it turned out the bus was 3 hours late so we spent most of that time out and about with kids as they waited with amazing patience. But it was another time of pretty raw emotion as I watched the students interact with these kids – talking, singing, laughing. And then, when the buses arrived and the kids – many of them in rickety wheelchairs – were getting loaded onto the buses, a young guy showed up who had already (at about 10 in the morning) been into the moonshine, and watching our guys (and Tim) interact with him, and having that sense that God was there in the midst of it all…
- Sitting on Tim and Diane’s veranda for both random conversations and more structured debriefing sessions and hearing the students process and reflect on the experiences and observations of the day. As we wrestled together with issues of faith and interpretation of Scripture and striving to truly understand the courageous efforts of churches and communities to see development and discipleship as integrated aspects of everyday life, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the privilege of being part of their spiritual formation – and through them, of my own.
I could go on and on. But the point is, throughout the whole journey I was literally bursting with a deep joy (not the right word exactly but as close as I can come) at being part of this kind of collaborative learning community.