Canadian Baptist Ministries Archives - St. Stephen's University

Part II: Passing the Baton

By 2011 - Kenya No Comments

Right now, the team is thinking of all the tasks that are before us when we get home – picking up life and all of its responsibilities, challenges and opportunities.  But I just want to say thanks.  Thanks to Tim and Diane for sharing their home and their lives with us.  Thanks to the students for entering into this loosely defined course with such openness, honesty and vulnerability.  Thanks to the hundreds of people we met – mostly Kenyans – who likely will never have the opportunity to get on a plane and come to Canada, but who nonetheless welcomed us and allowed us to peer into their lives and ask probing questions.  Thanks to Dale for moving well out of his comfort zone to travel across the world with us, to also be a vital part of our learning community.  Thanks to SSU – the faculty and staff – for being open to entertain a trip like this at a time like this.  Thanks to Shelley K. for your practical support and your encouragement along the way.  Thanks to the broad and wonderful SSU community who supported this trip in so many important ways – you guys are great!  And finally, thanks to Kindred Home Care for your generous support of the team, not just financially but for understanding how important a venture like this is for the SSU community.  Thank you for your vision and your generosity!

Most of all, thanks to Geoff, Kyle, Laura, Jonathan, Crystal, Margaret and Nicola.  Thanks for being who you are.  Thanks for your willingness to be stretched and to stretch one another.  Thanks for your sense of adventure.  Thanks for just being so incredibly easy to get along with!  And thanks for helping me learn.

It always remains to be seen how participants in cross cultural learning will incorporate the lessons learned while they’re “away” but I am absolutely confident that the past two weeks has only been the beginning of the impact that this trip will have on each of us and on all of us.   I’ve had a lot of “Kingdom of God” moments these last few weeks and it’s been a huge privilege to be holding the baton with you.  Enough said!

Thanks be to God, the alpha and omega, beginning and end; and to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith;, and to the Spirit, our counsellor and teacher.

Lois Mitchell

Part 1: Baton Moments

By 2011 - Kenya No Comments

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:

  1. 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)…
  2. 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…
  3. 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…
  4. 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.

Lois Mitchell

Learning from Africa

By 2011 - Kenya One Comment

We wake up at five a.m., stumbling through breakfast and into the vehicles, some of us more conscious than others.  Without really knowing what we were in for, we travel silently to a school to “help put the kids in buses for their day in Nairobi”.  It seems like a nuisance to be doing this on what could have been our only day off, but we’ve already committed to it.  We arrive and are immediately ushered into a room designated for teachers.  As there is nothing else to do while we wait, we pick up the hymnals in front of us, singing songs that most of us haven’t heard since our early childhood.  And then, one by one we wander off, distracted and unable to wait any further.

Kids are congregated in small groups on either side of the path that I walk; some stare at me and giggle when I smile and wave, others hide further behind another’s head.  I stop once I reach two people who are positioned next to the wall.  They introduce themselves as Daniel and Naomi, standard seven students (grade seven).  Daniel talks vibrantly of his school and what life is like for him.  He tells me his favorite subject is science and his favorite colour is blue.

Naomi, with her bright eyes and shy smile, seems to be flattered that I am talking to her.  She teaches Crystal and I a song and laughs when we look at each other in confusion.  In hopes that it will help us learn quicker, I ask Naomi to write down the words.  She takes the pen that she is handed and struggles to control her grip, fumbling with this absent-minded request that I directed at her.  I notice now, for the first time, that her hands are deformed.  Then, also for the first time, I began to really absorb the appearances of the students gathered around me, looking beyond their faces and into their circumstance.  Tattered uniforms are commonplace in the schools we’ve visited so they only add to the façade of the ‘Masaku School for the Physically Disabled’ .  What really hits me though are the wheel-chairs missing tires and the crutches that are covered in tattered rags in an attempt to provide cushioning for the armpits.  Dorms have 50 beds and only one supervisor; classrooms have little room for walking let alone wheeling.

My heart is heavy as I realize what we’ve been told about physical handicaps being seen as a curse on families in Kenya.  Many of the kids here have been sent away by mothers and fathers who are ashamed of their presence; others have been abandoned for good.  What will the future look like for Daniel once he leaves this school and enters into Kenyan society?  How will quiet, beautiful Naomi deal with the social stigma’s attached to her disabilities?

The heaviness of my heart is countered by the joy and love in the air.  Though each kid has a disability of some sort, they do not hesitate in helping one another out.  The general mood seems to hover someplace between joy and contentment.  Naomi tells me that she loves her family there; “it doesn’t matter how broken your body is, able and unable work together like brother and sister”.

There are many things that Kenyan society can improve upon, but I cannot help but notice that there is also so much that the West can learn from Africa.  I am impressed by the companionship displayed in (what seems to me) a difficult situation.  Where one could easily succumb to hardships, these children find only joy in servant-heartedness.  And though my heart seems to weigh twice as much as normal when I think about the broken world that they’ll soon be thrust into, I am lost in the joy that I’ve found in various smiles and the soft but clear melody of Naomi’s voice.

We finally figure out the lyrics of the song and sing it loudly in our large group.  Ananipenda ni wauazima wa milele.  I am told this means ‘Jesus loves me forever’.


For the Children

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Jonathan with children at Musoko School

Saturday we visited the Musoko School for Handicapped Children in Muchakos approximately 30 minutes southeast of where we’re staying at Tim Bannister’s.  We went there with the plan to simply show up and help get a couple hundred handicapped kids on buses by which they would be taken to Nairobi for a fun day.  We have developed a simply acronym since arriving here to explain away the unexpected, TIA – this is Africa.  So we had a TIA moment when we arrived on time and the buses weren’t there.  What we thought at first was merely a delay became a three hour long opportunity to interact with some of the most beautiful children on the planet.  At first we were just amazed at their smiles and playfulness, begging us to take pictures of them and then show us on the viewer how they looked on camera.  Groups of them surrounded us and we engaged them asking their names, giving our own, etc.
Being an introvert, I started looking for the small groups, the loners and tried to engage them in conversation.  I met a young man, who had a huge flashy belt buckle that said Akon all over it.  He was SO excited to talk favourite bands with me and quickly told me how much he loves Kanye and Akon and asked if I liked them too.  I couldn’t say no to him, so we talked about bands for a bit.  While we spoke, a young girl standing nearby listening to our conversation would help me understand him when his english was a little foggy for me.  A little while later I bumped into her again elsewhere and came to know the sweetest 14-year old girl (besides my own daughter!).  Her name is Rhoda.  When she was 7, her right leg was “sick” and it was removed.  She helped me work out the kinks on a song we were learning with the kids and taught me the second verse.  Her patience, sweetness and smile were breathtaking amidst the conditions I observed and the many disabilities all around us.  Later on, when the buses did come, I told her I would help her on the bus and her laughter surprised me.  I followed her around to the bus entrance and she was up those stairs  with a hop, skip and a jump before I could offer my arm to her.  I was able to help her wheel-chair bound friend into the seat next to her and their smiles were all the thanks I needed.
Seeing Rhoda and these kids has begun to change my thinking from a posture of we really have no place here as white people, to maybe we can help in small ways.  We can’t fix all the problems that plague people here but God is here, that is clear.
Thanks everyone for your support.  What we’re seeing and experiencing here is changing our lives.  May God bless you.
Jonathan Higgins


By 2011 - Kenya No Comments

We have been in Kenya for about 5 days now and it is absolutely amazing. We spent the first few days of our time here at Heart House in Nairobi and have now been on a game reserve on the outskirts of Nairobi for about two days. We are staying at Tim Banister’s house, an CBM employee, and will be spending the remainder of our time here. The reserve (also known as the ranch) is absolutely gorgeous with open Savannah as far as the eye can see; Zebras, Giraffe, Wildebeests, Gazelles, Ostriches, and a number of other animals are a regular sight running across our front lawn.

This morning at about 4 am I briefly woke to see the most magnificent stars I have ever seen before, complimented by the sounds of crickets, Wildebeests, and Zebras, and a soft warm breeze that whistled through the tree outside of our tent. I fell back to sleep at peace only to wake a couple of hours later to Watson, Tim’s trusty Collie, licking my face, a plot that I’m sure was set in motion by Geoff and Jonathan in an attempt to wake me up.

As the sun rose on the horizon, illuminating the far off Mount Kilimanjaro, Jonathan, Nicola and I rose to the opportunity to go for a morning run: It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. You almost forgot you were running as you took in the beauty all around you. The Beauty of this land and its people has been one of the most meaningful parts of my time here… I actually just about came to tears this morning as I prayed for breakfast thanking God for the opportunity to experience this place and to simply be in awe of His creation. And as if this isn’t enough I have had the opportunity to learn so much from Tim, our host, and the many projects he has introduced us to. I love this place and I will be sad to leave it when the time comes.

Thank you all again for your support in making this trip possible for myself and the rest of the team. We feel truly blessed on a daily basis as we continue to learn and expand our understanding of development as it applies to African communities on a grass-roots level.

this grateful pilgrim

By 2011 - Kenya One Comment
I was struck with gratitude tonight. Like, really struck. Surprised, even, by the… powerful swelling of honour and gratitude.  I sat amongst friends and teachers at a long bamboo table, and realized, that by the end of my time at University, SSU will have brought me to three different continents, and countless countries within those continents (not counting Borneo and the Philippines (are they their own continents? I should know this).

As I snuck some downtime at the Bangor Airport (Bangor – Detroit – Amsterdam – Nairobi), a janitor came by to dust the pay phone booths I sat near, commenting on Geoff’s charger in the wall outlet; he said, “It’s amazing what people leave behind; they’re rushed, in their flights, you know…” He went on to describe what kind of significant gadgets he’s found plugged in to the wall, while I thought about the events of that morning: being surrounded by my SSU family as I and the ‘Kenya team’ were poured on with prayer and hugged soundly by dozens of friends and mentors (it’s phenomenal how many mentors one tends to collect here). I thought about who I had left behind for two weeks, and how supportive they have been in our pursuit to come here.

A haiku (thank-you, Agnes), I wrote while catching more downtime in the Amsterdam airport… that’s doesn’t comply to haiku rules (…sorry, Agnes).

bright orange corner couch / a home in between two / continents not my own

As I chilled out on the retro corner couch reflecting on our recent walk through the red-light district of down-town Amsterdam, an Italian masseur walks up to me and asks me 1) why I’m taking pictures of my feet (because I think feet pictures are cool), 2) what I’m doing in Amsterdam, and 3) if I think I’de like a book that he’d like to give me. He disappears and comes back with an anthropological look at the English called ‘Native Land’: what makes the English, English, by Nigel… someone-or-other. That’s the thing about travelling; as I study and experience other cultures, I realize more and more about what makes me me, what I’ve been taught, and whether I still want to do things how I’ve been taught… etc. Travelling has made me incredibly aware of myself and my culture. I prepared myself, again, to recognize even more about myself and my home culture while experiencing an other’s. I prepared myself for my second of three continent-hopping study-adventures with SSU, ready and excited to embark on the next two weeks with our team of nine, in and around Nairobi, Kenya.

Since we arrived yesterday morning, we’ve learned about rehabilitating orphaned baby African elephants and illegal poaching in Kenya while watching them play in the mud and drink milk out of over-sized baby bottles (our semi-touristy activity but still very relevant intro to Kenya ‘on the way’ to our accommodations), aaaaaand visited a community centre at the heart of the Eastleigh slum in Nairobi.

learning about water purifying initiatives in Eastleigh

childen at the Eastleigh slum community centre sing in swahili and english

How can I possible describe this experience of visiting Eastleigh? My journal entry today was all questions. All questions, complimented by profiles of the people I had seen or met today. How can I possible pretend that I know something for certain, to write comments and facts, about a place and circumstances that are anything but certain and factual? Eastleigh… as I understand, is almost entirely composed of refugees – in only my short time at the community centre (a partner with Canadian Baptist Ministries [CBM, the organization we came with]), I had met young men and women from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Congo. Among them, a veiled 18 year-old woman named Saada* who had travelled from central Ethiopia four months ago, and a man named Joseph* from Congo who had migrated to Kenya and was learned how to be a mechanic at the community centre to support his family. We met Alice*, too, who has, through the catering vocational program at the community centre, helped about forty young refugees a year to achieve careers in hotels as caterers or start businesses. What an achievement!

In addition to two full pages of questions, I have gratitude, writing,

“Going with a team I’m comfortable with is so important… or rather, is so beneficial, because all I learn is challenged and stretched and multiplied by conversations, questions, and discussion with the group – both peers and leaders; it’s completely different than travelling by myself. So valuable! Sitting around the bamboo table at our guesthouse-that-feels-like-home, Margaret is talking about development literature, and I realize – that we are educated. We are learned, and we are learning. I am grateful. When I lived in Thailand by myself after the Asia trip with SSU, I attempted to dialogue through blogging, pleading with people to dialogue with me about what I was learning. Now, we have spent evenings around the dinner table, hours, sharing and learning and being challenged, in blessed dialogue.”

The last line written in my journal today, regarding something someone said tonight, reads, ‘how can we live that out?’ At SSU we’re constantly challenged to ‘live it out’. Perhaps thats what drives our volunteer initiatives, ‘material history’ or ‘creative writing’ courses, and travelling as pilgrims all over the world. It’s not perfect; anyone who has ever travelled in community knows that… but often, the blemishes accentuate the beauty. And we, like our friends we met today in Eastleigh, can dare to call ourselves beautiful.

^^Thank-you again to everyone who supported our time in Kenya. Today I was especially thankful to the generosity of the SSU community: to mention only a few- Katie Avery, who donated her hard-earned knitting money; Angela Broda who sold fudge for us (as well as so many other apron-wearing student wonders), Karis, Jess, Grace, Moriah, and others who donated their stunning artwork to sell, my own family, Shannon-May who donated a photo-shoot, Kindred Home Care who donated so generously… the list is actually limitless. Thank-you all so much! We are so grateful!^^

I think I was caught off guard by the Bangor janitor’s words; have I left people behind in pursuit of adventure; do I leave people behind in a rushed flight from normal? Um, I don’t think so. After all, if only 20% of the world lives like we do, it can hardly be called ‘normal’. Good thing we travel in community to discuss things like this ; ).

*I used their real names. Real people deserve real names.

– Nicola

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