“Each day is a journey
and the journey itself home,” the poet Matsuo Basho wrote more than three
hundred years ago.
In 2006 a journey unfolded itself before me, a journey for
which I was not prepared. How does a person prepare to lose everything knowable
and enter into–or in my case be violently thrust into– the mystery of a place
I would come to fondly call “home”, otherwise known as Africa?
Here’s how it happened
Inch by inch.
Widow by widow.
Orphan by orphan.
A dying man.
A starving child.
A pre-pubescent girl, raped.
A mother with HIV/AIDS staring into the faces of her young
Heaps of smoking garbage, dotted with scavengers eking out a
meager existence next to the cows and goats who feast on the fetid pile of
A woman in active labor turned away from the hospital
because she has no money to pay for care.
A man with AIDS left to die in the chicken coop—the stigma
and fear too great for the family to endure.
Black plastic bags embedded in the overcrowded slum’s landscape
Red dirt roads stretching endlessly to remote villages
teeming with life.
Drought’s fingers displaying shriveled corn with brittle
yellow leaves rattling in the hot wind.
Water sources reduced to potholes, basins of
brown-grey-green water brimming with typhoid, cholera, giardiasis, strep, ameobas
and other life-endangering species.
Malaria carrying mosquitos…….
These are but a few of the things that stripped me of any
illusion I might have packed with me. There are no footholds in the face of
this poverty and suffering. No way of coming prepared, no matter how many books
I read, no matter how many lists I made.
And in the face of
such harshness, I was equally unprepared for this:
A deaconess*–a woman of mercy–who ventures out into
Nairobi’s slums in order to bring Christ’s light and hope to those under her
care. Each time she crosses the threshold of her own home, she pushes back her
own fears of how to feed, clothe and educate her family.
The widow struggling
to find hope? The deaconess comes
with a small ration of food, a hug and an enduring word of comfort.
The orphan (or
literally thousands upon thousands of orphans)? She gathers them up and finds families and
sponsors to care for them. She helps create a school so they have a safe place
to go each day and perhaps, if funds allow, receive a small meal that might be
their only food that day.
The dying man? She brings mercy in the form of comforting
words, pain meds if funds permit. She brings the pastor and Holy Communion. She
cares for the sorrowing wife and children.
That young girl raped
by her neighbor (or family member)? The deaconess comes to her with healing
words and a gentle touch. She takes her to the doctor, and then to the police
station to file a report that will likely go unnoticed. But in doing so, she
tells this girl—“Your life is sacred. Your life matters. I am here for you.
Christ has taken the shame inflicted upon you into His very Body.”
The woman with HIV/
AIDS? The deaconess gets her
connected to sources of care and medicine. She brings food to the children. She
reads Psalms. She prays with her and her family. She breaks the stigma, the
fear and the ignorance by her very presence that says, “Be not afraid. You are
The devastation of suffering and poverty stripped me to
nothing. The humility and generosity of these women of mercy reduced me even
further, and in the same way, their beauty and kindness were a doorway into the
divine mercy of Christ.
Mercy might be described as Christ’s Love played out in this
world. Mother Teresa puts it this way, “Give of your hands to serve and your
heart to love.” Mercy allows us to see beauty in each bleak situation, be it a
smile, a touch, a photo on an otherwise bare wall. Mercy is littered with
compassion—being willing to suffer alongside another, and sharing the deep joy
in the midst of sorrow. Mercy’s calling card is generosity—the giving of one’s
self (presence, possessions, money) in order to relieve another’s hardship. Mercy
gives us a foothold in the most desperate situations by helping us interpret
suffering through the sufferings of Christ.
And so as I approach a decade of mercy work in Kenya, I am
grateful for the gift of journeying to an African country that forever changed
the landscape of my heart and soul. I remain eternally indebted to the Kenyan
people who opened their hearts and homes to me that I might learn mercy, and
who welcome me home each time I return.
I continue to be surprised (and not surprised at all!) for
the generosity of so many of you who support this work begun almost ten years
ago. You know who you are. Never underestimate the impact of your gift –you
have changed lives, including mine.
If you would like to make a contribution there are several
Send checks made out to Holy Cross Lutheran Church and
earmarked for Kenya to 4701 Grove St. Rocklin CA 95677
Online: to support clean water, go to http://ift.tt/1olrRtr
Or make a donation directly to Diakonia Compassionate
www.dcmkenya.com noting the donation for the hospice house or
deaconess micro-loan project.
* The deaconesses of
the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK), have been theologically
trained to serve the Church and the community’s poor and needy ones.
Clean water with use of water filters (each kit
costs $60). Partnering with the For One Another Foundation, we have distributed
nearly 300 water filters, providing clean water to thousands of people.
Micro-loans (low interest loans for a small
business or enterprise) for women so they might provide for their families and
those under their care
Hospice house –hope at the end of life.
via Always Mercy http://ift.tt/1llFVUb