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Having traveled to Africa six times now, I’ve begun to notice a pattern upon my return. First, there is the joy of being home with family and friends and the saints at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. There is also a slight culture shock of leaving a third world country and entering into a culture where the pace of life is fast and furious. Sure, there is delight in being able to turn on the tap water and drink it, have an abundance of food in the fridge, go basically where I want, when I want, and purchase just about anything I want. But with this delight, there is always a layer of guilt. Guilt for having “so much” while the people I left behind in Kenya have so little. Guilt for not doing more when I was in Kenya, (and even now that I am home) which leads to feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Then I come the questions…
Why Bother? What’s the point? Who really cares?
Why leave my family and the congregation of Holy Cross where the needs are great, to go care for others in a far off land? What is the point of traveling thousands of miles to Africa to provide a minutia of care, while I know millions of other people in Africa and other third world countries are sick, starving, dying each day? Is it really helpful to provide care, knowing that when I leave, the people I’ve visited will still face the hardships of everyday life? ? What is it the point when I can’t help everyone who asks for help?
I’ve come to believe that the real question is this: “Are we called to fix things or provide mercy?” And, what is the difference? Perhaps we begin by asking, “What does mercy look like?”
This is the mercy I saw while in Kenya:
Mercy is a Kenyan deaconess, willing to walk miles and miles to visit a family who is sick and suffering. She, who has no physical means to give them, gives of herself. She brings mercy in her presence. She brings mercy because the God of all mercies has given her Himself, so that she might go and give mercy to others. She brings mercy in her singing of hymns, her reading of Scripture, her beautiful prayers and her willingness to be present knowing she cannot fix the situation. Day in and day out, this deaconess does this. She faces the difficulties presented before her with mercy. She may go home to little food, inadequate housing, worries about how to pay the school fees for her children, cover medical expenses…..you get the idea. She, herself, has to rely on the mercy of Christ and others to get through the day.
Mercy comes in the pastor who accompanies the deaconess and brings the medicine of immortality, knowing that in the Lord’s Supper there is forgiveness of sins, strength for both body and soul, and peace. In a mud hut, The Table is laid with fine cloths, silver, and bread and wine. The Words of Institution are spoken over simple bread and wine, now also the Body and Blood of Christ—Mercy.
Mercy comes in Muzungos (us white folk) who tread lightly as we enter a person’s home—sacred space– recognizing the greatest gift we bring is Christ. Mercy is rendered in a simple touch, words of comfort and encouragement, medical care, a few Kenya schillings, food, and when we are able, the promise of help in the future.
Mercy also comes in being willing to receive… the posture of humility…the gift of hospitality…the joy of receiving guests…the dignity in the face of severe poverty and need….allowing another to see you at your most vulnerable. Mercy is teaching muzungos that suffering beyond comprehension can be shared, showing that desperation meets hope.
Mercy comes when this neophyte deaconess begins to understand that mercy is a gift from the one who was mercy in the flesh. Mercy comes in the lowly form of a helpless baby, dependent on his mother, Mary, for all his needs. Mercy comes in the form of an innocent man, beaten, scourged, hung naked, shamed….scandalized…. crucified….for us…for our forgiveness. His life…for ours. His shame for our honor. His loss for our gain. And so we cry, Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Strange as this may sound, I hope that I will always struggle with mercy. I hope that in that struggle, I will learn I am called to give mercy—not fix things. I hope that my journeys to Africa will continue to teach me mercy, so that when I am back home, visiting someone in finest medical facility and getting the best treatment, I will be able to see the fear and desperation that comes with being sick and vulnerable. I pray that I will be able to be present for the one who is lonely and burdened—as Christ is present for all who are poor and needy.
Yes, the needs in Africa are great, but not insurmountable. The generosity of people all over the United States—from Rocklin, to Oregon, Oklahoma, Kansas and Indiana—give mercy and hope to those who suffer in Kenya. Donations are always welcomed for this ongoing mercy. We continue to provide care in several tangible ways:
· The deaconess micro-loan project. This is a project giving Kenyan deaconesses the opportunity to start a small business as a means of providing for their families and their parishes.
· Deaconess seminars. Each year, if funding is available, Dr. Arthur Just and I travel to Kenya to bring the 60 deaconesses all together for several days of fellowship, teaching, and support. This is the only time the deaconesses are able to come together as a group. We pay for travel, food, lodging and teaching materials.
· Home visits with deaconesses. As part of our work in Kenya, we make home visits with the deaconesses in various places. We provide support of body and soul. I am able to bring my nursing skills, and my training as parish nurse and deaconess. Dr. Just brings his gift of caring for souls. This not only supports the people we visit, but also gives support to the deaconesses.
· Clean water through water filters. This is a new project we are starting. The simple Sawyer Water filter provides clean water for up to 8-10 people. This life saving filter system costs about $60 each. The filters, if cleaned properly, will last indefinitely. My goal is to get 200 filters by next summer.
If you are interested in providing financial support to these mission projects, please make your checks out to Holy Cross Lutheran Church and earmark them for Kenya.
4701 Grove Street
Rocklin, CA 95677
Deaconess Pamela Boehle-Silva, RN
Deaconesses: Lorna, Pamela and Dorene at Pastor Dennis and Dcs. Lorna Meeker’s school and rescue center on Lake Victoria
Boys after school–just hangin’ out
One of the classrooms at the Meeker’s school, Hope Academy. Very impressive
The setting for Hope Academy is beautiful. The property overlooks Lake Victoria.
The beauty of a Kenyan sunset
Mt. Kilamanjaro from the plane coming back from Tanzania
The rescue center in Othoro–so neat and tidy! They now have two water filters in place
Home visits….we actuallly visited this woman 2 years ago. Her leg wound is almost healed
Dr. Arthur Just providing care of souls to a woman debilitated by tuberculosis (TB).
The house of the woman with TB.
Sometimes mosquito nets get used for other things.
Houses in need of more than repair–needing replacement. The cost is about $800 for the tin roof which keeps the rain from rotting the mud walls. There are at least two people we visited on this trip that need new huts.
Deaconess seminar over. Pamela given a gift of the headwrap! The deaconesses loved it! I wore most of the day, much to the chagrin of Dr. Just! Dcs. Pamela, Dcs. Agnes and Dr. Just
Pastor David Chuchu showing us the delicacies of talapia….the eyeballs. I couldn’t go there!