First of all, Happy Fourth of July to all my friends and family back home! I have had a lot of fun with my friends here decorating our home and ourselves with red, white, and blue. We've enjoyed celebrating even as we are in Kenya.
On our way to church today, I caught more glimpses of the desperation of Kenya. Traffic was not nearly as bad. The streets are lined with potholes after potholes, so you are constantly four-wheel driving. Sometimes driving on the dirt beside the road actually makes for a smoother ride. Other cars would drive on the right side of the road to avoid the potholes. (Keep in mind, in Kenya you drive on the left.) They looked like they were going to ram right into us before quickly swerving away. People were walking up and down the roads, as usual. In Kenya, you walk just about everywhere. Kids of all ages walked both alone and with adults. I wondered how many of them were orphans, what their lives were like, if they would eat tonight. Small streams lined some of the streets where I saw a man washing his face and quenching his thirst. Some people were washing their clothes. The water was filled with garbage and what appeared to be sewage. It was just about the same color as the dirt, and at one point I saw a man, standing beside the road, relieving himself into the stream. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of water-borne diseases were thriving in the street-side streams...if the people drinking or the kids bathing in it would soon show symptoms of a disease that would make them miserable or destroy their bodies... People were sitting in the piles of rubbish, sleeping in the rubbish, seeking food or anything of sustinence in the rubbish. Kids were playing in an old giant-tire yard. People were sitting on old piles of bricks or pipes. Abandoned brick buildings are found everywhere, in which the roofs are falling in. Red dust covers both the ground and the air, and you're often torn between closing the windows or getting some airflow whatsoever.
When we finally arrived at the church, we were greeted by a sweet lady named Lydia (not the same Lydia as yesterday). The church was set up in what seemed like the most random place to have a church. There was a tent filled with people and children in plastic chairs with the speaker preaching into the deafening loud microphone. I was informed that this was a different church than HEART's usual one. The reason we attended was because the pastor of the church invited Pastor Bob, who works for HEART, to preach that day since the usual pastor had just recently lost his brother to HIV/AIDS and also had to take his wife to the clinic. Before church began, Tammy (director of Children's Ministry at HEART and wife of Pastor Bob), the other interns, and I went inside a metal "shed" (I guess you could call it) to do Sunday school for all of the little Kenyan kids. Man, my heart was won over, as I'm sure anyone's would be if they were in my place. There were about 45 kids ranging from babies to ten year olds, one Kenyan Mama, and the four of us squeezed into the 6' by 10' shed. We had lots of fun singing songs, reading a giant storybook about how God created the world, and making crafts. I even got to improv a puppet show with Margaret, a fellow intern! It was the best experience smiling at the kids, seeing them blush and smile back, wave to them and have them wave back. One boy was irresistibly cute and kept standing by my side, looking up at me and giggling, grabbing my hand. Maybe he was laughing at my weird white skin, but we had fun exchanging high-fives and smiles. It seems like some of these kids are forced to mature fast because they quickly become responsible for the younger ones. One girl walked in with a little baby strapped around her back in a sling.
After Sunday school, we headed over to the tent where the church service took place. The service began about 10:30am and ran until about 1:30pm. It consisted of lots of praise songs, both in Swahili and English, sometimes even mashed together. Several times I watched people go up to the pastor and hand him a scrap of paper in the middle of the service. Being my American self, I couldn't help but be perplexed. I mean...isn't that rude and disruptive? But I soon learned that the pastor would go up front and read off the pieces of paper, and someone would be invited up to bless the congregation with a song--the same people that got up to hand the scraps of paper to the pastor. This truly was a community church. It didn't matter if you were not great at singing or if you were shy. You went up there and led the church in praising God.
I love the ways Kenyans worship. It was loud, fearless, and joyful. There were shouts of praise, hands lifted high, and plenty of clapping and dancing. It reminded me of Psalm 150.
"Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary, praise Him in His mighty heavens! Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud, clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!"
And I was invited to be a part of it. They quickly grabbed us and sat us down, right in front. They even had us come up front at one point and introduce ourselves as HEART interns. After Pastor Bob spoke on prayer, and how God hears and answers all our prayers, encouraging us to pray for God's will and not our own, I met Evans, who translated into Swahili for Pastor Bob and also works for HEART. He greeted me as a "sister from another mother" and invited me to "come back again and again and again and again..." I hope I will return.
This is Kenya. God is here.